EXPERIMENTAL AND NUMERICAL EVALUATION OF THE PERFORMANCE OF A HIGH-SPEED CENTRIFUGAL COMPRESSOR AT OFF-DESIGN CONDITIONS
The primary objective of this research was to shed light on the changes in performance observed in a high-speed, centrifugal compressor that occur during the transition from subsonic to transonic operating conditions, using experimental data collected on a research compressor developed by Honeywell Aerospace, as well as results from a numerical model of the compressor.
An understanding of the flow behavior in transonic centrifugal compressors is critical as the drive for higher stage pressure ratios while maintaining a compact size results in higher rotational speeds and increased aspect ratios in the inducer of the impeller. Both of these design trends result in higher relative Mach numbers near the impeller leading edge, resulting in the formation of shocks and an increasingly complex flow field. Since it is necessary to maintain high efficiency and adequate surge margin at these conditions—to ensure the compressor is stable across the full operating range—it is important to understand the effects of the transition from subsonic to supersonic flow on performance and stability. Due to the limited availability of research in the open literature regarding transonic centrifugal impellers, especially experimental studies, these behaviors are still not fully understood.
Experimental data collected during steady state operation as well as during speed transients, showed a sudden decrease in the variance of the unsteady pressure field throughout the compressor, but most dramatically in the inducer shroud. Analysis of the performance also showed a significant increase in impeller efficiency of approximately 2 points as speed was increased from 80% to 90% of the design speed. Temperature measurements upstream of the impeller leading edge indicated a dramatic reduction in the degree of flow recirculation in the same speed range, indicating the increase in performance is related to a decrease in the blockage near the impeller leading edge. A low pressure region was also observed in the inducer passage, which disappeared upon transition to the transonic operating regime, this coupled with decreased inducer static pressure rise and relative diffusion at lower speeds, strongly indicates that increased loss in the inducer at lower speeds is responsible for the observed performance deficiency during subsonic operation.
Analysis of the numerical results revealed that the low pressure region in the inducer may be attributable to the interaction between the inlet shroud boundary layer and the low momentum tip leakage flow in the impeller passage, which at lower speeds, results in the tip leakage flow forming a large recirculation region in the inducer passage. It was also determined that the step change in instability coincides with the inducer shock extending to the shroud and reducing the strength of the interaction between the low momentum regions in the inlet and impeller passage, thereby allowing the tip leakage flow to form into a vortex and preventing the development of the recirculation region in the inducer.
This research provides a possible explanation for the observed instability in the compressor, which may allow for further testing of techniques to mitigate the instability caused by the blockage in the inducer, such as casing treatment, bleed, or flow injection into the inducer shroud.