A centrifugal compressor requires a wide operating range as well as a high efficiency. At high pressure ratios, the impeller discharge velocity becomes transonic and effective pressure recovery in a vaned or vaneless diffuser is necessary. At high pressure ratios, a vaned diffuser is used as it has high pressure recovery, but may have a narrow operating range. At low flow, diffuser stall may trigger surge. At high flow, choking in the throat of the vanes may limit the maximum flow rate.

A low solidity diffuser allows a good pressure recovery because it has vanes to guide the flow and a wide operating range as there is no geometrical throat to limit the maximum flow. In experimental studies at a pressure ratio around 4:1, the author has replaced vaned diffusers with a range of low solidity diffusers to try to broaden the operating range. The test results showed that the low solidity diffuser also chokes. In this paper, a virtual throat is defined and its existence is confirmed by flow visualization and pressure measurements. A method to select low solidity diffusers is proposed based on test data and the fundamental nature of the flow.

The extension of the proposed method to the selection of a vaneless diffuser is examined and a design approach for a vaneless diffuser system to minimize surge flow rate without limiting the attainable maximum flow rate is proposed.

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