The combustion of hydrogen-rich fuels (> 80 % vol. H2), relevant for gas turbine cycles with “pre-combustion” carbon capture, creates great challenges in the application of standard lean premix combustion technology. The significant higher flame speed and drastically reduced auto-ignition delay time of hydrogen compared to those of natural gas, which is normally burned in gas turbines, increase the risk of higher NOX emissions and material damage due to flashback. Combustion concepts for gas turbines operating on hydrogen fuel need to be adapted to assure safe and low-emission combustion.

A rich/lean (R/L) combustion concept with integrated heat transfer that addresses the challenges of hydrogen combustion has been investigated. A sub-scale, staged burner with full optical access has been designed and tested at gas turbine relevant conditions (flame temperature of 1750 K, preheat temperature of 400 °C and a pressure of 8 bar).

Results of the burner tests have confirmed the capability of the rich/lean staged concept to reduce the NOx emissions for undiluted hydrogen fuel. The NOx emissions were reduced from 165 ppm measured without staging (fuel pre-conversion) to 23 ppm for an R/L design having a fuel-rich hydrogen pre-conversion of 50 % at a constant power of 8.7 kW.

In the realized R/L concept the products of the first rich stage, which is ignited by a Pt/Pd catalyst (under a laminar flow, Re ≈ 1900) are combusted in a diffusion-flame-like lean stage (turbulent flow Re ≈ 18500) without any flashback risk. The optical accessibility of the reactor has allowed insight into the combustion processes of both stages. Applying OH-LIF and OH*-chemiluminescence optical techniques, it was shown that mainly homogeneous reactions at rich conditions take place in the first stage, questioning the importance of a catalyst in the system, and opening a wide range of optimization possibilities.

The promising results obtained in this study suggest that such a rich/lean staged burner with integrated heat transfer could help to develop a new generation of gas turbine burners for safe and clean combustion of H2-rich fuels.

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