Often, an improvement in performance at one operating point in a compressor/turbine operating map will lead to a reduction in performance at another area. For example, improving the efficiency of a compressor at design point (DP) may result in a reduction of efficiency at other operating points or it may result in a reduced stable operating range.

In order to reduce the compressor cost and weight, a 15% radial reduction was applied to the diffuser passage length of a high pressure ratio centrifugal compressor. The diffuser endwall was diverged to achieve an appropriate area ratio from diffuser inlet to outlet. Two different vane shapes were considered with the radially reduced diffuser passage. The first diffuser vane was a scaled version of the baseline airfoil vane shape and this was used to develop an understanding of the impact of the passage length reduction and diverging endwall. The second vane geometry was parameterized using an unconventional method derived from published literature and optimized to improve performance at DP.

Increased losses were generated through the diffuser passages of the radially reduced designs, but this was compensated for by lower losses through the volute due to more desirable flow at volute inlet. As a result, the radially reduced designs not only matched the performance of the baseline configuration, but also succeeded in achieving a marginal efficiency improvement. Furthermore, despite not being one of the goals of the optimization procedure, an extension of the stable operating range of 36% and 20% at the highest speed condition was achieved for the scaled and optimized designs, respectively. The current study focuses on understanding the physical reasons that generated this significant enhancement to the compressor operating range.

In order to acquire the desired understanding, experimental data is presented to validate the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) model and a detailed numerical investigation is presented to explain the changes in the flow field within the radially reduced designs. The study focuses on low flow rate operating points, necessitating the use of an Unsteady Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes (URANS) approach to analyse the flow. Detailed scrutiny of the flow field revealed a secondary flow feature in the diffuser passage which resulted in higher diffuser passage losses at DP but stabilised the flow as it developed for lower mass flow rate operating points.

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