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

Role of AxSTREAM® in Radial Turbine Design

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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