Last week I described two ways which the turbomachinery industry addresses climate change. This week, I explain two more:
Waste Heat Recovery
Even though processes are becoming more and more efficient they are still mostly wasteful (Figure 1).
The excess energy from processes is eventually released into the environment but bringing down the temperature of the exhaust allows multiple things; direct reduction of the global warming potential as well as possibility to utilize this heat to boil a working fluid before running it through a turbine where it can generate some power without requiring burning additional fuel. A well-known example of such a system is the traditional gas-steam cycle that allows turning a 45% efficient gas turbine cycle into a 60% system by utilizing the gas turbine exhaust heat to boil some water in a secondary loop before passing the resulting steam through a different turbine. In the same manner waste heat recovery can be applied with different fluids (including the trending refrigerants like R134a & R245fa, steam and the state-of-the-art supercritical CO2 as shown on Figure 2) and a multitude of applications; internal combustion engines, steel production plants, marine transports, etc.
Selection of the best working fluid
Whether it’s deciding to design the main energy conversion cycle or its waste heat recovery system one of the critical parameters to pay close attention to is the working fluid selection; good selection of the fluid will often lead to make a compromise between cost/availability, thermodynamic performance (see Figure 3) and environmental friendliness. One must make sure that the performances of the designed cycle with the chosen fluid are high enough and the fluid cheap enough to make the concept financially viable without sacrificing pollution considerations which can prove devastating in case of leaks.
The working fluid selection is also performed so that in addition to the environmental footprint being reduced the physical footprint is minimized as well; this is done through the selection of high density fluids (helium, SCO2, etc.) which allows for a reduction in component size and therefore cost (as portrayed on Figure 4), – indirectly it also allows for less material being produced which also “saves trees”.
Most people complain about climate change, but few take measures to address it. In this article we will see some ways turbomachinery-oriented companies contribute to the well-being of the planet.
Selection and optimization of energy conversion technology (recuperation, proper selection of expander configuration, etc.)
Not all technologies are created equal; where you would use a steam turbine is not necessarily where you would want a gas turbine or an organic Rankine cycle (ORC) instead. Each one of them has its pros and its cons; ORC exist because they do not require as much energy as what is needed for steam cycles, gas turbines have a great power density and an outstanding start-up time (several minutes instead of hours) which makes them great candidates for punctual, unexpected peaks in power demand, etc.
Now, take the case of a gas, steam or ORC; they all include, in their most basic configuration, a compressing element (compressor or pump), an expander (usually a turbine), a cooling/condensing component and a heating component (boiler, combustion chamber, HRSG, etc.) as one can see on Figure 1 and each of these have an associated efficiency.
This means that their careful design and thorough optimization should be performed in order to maximize the overall performance of the full system. Whether it’s used for power generation or propulsion the result is the same; more power generated for the same amount of heat input (usually the combustion of fuel). However, before starting the full design of the different components the entire system needs to be optimized as well; correct positioning of extractions/inductions, appropriate cooling parameters, use of recuperation/regeneration (see Figure 6), and so on.
Only when the cycle boundary conditions (and therefore its configuration) are fixed the full design of the components can be performed although some preliminary studies should be undertaken to determine the feasibility of these designs and get an estimation of the components performances. Another goal of such feasibility studies is to determine such things as the estimated dimensions of the components, the configuration of the expander (axial, radial, axi-radial, counter-rotating, etc.) Finally some compromises always need to be done between efficiency improvement and cost of manufacturing, operation and maintenance.
Operation at optimal conditions (design point for overall cycle and each component)
Each energy conversion system whether it is for power generation, propulsion or any other application is designed for a set of operating conditions called a design point. This is where the system will typically be optimum for and where it will be running most of its “on” time. This is why ensuring that the design point (or design points) is accurately defined is critical since operation outside of these defined conditions will lead to additional losses that translate into a lesser power production for the same cost of input energy. Performance prediction of systems at off-design conditions is an essential part of any design task which allows restricting system operation to conditions of high components efficiency. If the pump/compressor is operated at a different mass flow rate its pressure ratio will be different and so will be the efficiency and therefore the amount of power generated by the expander, see Figure 4.
In our next post, we will continue the discussion of the turbomachinery industry as it relates to climate change. Stay tuned!
We can all agree that airplanes are cool, and rockets are awesome, but when combined, the result is even better! Besides getting engineers to jump up and down for this revolutionary concept, Reaction Engines Ltd applied it to an actual SABRE engine concept.
SABRE stands for Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine and one typically does not associate “Air-Breathing” with “Rocket.” which makes this engine a one of a kind to reach new heights (literally). Let’s dig into the geeky technical specs of the engine while going through some quick history of this revolutionary single stage to orbit propulsion system.
SABRE is an evolution of Alan Bond’s series of liquid air cycle engine (LACE) and LACE-like designs that started in the early/mid-1980s under the HOTOL project. Upon termination of HOTOL funding, Bond formed Reaction Engines Ltd. SABRE is currently being developed for hypersonic flights and runs on a combined cycle; the precooled jet engine configuration is used in the air-breathing phase of the flight until air becomes scarce and speed critical. From this moment on the engine switches to its close cycle rocket mode to bring the Skylon airplane to orbit (2 engines are mounted on the aerospace plane).
The air-breathing mode (below Mach ~5 and about 25 km altitude which is about 20% of the orbital velocity and altitude, respectively) works almost like a regular jet with one major difference being the apparition of a new component, first discussed in 1955; the air precooler which is placed behind the translating axisymmetric shock inlet cone that slows the air to subsonic speeds inside the air-breathing engine using 2 shock reflections. The precooler is “capable of cooling incoming air (without liquefying it, from around 1000°C) to −150°C (−238°F), to provide liquid oxygen (LOX) for mixing with hydrogen to provide jet thrust during atmospheric flight before switching to tanked LOX when in space.” This precooler also allows a considerable reduction of the thermal constraints of the engine which then requires “weaker” and much lighter materials that are a necessity when reaching orbital velocities and altitudes. With compressors working more efficiently with a colder fluid, and the incoming air already highly compressed from the flight speed and shock waves, the fed pressure in the combustion chamber is around 140 atm. When in rocket mode, the inlet cone is closed and liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are burned from on-board fuel tanks for the remaining 80% of velocity and climb required to reach orbit.
On a very recent note, feasibility studies conducted by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory were successfully passed in 2015.
Although the application of the SABRE engine is destined for orbital use, its cousin (Scimitar) has been designed for the environmental-friendly A2 hypersonic (top speed higher than Mach 5) passenger jet for 300 rushed passengers (about 3 times more than the Concorde) under the LAPCAT (Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies) study founded by the European Union.
When dealing with such high speeds, noise becomes a real constraint and flying above inhabited areas is restricted, which is why specific aerial routes are designed. According to Alan Bond, the A2 design could fly subsonically from Brussels International Airport into the North Atlantic, reaching Mach 5 across the North Pole and over the Pacific to Australia in about 4.6 hours, with a price tag similar to what you would pay for business class these days. This speed would heat the body of the craft so that windows are not an option because the appropriate thickness would represent a considerable weight. It is therefore thanks to flat panel displays showing images that you would be able to enjoy the scenery.
When one talks about high-velocity flight it is difficult not to think of the French Concorde that operated between 1976 and 2003 and could travel at Mach 2.04 (limited by thermal constraints due to the material used) using the Scramjet technology; scramjet standing for “supersonic combustion ramjet”. This allowed a New York City to Paris flight in less than 3.5 hours instead of 8 hours with a conventional jet.
The principle of this technology is to compress air with shock waves under the body of the aircraft before injecting the fuel (the Concorde’s intake ramp system can be seen on the figure on the right).
Due to the high inefficiency of this technology at low speeds, afterburners are used from take-off until reaching the upper transonic regime.
Keeping in mind that the heating of the Concorde’s body due to friction could make it expand by as much as close to a foot, it becomes easy to understand one of the reasons why high altitudes (scarcer air and therefore lesser aerodynamic resistance) are chosen for such high flight velocities; the Concorde cruising altitude was around 56,000 ft and would be decreased when sun radiation levels were becoming too high. On a side note you can keep an eye out at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris (France) for a Concorde displayed outside.
Oh and did I forget to mention that the turbomachinery parts on the SABRE engine are currently being designed in the AxSTREAM suite??
Gas turbines are continuing their trend in becoming more efficient with each generation. However, the rate at which their efficiency increases is not significant enough to match more and more constraining environmental goals and regulations. New technologies like combined cycles therefore need to be used to increase cycle-specific power (more power produced without burning additional fuel).
The first generation of combined cycles featured a bottoming steam cycle that uses the heat from the gas turbine exhausts to boil off water in order to power a turbine and generate power. This traditional approach has been around since about 1970 and nowadays allows obtaining an additional 20% in cycle thermal efficiency (40% in simple gas turbine cycle configuration vs. 60% as a combined gas-steam cycle).
While this traditional approach is definitely effective, it does have some drawbacks; the equipment usually takes a significant amount of 3D space, there is always the risk of corrosion and substantial structural damage when working with 2-phase fluids, and so on. This, therefore, allows for different technologies to emerge, like supercritical CO2 cycles.
A supercritical fluid is a fluid that is used above its critical pressure and temperature and therefore behaves as neither a liquid nor a gas but as a different state (high density vs gas, absence of surface tensions, etc.). As a working fluid, supercritical CO2 has numerous advantages over some other fluids, including a high safety usage, non-flammability/toxicity, high density, inexpensiveness and absence of 2-phase fluid.
Moreover, steam turbines are usually difficultly scalable to small capacities which mean that they are mostly used in a bottoming cycle configuration for high power gas turbines. On the other hand supercritical CO2 (Rankine) cycles can be used for smaller machines as well as the bigger units while featuring an efficiency comparable to the one of a typical Rankine cycle and estimated lower installation, operation and maintenance costs.
The paper I presented at the ASME Power & Energy 2015 compares different configurations of SCO2 bottoming cycles for an arbitrary case for different boundary conditions before applying the selected cycle to a wide range of existing gas turbine units. This allowed determining how much additional power could be generated without needing to burn additional fuel and the results were far from insignificant! For the machines studied the potential for power increase ranges from 15% to 40% of the gas turbine unit power. Want to know how much more power you can get with your existing machines? Contact us to get a quote for a feasibility study before designing the waste heat recovery system yourself or with our help.
Demystifying “Pushbutton” Approaches for CFD & FEA Design, Analysis, Redesign, & Optimization of Turbomachines
Although there is not just one way to design a turbomachine there sure is one way not to do it; blindly.
A misconception that I commonly see when teaching engineers about fundamentals of turbomachines, as well as when leading design workshops, is that some engineers (mostly the younger generations) envision themselves plugging numbers, pushing buttons and getting results immediately without any real brain power behind their actions.
Nowadays, software packages are an integral part of an engineer’s toolkit, but in the same way that a mechanic would not (or should not) use a screwdriver as a hammer, each software has its own applications and ways to use it.
It is common knowledge that CFD analyses are more of a “see you tomorrow” affair than an “I’ll grab a coffee and I’ll be back”.
Although the fairly recent developments in electronics allow for more computing power while being more affordable, it can still take a significant amount of time to run a good CFD case.
One of the main advantages of running CFD is that there is no need to have an actual, manufactured prototype in order to run an experiment. Prototypes have been known to be mainly restricted to companies/individuals that had manufacturing capabilities and quite a lot of money on their hands. However, with recent advancements like 3D printing, this prototyping is not only possible but is also relatively fast (and getting faster everyday with new techniques being developed).
It comes to a point where it is worth evaluating, qualitatively, each method, however different they actually are.
Although CFD is an extremely common practice in modern day engineering and is immensely useful, it tends to sometimes completely replace actual prototyping and this can create some issues… Indeed, CFD is neither an exact science nor it is always “cheap” (some complex problems can easily cost several thousand dollars in computing costs) but either way it sure has its perks. These two arguments are unfortunately largely part of a general misconception of CFD that decision makers and the younger generation of engineers are often victims of. When managers are given the choice between purchasing a software that can supposedly simulate any physical problem (CFD case) and a machine that can physically build components (manufacturing case) the upfront cost strongly leads these decision makers to adopt the first option.
However, CFD does not always suffice. Results of CFD analyses are influenced by numerical and modeling errors, unknown boundary conditions or geometry and more. Refining your mesh is becoming easier and ultimately leads to reduced numerical errors while, at the same time, increasing your calculation time. Modeling errors can come from misuse or inaccuracy of certain models when trying to simulate real, complex physics like turbulence. And so on to the point that different codes and even different engineers can find some minor discrepancies in the final results of the same case.
This means that less experienced engineers tend to over-trust their results, thinking of CFD as the universal answer to every physical problem. To place (smartly) more confidence in CFD results the codes should be calibrated and corrected based on experimental results that do require prototyping at some point unless a product is wrongly put on the market without proper physical testing – which can happen, unfortunately. Comparing both an original and an optimized geometry in CFD is perfectly possible and realistic but as for any solver a baseline should be created. One cannot simply say he has improved the efficiency of a machine by 2% if the original machine was not analyzed beforehand.
Calibration of the CFD models is based on available data from experiments and this data is often very limited compared to the results that CFD can provide. While a physical test would provide values like power as well as some pressures and temperatures in most cases, CFD analyses can go way beyond this by providing parameters distributions, flow recirculation areas, representation of the boundary layer appearing on the surfaces, etc. that allow getting a good understanding of what is happening to the flow within the machine, which is something that definitely cannot be appreciated in most experimental runs. Beside the mentioned disadvantages that 3D printing has, an important one that is shared with CFD is that the time needed to build a geometry strongly depends on its size. However, CFD can deal with the repetition of an element in a row fairly accurately while the entire wheel has to be manufactured to be analyzed. This sort of restrains rapid prototyping to smaller machines, at the moment.
For these reasons and despite all these “warnings”, CFD remains and will remain an essential engineering tool that provides a good comparison of cases rather than a truly accurate representation of the reality we live in. As a conclusion, CFD still continues to evolve with the recent technological developments and should be supplemented with experimental testing instead of substituting it.
Whether it’s to drive you to work, power up your electronic devices, fly you to your holiday destination (extraterrestrial or not), or even set up the perfect lighting for this Valentine’s Day, your daily life requires power production. Although renewable energies are gaining popularity, many people remain unprepared to make the complete switch to these innovative power sources (except Iceland). Making the things we have more “energy efficient” or “green” has become an attractive marketing tool for many of businesses.
The goal of this test case is to find the gas turbine necessary to produce 58 MW of total net power for the conversion of a steam turbine to a combined gas-steam cycle while providing the highest level of cycle thermal efficiency.