Gas-expanded lubricants (GELs) are tunable mixtures of synthetic oil and carbon dioxide that enable dynamic control of lubricant viscosity during bearing operation. This control can help reduce bearing power loss and operating temperatures while also providing direct control over bearing stiffness and damping, which can enhance rotordynamic performance. In this work, the bearing and rotordynamic performance of two representative high-speed machines was evaluated when different lubricants, including GELs, were supplied to the machine bearings. The machines chosen for this analysis, an 8-stage centrifugal compressor and a steam turbine-generator system, represent a wide range of speed and loading conditions encountered in modern turbomachinery. The fluids compared for machine performance were standard petroleum-based lubricants, polyol ester synthetic oils, and polyol ester based-GELs. The performance simulations were carried out using a thermoelastohydrodynamic bearing model, which provided bearing stiffness and damping coefficients as inputs to finite element rotordynamic models. Several bearing performance metrics were evaluated including power loss, operating temperature, film thickness, eccentricity, and stiffness and damping coefficients. The rotordynamic analysis included an evaluation of rotor critical speeds, unbalance response, and stability.
Bearing performance results for the compressor showed a 40% reduction in power loss at operating speed when comparing the GEL to the petroleum-based lubricant. The GEL-lubricated compressor also exhibited lower operating temperatures with minimal effects on film thickness. GELs were also predicted to produce lower bearing stiffness when compared to standard fluids in the compressor. Rotordynamic results for the compressor showed that the fluid properties had only minor effects on the unbalance response, while GELs were found to increase the stability margin by 43% when compared with standard fluids. The results from the turbine-generator system also demonstrated increases in low-speed bearing efficiency with the use of GELs, though at higher speeds the onset of turbulent flow in the GEL case offset these efficiency gains. Rotordynamic results for this system showed a contrast with the compressor results, with the GELs producing lower stability margins for a majority of the modes predicted due to increased bearing stiffness in the high-speed turbine bearings and negative stiffness in the lightly loaded, low-speed pinion bearings. These results suggest that GELs could be beneficial in providing control over a wide range of machine designs and operating conditions and that some machines are especially well suited for the tunability that these fluids impart.