The effect of using curvilinear element blades (CEBs) on a low-solidity cascade diffuser (LSD) in a centrifugal compressor was investigated both experimentally and numerically.

Centrifugal compressors require a higher efficiency and wider operating range to reduce the lifecycle costs of plants in which they are used and the effects their users have on the environment. A LSD has a wider operating range than a common vaned diffuser that has high solidity, but worse efficiency at the design point. For this reason, this research aims to improve the efficiency of the LSD and keep its operating range wide without changing the blade setting angle or two-dimensional geometry.

As a first step, LSDs with three different curvilinear element profiles were compared with a conventional LSD, and the mechanism of the performance improvement was investigated by using a numerical simulation. These diffusers have the same two-dimensional geometry, blade setting angle, and number of blades but different blade stacking geometry in the span-wise direction. Unsteady Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) simulations were conducted using a one-blade path model with an inlet, impeller, and LSD diffuser passages.

The LSD using the CEBs improved the efficiency by 1.9% over that of the conventional LSD at the design point while maintaining the same operating range. The calculation results reveal that the recirculation region decreased at the suction surface of the diffuser vane in the CEB case and the diffuser efficiency improved. The concaved suction surface increased the blade loading and induced higher velocity on the suction surface. The higher velocity prevented reverse flow on the suction surface at the hub side, and the secondary flow removed the thick boundary layer at the trailing edge to the downstream of the diffuser.

Experimental verification was also conducted using a single-stage compressor with an impeller, diffuser, and scroll casing to verify the prediction. The experimental results showed the LSD using the CEB has a higher pressure rise at the stator region than the conventional LSD and verified the performance improvement due to using the CEBs.

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