In the present study, the unsteady flow phenomenon (identified as rotating instability) in the last stage of a low-pressure model steam turbine operated at very low mass flow conditions is studied through numerical investigations. This kind of instability has been observed previously in compressors and is believed to be the cause of high stress levels associated with the corresponding flow-induced blade vibrations. The overall purpose of the study is to enhance the understanding of the rotating instability in steam turbines at off design conditions. A numerical analysis using a validated unsteady nonlinear time-domain CFD solver is adopted. The 3D solution captures the massively separated flow structure in the rotor-exhaust region and the pressure ratio characteristics around the rotor tip of the test model turbine stage, which compare well with those observed in the experiment. A computational study with a multi-passage whole annulus domain on two different 2D blade sections is subsequently carried out. The computational results clearly show that a rotating instability in a turbine blading configuration can be captured by the 2D model. The frequency and spatial modal characteristics are analyzed. The simulations seem to be able to predict a rotating fluid dynamic instability with the similar characteristic features to those of the experiment. In contrast to the previous observations and conventional wisdom, the present work reveals that the formation and movement of the disturbance can occur without 3D and tip-leakage flows, even though a quantitative comparison with the experimental data can only be expected to be possible with full 3D unsteady solutions.

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