Overcoming the Use of ICEs in Hybrid Electric Vehicles with Turbomachinery – Micro-Turbine Range Extenders – Part 2

As introduced in the last blog regarding Micro-Turbine Range Extenders, we will continue the discussion of turbine engine applications in the automotive sector in this blog.

Looking to solve the problem of range anxiety in electric vehicles, many companies have started exploring the business model of recharging electric batteries in automotive vehicles with a parallel turbine engine driving a generator – coined under the term ‘micro-turbine range extender’ (or MTRE).  As seen in the turbine-powered car programs initiated in the 50s and 60s, issues with low efficiencies, slow throttle response, and capital cost of the powertrain rendered all of these programs futile shortly after their inception.  However, the revolution of electric vehicles and hybrid technologies has allowed this technology to resurface from a different direction.  With battery-driven electric motors designated as the main driver, these cars are equipped with a technology that has both energy efficient low-end torque as well as groundbreaking throttle response and many of the former drawbacks during its initial iterations are solved using an electric drivetrain.  The turbine-engine, instead of operating as the main driver, will now only operate at its most efficient power output mode and work to simply drive electricity through the generator, recharging the vehicle’s battery packs.  Acting as an isolated thermo-mechanical system, a micro-turbine range extender can be designed and optimized without having to worry about the varying duty cycles and idling that is inherent in the vehicle’s drivetrain. The thermodynamic model of a typical micro-turbine range extender can be seen below in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Thermodynamic Formulation of a Micro-Turbine Range Extender Model in AxCYCLE™

One application within commercial vehicles that has benefitted from this technology utilizes a MTRE system developed by Wrightspeed.  The specific application lies within retrofitting refuse trucks with this electric powertrain in order to help them save an estimated $35,000 a year on fuel and maintenance costs.  In such heavy-duty applications, it is obvious that the potential for fuel cost and maintenance savings is much higher due to the large fuel burning needed for these vehicles as well as the harsh drive cycle a refuse truck goes through.  The question in the expansion of this technology generally comes in two forms: What makes the micro-gas turbine range extender a better alternative than a normal ICE hybrid option? – and – What is the viability of scaling this for consumer vehicles given the capital cost of the drivetrain?

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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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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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SuperTruck II Program and Waste Heat Recovery Systems

Familiar to many, the 2011 SuperTruck program was a five-year challenge set by the U.S. Department of Energy to create a Class-8 truck that improves fuel efficiency by 50 percent.  Hoping for even more groundbreaking achievements this time around, the Department of Energy has initiated a second five-year program to bring further fuel-efficiency advancements and near closer to eventual commercialization.  Cummins, Peterbilt, Daimler Trucks North America, Navistar, and Volvo Group remain the five teams involved in this R&D endeavor.  Michael Berube, head of the Energy Department’s vehicle technology office mentioned “SuperTruck II has set goals beyond where the companies think they can be.”  SuperTruck II is looking for a 100 percent increase in freight-hauling efficiency and a new engine efficiency standard of 55 percent.  With such lofty goals, the SuperTruck II development teams will need to tackle improvements in freight efficiencies from all sides.

Figure 1 - Daimler SuperTruck
Figure 1 – Daimler SuperTruck

Material considerations, body aerodynamics, low-resistance tires, predictive torque management using GPS and terrain information, combustion efficiency, and several other improvements methods on the first iteration have demonstrated how the SuperTruck II will require a multi-phase and integrated systems approach to achieve equally successful numbers. However, with an engine efficiency target that is 31 percent above the SuperTruck’s first go around, special attention will be required on engine advancement to achieve an efficiency standard of 55 percent.

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Foil Air Bearings for High-Temperature Turbocharger Applications

Within the realm of turbocharging, there are a number of different design challenges that influence the design process on both large-scale marine applications and smaller-scale commercial automobile applications.  From aerodynamic loads to dynamic control systems to rotor dynamics and bearing challenges, turbochargers represent a special subset of turbomachinery that requires complex and integrated solutions.  Turbocharger rotors specifically, have unique characteristics due to the dynamics of having a heavy turbine and compressor wheel located at the overhang ends of the rotor. The majority of turbocharger rotors are supported within a couple floating-ring oil film bearings.  In general, these bearings provide the damping necessary to support the high gyroscopic moments of the impeller wheels.  However, there are several disadvantages of working with these oil systems that have allowed different technologies to start to surface for these turbomachines.  With the floating-ring oil models, varying ring speed ratios and oil viscosity changes significantly influence the performance of the rotor dynamic model.

Dan blog bearing for turbochargers
Figure 1 – Floating-Ring Bearing Model for a Turbocharger

The application of oil-free bearings have started to emanate due to the overall consistency of their performance and the minimized heat loss associated with air as the damping fluid. Studies on these bearing types for turbomachinery applications are neither trivial nor unique, as they have seen plenty of exposure within the commercial and military aircraft industries within turbo compressors and turboexpanders. However, the success of these specific applications are due to the fact that these turbomachines operate with light loads and relatively low temperatures. The main design challenges with foil air bearings are a result of poor rotor dynamic performance, material capabilities, and inadequate load capacities at high temperature/high load applications.

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Simultaneous Design for Turbocharger Compressors and Turbine Wheels

AxSTREAM Blade Profiling
Figure 1- AxSTREAM 3D Blade Profiler for Radial Designs

Increasing regulation for reducing emissions has forced the automotive industry to accept different technologies over the years in order to stay ahead of the market. In an industry that is so accustomed to internal combustion engines, new solutions such as electric motors and turbocharger systems have allowed experts in other industries to cultivate an influence in the automotive market. Specifically in the realm of turbomachinery, increased development has gone into designing turbochargers in order to minimize the effect and size of internal combustion engines. Design challenges are inherent in the fact that an engine is a positive displacement device whereas the turbocharger falls under aerodynamic turbomachinery. The two separate machine types have distinctly different flow characteristics, and the proper sizing of a turbocharger for its parent engine requires proper modeling of the engineering system as a whole.

In general, initial turbocharger sizing becomes a matter of obtaining the necessary boundary conditions required for a preliminary design. A thermodynamic cycle analysis of an ICE-Turbocharger system will allow the designer to obtain an initial idea of the bounds

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Axial Compressor Challenges in Hyperloop Designs

Back when the California high-speed rail project was announced, Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Inc. and perhaps the most admired tech leader of present day) was not only disappointed with this project, but also introduced an alternative to this system called the Hyperloop in 2012.  Since the abstract of this project was introduced, many engineers around the world have started to evaluate the feasibility of this “5th Mode of Transportation”.

Hyperloop Alpha Conceptual Design Sketch
Hyperloop Alpha Conceptual Design Sketch

The general idea for the Hyperloop consists of a passenger pod operating within a low-pressure environment suspended by air bearings.  At the realistic speeds estimated by NASA of 620 mph, the pod will be operating in the transonic region.  While Japan’s mag-lev bullet train has succeeded at achieving speeds of up to 374 mph, the scale and complexity of a ground transportation system rising above 600 mph bring to surface an unusual number of engineering challenges. As well, brand new designs such as the one proposed by Musk have a certain amount of risk involved due to this technology inherently having no previous run history on a large scale.

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Surge Conditions of Centrifugal and Axial Compressors

Centrifugal and axial compressors must operate within certain parameters dictated by both the constraints of the given application as well as a number of mechanical factors.  In general, integrated control systems allow compressors to navigate dynamically within their stable operating range.   Typical operating ranges for compressors are represented on a plot of volumetric flow rate versus compression ratio.  Compressors have a wide number of applications, from household vacuum cleaners to large 500 MW gas turbine units.  Compression ratios found in refrigeration applications are typically around 10:1, while in air conditioners they are usually between 3:1 and 4:1.  Of course, multiple compressors can be arranged in series to increase the ratio dramatically to upwards of 40:1 in gas turbine engines.  While compressors in different applications range dramatically in their pressure ratios, similar incidents require engineers to carefully evaluate what is the proper operating range for the particular compressor design.

Dan Post 10
Figure 1- Typical Performance Map Limits – Compressor Ratio (Rc) vs. Volumetric Flow Rate (Qs)

For intensive applications of centrifugal and axial compressors, the phenomenon of surge resides as one of the limiting boundary conditions for the operation of the turbomachine. Essentially, surge is regarded as the phenomena when the energy contained in the gas being compressed exceeds the energy imparted by the rotating blades of the compressor. As a result of the energetic gas overcoming the backpressure, a rapid flow reversal will occur as the gas expands back through the compressor. Once this gas expands back through to the suction of the compressor, the operation of the compressor returns back to normal. However, if preventative measures are not taken by the appropriate controls system or any implemented mechanical interruptions, the compressor will return to a state of surge. This cyclic event is referred to as surge cycling and can result in serious damage to the rotor seals, rotor bearings, driver mechanisms, and overall cycle operation.

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Component Matching of Industrial Gas Turbines

An important first step in understanding the gas turbine design process is the knowledge of how individual components act given their particular boundary conditions. However, in order to effectively leverage these individual design processes, a basic knowledge of how these components interact with each other is essential to the overall performance of a gas turbine unit. The power and efficiency outputs of a gas turbine are the result of a complex interaction between different turbomachines and a combustion system. Therefore, performance metrics for a gas turbine are not only based on the respective performances of each turbine, compressor, and combustion system, but also on their interactions. The concept of component matching becomes crucial in understanding how to deal with these systems simultaneously.

two-shaft-gas-turbine
Figure 2 – Simplified Two-Shaft Gas Turbine Arrangement Modeled in AxCYCLE

In general, gas turbines for industrial applications consist of a compressor, a power turbine, and a gas generator turbine designed into one of two arrangements. The first arrangement invokes the use of the gas generator turbine to drive the air compressor, and a power turbine to load the generator on a separate shaft. This two-shaft arrangement allows the speed of the gas generator turbine to only depend on the load applied to the engine. On a single-shaft arrangement, the system obviously cannot exist at varied speeds and the power turbine coupled with the gas generator turbine would be responsible for driving both the generator and the compressor. A simplified diagram of each arrangement is displayed in Figures 1 and 2.

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Utilization of Supercritical CO2 Bottoming Cycles

In the ever-expanding market for waste-heat recovery methods, different approaches have been established in order to combat the latest environmental restrictions while achieving more attractive power plant efficiencies.  As gas turbine cycles continue to expand within the energy market, one particular technology has seen a significant upsurge due to a number of its beneficial contributions.  Supercritical CO2 (S-CO2) bottoming cycles have allowed low power units to utilize waste heat recovery economically.  For many years, the standard for increasing the efficiency level of a GTU (Gas Turbine Unit) was to set up a steam turbine Rankine cycle to recycle the gas turbine exhaust heat.  However, the scalability constraints of the steam system restrict its application to only units above 120MW.

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