We present direct numerical simulations of subcritical transition to turbulence in a particle-laden channel flow, with particles assumed rigid, spherical, and heavier than the fluid. The equations describing the fluid flow are solved with an Eulerian mesh, whereas those describing the particle dynamics are solved by Lagrangian tracking. Two-way coupling between fluid and particles is modeled with Stokes drag. The numerical code is first validated against previous results from linear stability: the nonmodal growth of streamwise vortices resulting in streamwise streaks is still the most efficient mechanism for linear disturbance amplification at subcritical conditions as for the case of a single phase fluid. To analyze the full nonlinear transition, we examine two scenarios well studied in the literature: (1) transition initiated by streamwise independent counter-rotating streamwise vortices and one three-dimensional mode and (2) oblique transition, initiated by the nonlinear interaction of two symmetric oblique waves. The threshold energy for transition is computed, and it is demonstrated that for both scenarios the transition may be facilitated by the presence of particles at low number density. This is due to the fact that particles may introduce in the system detrimental disturbances of length scales not initially present. At higher concentrations, conversely, we note an increase of the disturbance energy needed for transition. The threshold energy for the oblique scenario shows a more significant increase in the presence of particles, by a factor about four. Interestingly, for the streamwise-vortex scenario the time at which transition occurs increases with the particle volume fraction when considering disturbances of equal initial energy. These results are explained by considering the reduced amplification of oblique modes in the two-phase flow. The results from these two classical scenarios indicate that, although linear stability analysis shows hardly any effect on optimal growth, particles do influence secondary instabilities and streak breakdown. These effects can be responsible of the reduced drag observed in turbulent channel flow laden with heavy particles.
2013. Vol. 87, no 4, 043011- p.