Micro-turbines for Extending Electric Car Range

The concept of using gas turbines to power a car is not new. In fact, for many decades now, various car manufacturers have experimented with the idea of using either axial or radial gas turbines as the main propulsion of concept vehicles. In the 50’s and 60’s it was Fiat and Chrysler who introduced such concept cars. In those cases, the gas turbine was directly powering the wheels for propulsion. Toyota followed the same concept in the 80’s (Figure 1) [2]. Their concept car utilized a radial turbine in order to propel the vehicle using an advanced electronically controlled transmission system.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Toyota GTV engine [3].
The main advantage of a gas turbine compared with conventional reciprocating (or even rotary) car engines is the fact that it has a much higher power-to-weight ratio. This means that for the same engine weight, a gas turbine is able to deliver much higher power output. This is why aviation was one of the biggest adopters of this technology.

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Different Criteria Options in Turbomachinery Design Software

When people design turbomachines, whether it be a turbine, compressor, blower or fan, they need to find the optimal design based on their criterion under certain constraints.

With AxSTREAM®, people are given several options for their design criteria, which provides flexibility. With that being said, we often get asked what their differences are and here is a brief explanation addressing just that.

The design criteria menu includes power, internal total-to-static efficiency, internal total-to-total efficiency, polytropic efficiency, diagram total-to-static efficiency, and diagram total-to-total efficiency as shown in Figure 1

Figure 1 - Design Criteria Options in AxSTREAM Preliminary Design
Figure 1 – Design Criteria Options in AxSTREAM® Preliminary Design

Power and efficiency are related, but not always the same thing, especially when the boundary conditions are not fixed as design parameters. In AxSTREAM’s Preliminary Design Module, the user can set boundary conditions such as pressure at inlet and outlet, inlet total temperature, etc., as a range instead of a specific value. Along with other parameters, the solver generates hundreds or even thousands of solutions within the range.

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A Small Review with a Big Context

This being my last post for 2017, I wanted to do a short review of what we have been discussing this year. During the beginning of the year, I decided to focus on the 3D analyses and capabilities that were implemented in our AxCFD and AxSTRESS modules for fluid and structural dynamics. With that in mind, my posts were tailored towards such, highlighting the importance of the right turbulence modelling for correct flow prediction. Among other topics, we studied the key factors that lead to resonance, the importance of not neglecting the energy transfer between fluid and structure, and the great advantage that increasing computing capacity offers to engineers in order to understand turbomachinery in depth. However, no matter how great the benefits are, the approximations and errors from CFD can still lead to high uncertainty. Together, we identified the most important factors, from boundary conditions all the way to mesh generation and simulation of cooling flows, and we put an emphasis on the necessary development of uncertainty quantification models. This 3D module related topic finished with an extensive article on fatigue in turbomachinery which plays a crucial role in the failure of the machine, and was the cause for many accidents in the past.

SoftInWay’s AxCFD Module

The second part of my posts focused on different industries that rely on turbomachinery as we tried to identify the challenges that they face. Being fascinated by the space industry along with the increasing interest of the global market for launching more rockets for different purposes, I started this chapter with the description of a liquid rocket propulsion system and how this can be designed or optimized using the AxSTREAM platform. Moving a step closer to earth, next I focused on the aerospace industry and the necessity for robust aircraft engines that are optimized, highly efficient, and absolutely safe. One of the articles that I enjoyed the most referred to helicopters and the constant threats that could affect the engine performance, the overall operation and the safety of the passengers. Dust, salt and ice are only a few of the elements that could affect the operation of the rotating components of the helicopter engine, which allows us understand how delicate this sophisticated and versatile aircraft is.
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Gas Turbine Cooling – Enhance Current Advances with SoftInWay

The development of turbine cooling is a process that requires continuous improvements and upgrades. A gas turbine engine is a thermal device and so it is composed of a range of major and minor cooling and heating systems. Turbine cooling is just a small part of the total engine system cooling challenges (combustor system cooling, heat exchangers, casings, bores, compressor and turbine disks, bearings and gears etc.). However, effective turbine cooling consists of the greatest economic factor when it comes to engine development and repair costs, representing up to 30% of the total cost.

As a thermodynamic Brayton cycle, the performance of the gas turbine engine is influenced by the turbine inlet temperature, and the raise of this temperature can lead to better performance and more efficient machines. Current advancements in the development of cooling systems allows most modern gas turbines to operate in temperatures much higher than the material melting point. Of course nothing would have been possible without the parallel development of advanced materials for structural components as well as advances in computing resources and consequently in aerodynamic design, prognostic and health monitoring systems and lifing processes. In particular, as far as the lifing of the machine is concerned, the high pressure (HP) turbine containing the most advanced high temperature alloys and associated processing methods, as well as the combustor which represents the key components that have limited life and tend to strictly dictate the cycles of operation and the allowable time on the wing.

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

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Design of Inlet Guide Vane (IGV) for Centrifugal Compressors

All centrifugal compressor designers want to achieve the highest efficiency as well as wide operating range. With this in mind, the inlet guide vane (IGV) is a convenient and economic option for various applications.

IGVs are a series of blades circumferentially arranged at the inlet of compressor, driven electronically or pneumatically.By adjusting the orientation of IGVs, the air flow enters the impeller at a different direction therefore changing the flow behavior while affecting the passing mass flow rate (throttling). This can effectively reduce the power consumption to increase the compressor’s overall efficiency while avoiding surge to provide a better off design working range.

The designer needs to optimize blade profile and positioning of the IGV for efficient operation of a compressor, which can be a tedious job if one does not have a handy tool. Figure 1 shows an example of IGV working on different angles.

Example IGV Characteristic Curve
Figure 1. Example IGV Characteristic Curve

In AxSTREAM, people are able to add IGV component before the centrifugal compressor impeller which can provide different ways to edit its profile such as: Read More

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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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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