Series on Micro Gas Turbines And How They Can Make the World Greener

If you’re familiar with turbomachinery, then you probably know the pivotal role they play in our lives. If you’re not, no biggie! Have a look at this blog where I discuss a world without turbomachinery. But where do microturbines fit in? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my mind immediately jumps to turbochargers in small-displacement car engines. There is, however, a whole slew of information, history, and applications for microturbines beyond being a component in your car.

The best place to start, is to establish just what a microturbine is and isn’t. Granted the prefix in the word is a dead giveaway, but just how small is a micro gas turbine?  In terms of power output, a micro gas turbine puts out between 25 and 500 kW. The size of these machines varies; some systems can be the size of a refrigerator, while others can fit on your desk. For reference, some of these machines are smaller than your average corgi!

Micro Gas Turbine and Corgi
Figure 1: A micro gas turbine with a pencil for scale (left) and your average corgi (right). Not very aerodynamic, but awfully cute. Source

In terms of components, microturbines typically consist of a compressor, combustor, turbine, alternator, generator, and in most machines, a recuperator. While incorporating a recuperator into a microturbine system comes with its own set of challenges, the benefits are often well worth it as efficiency when recuperated hovers around 25-30% (with a waste heat recovery/cogeneration system, efficiency levels can reach up to 85% though).

Figure 3: A commercial airliner's turbofan engine the common image that is conjured when one thinks of turbines in transportation
Figure 3: A commercial airliner’s turbofan engine; the common image that is conjured when one thinks of turbines in transportation.
History

When and how did the concept of micro gas turbines come about? After the advent of the jet engine in World War II and the prominence of turbochargers being used on piston-driven propeller planes during the war, companies started to see where else gas turbine technology could be utilized. Starting in the 1950’s automotive companies attempted to offer scaled down gas turbines for use in personal cars, and you can read our blog covering that more in-depth here. You can probably guess by the number of gas turbine-powered cars on the road today, that it wasn’t very successful.

Fast forward to the 1970s, companies started to take an interest in micro turbines for stationary power generation on a small, portable scale. Allison developed microturbine-powered generators for the military that showed substantially lower fuel consumption in initial testing. In the 80’s, GRI supported the AES program where they attempted to develop a 50kW turbine for aviation applications, using a heat recovery system to improve efficiency through a cogeneration system. More recently, companies like Capstone have worked with GRI on new projects to introduce microturbines to different industries where they could be useful, using the latest advancements in technology to ensure higher efficiencies and reliability of designs past. To discuss the current state of affairs for microturbines however, it might be good to list some of their present advantages and drawbacks, and then explore where in the world they could be most useful.

Micro Turbine Compressor
Figure 4: A micro turbine compressor model.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Microturbines

As with just about any other type of technology, microturbines have their own set of advantages and disadvantages as a result of their design that are seen in their different applications.

Advantages: 

  • – Lower emissions
  • – Lower noise level than comparable reciprocating engines
  • – Fewer moving parts with results in less maintenance needs
  • – Lower vibration levels
  • – Ligherweight, compact systems
  • – Diverse fuel selection (jet fuel, kerosene, diesel, natural gas)

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Disadvantages:

  • – Very low efficiency without recuperator/waste heat recovery system
  • – High work requires high speeds (30-120 krpm) for small diameters
  • – Poor throttle response
  • – Expensive materials required for manufacturing
  • – More sensitive to adverse operating conditions

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A Micro Gas Turbine
Figure 5: A Microturbine
Potential Transportation Industry Applications

There are a number of different industries which microturbines can be found both in and outside of the transportation. Throughout the upcoming months, we’ll be taking a closer look at:

  • – The Aviation Industry
  • – The Automotive Industry
  • – The Marine Industry
  • – The Rail Industry

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Each of these industries has at least one application where micro gas turbine technology has the potential to conserve fuel and lower emissions without compromising power. In the next entry, we’ll look at the current state of the aerospace industry and where/how micro gas turbines can improve upon existing technology.

If you want to learn more about designing a micro gas turbine, or about the tools our engineers and thousands of others around the world rely on for their turbomachinery designs, reach out to us at info@softinway.com

Thermal Management in Automotive Electric Propulsion Systems

There is a growing interest in electric and hybrid-electric vehicles propulsion system due to environmental concerns. Efforts are directed towards developing an improved propulsion system for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) for various applications in the automotive industry. The government authorities consider electric vehicles one of several current drive technologies that can be used to achieve the long-term sustainability goals of reducing emissions. Therefore, it is no longer a question of whether vehicles with electric technologies will prevail, but when will they become a part of everyday life on our streets. Electric vehicles (EVs) fall into two main categories: vehicles where an electric motor replaces an internal combustion engine (full-electric) and vehicles which feature an internal combustion engine (ICE) assisted by an electric motor (hybrid-electric or HEVs). All electric vehicles contain large, complex, rechargeable batteries, sometimes called traction batteries, to provide all or a portion of the vehicle’s propelling power.

EVs propulsion system offers several advantages compared to the conventional propulsion systems (petrol or diesel engines). EVs not only help reduce the environmental emissions but also help reduce the external noise, vibration, operating cost, fuel consumption while increasing safety levels, performance and efficiency of the overall propulsion system. However, there are many reasons why EVs and HEVs currently represent such a low share of today’s automotive market. For EVs, the most important factor is their shorter driving range, the lack of recharging infrastructure and recharging time, limited battery life, and a higher initial cost. Though HEVs feature a growing driving range, performance and comfort equivalent or better than internal combustion engine vehicles, their initial cost is higher and the lack of recharging infrastructure is a great barrier for their diffusion. Therefore, industry, government, and academia must strive to overcome the huge barriers that block EVs widespread use: battery energy and power density, battery weight and price, and battery recharging infrastructure. All major manufacturers in the automotive industry are working to overcome all these limitations in the near future.

Common Types of Electric Vehicles
Classification of EVs according to the types and combination of energy converters used
Figure 1. Classification of EVs according to the types and combination of energy converters used (electric motor & ICE). SOURCE:[3]
A more universal EVs classifications is carried out based on either the energy converter types used to propel the vehicles or the vehicles power and function [4]. When referring to the energy converter types, by far the most used EVs classification, two big classes are distinguished, as shown in Figure 1, namely: battery electric vehicles (BEVs), also named pure or full-electric vehicle, and hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). BEVs use batteries to store the energy that will be transformed into mechanical power by electric motors only, i.e., ICE is not present. In HEVs, propulsion is the result of the combined actions of electric motor and ICE. The different manners in which the hybridization can occur give rise to different architectures such as: series hybrid, parallel hybrid, and series-parallel hybrid. All these different EVs architectures are shown in Figure 2.

Architectures of different EVs and HEVs
Figure 2. Architectures of different EVs and HEVs. SOURCE:[3]
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Unsteady Flow Simulation in Hydraulic Systems

[:en]An unsteady flow is one where the parameters change with respect to time. In general, any liquid flow is unsteady. But if a hydraulic system is working at constant boundary conditions, then the parameters of the fluid flow change slowly; thus this flow is considered steady. At the same time, if the parameters of the fluid flow oscillate over time relative to some constant value, then it called quasi-steady flow 1.

In practice, most fluid flows are steady or quasi-steady. Examples of the three flows are presented in Figure 1. Steady flow is presented by a simple pipe. The quasi-steady flow is represented by a sharpened edge channel. The unsteady flow is presented by an outflow from a reservoir.

Figure 1 - Different Types of Fluid Flow
Figure 1 – Different Types of Fluid Flow
Different Cases of Unsteady Flow

During operations, hydraulic systems act for long intervals at steady conditions which are called operating modes. Change between two different operating modes occurs over a short time interval (called a transient mode). If any hydraulic system works more than 95% of the time at these operating modes though, why is the unsteady flow is so important? Because the loads depend on time intervals. If the load is less, then the maximum system pressure is higher. Read More

An Introduction to Thermal Management in Electric Propulsion Systems

Reduction in CO2 emissions is driving the development of different electric, turbo-electric and hybrid electric propulsion systems for various applications and industries including space, aviation, automotive and marine. Electric propulsion (EP) is not a new concept, having been studied in parallel with chemical propulsion for many years. EP is a generic name encompassing all the ways of accelerating a propellant using electric power by different possible electric and/or magnetic means. The simplest way to achieve electric propulsion is to replace the heat generated by combustion in conventional chemical engines with electrical heating.

Electric propulsion systems offer several advantages compared to other conventional propulsion systems. It not only helps reduce the environmental emissions but also helps reduce fuel consumption and increases safety levels. Electric propulsion has become a cost effective and sound engineering solutions for many applications. Electric propulsion engines are also more efficient than others. It is proven to be one of the most energy saving technologies as we can use more renewable sources of energy (due to the versatility of electricity generation) instead of non-renewable sources of energy like gasoline. The major limitation of electric propulsion, when compared with conventional propulsion is limited by the available electric power capacity on board, this may be the reason, it is not the default propulsion system.

Electric Propulsion Architectures
Figure 1. Electric Propulsion Architectures. SOURCE: [4]
Generally, electric propulsion architectures vary depending on the application. Figure 1, above, shows the EP architectures for an aviation application. These architectures rely on different electric technologies (batteries, motors, generators, and so on). Typical aircrafts use gas turbine engines as the source of propulsion power, but all electric aircraft systems use batteries as the only source of propulsion power as shown in Figure 1 on the right. The hybrid systems use gas turbine engines for propulsion and to charge batteries which also provide energy for propulsion and accessories during one or more phases of flight as shown in Figure 1 on the left. Read More

Preventing Choke and Surge in a Compressor

Turbo Compressors are used to increase the pressure of a gas, which are required in propulsion systems like a gas turbine, as well as many production processes in the energy sectors, and various other important industries such as the oil and gas, chemical industries, and many more.

Such compressors are highly specific to the working fluid used (gas) and the specific operating conditions of the processes for which they are designed. This makes them very expensive. Thus, such turbo compressors should be designed and operate with high level of care and accuracy to avoid any failure and to extract the best performance possible from the machine.

Axial Compressor and Centrifugal Compressor in AxSTREAM
Figure 1 (A) Axial Compressor (B) Centrifugal Compressor in AxSTREAM®

Turbo Compressor Characteristic Curves

The characteristic curves of any turbo compressor define the operating zone for the compressor at different speed lines and is limited by the two phenomenon called choke and surge. These two opposing constraints can be seen in Figure 2.

Choke conditions occurs when a compressor operates at the maximum mass flow rate. Maximum flow happens as the Mach number reaches to unity at some part of the compressor, i.e. as it reaches sonic velocity, the flow is said to be choked. In other words, the maximum volume flow rate in compressor passage is limited by limited size of the throat region.  Generally, this calculation is important for applications where high molecular weight fluids are involved in the compression process.

Surge is the characteristic behavior of a turbo compressor at low flow rate conditions where a complete breakdown of steady flow occurs. Due to a surge, the outlet pressure of the compressor is reduced drastically, and results in flow reversal from discharge to suction. It is an undesirable phenomenon that can create high vibrations, damage the rotor bearings, rotor seals, compressor driver and affect the entire cycle operation.

Compressor Performance Curve
Figure 2 Compressor Performance Curve

Preventing Choke and Surge Conditions

Both choke conditions and surge conditions are undesirable for optimal operation of a turbo compressor.  Each condition must be considered during design to ensure these conditions are prevented. Read More

Improving Efficiency, One Rocket at a Time (An Excerpt from Exceptional People Magazine)

The following is an excerpt from  Exceptional People Magazine, conducted by Monica Davis and focused on profiling SoftInWay’s CEO, Dr. Leonid Moroz.   The article appeared in the September/October 2019 issue. A link to the full interview can be found here

Turbomachinery design is critical in industries like aerospace, oil and gas, defense, and clean technology. Dr. Leonid Moroz’s company, SoftInWay Inc., also helps some of the world’s largest manufacturers of turbines, turbochargers, pumps, and fans. But Moroz is happy to explain that his company’s innovations also impact the car you drive, the vacuum cleaner you use, the air conditioning in which you work, and the electricity needed to power your mobile phone.

Leonid Moroz
Dr. Leonid Moroz, CEO of SoftInWay

A lover of music and athletics as a child, Moroz knew early on that engineering held promise as a lifelong career. So he started his career as a Group Leader at TurboAtom. TurboAtom, while a state-owned entity, is one of the world’s top thermal, nuclear, and hydropower plant turbine construction companies. It’s a company that operates at the level of companies like General Electric and Siemens.

Moroz designed both gas and steam turbines during his eight years at TurboAtom. While he was there, he also earned his Ph.D. in Turbomachinery from the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute in Ukraine.

When he founded global aerospace engineering leader SoftInWay, Inc. in 1999, he intended to assist turbomachinery manufacturers needing his expertise. What evolved from that intent has revolutionized engineering design and allowed improved efficiencies for multiple system types: Its flagship software, AxSTREAM.

AxSTREAM helps engineers develop efficient turbomachinery flow path design, redesign, analysis, and optimization. Under Moroz’ direction, AxSTREAM itself has also evolved into a design platform supporting rapid development of a new generation of liquid rocket engines.

Still a relatively small company, SoftInWay supports over 400 companies worldwide and works closely with universities, research laboratories, and government organizations. The company takes its educational responsibilities seriously, continually offering webinars, training sessions, educational blogs, and online workshops on topics like When To Upgrade Your Pump, The Pros and Cons of Wind Energy, and Radial Outflow Turbine Design.

Moroz loves to talk about his work, his company, its innovations, and his team. He’s proud to have had the same group of engineers for 30 years, so SoftInWay feels more like a family than a workplace. As the company has become a leading global R&D engineering company, it has expanded to encompass locations in Boston, Massachusetts; Zug, Switzerland; Ukraine; and India.

Yes, Moroz’ specialty is indeed a bit technical for people who aren’t in turbomachinery engineering design. But Moroz and his team clearly enjoy what they’re doing because it benefits society and makes life easier and more comfortable in myriad ways.

Next time you switch on that ShopVac or Hoover, be sure to thank Dr. Leonid Moroz.

Monica: We often take for granted how engineering plays a huge role in our daily lives. How much of the world depends on the kind of technology and engineering capabilities you produce?

Dr. Moroz: Quite substantially. For example, society produces a lot of waste and heat. If you have options, it utilizes waste and heat to produce power, or it is thrown away. We’ve helped companies to utilize this energy and to produce power to heat or cool our houses, to prepare food, and to help our businesses survive.

Image from a SoftInWay Classroom Course

Another example again would be launchers design. Launchers are important for turbomachinery. A significant part of space development depends on turbomachinery inside those launchers.

It’s important to understand two directions where people can utilize turbomachinery with power consumption and power generation. Power generation is when you produce power, so we need to be more efficient, but the second part, when we get this power, we need to cool our houses, we need to cool our cars, and so on, and again, it’s turbomachinery.

You can be sure that you utilize turbomachinery to develop an air conditioning system that is efficient and is quite substantially in large buildings.

Power consumption for air conditioning is like 30 or 40 percent of the overall power consumption. Can you imagine if you were to decrease this by 10 to 20 percent? It would be a considerable saving…Read the full interview here

Digital Engineering Modern Turbomachinery Design Platforms

Automatic Turbocharger Compressor Design 

In the age of green energy and increased efforts to minimize our carbon footprint,  the design of a turbocharger plays an important role in reducing engine fuel consumption and emissions while increasing the performance.  When developing an engine with a turbocharger, the general approach is to select a turbocharger design from a product list. The primary issue with this approach is that it does not cover 100% of the requirements of engine characteristics, i.e. it has non-optimal construction for the engine being developed. The operational characteristics of an engine directly depends on the interactions between the system components. This non-optimal construction will always lead to a decrease in the engine’s performance. In addition, the iteration process of turbocharger selection is time and resource consuming.

That is why the most optimal way to develop an engine with turbocharging is to design a turbocharger from scratch; wherein the operational points of compressor needed to satisfy the engine’s optimal operation are known, i.e. compressor map (Figure 1). But how do we quickly get a compressor map? Even at the preliminary design level, the design of turbocharger flow path requires dozens of hours for high-level engineers. And what about less experienced engineers?

Figure 1 Compressor Map Generated in AxSTREAM
Figure 1 Compressor Map Generated in AxSTREAM®

Incorporating a digital engineering approach with a turbomachinery design platform such as  AxSTREAM® allows designers to find the compressor design with all the required constraints which correspond to the specified compressor map needed. The design process is presented in Figure 2. Read More

Role of AxSTREAM® in Radial Turbine Design

[:en]Radial turbines are quite popular for turbochargers and micro-gas turbines. They can also be found in compact power sources like in auxiliary power units of aircrafts. In short, they are suitable in power generation applications where expansion ratios are high and mass flow rates are relatively small. In a radial turbine, the flow enters radially and exits either axially or radially depending on whether it is an inflow or outflow type radial turbine. The most commonly used type of radial turbine is a radial-inflow turbine, in which the working fluid flows from a larger radius to a smaller radius. A centripetal turbine is very similar in appearance to the centrifugal compressor, but the flow direction is reverse. Figure 1 shows the radial-inflow turbine on the left and radial-outflow turbine on the right.

Radial-inflow turbine on the left; Radial-outflow turbine on the right
Figure 1: Radial-inflow turbine on the left; Radial-outflow turbine on the right

Nowadays, the popularity of radial-outflow turbines, in which the flow moves in the opposite direction (from the center to the periphery), is growing. With recent advancement in waste heat recovery applications, there has been a renewed interest in this type of turbines. These radial-outflow turbines are most commonly used in applications based on organic Rankine cycles (ORC).

The radial-outflow turbine design was first invented by the Ljungström brothers in 1912, however it was rarely used for a number of reasons. One of which was related to the decrease of turbine-specific work due to the increase of the peripheral velocity from inlet to outlet while expanding the vapor. Another reason was the usage of steam as a working fluid. It is known from thermodynamics that the expansion of steam is characterized by high enthalpy drops, high volumetric flows and high volumetric ratios. Thus, a significant number of stages are needed to convert the enthalpy drop of the fluid into mechanical energy.

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[:en]Automotive Engine Lubrication System Modelling and Analysis[:]

[:en]The lubrication system is one of the most important systems of an engine.

This system should ensure:

  1. Delivery of the required oil amount to the moving parts (e.g.-Bearings);
  2. Dissipation of the heat generated due to friction by circulation of lubricant throughout the system; and
  3. Cleaning of the oil from contamination and impurities introduced during engine operation.

 

To meet the above requirements, the lubricant circulation (lubricant reaching each component) should happen at appropriate pressure and mass flow rate throughout the system.  This is also required in order to avoid cavitation caused by adverse pressure, and excessive heat generation due to less mass flow rate, at any place or particularly at any component. However, sometimes lubricant does not circulate properly to each corner of the system or to the rotating components. In some cases, the rotation of the crankshaft can actually starve the bearings and increase the internal heat due to insufficient supply of lubrication.

To avoid such problems, simulation engineers must model the whole system at all operating modes. They can predict the best system by varying flow rates (volumetric or mass flow rates), system pressures, temperatures, heat flows, as well as by changing the system geometry itself. Such modelling can be performed easily and with sufficient accuracy in a 1D Thermal Fluid analysis tool, such as AxSTREAM NET™ developed by SoftInWay.

It is worthwhile to use a 1D-Analysis tool in this case, because it can be used at any stage of the system design process to explore more options for improving the final design and to reduce development cycle time. The simulation engineer can easily create a model of automotive engine lubrication system, using different elements (components) which are available in the element database of AxSTREAM NET™. The system configuration can also be easily changed at any stage in the design process without rebuilding the complex 3D models.

Let us try to understand how to build a 1D scheme for an automotive engine lubrication system in a 1D tool (AxSTREAM NET™). First, we need to identify the major elements (components) which are part of the automotive engine lubrication system as per their order or sequence in the scheme. A typical engine lubrication system involves components like Oil – sump, strainer, pump and filter, all of which are parts of the initial oil suction line. In addition, the main gallery involves components like flow passages within the connecting rods, crankshaft, and bearings. The typical connections among these elements are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Main elements of a lubrication system
Figure 1 Main elements of a lubrication system

Now let’s see the arrangement of a few components with their specific purposes towards the construction of the whole model.

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Birth, Fall and Resurgence of Gas Turbine Technology for Trains

We as human kind have always aimed at achieving something better, something bigger. This led to the research on gas turbines, which was mainly inspired due to the immediate requirement in the aerospace and power generation industry, to also look beyond the scope of aeronautics.

Gast Turbine

Today gas turbine technology is often used when dealing with aerospace and power generation industries, but believe it or not, gas turbine technology has been used in ground transportation too;  notably locomotives.

The Early Applications

After the first world war, several countries had the expertise and the finances to invest in achieving the technological edge in the new post war era. The gas turbine technology was one such technological endeavor, and by the mid-20th century the gas turbine could be found in several applications. Birth of gas turbine locomotives can be credited to two distinct characteristics of these locomotives versus the contemporary diesel locomotives. First, there are fewer moving parts in a gas turbine, decreasing the need for lubrication. This can also potentially reduce the maintenance costs. Second, the power-to-weight ratio is much higher for such locomotives which makes a turbine of a given power output physically smaller than an equally powerful piston engine, allowing a locomotive to be powerful enough without being too bulky.

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