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Characteristics of Periodic Self-sustained Detonation Generation in an RDE Analogue

posted on 29.07.2021, 00:27 by Kyle S SchwinnKyle S Schwinn
Rotating detonation engines (RDEs) are one of the most promising options for improving combustor efficiency through a constant-volume combustion process. RDEs are characterized by continuous detonation propagation in an annular combustion chamber with an implicitly dynamic injection response. An additional benefit is the similarity of these devices to existing engine architectures. However, RDEs have yet to realize their thermodynamic and systemic advantages due the non-ideal physics of detonation in practical devices and the complex interactions between the detonations and the hydrodynamics of the reactants. The design of RDEs is heavily informed by experimental and simulation efforts, but simulations are expensive and often limited by the assumptions of the solver. Experiments have their own challenges; the dynamic reaction zone processes are difficult to examine experimentally in annular combustor geometry. Therefore, an RDE analogue, operating at near-atmospheric conditions with natural gas and oxygen, was developed that emulates the combustor geometry of an RDE in a linear channel that facilitates optical diagnostic capabilities. The experiment permits detailed characterization of the injection, mixing, and ignition processes in an RDE and provides a cross-platform comparison with simulation results, which are often two-dimensional or linear, 3-D domains.
A unique phenomenon was discovered in this experiment, wherein a transverse combustion instability developed periodic, kilohertz-rate detonations through a non-linear amplification process. The behavior was highly repeatable and produced dominant cycle frequencies in two distinct regimes: 6-8 kHz and 10-11 kHz. An investigation of this phenomenon found that these cycle frequencies corresponded to natural dynamics in the oxidizer and fuel manifolds, respectively, and that the transition between regimes was facilitated by the injection pressure ratio between the oxidizer and fuel. This indicated that the injection hydrodynamics were being influenced by the manifold dynamics, and that the hydrodynamics played a key role in the amplification of the instability.
The kinetic characteristics of the reactants were examined independently of the injection hydrodynamics as the second key component of the amplification process by altering the reactant chemistry. The combustion morphology was characterized against performance criteria to examine successful behavior. Results showed that cycle frequency and kinetic rates were directly proportional, and that non-linear growth of the flame was possible when the cycle frequency matched the dynamics supplied by the manifolds. When the cycle frequency exceeded the limits of the manifold dynamics, failure of the detonation behavior would occur. A computational analysis of the reactants was used to examine kinetic rate trends with variations in equivalence ratio, oxidizer dilution, and product gas recirculation.
Particle image velocimetry (PIV) was performed on the experiment to study the flow structure of the injection process and the interactions with the detonation process. Time-averaged statistics showed that the detonation induced transverse perturbation to the flow, with varying strength and directionality with respect to the axial location of the shock. A correlation between this behavior and a reactivity gradient, linked to the local product gas residence time, was found. Analysis of the PIV images produced time-resolved measurements of the reactant fill, from which hydrodynamic timescales of the injection process could be obtained. Comparisons between the hydrodynamic and kinetic timescales created an operability map for the test condition which narrows the prediction of the product gas recirculation that occurs in the combustor.
The experiments performed in this work has improved understanding of the dynamic injection that occurs during RDE operation. The self-excited generation of detonations through non-linear processes in this experiment brings to light important interactions between the combustor, injector, and manifolds that can improve, or hinder, the performance of RDEs.




Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Carson D. Slabaugh

Additional Committee Member 2

Stephen D. Heister

Additional Committee Member 3

Robert P. Lucht

Additional Committee Member 4

Sally P. Bane

Additional Committee Member 5

Rohan M. Gejji