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Centrifugal Compressors

Dries Verstraete and Kjersti Lunnan

Abstract: Small unmanned aircraft are currently limited to flight ceilings below 30,000 ft due to the lack of an appropriate

propulsion system. One of the most critical technological hurdles for the realisation of such small high altitude platforms

is the impact of the low Reynolds number conditions at altitude on the performance of small centrifugal compressors. The

current article investigates the influence of Reynolds number on the efficiency and pressure ratio of two small centrifugal

compressors using a 1D meanline performance analysis code. The results show that the efficiency and pressure ratio of

the 60 mm baseline compressor at the design rotational speed drops with 6-9% from sea-level to 70,000 ft. The impact on

the smaller 20 mm compressor is slightly more pronounced and amounts to 6-10%. Off-design changes at low rotational

speeds are significantly higher and can amount to up to 15%. Whereas existing correlations show a good match for

the efficiency drop at the design rotational speed, they fail to predict efficiency changes with rotational speed and can

therefore not be used to predict compressor maps at altitude.

Introduction

A wide variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are currently in operation around the world and their applications are

rapidly expanding. Very small platforms with limited range or

endurance are typically used for the so-called over the hill type

surveillance missions at low altitudes whereas extremely large

UAVs potentially fly for days to weeks at altitudes up to 65,000

ft [1]. The latter category of UAVs can serve a multitude of

roles ranging from meteorological and environmental science

studies over military intelligence and homeland security support to police search and rescue operations [2]. For most of

those applications light weight, small platforms are required

to keep the overall mission cost low [3, 4, 5] while extended

altitude capability is of prime importance for meteorological

research [4] and to extend the communications range of airborne communication relay payload [6, 7]. As shown in Figure 1 small platforms that operate above roughly 20,000 ft are

however not readily available, mainly due to the lack of a suitable propulsion system [7] and the Micro Propulsion Group

of The University of Sydney conducts research to support the

development of a small (<30 kg) high altitude (> 30,000 ft)

platform and its propulsion system.

High altitude propulsion system designs are constrained by

the desire to maximise vehicle endurance on station, and to

minimise the vehicle gross takeoff weight [9, 10]. This requires

both high engine thermal efficiency and low installed engine

weight [9]. The results of an extensive study of propulsion system options for very high altitude unmanned aircraft under

NASAs Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program indicate that primary candidates for

this type of application are a highly turbocharged reciprocating

engine, and a semi-closed cycle gas turbine [10]. For UAVs as

small as the ones under consideration, recuperated open-cycle

Dries Verstraete. School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Kjersti Lunnan. School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Fourth Australasian Unmanned Systems Conference : 18 (2014)

Aim

Sea Ferret

Finder

Aerosonde

ScanEagle

[8]

gas turbines seem suitable alternative candidates [11]. Compared to internal combustion engines, gas turbines namely offer the potential for higher reliability, longer engine life, and

superior compatibility with kerosene-based fuels [11]. However, achieving the desired thermal efficiency is challenging,

even with recuperation [11]. On the other hand, turbocharged

spark ignited or diesel engines offer a good adaptability for

low operating speed, a relatively low fuel consumption and

low manufacturing costs compared to other propulsion choices

[2, 13]. Turbocharger pressure ratios as high as 64, requiring

multi-stage intercooled turbochargers, can however be necessary [9] to overcome the significant drop in power output and

rise in specific fuel consumption with altitude of those engine

types [12].

All of the considered alternative propulsion systems use centrifugal compressors, either as part of the gas turbine engine

core or as part of the turbocharger for the piston engines, and

the impact of the low Reynolds number flow conditions at altitude on the performance of the compressor forms one of the

most important technological hurdles for the realisation of small

namely promote laminar boundary layers and extend the laminar/turbulent transition flow region, resulting in greater flow

separation and higher flow blockage [13]. Both effects result

in a performance deterioration of the compressor and the entire propulsion system.

The current article investigates the impact of altitude operations on the performance of small centrifugal compressors and

is organised as follows. First a concise review of previous work

on the impact of Reynolds number on the performance of centrifugal compressors is given. The 1D performance analysis

method employed in the current article is described next and

the obtained results are described and discussed.

Compressor Performance

Considerable attention has been paid to the impact of Reynolds number on compressor performance as Reynolds number variations also impact the use of scaled model test data

to predict full-scale machine performance [14] and a number

of literature reviews on this subject have been conducted recently (a.o. [14, 15]). Research shows that changes in compressor performance due to Reynolds number variations involve a

change in efficiency, a shift in flow rate and a change in the

pressure rise. Of those the effect on efficiency has been most

thoroughly investigated and correlations similar to equation 1

have often been suggested for the varation in peak efficiency

with Reynolds number

n

1

Reref

= a + (1 a)

[1]

1 ref

Re

where is the compressor efficiency, Re the Reynolds number,

a is the fraction of losses that are independent of the Reynolds

number (typically between 0 and 0.5 [15]) and n the Reynolds

ratio exponent, with a value between 0.16 and 0.5 [15]. The

subscript ref refers to the reference conditions used for scaling. As the identification of values for a and n has caused substantial difficulties, this expression has recently been replaced

by equation 2 when it was identified that the physical variation

of n was related to the variation in friction factor [15]. This

lead to:

n

cf

1

= a + (1 a)

[2]

1 ref

cfref

where cf is the friction factor of an equivalent fully turbulent

pipe flow. According to the authors of [15], considerable error

still remains if a is assumed to be constant and they derived an

alternative expression in the form of:

= Bref

cf

cfref

[3]

where Bref is the inefficiency due to friction losses at the reference conditions, which can be determined as [14]:

Bref = 1 ref

This, according to the authors of [15, 14] has as a major advantage that the correlation is not directly coupled to any model

of an equivalent fully turbulent plate flow, the Reynolds number for a turbomachinery component has to be transformed to

that of a plate. For centrifugal components this can be done as

follows [14]:

Rep =

1L 1

Re

4 b2 sin0

[4]

characteristic length which is taken as the blade length [14], b2

is the blade height at the rotor outlet, 0 is the design stagger

angle and the flow coefficient of the compressor. Once the

equivalent plate Reynolds number is known, the well-known

Colebrook equation can be used to determine the pipe friction

factor [14].

Whereas less ubiquitous similar laws can be found for changes

in flow coefficient and pressure coefficient . Equation 5 describes the shift of best efficiency to lower flow coefficients at

reducing Reynolds numbers [14]:

1 ref

=C

cfref

[5]

spacing [14]. The variation in pressure coefficient is finally

given by [14]:

=

ref

ref

[6]

Method

For the current work, a one dimensional (1D) design and

performance analysis strategy analysis of a range of compressor sizes is performed. The 1D analysis is based on the impeller design and performance analysis strategy from [16] using the accompanying software COMPAERO, which is available from [17]. The strategy detailed in [16] consists of two

distinct steps. The first step consists of a preliminary design

code, which generates the initial candidate geometry for the

impeller to match the desired performance goals [16]. The preliminary design strategy consists of empirical relationships developed through extensive experimentation [16]. The empirical

relationships are valid for flow coefficients between 0.003 and

0.2 and for stage pressure ratios up to 3.5 [16]. The predicted

performance goals do not represent optimum achievable efficiencies but rather represent good efficiency levels and stable

operating conditions [16].

Once the compressor geometry is generated the second step

of the strategy is initiated: the 1D performance analysis. The

main aim of this step is to predict the performance of the impeller under design and off-design conditions. The mean-line

aerodynamic performance analysis consists of a combination

of basic theoretical relationships and empirical correlations used

to model the losses, as shown in Figure 2. Based on the specified geometry, the performance analysis determines the tip flow

conditions. Once these are known, the ideal discharge conditions are determined from which the blade work is calculated.

After that total pressure losses are determined from the loss

models which results in the thermodynamic conditions at the

method does not allow the specification of a tip clearance factor. Tip clearance corrections for efficiency are therefore applied in post-processing based on ref. [18]:

t

=k

[9]

where t is the tip clearance, and h is the blade height at the impeller exit. A common value for the constant k for large-scale

compressors is 0.3, whereas experiments show that for ultra

micro gas turbines in the millimeter scale range the value of

k increases to around 0.65 [18]. For the current work a value

of 0.3 is adopted for k regardless of the impeller size and the

tip clearance t is set to 30 % of the blade height for the smallest compressor [19]. When increasing the compressor size, the

tip clearance height t is held constant and it is assumed that

the tip clearance losses are independent of pressure ratio and

operating conditions.

from [16]

Reynolds number effects investigated here. If the tip mass balance is correct, other parasitic losses are added which results

in the absolute flow properties at the tip.

Wall friction total pressure losses, and thus Reynolds number effects, are modelled in COMPAERO using a general formulation for the skin friction coefficient that encompasses both

laminar and turbulent flow and takes into account the influence

of surface finish [16]. Skin friction coefficients are correlated

as a function of Reynolds number based on the pipe diameter

and three well established models are used [16]. When the pipe

Reynolds number is less than 2000, the following correlation

is used for laminar flow:

cfl =

16

Red

[7]

correlations are used and a distinction is made between turbulent flow over a smooth surface and turbulent flow over a rough

surface [16]. For rough surfaces, the following correlation is

employed:

h e i

1

p

= 2 log10

[8]

3.71d

4 cft,r

where cft,r is the turbulent, rough skin friction coefficient, e is

the peak-to-valley surface roughness, and d is the pipe diameter on which the Reynolds number is based [16]. Transitions

between laminar and turbulent and smooth and rough zones are

modelled as weighted averages of their respective values [16]

and surface roughness is considered to be significant when:

Ree = (Red 2000) e/d > 60

Whereas COMPAERO incorporates loss models for the most

prevalent types of losses, its centrifugal compressor analysis

Results

Below the results of the current study are given for 2 different compressor sizes, which are defined by their blade length.

Blade length is selected here as the indicator for compressor

size as it determines the Reynolds number of the compressor. The baseline compressor has an impeller blade length of

60 mm. The second compressor has a blade length of 20 mm

so that the investigated Reynolds numbers are much smaller

than for the baseline compressor. Additional compressor parameters are given in Table 1. As shown in the table, the design rotational speed for both compressors is selected to yield

a pressure ratio of approximately 2.2. For each of the compressors 4 sets of results are presented. First the impact of altitude

(Reynolds number) on the peak efficiency of each compressor is presented for a range of rotational speeds. The effect of

altitude on the flow coefficient where the efficiency peaks is investigated next. Finally the effect of altitude on the compressor

pressure ratio is given and compressor maps for sea-level and

altitude conditions are discussed. However, before presenting

the results obtained for those 2 compressors, the methods of

COMPAERO are first validated.

Table 1. Geometric compressor parameters

Blade passage length 60 mm

Number of full blades []

6

Number of splitter blades []

6

Disk diameter [mm]

80.0

Hub inlet diameter [mm]

28.0

Shroud inlet diameter [mm]

56.0

Inlet blade angle [ ]

30.0

Discharge blade angle [ ]

43.5

Design rotational speed [RPM] 90,000

Design mass flow rate [kg/min]

14.2

Design pressure ratio []

2.20

Design flow coefficient []

0.102

Tip clearance t/h [%]

15.5

20 mm

7

7

31.5

11.4

21.8

30.2

42.4

230,000

2.05

2.18

0.094

30.0

Adiabatic Efficiency

0.78

60mm Compressor

0.76

0.74

0.72

0.70

0.68

0.66

70,000 RPM

0

200,000

400,000

600,000

800,000

1,000,000

0.78

Adiabatic Efficiency

Validation of COMPAERO

Before using the COMPAERO code to explore the influence of Reynolds number on the efficiency of centrifugal compressors, the code was first validated using experimental data

presented in reference [14]. As the COMPAERO code calculates the blade angles internally rather than allowing the user

to specify the exact geometry and geometric data of the tested

compressor is limited, geometry matching between COMPAERO and the experimental results is limited to external diameters at the inlet and exit planes of the compressor. Despite

this restriction, the maximum adiabatic efficiency is predicted

accurately as shown in Figure 3. The figure shows the variation in adiabatic efficiency with flow coefficient for both the

experimental data and the results of the 1D blade code.

0.76

0.74

0.72

0.70

0.68

80,000 RPM

0

200,000

400,000

600,000

800,000

1,000,000

Adiabatic Efficiency

0.78

0.76

As COMPAERO gives acceptable results for the peak efficiency prediction at lower Reynolds numbers, the 1D blade

performance analysis code is used to predict the change in

peak efficiency with Reynolds number for the 2 compressors

of Table 1. The results of the analysis for 3 different rotational

speeds for the 60 mm compressor are shown in Figure 4. The

figure also gives results using the method from Pelz & Stonjek [14]. For each of the RPMs the range in Reynolds numbers

corresponds to a change in altitude from sea level to 70,000 ft.

Adiabatic Efficiency

As shown both the maximum efficiency and the flow coefficient where this maximum efficiency occurs match well with

the experimental data. The drop in efficiency as lower mass

flow rates is however much steeper for the COMPAERO results

than for the experimental data, and the compressor designed

with COMPAERO chokes at lower flow coefficients. Both of

these discrepancies can be attributed to differences in blade angles at the inlet and exit plane of the compressor. For the higher

Reynolds number experimental test case presented in [14] a

bigger discrepancy was found for the peak efficiency. This can

be attributed to the higher dependency of the friction coefficient to surface roughness for the fully turbulent flow regime

[14, 16]. As COMPAERO does not allow specifying a specific surface roughness, the peak efficiencies could not be fully

matched. As the main objective of the current work is the investigation of changes in peak efficiency with altitude (Reynolds

number) for small compressors and thus low Reynolds numbers, the validation is however judged to be acceptable. After

all the higher Reynolds number case of [14] represents a compressor with an outer diameter of 2.24 m, or almost two orders

of magnitude larger than the compressors under investigation.

= 2.20

0.72

0.70

0.68

Reference Point

0.74

90,000 RPM

0

200,000

400,000

600,000

800,000

1,000,000

0.78

0.76

0.74

0.72

0.70

100,000 RPM

0

200,000

400,000

600,000

800,000

1,000,000

Reynolds Number

diameter compressor

a slightly higher drop in efficiency with altitude at the design RPM of 90,000. However the trends between both tools

are consistent. At off-design RPMs, slightly higher discrepancies are however found between the absolute efficiency levels whereas efficiency changes however follow similar trends.

As the method from Pelz & Stonjek only predicts changes in

efficiency with Reynolds number, its application to different

RPMs seems to fail to account for change in efficiency levels

with pressure ratio. At higher RPMs the flow Mach numbers

namely increase which results in higher pressure ratios but also

in higher levels of losses and thus lower efficiencies. Whereas

this is reflected in the results of COMPAERO shown in Figure 4, this trend is not apparent in the results obtained with the

method of Pelz & Stonjek [14].

In a second case a much smaller compressor is analysed to

investigate the change of efficiency at much lower Reynolds

numbers. Results for 4 different RPMs for the smaller compressor are shown in Figure 5. The results in Figure 5 show that

for this compressor COMPAERO also predicts a slightly lower

efficiency loss with altitude at the design RPM of 230,000 than

the method of Pelz & Stonjek. As for the larger compressor

the method of Pelz & Stonjek does not predict changes in efficiency with RPM and larger variations occur at off-design.

0.72

20mm Compressor

0.70

Adiabatic Efficiency

0.68

coefficient of both the 20 mm and 60 mm compressor is determined for a range of altitudes. The results are depicted in

Figures 6 and 7.

0.66

0.64

0.62

0.60

0.58

0.56

200,000 RPM

0

100,000

200,000

300,000

400,000

0.72

Adiabatic Efficiency

0.70

Reference Point

0.68

= 2.18

0.66

0.64

0.62

0.60

0.58

230,000 RPM

0

100,000

200,000

300,000

400,000

Adiabatic Efficiency

0.72

0.70

0.68

0.66

0.64

0.62

0.60

260,000 RPM

0

100,000

200,000

300,000

400,000

Adiabatic Efficiency

0.72

0.70

0.68

0.66

0.64

0.62

290,000 RPM

0

100,000

200,000

300,000

400,000

Reynolds Number

diameter compressor

mm compressor

0.095 for both compressors and an almost linear drop occurs

with Reynolds number (altitude). At 70,000 ft the optimum

flow coefficient for both compressors is around 0.09. Using

those results the slope / of equation 5 is calculated as

15.0 for the 60mm compressor and 22.1 for the 20mm compressor. The steeper slope for the smaller compressor can be attributed to the higher sensitivity of efficiency to altitude for that

compressor. A comparison between Figures 6 and 7 shows that

the drop in efficiency with altitude is much more pronounced

for the 20 mm compressor than for the 60 mm compressor.

This can be attributed to the lower range of Reynolds numbers

at which the smaller compressor operates, which results in an

increased importance of skin friction and a more prominent

change in friction coefficient with Reynolds number reduction.

Whereas the change in flow coefficient for both compressors is

the same, this leads to a higher value for the slope /.

Altitude effect on pressure ratio

The operating Reynolds number not only affects the efficiency and optimum flow coefficient but also has an impact on

the pressure ratio of the compressor as the friction (pressure)

A comparison between Figures 4 and 5 shows that the effect of altitude is slightly larger for the smaller compressor. At

70,000 ft the efficiency drops by almost 8% for the compressor

with a blade length of 20 mm, compared to a drop of 6% for

the 60 mm compressor. The peak sea-level efficiency is additionally about 6% lower for the smaller compressor, which predominantly stems from the larger relative tip clearance height.

For the smaller compressor tip clearance is 30% of the blade

height whereas for the larger compressor this is reduced to

15.5%. Variations in efficiency with RPM are similar for both

compressors.

Altitude effect on optimum flow coefficient

As shown by equation 5, the drop in efficiency with altitude

(Reynolds number) is accompanied by a shift in the flow coefficient at which the peak efficiency occurs. To examine the

mm compressor

impact of the operating Reynolds number on the compressor

pressure ratio is given in Figures 8 and 9. The figures show the

variation in normalised pressure ratio and adiabatic efficiency

at the design RPM and flow coefficient. The figures show that

the pressure ratio for both compressors drops by up to 5% at

70,000 ft compared to sea level values.

60 mm compressor

20 mm compressor

drops less than the normalised adiabatic efficiency and the drop

in both the pressure ratio and adiabatic efficiency is relatively

modest up to 40,000 ft. Once higher altitudes are reached a

very sharp drop in both pressure ratio and efficiency however

occurs. This general trend is in line with computational results

presented in [13] for a transonic centrifugal impeller.

Altitude effect on compressor map

The combined effect of Reynolds number on pressure ratio, efficiency and mass flow rate can be investigated using socalled compressor component maps. Figures 10 and 11 show

the component maps obtained for the 60 mm compressor at

sea-level and 70,000 ft. The blue line in Figure 11 represents

the location of peak efficiency at each rotational speed whereas

the red line indicates the location of the maximum pressure ratio. As shown, a small loss in the obtained pressure ratio occurs at all rotational speeds and the loss increases for increas-

ref. [13].

As can be seen from Figure 11 the loss in efficiency with

altitude increases significantly at lower RPMs. At sea level

a small increase in efficiency can be observed for rotational

speeds lower than the design RPM. As the velocity magnitudes are smaller at lower rotational speeds, the corresponding

losses are reduced which results in this small efficiency rise.

At 70,000 ft this is no longer the case and the peak efficiency

at lower rotational speeds is lower than that at the design RPM.

This is a consequence of the much lower Reynolds number at

lower RPMs and the sharp drop in efficiency at low Reynolds

numbers. As shown in Figure 12 a similar trend can be observed for the 20 mm compressor albeit with a much sharper

drop in efficiency at low rotational speeds. As shown, a drop

of almost 15% in efficiency occurs at 110,000 RPM due to

the extremely low Reynolds number at low rotational speeds at

70,000 ft altitude.

As shown in Figure 10 a small decrease in maximum flow

rate capacity also occurs at altitude. The reduction in Reynolds

number namely leads to an increase in the boundary layer thickness which results in a choking of the blade passages at slightly

smaller mass flow rates. The reverse trend seems to be apparent at the point of maximum pressure ratio. Whereas this seemingly indicates an increase in mass flow rate at surge, the stationary meanline analysis of COMPAERO cannot be used to

accurately predict a highly dynamic phenomenon like surge.

The overal consequence of the changes in the compressor

map in altitude can have a significant impact of the overall engine performance. The drop in pressure ratio of the compressor

will namely result in the need for an increase in engine rotational speed to obtain a given operating pressure ratio. The reduction in efficiency on the other hand results in an increase

in compressor power. To operate at a given pressure ratio both

effects will require an increase in turbine power and will thus

require the engine to operate at a higher turbine inlet temperature to provide the same specific power. The reduction in mass

flow rate will further exacerbate this effect and will result in a

significant increase in turbine inlet temperature to provide the

same thrust or power output, which will result in a considerable

loss in engine life.

The thicker boundary layer at low Reynolds number conditions leads to a reduction in maximum mass flow rate

capacity at compressor choke

All of the above effects can have a considerable impact on

engine life as they will drive operation of the engine to higher

turbine inlet temperatures. Updated compressor maps should

thus be used for investigations of altitude performance of small

engines.

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- TRANSIENT MODELING AND ANALYSIS OF CENTRIFUGAL COMPRESSORSTransféré parZeeshan Anwar
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