Combustor - Fundamentals - Components

Components

Case

The case is the outer shell of the combustor, and is a fairly simple structure. The casing generally requires little maintenance. The case is protected from thermal loads by the air flowing in it, so thermal performance is of limited concern. However, the casing serves as a pressure vessel that must withstand the difference between the high pressures inside the combustor and the lower pressure outside. That mechanical (rather than thermal) load is a driving design factor in the case.

Diffuser

The purpose of the diffuser is to slow the high speed, highly compressed, air from the compressor to a velocity optimal for the combustor. Reducing the velocity results in an unavoidable loss in total pressure, so one of the design challenges is to limit the loss of pressure as much as possible. Furthermore, the diffuser must be designed to limit the flow distortion as much as possible by avoiding flow effects like boundary layer separation. Like most other gas turbine engine components, the diffuser is designed to be as short and light as possible.

Liner

The liner contains the combustion process and introduces the various airflows (intermediate, dilution, and cooling, see Air flow paths below) into the combustion zone. The liner must be designed and built to withstand extended high temperature cycles. For that reason liners tend to be made from superalloys like Hastelloy X. Furthermore, even though high performance alloys are used, the liners must be cooled with air flow. Some combustors also make use of thermal barrier coatings. However, air cooling is still required. In general, there are two main types of liner cooling; film cooling and transpiration cooling. Film cooling works by injecting (by one of several methods) cool air from outside of the liner to just inside of the liner. This creates a thin film of cool air that protects the liner, reducing the temperature at the liner from around 1800 kelvins (K) to around 830 K, for example. The other type of liner cooling, transpiration cooling, is a more modern approach that uses a porous material for the liner. The porous liner allows a small amount of cooling air to pass through it, providing cooling benefits similar to film cooling. The two primary differences are in the resulting temperature profile of the liner and the amount of cooling air required. Transpiration cooling results in a much more even temperature profile, as the cooling air is uniformly introduced through pores. Film cooling air is generally introduced through slats or louvers, resulting in an uneven profile where it is cooler at the slat and warmer between the slats. More importantly, transpiration cooling uses much less cooling air (on the order of 10% of total airflow, rather than 20-50% for film cooling). Using less air for cooling allows more to be used for combustion, which is more and more important for high performance, high thrust engines.

Snout

The snout is an extension of the dome (see below) that acts as an air splitter, separating the primary air from the secondary air flows (intermediate, dilution, and cooling air; see Air flow paths section below).

Dome / swirler

The dome and swirler are the part of the combustor that the primary air (see Air flow paths below) flows through as it enters the combustion zone. Their role is to generate turbulence in the flow to rapidly mix the air with fuel. Early combustors tended to use bluff body domes (rather than swirlers), which used a simple plate to create wake turbulence to mix the fuel and air. Most modern designs, however, are swirl stabilized (use swirlers). The swirler establishes a local low pressure zone that forces some of the combustion products to recirculate, creating the high turbulence. However, the higher the turbulence, the higher the pressure loss will be for the combustor, so the dome and swirler must be carefully designed so as not to generate more turbulence than is needed to sufficiently mix the fuel and air.

Fuel injector

The fuel injector is responsible for introducing fuel to the combustion zone and, along with the swirler (above), is responsible for mixing the fuel and air. There are four primary types of fuel injectors; pressure-atomizing, air blast, vaporizing, and premix/prevaporizing injectors. Pressure atomizing fuel injectors rely on high fuel pressures (as much as 500 pounds per square inch (psi) to atomize the fuel. This type of fuel injector has the advantage of being very simple, but it has several disadvantages. The fuel system must be robust enough to withstand such high pressures, and the fuel tends to be heterogeneously atomized, resulting in incomplete or uneven combustion which has more pollutants and smoke.

The second type of fuel injector is the air blast injector. This injector "blasts" a sheet of fuel with a stream of air, atomizing the fuel into homogeneous droplets. This type of fuel injector led to the first smokeless combustors. The air used is just some amount of the primary air (see Air flow paths below) that is diverted through the injector, rather than the swirler. This type of injector also requires lower fuel pressures than the pressure atomizing type.

The vaporizing fuel injector, the third type, is similar to the air blast injector in that primary air is mixed with the fuel as it is injected into the combustion zone. However, the fuel-air mixture travels through a tube within the combustion zone. Heat from the combustion zone is transferred to the fuel-air mixture, vaporizing some of the fuel (mixing it better) before it is combusted. This method allows the fuel to be combusted with less thermal radiation, which helps protect the liner. However, the vaporizer tube may have serious durability problems with low fuel flow within it (the fuel inside of the tube protects the tube from the combustion heat).

The premixing/prevaporizing injectors work by mixing or vaporizing the fuel before it reaches the combustion zone. This method allows the fuel to be very uniformly mixed with the air, reducing emissions from the engine. One disadvantage of this method is that fuel may auto-ignite or otherwise combust before the fuel-air mixture reaches the combustion zone. If this happens the combustor can be seriously damaged.

Igniter

Most igniters in gas turbine applications are electrical spark igniters, similar to automotive spark plugs. The igniter needs to be in the combustion zone where the fuel and air are already mixed, but it needs to be far enough upstream so that it is not damaged by the combustion itself. Once the combustion is initially started by the igniter, it is self-sustaining and the igniter is no longer used. In can-annular and annular combustors (see Types of combustors below), the flame can propagate from one combustion zone to another, so igniters are not needed at each one. In some systems ignition-assist techniques are used. One such method is oxygen injection, where oxygen is fed to the ignition area, helping the fuel easily combust. This is particularly useful in some aircraft applications where the engine may have to restart at high altitude.

Read more about this topic:  Combustor, Fundamentals

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