Birth, Fall and Resurgence of Gas Turbine Technology for Trains

We as human kind have always aimed at achieving something better, something bigger. This led to the research on gas turbines, which was mainly inspired due to the immediate requirement in the aerospace and power generation industry, to also look beyond the scope of aeronautics.

Gast Turbine

Today gas turbine technology is often used when dealing with aerospace and power generation industries, but believe it or not, gas turbine technology has been used in ground transportation too;  notably locomotives.

The Early Applications

After the first world war, several countries had the expertise and the finances to invest in achieving the technological edge in the new post war era. The gas turbine technology was one such technological endeavor, and by the mid-20th century the gas turbine could be found in several applications. Birth of gas turbine locomotives can be credited to two distinct characteristics of these locomotives versus the contemporary diesel locomotives. First, there are fewer moving parts in a gas turbine, decreasing the need for lubrication. This can also potentially reduce the maintenance costs. Second, the power-to-weight ratio is much higher for such locomotives which makes a turbine of a given power output physically smaller than an equally powerful piston engine, allowing a locomotive to be powerful enough without being too bulky.

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Pump Characteristic Curves

Introduction

A pump is a hardware, which feeds energy to a fluid (e.g. Water) to flow through channels. Pumps are used, for example, to direct water out of the ground, to transport drinking or sewerage water over large distances in combined pipe networks or to discard water from polders. In any practical application, the pump needs to work with its best performance. It is also important to check that the flow rate and head of the pump are within the required specifications, which are normally presented as the Pump Characteristic curves. These plots play an important role in understanding the region in which the pump needs to be operated thus ensuring the life of the pump.

Pump Characteristic Curves

The performance of any type of pump can be shown graphically, which can be based on either the tests conducted by the manufacturer or the simulations done by the designer. These plots are presented as Pump Characteristic Curves. The hydraulic properties of any pump (e.g. Centrifugal Pump) can be described by the following characteristics.

  1. Q-H Curve
  2. Efficiency Curve
  3. Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) Curve

 

Pump characteristic curves generated from AxSTREAM
Figure 1 Pump characteristic curves generated from AxSTREAM

Q-H Curve

The Q-H curve gives the relation between the volume flow rate and the pressure head, i.e. the lower the pump head, the higher the flow rate. Q-H curves are provided by the manufacturer of the pump and can normally be considered as simple quadratic curves.
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Can a sales team select the right turbomachinery for a client without bothering the engineering team?

This might seem like a strange question, but we get ask this a lot. The question takes the form of: Can the sales side do a proper preliminary design and select the optimal machine (turbine/compressor/pump)?  Is it possible for the design and application task to be integrated in a way allowing the application team the autonomy to make decisions without going back to the engineering team every time they get an inquiry? After realizing how large of a pain point this is for our clients, we decided to solve this problem for a major turbine manufacturer in Asia and in the process, provided a time-saving solution to maximize the returns for all the stakeholders.

The challenge came with the different competencies of the sales and design team. The sales/application teams are not necessarily experts in design while designers cannot double as application engineers to meet the sales requirements.

In our efforts to solve this issue, we worked with this turbine manufacturer. We listed all of their current processes, limitation, requirements, constraints, and etc. to explore the many possible ways to resolve this pain point. In the end, there were two solutions; (1) Develop custom selection software, or (2) Leverage the AxSTREAM® platform using AxSTREAM ION™.

    1. Developing Custom Selection Software: Developing a custom selection software specific to the manufacturer where their application team can choose the optimal turbine based on expected customer needs. Developing such a custom system requires bringing together the expertise of different teams from turbomachinery (such as aero-thermal and structural) to software developer, testing, etc. Developing such a one-off system also takes considerable time at considerable cost. This approach could solve the current problem, but with rapidly changing technologies and market requirements, this is not a viable long-term solution.
    2. Leverage the AxSTREAM® Platform using AxSTREAM ION™: We evaluated the limitation and possibilities of utilizing our turbomachinery design platform AxSTREAM® to meet the requirement of sales/application engineering team for today’s needs and in the future. We found the organization had a greater advantage using this existing platform rather than investing in the short-term solution of developing a custom selection software. Many of the building blocks required for customization are already available to use via an interface a non-technical sales person could easily use. This platform was utilized for meeting the requirement of this turbine manufacturer saving time and cost while resolving a large pain-point for the organization.

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Clean Energy

As turbomachinery engineers, it is not always easy to tell non-technical folks what we do. If we start with “I design turbines,” the first thing most people think of are those giant wind turbines, and we are stuck with the nickname “wind guy/gal”. What we do is far more complex than putting 3 blades on a stick and confusing bystanders with why the turbine is rotating on a seemingly windless day; and don’t even get me started on the claims that wind turbines are a non-visually pleasing ploy from the government to make use of our taxpayers money.

Clean Energy

Okay, maybe I will get started on those topics, but not in this series. Today, I am introducing a new series of blog posts related to clean energies and how turbomachines tie in with this not-so-novel concept making a lot of noise nowadays.

Throughout this series, we will be discussing the different “clean” technologies in power generation which people have been using for hundreds of years, some more recent “hipster-y” applications, and look at what could make a difference in tomorrow’s world. These short posts will cover general and practical information, which students as well as seasoned engineers can use to better understand the topic at hand. Some articles/parts will be more technical than others, and no matter what your current level of proficiency, you will be able to pick out some useful takeaways.
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Evaluating the Scalability of Different Combined Cycles with Bottoming sCO2 Turbines

Bottoming cycles are generating a real interest in a world where resources are becoming scarcer and the environmental footprint of power plants is becoming more controlled. With this in mind, reduction of flue gas temperature, power generation boost, and even production of heat for cogeneration application is very attractive and it becomes necessary to quantify how much can really be extracted from a simple cycle to be converted to a combined configuration.

Sco2 Power Unit

Supercritical CO2 is becoming an ideal working fluid primarily due to two factors. First, turbomachines are being designed to be significantly more compact. Second, the fluid operates at a high thermal efficiency in the cycles. These two factors create an increased interest in its various applications. Evaluating the option of combined gas and supercritical CO2 cycles for different gas turbine sizes, gas turbine exhaust gas temperatures and configurations of bottoming cycle type becomes an essential step toward creating guidelines for the question, “how much more can I get with what I have?”
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An Introduction to Centrifugal Pumps

In every modern cleaning system there exists at least one pumping unit. With this in mind, understanding how it works and how to use it efficiently is critical to the successful operation and maintenance of that cleaning system. This blog will discuss centrifugal pumps in this context and take a look at important attributes to bear in mind when working with these systems.

In general, pumps are devices which impart energy to a flow of liquid.  Although there are different types of pumps based on the flow direction, blade designs, and so on, centrifugal pumps are in the majority of those used in cleaning systems.  Centrifugal pumps are simple, efficient, reliable, relatively inexpensive, and easily meet the needs of most cleaning system requirements including spraying, overflow sparging, filtration, turbulation and the basic function of moving liquids from one place to another using pressure.

A centrifugal pump uses a combination of angular velocity and centrifugal force to pump liquids.  The below figure illustrates the working principle of the centrifugal pump.

Centrifugal Pump

The pump consists of a circular pump housing which is usually made up of metals, (stain steels etc.) solid plastic, or ceramics.  The outlet extends tangentially from the diameter of the pump housing.  Inside the pump housing there is a rotating component an “impeller” which rotates perpendicular to the central axis and is driven by a shaft secured to its center of rotation.  The shaft, powered by an electric motor, enters the pump housing through a liquid tight seal which prevents leaking.  Liquid entering the pump through the inlet is swirled in a circular motion and displaced from the rotation center of the impeller by centrifugal force.  The combination of the swirling action (angular velocity) and centrifugal force (radial velocity) pushes the liquid out of the pump through the outlet.

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Design of Transonic Axial Compressors

Nowadays, transonic axial flow compressors are very common for aircraft engines in order to obtain maximum pressure ratios per single-stage, which will lead to engine weight and size reduction and therefore less operational costs. Although the performance of these compressors is already high, a further increment in efficiency can result in huge savings in fuel costs and determine a key factor for product success. Therefore, the manufacturers put a lot of effort towards this aspect, while trying to broaden the operating range of the compressors at the same time.

Axial Compressor Designed in AxSTREAM

The creation of shocks, strong secondary flows and other phenomena increases the complexity of the flow field inside a transonic compressor and challenges the designers who need to face many negative flow characteristics such as, high energy losses, efficiency decrease, flow blockage, separation and many more. As the compressor operates from peak to near-stall, the blade loading increases and flow structures become stronger and unsteady. Despite the presence of such flow unsteadiness, the compressor can still operate in a stable mode. Rotating stall arises when the loading is further increased, i.e. at a condition of lower mass flow rate. There are several possible techniques to limit the negative effect of the flow features mentioned above. Here we will present only two. The first one is related to the blade shape generation, while the second one is linked to flow control techniques.

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Direct Off-Design Performance Prediction of an Industrial Gas Turbine Engine

The modern gas turbine engine has been used in the power generation industry for almost half a century. Traditionally, gas turbines are designed to operate with the best efficiency during normal operating conditions and at specific operating points. However, the real world is non-optimal and the engine may have to operate at off-design conditions due to load requirements, different ambient temperatures, fuel types, relative humidity and driven equipment speed. Also more and more base-load gas turbines have to work at partial load, which can affect the hot gas path condition and life expectancy.

At these off-design conditions, the gas turbine efficiency and life deterioration rate can significantly deviate from the design specifications. During a gas turbine’s life, power generation providers may need to perform several overhauls or upgrades for their engines. Thus, the off-design performance after the overhaul can also change. Prediction of gas turbine off-design performance is essential to economic operation of power generation equipment. In the following post, such a system for complex design and off-design performance prediction (AxSTREAM®) is presented. It enables users to predict the gas turbine engine design and off-design performance almost automatically. Each component’s performance such as the turbine, compressor, combustor and secondary flow (cooling) system is directly and simultaneously calculated for every off-design performance request, making it possible to build an off-design performance map including the cooling system. The presented approach provides a wide range of capabilities for optimization of operation modes of industrial gas turbine engines and other complex turbomachinery systems for specific operation conditions (environment, grid demands more).

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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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