This study addresses the importance of the different chemical pathways responsible for NOx formation in lean-premixed combustion, and especially the role of the nitrous oxide pathway relative to the traditional Zeldovich pathway. NOx formation is modeled and computed over a range of operating conditions for the lean-premixed primary zone of gas turbine engine combustors.

The primary zone, of uniform fuel-air ratio, is modeled as a micro-mixed well-stirred reactor, representing the flame zone, followed by a series of plug flow reactors, representing the post-flame zone. The fuel is methane. The fuel-air equivalence ratio is varied from 0.5 to 0.7. The chemical reactor model permits study of the three pathways by which NOx forms, which are the Zeldovich, nitrous oxide, and prompt pathways. Modeling is also performed for the well-stirred reactor alone. Three recently published, complete chemical kinetic mechanisms for the C1-C2 hydrocarbon oxidation and the NOx formation are applied and compared.

Verification of the model is based on the comparison of its NOx output to experimental results published for atmospheric pressure jet-stirred reactors and for a ten atmosphere porous-plate burner. Good agreement between the modeled results and the measurements is obtained for most of the jet-stirred reactor operating range. For the porous-plate burner, the model shows agreement to the NOx measurements within a factor of two, with close agreement occurring at the leanest and coolest cases examined.

For lean-premixed combustion at gas turbine engine conditions, the nitrous oxide pathway is found to be important, though the Zeldovich pathway cannot be neglected. The prompt pathway, however, contributes small-to-negligible NOx. Whenever the NOx emission is in the 15 to 30ppmv (15% O2, dry) range, the nitrous oxide pathway is predicted to contribute 40 to 45% of the NOx for high pressure engines (30atm), and 20 to 35% of the NOx for intermediate pressure engines (10atm). For conditions producing NOx of less than 10ppmv (15% O2, dry), the nitrous oxide contribution increases steeply and approaches 100%.

For lean-premixed combustion in the atmospheric pressure jet-stirred reactors, different behavior is found. All three pathways contribute; none can be dismissed.

No universal behavior is found for the pressure dependence of the NOx. It does appear, however, that lean-premixed combustors operated in the vicinity of 10atm have a relatively weak pressure dependence, whereas combustors operated in the vicinity of 30atm have an approximately square root pressure dependence of the NOx.

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