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Operability and Performance of Rotating Detonation Engines

posted on 23.07.2021, 16:39 by Ian V WaltersIan V Walters
Rotating Detonation Engines (RDEs) provide a promising avenue for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from combustion-based propulsion and power systems by improving their thermodynamic efficiency through the application of pressure-gain combustion. However, the thermodynamic and systems-level advantages remain unrealized due to the challenge of harnessing the tightly coupled physics and nonlinear detonation dynamics inherent to RDEs, particularly for the less-detonable reactants characteristic of applications. Therefore, a RDE was developed to operate with natural gas and air as the primary reactants at elevated chamber pressures and air preheat temperatures, providing a platform to study RDEs with the less-detonable reactants and flow conditions representative of land-based power generation gas turbine engines. The RDE was tested with two injector configurations in a broad, parametric survey of flow conditions to determine the effect of operating parameters on the propagation of detonation waves in the combustor and delivered performance. Measurements of chamber wave dynamics were performed using high-frequency pressure transducers and high-speed imaging of broadband combustion chemiluminescence, while thrust measurements were used to characterize the work output potential.

The detonation dynamics were first studied to characterize RDE operability for the target application. Wave propagation speeds of up to 70% of the mixture Chapman-Jouguet detonation velocity and chamber pressure fluctuations greater than 4 times the mean chamber pressure were observed. Supplementing the air with additional oxygen, varying the equivalence ratio, and enriching the fuel with hydrogen revealed that combustor operability is sensitive to the chemical kinetics of the reactant mixture. While most test conditions exhibited counter-rotating detonation waves within the chamber, one injector design was able to support single wave propagation. A thermodynamic performance model was developed to aid analysis of RDE performance by making comparisons of net pressure gain for identical flow conditions. While the injector that supported a single wave operating mode better followed the trends predicted by the model, neither injector achieved the desire stagnation pressure gain relative to the reactant manifold pressure. Application of the model to a generic RDE revealed the necessity of normalizing any RDE performance parameter by the driving system potential and identified the area ratio between the exhaust and injection throats as the primary parameter affecting delivered pressure gain. A pair of test conditions with distinct wave dynamics were selected from the parametric survey to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze the exhaust flow using high-speed particle image velocimetry. A single detonation wave with an intermittent counter-rotating wave was characterized in the first test case, while a steady counter-rotating mode was studied in the second. The velocity measurements were phase averaged with respect to the instantaneous wave location to reveal contrasting flowfields for the two cases. The total pressure and temperature of flow exiting the combustor were computed using the phase-resolved velocity measurements along with the measured reactant flowrate and thrust to close the global balance of mass and momentum, providing an improved method of quantifying RDE performance. Finally, a reduced order model for studying RDE operability and mode selection was developed. The circumferential detonation wave dynamics are simulated and permitted to naturally evolve into the quasi-steady state operating modes observed in RDEs. Preliminary verification studies are presented and areas for further development are identified to enable the model to reach a broader level of applicability.

The experimental component of this work has advanced understanding of RDE operation with less-detonable reactants and developed improved methods for quantifying RDE performance. The accompanying modeling has elucidated the design parameters and flow conditions that influence RDE performance and provided a framework to investigate the factors that govern RDE mode selection and operability.


Advancing Pressure Gain Combustion in Terrestrial Turbine Systems

National Energy Technology Laboratory

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Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Carson D. Slabaugh

Additional Committee Member 2

Rohan M. Gejji

Additional Committee Member 3

Stephen D. Heister

Additional Committee Member 4

Timothee L. Pourpoint

Additional Committee Member 5

Carlo Scalo

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