This paper is concerned with the analysis and implementation of spectral Galerkin
methods for a class of Fokker-Planck equations that arises
from the kinetic theory of dilute polymers. A relevant feature of the class of equations
under consideration from the viewpoint of mathematical analysis and numerical approximation is
the presence of an unbounded drift coefficient, involving a smooth convex potential U that is equal to +∞ along
the boundary ∂D of the computational domain D.
Using a symmetrization of the differential operator based on the Maxwellian M corresponding to U,
which vanishes along ∂D, we remove the unbounded drift coefficient at the expense
of introducing a degeneracy, through M, in the principal part of the operator.
The general class of admissible potentials considered
includes the FENE (finitely extendible nonlinear elastic) model.
We show the existence of weak solutions to the initial-boundary-value problem, and develop a fully-discrete
spectral Galerkin method for such degenerate Fokker-Planck equations
that exhibits optimal-order convergence in the Maxwellian-weighted H1 norm on D.
In the case of the FENE model, we also discuss variants of these analytical results when the Fokker-Planck equation is subjected to an alternative class of transformations proposed by Chauvière and Lozinski; these map the original Fokker-Planck operator with an unbounded drift coefficient into Fokker-Planck operators with unbounded drift and reaction coefficients, that have improved coercivity properties in comparison with the
original operator. The analytical results are illustrated by numerical experiments for the FENE model in two space dimensions.