The Simultaneous Simplicity and Complexity of Supersonic Turbines and their Modern Application

Supersonic axial turbines have attracted interest in the industry since the 1950s due to the high power they  provide, allowing a reduction in the number of low-pressure stages, and thus leading to lighter turbines as well as lower manufacturing and operational costs. Due to these valuable features, supersonic axial turbines are currently widely used in different power generation and mechanical drive fields such as rocket engine turbopumps [1, 2, 3, 4], control stages in high pressure multi-stage steam turbines, standalone single stage and 2-row velocity compound steam turbines [5, 6], ORC turbo-generator including geothermal binary power stations [7, 8, 9, 10], turbochargers for large diesel engines [11] and other applications. Therefore it is not forgotten, but instead a very important field in turbomachinery when highest specific power, compactness, low weight, low cost and ease of maintenance are dominant requirements. Especially nowadays, when development of small capacity reusable low-cost rocket launchers, compact and powerful waste heat recovery (WHR) units in the automotive industry, distributed power generation, and other fields are in extreme demand.

Meanline Results of Supersonic Turbine in AxSTREAM
Meanline Results of Supersonic Turbine in AxSTREAM

Typically, supersonic turbine consists of supersonic nozzles with a subsonic inlet and one or two rows of rotating blades. The turbine usually has partial arc admission. The total flow could go through either a single partial arc or several ones. The latter is typical for a steam turbine control stage or standalone applications. The inlet manifold or nozzles chests, as well as exhaust duct, are critical parts of the turbine as well. Due to the very frequent application of partial admission, it is not possible to implement any significant reaction degree. Thus, this kind of turbine is almost always an impulse type. However, some reaction degree could still be applied to full admission turbines. The influence of  the rotor blades profile designed for high reaction degree on rotor-stator supersonic interaction and turbine performance is not well studied at the moment.

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Blade Shape Optimization

An Example of Design of Experiment Study Methods in AxSTREAM

One of the most challenging tasks during turbomachinery design is the definition of aerodynamic shape of the blades, taking into account the complicated flow phenomena and the effect that the shape will have to other disciplines of the design. The rapid increase of computational resources along with the development of CFD has led to a big interference of optimization methods and numerical simulations as part of the design process. There are two main categories in which optimization methods fall: the stochastic models and the gradient-based models. The first family of models focuses on finding the optimum design, while the second uses the gradient information to lead the optimization. Apart from the optimization algorithms, there are several techniques that help designers understand the dependence of design parameters towards others and extract meaningful information for the design. First, the design of experiment approach (DoE) consists of the design of any task that aims to describe or explain the variation of information for conditions that are hypothesized to reflect the variation. Next, we have the surrogate models that are used instead of the optimization algorithms to generate a model that is as accurate as possible while using as few simulation evaluations as possible with low computational cost. The most common surrogate models used for turbomachinery design are the Response Surface Method, the Kriging Model and the Artificial Neural Networks. Last, data mining approaches have recently become very popular as they allow engineers to look for patterns in large data sets to extract information and transform it into an understandable structure for further use.

As far as the aerodynamic design optimization methods is concerned, they can be grouped into inverse and direct designs. Inverse methods rely on definition of pressure distribution and they iterate along blade shape, changing to develop a final profile shape. The computational cost is low and such methods can be combined with an optimization method in an efficient design process. However, the biggest disadvantages lies on the fact that this approach is strongly dependent on the experience of the designer. Young engineers may fail to define a pressure distribution that performs well in design and off-design conditions. In addition, with the inverse method approach the user cannot account for geometric and mechanical constraints.

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Importance of Preliminary Design for Centrifugal Compressors

Preliminary Design in AxSTREAM

Centrifugal compressors span a number of applications including oil compression systems, gas shift systems, HVAC, refrigeration, and turbochargers. It works by using energy from the flow to raise pressure, using gas to enter the primary suction eye (impeller). As the impeller rotates, the blades on the impeller push the gas outwards from the center to the open end of impeller to form a compression. Compressors are commonly used for combustion air supplies on cooling and drying systems. In HVAC system application, fans produce air movement to the space that is being conditioned. As a key component of an energy cycle, design/performance requirement must be met. While a design can easily be scaled from an existing design through appropriate parameters, a tailored design from scratch to confirm with design requirement for the specific cycle would give a better match and improve overall cycle performance.

There are variants of non-aerodynamic constraints in centrifugal compressor design practice, from frame size to durability and ultimately cost. An optimized impeller design should also ensure that aerodynamic problems associated with the all compressor components are minimized. With all of these (aerodynamic and non-aerodynamic) design constraints, there is no better way to optimize your compressor design than starting from the preliminary step, making sure that your compressor meets your criteria from a one dimensional basis ( a step that is often overlooked in practice).
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Overcoming the Use of ICEs in Hybrid Electric Vehicles with Turbomachinery – Micro-Turbine Range Extenders

The concept of turbine-powered automotive vehicles is not necessarily an unfamiliar idea or a technology that has yet to be explored.  In fact, several prominent automakers explored this concept as early as the 1950s and 60s – with real, functional prototypes.  Notably, Rover-BRM in the UK as well as Chrysler and General Motors in the US employed turbine engine programs to test the viability of such engines in the commercial market.  The Chrysler turbine engine program began its research back in the late 1930s and eventually ran a public user program from September 1964 to January 1966 where a total of 55 cars were built.   General Motors had tested gas turbine-powered cars with its many iterations of the Firebird in the 50s and 60s.  Rover and British Racing Motors developed several prototypes of their Rover-BRM concept that actually participated in the Le Mans race three years in a row, from 1963 through 1965.  However, even Chrysler, which was considered the leader of gas turbine research in automobiles, had to eventually abandon their program in 1979 after seven iterations of the turbine engine.  Many of the initial issues with heat control and acceleration-lag were improved during the program’s lifetime, but the program had never paid off in the retail automotive sector, and its continued development was deemed too risky for Chrysler at the time.

Chrysler Turbine Car
Figure 1- Chrysler Turbine Car – Now at Display in the Walter P. Chrysler Museum

Several decades later, we are seeing a resurgence of turbine motors in automobiles, but now serving as a range extender generator for electric vehicles instead.  As with many upcoming technologies, learning from past research and failed historical attempts can bring light to the most elegant and innovative solutions for today’s modern challenges.  This revolution of an old concept shares many of the qualities that made turbine engines attractive back in its initial development phase.  Such advantages include the ability to run on any flammable liquid and the high power density that results in a significantly lower weight and size contribution than its piston engine counterpart.

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SoftInWay’s Role in Meeting the Future Needs of Steam Turbine Industry

Steam turbine technology has advanced significantly since it was first developed by Sir Charles Parson in 1884 [1]. The concept of impulse steam turbines was first demonstrated by Karl Gustaf Patrik de Laval in 1887. A pressure compounded steam turbine based on in de laval principle was developed by Auguste Rateau in 1896. Westinghouse was one of the earliest licensee for manufacturing steam turbines obtained from Sir Charles Parson and became one of the earliest Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) in power generation and transmission.

Over the years, as steam turbine technology advanced, the design principles were based on either impulse type or reaction type with reaction type being more efficient. Though impulse was not as efficient as reaction type, it gained popularity due to lower cost and compact size. With advances in design and optimization methods being employed, the efficiency levels between these two types are not very distant, ranging between 2 – 5% based on the size and application. Read More

The Economics of Power Generation

Economics of Power GenerationThere are two crucial factors in any power generating system: performance and economy. As we know, higher efficiency is naturally more desirable, though higher efficiency plants usually come with the price of high cost investment. A power system would simply not be feasible should one neglect one of the two main factors. A highly efficient plant would not be feasible in practice if it gives no financial incentives to the producer as well as the end-user. A good power plant design must possess a good balance of efficiency and economy.

One of the main goals in power generation practice is to deliver the lowest possible cost per unit of electricity to meet the growing demand. Often in practice, economic assessment of a power plant is depicted by their levelized cost of energy (LCOE), also known as  levelized energy cost (LEC), which is the average price per unit of power delivered to break even with total cost (capital and operating) over the length of its operating lifetime.

Generally, cost factor which contributes to power generation can be categorized into two main groups: capital cost and operating charges. Capital cost (usually consisting of a series of fixed cost factors which do not vary with the level of output) encompasses equipment, rent/land cost, and any other costs associated with the establishment of the power generation plant, up until when it’s ready to operate. This is a critical data point needed for accurate investment decision making. Whereas operating cost (combination of fixed, semi-fixed and variable charges) covers all costs related to daily operational and/or production cost incurred – which should include maintenance, fuel, feed water, etc.

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An Insight into Organic Rankine Cycle Design

Nowadays, organic Rankine cycles (ORCs) are a widely studied technology. Currently, several research and academic institutions are focused on the design, optimization, and dynamic simulation of this kind of system. Regarding the numerical analysis of an ORC, several steps are required to select the optimal working fluid and the best cycle configuration, taking into account not only nominal performance indexes, but also economic aspects, off-design efficiency, the dynamic behaviour of the plant, and the plant volume or weight.

To begin, a detailed description of the heat source and heat sink, evaluation of all the technical constraints (component selection or plant layout), and both environmental and safety issues is needed. The most significant stage of the design is definitely the correct choice with both working fluid and cycle configuration. Making the wrong choice at this stage will result in poor cycle performance. A huge number of possible working fluids can be selected for ORC systems, which is one of the major advantages of these systems since they can be suitable for almost every heat source but, on the other hand, it makes the resolution of the optimization problem inevitably more complicated. Read More

The Use of SCO2 in Power Generation

Lab imageGlobal warming and the growing demand for energy are two primary problems rising in the power generation industry. A simple solution to these problems has been researched for a number of years. The SCO2 Brayton cycle is often looked into as an alternative working fluid for power generation cycles due to its compactness, high efficiency and small environmental footprint. The usage of SCO2 in nuclear reactors has been studied since the early 2000s in development of Generation IV nuclear reactors, but the idea itself can be traced back to the 1940s. During this time however, no one really looked into the potential of supercritical CO2 since steam was found to be efficient enough, not to mention it was the more understood technology when compared to SCO2. In modern times though, demand of more efficient energy continues to rise and with it, the need for SCO2.

The potential of supercritical CO2 implementation is vast across power generation applications spanning nuclear, geothermal and even fossil fuel.  The cycle envisioned is a non-condensing closed loop Brayton cycle with heat addition and rejection inside the expander to indirectly heat up the carbon dioxide working fluid.
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Gas Turbine Cooling Technology

Turbine Cooling Scheme Designed in AxSTREAM NET
Figure 1. Turbine Cooling Scheme Designed in AxSTREAM NET

People are pushing turbine inlet temperature to extremes to achieve higher power and efficiency. Material scientists have contributed a lot to developing the most durable material under high temperatures such as special steels, titanium alloys and superalloys. However, turbine inlet temperature can be as high as 1700˚C [1] and cooling has to be integrated to the system to prolong blade life, secure operation and achieve economic viability.

A high pressure turbine can use up to 30% of the compressor air for cooling, purge, and leakage flows, which is a huge loss for efficiency. It is worth it only if the gain of turbine inlet temperature can outweigh the loss of cooling. This applies to both aviation engines and land based gas turbines.

The history of turbine cooling goes back 50 years and has evolved to fit different environments. The diversity of turbine cooling technology we see today is just the tip of the iceberg. As time goes on and technology advances, people are able to achieve higher cooling efficiency at lower coolant usages. For different goals and needs, different constructs can be applied but the detailed cooling design must balance with the whole system and make the most of technological advances in the areas. For example, if the flow path is optimized, mechanical design is modified, or if new material is employed, the cooling design needs to change accordingly. One thing worth mentioning is that manufacturing of hot section components and turbine cooling design have an interdependent cause and effect, outpacing and leading each other to new levels. Merging of disciplines and additive manufacturing will, in the future, bring more flexibility to turbine cooling design.

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Leveraging AxSLICE for Centrifugal Pump Upgrades and Retrofits

Often, service companies are faced with the challenge of redesigning existing pumps that have failed in the field with extremely quick turnaround times. While there are quick-fix methods to return these pumps into operation, other more complex problems may require taking a step back and analyzing how this particular pump could be redesigned based on its current operation.  These engineering upgrades could solve recurring issues with failure modes of a certain machine, and they could also solve new capacity demands that are imposed by a customer based on their system’s upstream or downstream changes. While efficiency increases could be beneficial to the overall system, many times it is more important to solve capacity requirements and increase the life of the pump by decreasing the Net Positive Suction Head Required (NPSHr).

In this blog post, we will investigate how to move an existing centrifugal pump through the AxSTREAM platform in order to solve engineering challenges seen on common OEM pump upgrades.  With the use of AxSTREAM’s integrated platform and reverse engineering module, many of the CAE tasks that are common in an analysis such as this one can be realized in record speed. The first step of the reverse engineering process occurs in obtaining the necessary geometrical information for the desired pump. Through AxSLICE, the user can take an STL, IGES, CURVE file, or a generated cloud of points and properly transform this 3D profile into a workable geometry inside the AxSTREAM platform. In a matter of minutes, the user can outline the hub and shroud and transform a blank 3D profile into a profile defined by a series of segments.  Seen in Figure 1, the centrifugal pump is now defined by a hub, shroud, and intermediate section.

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