Micro Turbines in Automotive Applications

Hello! Welcome to this edition of our series on micro turbines! Today we’ll be covering micro turbines and the roles they play in the automotive world.

“Big wheels keep on turnin’…”

Now here’s the real question, when you see that lyric which song do you think of first? Having gotten that stuck in everyone’s head, let’s get on with today’s topic: micro turbines in cars.

I mentioned in the intro to the series that when I think of micro turbines my mind immediately jumps to turbochargers like those used in reciprocating engines seen in cars, trucks, boats, and small airplanes.

A turbocharger, as commonly seen in automotive engines both large and small.

They are, in essence, the same, but also different. For example, a turbocharger uses exhaust gas from a reciprocating engine to drive a compressor to pull more air into the engine, while a micro turbine drives a compressor to pull air into a combustor and then also drives a generator to create electric power.

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E-Turbos: The Future of Turbocharger Technology

The Achilles heel of turbochargers has always been the time between pressing your foot to the gas pedal and waiting for the engine to respond with the desired power. This lapse in engine response, commonly termed turbo lag, is what has hindered turbochargers from delivering optimal performance. The aim of a turbocharger is to provide more power, better efficiency and less lag in power delivery. Engine efficiency is becoming more important than ever before, leading to the development of smaller engines. However, the power requirements are not decreasing which means the loss in engine displacement from small designs must be picked up with alternative technologies, such as turbochargers, which can help improve power delivery and fuel economy.

Figure 1: Garrett Motion electric turbocharger due for production in 2021. Source

Electric turbochargers (e-turbos) provide a solution to eliminating turbo lag while adding additional performance benefits. This allows for larger turbocharger designs which can provide larger power and efficiency gains, stay cooler over longer periods of use, and drastically improve engine responsiveness. Garrett Motion are developing e-turbos for mass market passenger vehicles set for launch in 2021, with a claimed fuel efficiency improvement of up to 10%. When used on diesel engines, this e-turbo could be up to a 20% reduction in NOx emissions. In most cases, fuel efficiency will be improved by about 2 – 4%. Other manufacturers such as Mitsubishi and BorgWarner are already developing their own electric turbos and are expected to have announcements in the near future matching the trend in e-turbo development.

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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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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

Vapor-Compression Refrigeration Systems

Present day refrigeration is viewed as a necessity to keep our popsicles cold and our perishables fresh. But have you ever wondered what people did to keep their food from spoiling hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Or just what goes into a refrigerator system today? In this blog, we’ll take a look at how refrigeration works; the history behind it; and examine the cycle, working fluids, and components.

Schematic of Refridgeration System in AxSTREAM NET
Figure 1. Modern-day Refrigeration System in AxSTREAM NET
Introduction

Refrigeration is based on the two basic principles of evaporation and condensation. When liquid evaporates it absorbs heat and when liquid condenses, it releases heat. Once you have these principles in mind, understanding how a refrigerator works becomes much more digestible (pun intended). A modern-day refrigerator consists of components such as a condenser, compressor, evaporator and expansion valve, as well as a working fluid (refrigerant). The refrigerant is a liquid which as enters the expansion valve the rapid drop in pressure makes it expand, cool, and turn into a gas. As the refrigerant flows in the evaporator, it absorbs and removes heat from the surrounding. The compressor then compresses (as the name suggests) the fluid, raising its temperature and pressure. From here, the refrigerant flows through the condenser, releasing the heat into the air and cooling the gas back down to a liquid. Finally, the refrigerant enters the expansion valve and the cycle repeats. But what did we do before this technology was available to us?

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Pump Performance Improvement Using AxSTREAM ION

As pumps have numerous uses, they constitute a significant part of energy consuming equipment.  Therefore, pump efficiency plays a significant role in energy savings and operating cost. The design of a centrifugal pump is more challenging to reduce overall cost of the pump and increasing demand for higher performance.

Redesign Pump with Smooth Beta and Theta Distributions
Figure 1. Centrifugal Pump in AxSTREAM

There are two traditional approaches to design a pump for new requirements. One approach is to redesign or modify an existing impeller of centrifugal pump for increasing flow rate/head and efficiency. The modification will also involve selection of different geometric parameters and then optimizing them with the goal of performance improvement in terms of efficiency, increase the head, reduce cross flow and secondary incidence flows. The other approach is to design a pump from the preliminary stage to meet the desired design objectives. Most of the time, the designer knows what they need to achieve (performance target) but the challenge is in how to achieve this target within the given constraints (geometry, cost, manufacturability etc.).
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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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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