Hydrodynamic instabilities in gas turbine fuel injectors help to mix the fuel and air but can sometimes lock into acoustic oscillations and contribute to thermoacoustic instability. This paper describes a linear stability analysis that predicts the frequencies and strengths of hydrodynamic instabilities and identifies the regions of the flow that cause them. It distinguishes between convective instabilities, which grow in time but are convected away by the flow, and absolute instabilities, which grow in time without being convected away. Convectively unstable flows amplify external perturbations, while absolutely unstable flows also oscillate at intrinsic frequencies. As an input, this analysis requires velocity and density fields, either from a steady but unstable solution to the Navier–Stokes equations, or from time-averaged numerical simulations. In the former case, the analysis is a predictive tool. In the latter case, it is a diagnostic tool. This technique is applied to three flows: a swirling wake at Re = 400, a single stream swirling fuel injector at Re ∼ 106, and a lean premixed gas turbine injector with five swirling streams at Re ∼ 106.

Its application to the swirling wake demonstrates that this technique can correctly predict the frequency, growth rate and dominant wavemaker region of the flow. It also shows that the zone of absolute instability found from the spatio-temporal analysis is a good approximation to the wavemaker region, which is found by overlapping the direct and adjoint global modes. This approximation is used in the other two flows because it is difficult to calculate their adjoint global modes.

Its application to the single stream fuel injector demonstrates that it can identify the regions of the flow that are responsible for generating the hydrodynamic oscillations seen in LES and experimental data. The frequencies predicted by this technique are within a few percent of the measured frequencies. The technique also explains why these oscillations become weaker when a central jet is injected along the centreline. This is because the absolutely unstable region that causes the oscillations becomes convectively unstable.

Its application to the lean premixed gas turbine injector reveals that several regions of the flow are hydrodynamically unstable, each with a different frequency and a different strength. For example, it reveals that the central region of confined swirling flow is strongly absolutely unstable and sets up a precessing vortex core, which is likely to aid mixing throughout the injector. It also reveals that the region between the second and third streams is slightly absolutely unstable at a frequency that is likely to coincide with acoustic modes within the combustion chamber. This technique, coupled with knowledge of the acoustic modes in a combustion chamber, is likely to be a useful design tool for the passive control of mixing and combustion instability.

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