In high-speed unshrouded turbines tip leakage flows generate large aerodynamic losses and intense unsteady thermal loads over the rotor blade tip and casing. The stage loading and rotational speeds are steadily increased to achieve higher turbine efficiency, and hence the overtip leakage flow may exceed the transonic regime. However, conventional blade tip geometries are not designed to cope with supersonic tip flow velocities. A great potential lays in the modification and optimization of the blade tip shape as a means to control the tip leakage flow aerodynamics, limit the entropy production in the overtip gap, manage the heat load distribution over the blade tip and improve the turbine efficiency at high stage loading coefficients.

The present paper develops an optimization strategy to produce a set of blade tip profiles with enhanced aerothermal performance for a number of tip gap flow conditions. The tip clearance flow was numerically simulated through two-dimensional compressible Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) calculations that reproduce an idealized overtip flow along streamlines. A multi-objective optimization tool, based on differential evolution combined with surrogate models (artificial neural networks), was used to obtain optimized 2D tip profiles with reduced aerodynamic losses and minimum heat transfer variations and mean levels over the blade tip and casing. Optimized tip shapes were obtained for relevant tip gap flow conditions in terms of blade thickness to tip gap height ratios (between 5 and 25), and blade pressure loads (from subsonic to supersonic tip leakage flow regimes) imposing fixed inlet conditions. We demonstrated that tip geometries which perform superior in subsonic conditions are not optimal for supersonic tip gap flows. Prime tip profiles exist depending on the tip flow conditions. The numerical study yielded a deeper insight on the physics of tip leakage flows of unshrouded rotors with arbitrary tip shapes, providing the necessary knowledge to guide the design and optimization strategy of a full blade tip surface in a real 3D turbine environment.

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