Micro Gas Turbines in the Aerospace Industry

Hello and welcome to the next entry in our series on micro gas turbines! If you’re new to this series, be sure to check out our earlier blog where we: introduce the concept of the micro gas turbine; look into the history of it; and discuss some advantages and disadvantages that come with this technology.

This time, we’ll be looking at micro gas turbines in the Aviation industry (if you couldn’t guess by the title). Believe it or not, the concept and configuration of a micro gas turbine has been present in this industry for decades. We’ll get into that in a minute.

Gas turbines are certainly no stranger to the aviation industry. As a matter of fact, when many of us hear the term “gas turbine” we immediately jump to the image of a jet engine powering a massive airliner carrying us to our next adventure.

Engine of airplane
The Mighty Turbofan Engine; Brought about with thanks to Sir Frank Whittle!

Yes, these mighty turbines are indeed a staple in the aerospace industry.  But did you know that micro gas turbines are also making a rise in this industry?

Although micro gas turbines first made an appearance as an alternative to traditional piston engines in the automotive industry, they have actually been present in the aviation industry for some time.

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The Importance of Accurately Modeling a Rotor-Bearing System

Hello and welcome to the latest revolution in our series on rotor dynamics and bearing analysis. This month, we’ll be looking at what steps need to be taken to accurately model a rotor train, from the components on the rotors themselves to the bearings and structural components that support the entire machine. If you haven’t had a look at the other entries in this series, you can find them here: Series Preface

  1. What is Rotor Dynamics? And Where is it Found?
  2. Why is Rotor Dynamics so Important?
  3. What API Standards Govern Rotor Dynamics Analysis?
  4. Basic Definitions and Fundamental Concepts of Rotating Equipment Vibrations
  5. The Purposes and Objectives of Rotor Dynamics Analyses

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So what is the importance of accurately modeling a rotor-bearing system? Well we already know that an inaccurate analysis can have catastrophic consequences… If you want to know more about why, I also suggest looking at entry 2, titled “Why is Rotor Dynamics so Important?”.

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Basics of Steam Turbine Design

Steam turbines account for more than half of the world’s electricity production in power plants around the world and will continue to be the dominant force in electricity power generation for the foreseeable future. The enhancement of steam turbine efficiency is increasingly important as the urgency to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere is a problem at the forefront of power production. Increasing efficiency in steam turbines, and other components of power plants, will help meet the growing demands for electricity worldwide while reducing harmful greenhouse emissions.

Figure 1 Steam Turbine with Long Last-Stage Blades
Figure 1. Steam Turbine with Long Last-Stage Blades. Source

Steam turbines are used in coal-fired, nuclear, geothermal, natural gas-fired, and solar thermal power plants. Also steam turbines are increasingly needed to stabilize fluctuating power demands from solar and wind power stations as renewable energy sources grow worldwide. The current emphasis on steam turbine development is for increasing efficiency, mainly by increasing steam turbine capacity, as well as increasing operational availability, which translates to rapid start up and shut down procedures.  Read More

The Life of Frank Whittle and His Massive Contribution to Turbomachinery

While we at SoftInWay are known for helpful articles about designing various machines and answering questions about the pros and cons of retrofitting your turbomachinery and powerplants, we believe it is important to also examine the lives of some of the men and women behind these great machines that do so much for the world.

Frank Whittle - Image Courtesy of The Telegraph
Frank Whittle – Image Courtesy of The Telegraph

The jet engine is one of the greatest inventions of the last 100 years. It has made transcontinental travel considerably shorter. A trip that might take days on a piston driven aircraft was cut down to hours thanks to the inception of the jet engine. To this day, millions of people rely on jet engines daily for everything from themselves for vacation travel to their packages for shipping goods overnight. These engines also give the U.S. military the ability to deploy to any part of the world within 18 hours.

But who invented the jet engine? This credit changes depending on who you ask.  Some might answer t was Hans von Ohain.  To- others, this credit belongs to Sir Frank Whittle, OM, KBE, CB, FRS, FRAeS, RAF.

Why the discrepancy? von Ohain is known for creating the world’s first operational jet engine, and Whittle is credited with developing the turbojet earlier. While von Ohain’s first engine was the first to fly operationally in 1939, Sir Frank Whittle had been working on his design since the 1920’s. Today, we’d like to look at the life of Sir Frank Whittle, and how he created this world-changing machine. Read More

Series on Micro Gas Turbines And How They Can Make the World Greener

If you’re familiar with turbomachinery, then you probably know the pivotal role they play in our lives. If you’re not, no biggie! Have a look at this blog where I discuss a world without turbomachinery. But where do microturbines fit in? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my mind immediately jumps to turbochargers in small-displacement car engines. There is, however, a whole slew of information, history, and applications for microturbines beyond being a component in your car.

The best place to start, is to establish just what a microturbine is and isn’t. Granted the prefix in the word is a dead giveaway, but just how small is a micro gas turbine?  In terms of power output, a micro gas turbine puts out between 25 and 500 kW. The size of these machines varies; some systems can be the size of a refrigerator, while others can fit on your desk. For reference, some of these machines are smaller than your average corgi!

Micro Gas Turbine and Corgi
Figure 1: A micro gas turbine with a pencil for scale (left) and your average corgi (right). Not very aerodynamic, but awfully cute. Source

In terms of components, microturbines typically consist of a compressor, combustor, turbine, alternator, generator, and in most machines, a recuperator. While incorporating a recuperator into a microturbine system comes with its own set of challenges, the benefits are often well worth it as efficiency when recuperated hovers around 25-30% (with a waste heat recovery/cogeneration system, efficiency levels can reach up to 85% though).

Figure 3: A commercial airliner's turbofan engine the common image that is conjured when one thinks of turbines in transportation
Figure 3: A commercial airliner’s turbofan engine; the common image that is conjured when one thinks of turbines in transportation.
History

When and how did the concept of micro gas turbines come about? After the advent of the jet engine in World War II and the prominence of turbochargers being used on piston-driven propeller planes during the war, companies started to see where else gas turbine technology could be utilized. Starting in the 1950’s automotive companies attempted to offer scaled down gas turbines for use in personal cars, and you can read our blog covering that more in-depth here. You can probably guess by the number of gas turbine-powered cars on the road today, that it wasn’t very successful.

Fast forward to the 1970s, companies started to take an interest in micro turbines for stationary power generation on a small, portable scale. Allison developed microturbine-powered generators for the military that showed substantially lower fuel consumption in initial testing. In the 80’s, GRI supported the AES program where they attempted to develop a 50kW turbine for aviation applications, using a heat recovery system to improve efficiency through a cogeneration system. More recently, companies like Capstone have worked with GRI on new projects to introduce microturbines to different industries where they could be useful, using the latest advancements in technology to ensure higher efficiencies and reliability of designs past. To discuss the current state of affairs for microturbines however, it might be good to list some of their present advantages and drawbacks, and then explore where in the world they could be most useful.

Micro Turbine Compressor
Figure 4: A micro turbine compressor model.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Microturbines

As with just about any other type of technology, microturbines have their own set of advantages and disadvantages as a result of their design that are seen in their different applications.

Advantages: 

  • – Lower emissions
  • – Lower noise level than comparable reciprocating engines
  • – Fewer moving parts with results in less maintenance needs
  • – Lower vibration levels
  • – Ligherweight, compact systems
  • – Diverse fuel selection (jet fuel, kerosene, diesel, natural gas)

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Disadvantages:

  • – Very low efficiency without recuperator/waste heat recovery system
  • – High work requires high speeds (30-120 krpm) for small diameters
  • – Poor throttle response
  • – Expensive materials required for manufacturing
  • – More sensitive to adverse operating conditions

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A Micro Gas Turbine
Figure 5: A Microturbine
Potential Transportation Industry Applications

There are a number of different industries which microturbines can be found both in and outside of the transportation. Throughout the upcoming months, we’ll be taking a closer look at:

  • – The Aviation Industry
  • – The Automotive Industry
  • – The Marine Industry
  • – The Rail Industry

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Each of these industries has at least one application where micro gas turbine technology has the potential to conserve fuel and lower emissions without compromising power. In the next entry, we’ll look at the current state of the aerospace industry and where/how micro gas turbines can improve upon existing technology.

If you want to learn more about designing a micro gas turbine, or about the tools our engineers and thousands of others around the world rely on for their turbomachinery designs, reach out to us at info@softinway.com

Choosing the Right Turbomachinery Component

Traditionally the engineering process starts with Front End Engineering Design (FEED) which is essentially the conceptual design to realize the feasibility of the project and to get an estimate of the investments required. This step is also a precursor to defining the scope for Engineering Procurement and Construction Activities (EPC). Choosing the right EPC consultant is crucial as this shapes the final selection of the equipment in the plant including turbomachinery.

Large thermal power machine

Choosing the right component for the right application is not an easy task. Too many times, one ends up choosing a component that is not the best choice by far. This is quite true when we look at component selections in the process industries compared to those in a power plant where the operating conditions are more or less constant. This improper selection of components is due to multiple reasons such as: insufficient research and studies; limitation of time, resources, budget etc. Read More

Thermal Management in Aerospace Electric Propulsion Systems

The growing interest towards electric propulsion system for various applications in aerospace industry is driven first by the ambitious carbon emissions and external noise reduction targets. An electric propulsion (EP) system not only helps reduce the carbon emissions and external noise, but also helps reduce operating cost, fuel consumption and increases safety levels, performance and efficiency of the overall propulsion system. However, the introduction of electric propulsion system leads engineers to account for certain key challenges such as electric energy storage capabilities, electric system weight, heat generated by the electric components, safety, and reliability, etc. The available electric power capacity on board may be one of the major limitations of EP, when compared with a conventional propulsion system. This may be the reason electric propulsion is not the default propulsion system. Now, let’s consider how electric propulsion is used in the aerospace industry. Following the hybridization or complete electrification strategy of the electric drive pursued on terrestrial vehicles, the aerospace industry is giving great attention to the application of electrical technology and power electronics for aircrafts.

Figure 1 Aircraft Electric Propulsion Architectures
Figure 1. Aircraft Electric Propulsion Architectures. SOURCE: [1]
Electric Propulsion in aircrafts may be able to reduce carbon emissions, but only if new technologies attain the specific power, weight, and reliability required for a successful flight. Six different aircraft electric propulsion architectures are shown in Figure 1, above, one is all-electric, three are hybrid electric, and two are turbo-electric.  These architectures, rely on different electric technologies (batteries, motors, generators, etc.).

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Gas Turbine Lubrication Systems

Gas turbines have had a presence in many industries for more than a century. They are a unique technology for either producing an energy or propelling a vehicle and the efficiency of modern gas turbines is being improved continuously. One of them, a cooling system, has been described in earlier blogs. Another is the lubrication system of a gas turbine which we will cover in this blog. This  system, similar to that of a piston engine or a steam turbine, provides lubrication to decrease mechanical losses and prevent of wear on friction surfaces. Another function is the removal of heat released during friction by high rotational part and transmitted from the hot part of a turbine.  The basic units which need lubrication are the bearings supporting a shaft of a gas turbine 2.

Modern Dual Journal
Figure 1. The construction of modern dual journal4
Elements for lubrication

In a common case, gas turbine installation contains three main journal bearings used to support the gas turbine rotor 3. Additionally, thrust bearings are also maintained at the rotor-to-stator axial position 4. Click here for additional information about optimization of journal bearings. The bearing has important elements in its construction to prevent leakages from a lubrication system. The work, design and analysis of labyrinth seals is describe here.

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The Role of Turbomachinery in Modern Hypersonic Cycles

In the coming age of hypersonics, a variety of engine types and cycles are being innovated and worked on. Yet turbomachinery remains unique in its ability to use a single airbreathing engine cycle to carry an aircraft from static conditions to high speeds. One of the largest limitations of turbomachinery at hypersonic speeds (Mach 5+) is the stagnation temperature, or the amount of heat in the air as it is brought to a standstill. While material improvements for turbomachinery are made over time which increases the effective range of temperatures steadily (Figure 1), this steady rate means that the ability of these materials to allow use at stagnation temperatures of more than 1600K remains unlikely any time soon.

Figure 1 Material Improvements Over Time
Figure 1 Material Improvements Over Time

This is the limiting point for traditional turbojet cycles, as Mach 5+ speeds result in temperatures far exceeding these limitations, even for the compressor. However, improvements in cryogenic storage of liquid hydrogen has allowed the concept of precooling, using the extremely low liquid temperature of hydrogen to cool the air enough to push this Mach number range, as well as improve compressor efficiency. To drive the turbine, the exhaust gas and combustion chamber can used, heating the hydrogen and reducing the nozzle temperature for given combustion properties. This has the added effect of separating the turbine inlet temperature from the combustion temperature, reducing limitations on combustion temperatures.  This type of cycle can reduce the inlet temperatures underneath material limits. Read More

Considerations when Designing Turbomachinery with sCO2 as a Working Fluid

Supercritical CO2 (sCO2) power cycles offer higher efficiency for power generation than conventional steam Rankine cycles and gas Brayton cycles over a wide range of applications, including waste heat recovery, concentrated solar power, nuclear, and fossil energy. sCO2 cycles operate at high pressures throughout the cycle, resulting in a working fluid with a higher density, which will lead to smaller equipment sizes, smaller carbon footprint, and therefore lower cost. However, the combinations of pressure, temperature, and density in sCO2 power cycles are outside the experience of many designers. Challenges in designing sCO2 cycles include turbomachinery aerodynamic and structural design, bearings, seals, thermal management and rotordynamics. According to the report from Sandia National Lab, compressors operating near critical point and turbines have received only TRL (technical readiness level) 4 and 5 out of 9. This blog discusses the impact on turbomachinery design.

Radial or Axial

The selection of radial or axial for turbomachinery is typically performed based on the operating conditions (adiabatic head H and inlet volumetric flow Q). Non-dimensional turbomachinery parameters of specific speed Ns and specific diameter Ds can be selected from NsDs charts to estimate size, speed, and type of turbomachinery. Turbomachinery types for a sCO2 recompression cycle with scales ranging from 100 kW to over 300 MW have been studied and concluded that systems below 10 MW will likely feature only radial turbines and compressors with a single-stage or low stage counts. Such recompression cycle can be simulated in AxCYCLE™ tool which is shown in Figure 1. As size increases, the most efficient configuration for the turbine and recompressor transitions from radial to axial at approximately 30 MW and 100 MW, respectively. Suitable types of turbomachinery and its components for different power range can be reviewed in Figure 2. A radial configuration for the main compressor was expected at all scales due to its lower volume flow and wider range to facilitate variation in gas properties due to operation near the critical point.

Recompression Cycle simulated in AxCYCLE
Figure 1 – Recompression Cycle Simulated in AxCYCLE

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