Driving Turboexpander Technology

Turboexpanders are used in a number of applications, including floating LNG (liquefied natural gas), LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) / NGL (natural gas liquids), dew point control, and ethylene plants.  Used as a highly efficient system that takes advantage of high pressure, high-temperature flows, the turboexpander both produces cryogenic temperatures and simultaneously converts thermal energy into shaft power.  Essentially, a turboexpander is comprised of a radial inflow expansion turbine and a centrifugal compressor combined as a single unit on a rigid shaft. The process fluid from a plant stream will run through the expansion turbine to both provide low-temperature refrigeration and convert thermal energy to mechanical power as a byproduct.  First, the gas will radially enter the variable inlet nozzles (or guide vanes) of the turbine, which will allow for a localized increase in fluid velocity prior to entering the turbine wheel.  The turbine wheel will accept this high-temperature, high-pressure, accelerated gas and convert it into mechanical energy via shaft rotation. The primary product of a turboexpander manifests at the outflow of this turbine.  After the process gas passes through the turbine wheel, this gas has expanded so dramatically that it produces cryogenic temperatures colder than any other equipment in the plant.

Figure 1- Typical Turboexpander – Expander-Compressor Configuration

The useful mechanical energy converted from this system is generally used to drive a centrifugal compressor positioned on the opposite end of the shaft.  In the case of this expander-compressor setup, the mentioned turboexpander technology avoids the excessive use of fuel consumption seen in other systems, and significantly decreases the CO2 footprint of the overall design.  As well, there are various examples of turboexpanders that use an expander-generator setup, which converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into direct electrical power.  Turboexpanders have come a long way in the last 40 years.  With the advent of magnetic bearings and more advanced sealing systems, turboexpanders have been able to handle shaft speeds in large and small machines of up to 10,000 rpm and 120,000 rpm, respectively.  Moreover, innovations in specific CFD modules for turbomachinery have allowed turboexpander systems to achieve efficiencies upwards of 90%.

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Understanding the Characteristics of Varying Centrifugal Blower Designs

Many people speculate about the confusion on what is considered a compressor, a blower, or simply a fan.  In essence, each of these turbo-machines achieve a pressure rise by adding velocity to a continuous flow of fluid.  The distinctions between fans, blowers, and compressors are quite simply defined by one parameter, the specific pressure ratio.  Each machine type, however, utilizes a number of different design techniques specific to lower and higher-pressure applications.  As per the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the specific pressure is defined as the ratio of the discharge pressure over the suction pressure (or inlet pressure).  The table shown below defines the range at which fans, blowers, and compressors are categorized.

Similarities between the design of fans and blowers occur near the lower end of a blower’s range.  As well, many design parallels exist between high-pressure blowers and compressors.  For the article, we will be investigating the different design characteristics of centrifugal blowers. Blower selection depends on a number of factors including operating range, efficiency, space limitations, and material handled.   Figure 1 shows a number of different impeller blade designs that are available for centrifugal blowers.

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Gaining Turbomachinery Insight Using a Fluid Structure Interaction Approach

Existing research studies for the corresponding flow-induced vibration analysis of centrifugal pumps are mainly carried out without considering the interaction between fluid and structure. The ignorance of fluid structure interaction (FSI) means that the energy transfer between fluid and structure is neglected. To some extent, the accuracy and reliability of unsteady flow and rotor deflection analysis should be affected by this interaction mechanism.

In recent years, more and more applications of FSI are found in the reliability research of turbomachinery. Most of them are about turbines, and a few of them address pumps. Kato [1] predicted the noise from a multi-stage centrifugal pump using one-way coupling method. This practical approach treats the fluid physics and the solid physics consecutively.

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A Reasonable Approach to Pump Design While Avoiding Resonance

For the majority of pump application, the growing use of variable speed operation has increased the likelihood of resonance conditions that can cause excessive vibration levels, which can negatively impact pump performance and reliability. Mechanical resonance is the tendency of a mechanical system to absorb more energy when the frequency of its oscillations (external excitation source) matches the system’s natural frequency of vibration more than it does at other frequencies. To avoid vibration issues, potential complications must be properly addressed and mitigated during the design phase.

Some of the factors that may cause excitation of a natural frequency include rotational balance, impeller exit pressure pulsations, and gear couplings misalignment. The effect of the resonance can be determined by evaluating the pumping machinery construction. All aspects of the installation such as the discharge head, mounting structure, piping and drive system will affect lateral, torsional and structural frequencies of the pumping system. It is advised that the analysis be conducted during the initial design phase to reduce the probability of reliability problems and the time and expense associated.

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Impeller Design Challenges on Integrally Geared Centrifugal Compressors

The integrally geared compressor, also known as a multi-shaft compressor, is a technology that has been around since the 1960s, but remains underdeveloped.  Usually seen in applications in the industrial gases industry, integrally geared compressors (IGCs) can range in size from small product machines to steam turbine driven high-horsepower, high-flow compressors for air separation plants.  These compressors modular construction principle, consisting of as many as eight different stages, allows for implementation in a large number of varied customer processes.  The main advantages of IGCs in the industrial gases industry is the compact design and smaller installation footprint, efficiency increases due to the use of multiple speeds for separate impellers, and overall lower operational and installation costs.

Figure 1 – Semi-Open Impeller

One of the key design differences between the standard inline compressors and the IGCs is that the integrally geared compressor makes use of both closed AND semi-open impellers.  The reason for the use of open impellers in IGCs are the higher strengths due to better manufacturing techniques, speed of manufacture, and the inherent lower costs.  However, the main drawback to having an open impeller in your system is that in the event of impeller rub, the damage to the compressor would be significantly worse than with a closed impeller.

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The Balancing Act – Rotor Stability

When designing rotating equipment, it is extremely important to take into account the types of unbalance that can occur. Forgetting this step can result in vibrations that lead to damage of the rotating parts, increasing maintenance costs and lowering efficiency. Currently, if a rotating part already vibrates or makes any noises, maintenance engineers rely on OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or third parties services companies to conduct balancing services.

Types of Unbalances

Figure 1: Static and Couple Forms of Unbalance

The three types of unbalances to consider are static, couple and dynamic. Static unbalance (Figure 1) occurs when a mass at a certain radius from the axis of rotation causes a shift in the inertia axis. Couple unbalance, usually found in cylindrical shapes, occurs when two equal masses positioned at 180 degrees from each other cause a shift in the inertia axis, leading to vibration effects on the bearings. Lastly and most common, dynamic unbalance occurs when you have a combination of both static and couple unbalance.

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The Future of Turbocharger Technology

­One of the main setbacks in scaling different turbochargers for diesel, petrol, and gas engines is the inherit variability that different turbochargers would exhibit at low or high RPMs. In order to understand this further, a common term used to describe a flow characteristic of these machines is the A/R ratio.  Technically, this ratio is defined as the inlet cross-sectional area divided by the radius from the turbo center to the centroid of that area (Figure 1).  This ratio is essentially a metric for the amount of air that is allowed into the turbine section of the turbocharger.

Ratio visualization
Figure 1 – A/R Ratio Visualization

For smaller turbochargers, lower A/R ratios allow the fast exhaust velocities to drive the turbine at lower speeds.  This results in a more responsive engine and overall higher boosts at lower RPMs.  However, once a vehicle starts to navigate at a higher RPM, smaller turbochargers experience a significant reduction in performance due to the high backpressure present in the system.  This occurs because of the low A/R ratio limits the flow capacity and does not allow a sufficient amount of air to feed into the turbine.  The same effect is present for larger turbochargers, only in reverse.  They will perform most efficiently at higher RPMs, but in turn exhibit a significant reduction in performance at lower RPMs.

In order to overcome this phenomenon, many engineers have developed more complex turbocharger systems over the years, which attempt to leverage the benefits of each type of turbo.  One of the first solutions to this dilemma was the twin turbo: simply comprised of two separate turbochargers operating in the system in parallel or in series.  The problem with this system is that it disproportionately increases the cost, complexity, and space necessary for implementation.

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Optimizing the Cooling Holes in Gas Turbine Blades

To increase the overall performance of the engine and reduce the specific fuel consumption, modern gas turbines operate at very high temperatures. However, the high temperature level of the cycle is limited by the melting point of the materials. Therefore, turbine blade cooling is necessary to reduce the blade metal temperature to increasing the thermal capability of the engine. Due to the contribution and development of turbine cooling systems, the turbine inlet temperature has doubled over the last 60 years.

Figure 1: Variations of Thermal Efficiency with TIT [1]
The cooling flow has a significant effect on the efficiency of the gas turbine. It has been found that the thermal efficiency of the cooled gas turbine is less than the uncooled gas turbine for the same input conditions (see figure 1). The reason for this is that the temperature at the inlet of turbine is decreased due to cooling and therefore, work produced by the turbine is slightly decreased. It is also known that the power consumption of the cool inlet air is of considerable concern since it decreases the net power output of  the gas turbine.

With this in mind, during  the design phase of gas turbine it is very important to optimize the cooling flow if you are considering both the performance and reliability. Cooled Gas turbine design is quite complicated and requires not only the right methodology, but also the most appropriate design tools, powerful enough to predict the results accurately from thermodynamics cycle to aerothermal design, ultimately generating the 3D blade.

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Performance Effects of Axial Turbines & Compressors Due to Roughness Variations

As turbomachinery technology continues to advance in efficiency as well as overall power, many engineers want an estimate on how long these manufactured machines will operate.  Specifically, in high-temperature and high-flow turbomachinery applications, one of the main sources of performance degradation can be attributed to increases in surface roughness.  Gas turbine and compressor blades in particular experience a substantial amount of surface degradation over their lifetime.

gas turbine blade
Figure 1 – Gas Turbine Blade and Annulus Surface Wear (Source PowerMag)

There are many mechanisms that contribute to surface degradation in airfoils and annulus surfaces.  Foreign particles adhering to the material surface (or fouling) is generally caused by any increase in contaminants such as oils, salts, carbon, and dirt in the airflow.  Corrosion occurs when there is a chemical reaction between the material surface and the environment that causes further imperfections on the machine surfaces.  Additional mechanical factors such as erosion and abrasion will play a part in a machine’s surface degradation as well.

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Rotor Dynamics – Importance of Fundamental Understanding & Software tools

Rotor and bearings are the most critical components of any rotating machinery. Rotor lifetime and reliability depend, first of all, on the level of rotor vibrations. In order to meet highest requirements of reliability each step of the rotor design should be based on accurate Rotor Dynamics prediction.

Rotor dynamics is the branch of engineering that studies the lateral and torsional vibrations of rotating shafts, with the objective of predicting the rotor excessive vibrations. Rotor Dynamics is different from structural vibrations analysis because of gyroscopic moments, cross-coupled forces, critical speeds, whirling effect, etc. These difference makers are all due to the rotation of the rotor assembly.


Understanding of basic rotor dynamics phenomena and the various types of problems is absolutely mandatory when designing and developing rotor-bearing systems for various applications. Fundamental approach for Rotor Dynamics analysis generally is based on the following steps:

  1.  Predict critical speeds.
  2. Determine design modifications to change critical speeds.
  3. Predict natural frequencies of torsional vibration.
  4. Predict amplitudes of synchronous vibration caused by rotor unbalance.
  5. Predict threshold speeds and vibration frequencies for dynamic instability.
  6. Determine design modifications to avoid dynamic instabilities.
  7. Calculate balance correction masses and locations from measured vibration data.

Another factor that determines accuracy of Rotor Dynamics calculation is rotor system simplification and the adequate modelling for rotor parts such as Impeller/disks, Sleeves, Balance pistons, Seals, Thrust collars, Couplings, Addition of Stiffening Due to Shrink Fits and Irregular Sections etc. Continue reading “Rotor Dynamics – Importance of Fundamental Understanding & Software tools”

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