In an integrally geared compressor, there is a net thrust load on the pinion shaft from gear loads and aerodynamic forces. The net thrust on the pinion is resolved with either a thrust bearing or a thrust collar (rider ring). As the pressure increases, this increases the aerodynamic force proportionally. In high-pressure systems this can overwhelm the thrust bearing or thrust collar if thrust is mismanaged. In a recent test program for an sCO2 integrally geared compander (compressor/turbine), a balance piston was created on the opposite end of the turbine to provide an equalizing thrust; while this is not novel, the balance piston provided a test apparatus for measuring the leakage on a 20 tooth stepped labyrinth seal operating at pressures in excess of 250 bar (3600 psi).

The stepped balance piston seal is a 20 tooth tooth-on-rotor balance piston seal. This type of seal was selected since it was predicted to have substantially less leakage than a comparably sized straight through labyrinth seal. Comparisons between the two designs will be made, showing that the leakage of the stepped balance piston seal is considerably lower. The tooth clearance on the seal was selected to be 30 mils radial. While this seems large, a stack-up tolerance assessment showed that this magnitude of clearance was appropriate to prevent rotor stator contact.

During the testing campaign, data was recorded showing the leakage across this stepped balance piston seal at pressures in excess of 250 bar (3600 psi) with a pressure ratio of 2. This leakage data was measured, and will be compared to leakage data predicted with CFD. Two measurement methods are presented for the stepped balance piston seal: an orifice plate and valve.

The predicted seal leakage from a straight through seal was four times that of the predicted stepped labyrinth seal. The measured flow from the stepped seal was on the same order as the CFD prediction and offered adequate rotordynamic performance.

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