A prime requirement in the design of a modem gas turbine combustor is good combustion stability, especially near lean blowout (LBO), to ensure an adequate stability margin. For an aeroengine, combustor blow-off limits are encountered during low engine speeds at high altitudes over a range of flight Mach numbers. For an industrial combustor, requirements of ultra-low NOx emissions coupled with high combustion efficiency demand operation at or close to LBO. In this investigation, a step swirl combustor (SSC) was designed to reproduce the swirling flow pattern present in the vicinity of the fuel injector located in the primary zone of a gas turbine combustor. Different flame shapes, structure and location were observed and detailed experimental measurements and numerical computations were performed.
It was found that certain combinations of outer and inner swirling air flows produce multiple attached flames, a flame with a single attached structure just above the fuel injection tube, and finally for higher inner swirl velocity, the flame lifts from the fuel tube and is stabilized by the inner recirculation zone. The observed difference in LBO between co- and counter-swirl configurations is primarily a function of how the flame stabilizes i.e., attached vs. lifted. A turbulent combustion model correctly predicts the attached flame location(s), development of inner recirculation zone, a dimple-shaped flame structure, the flame lift-off height, and radial profiles of mean temperature, axial velocity, and tangential velocity at different axial locations. Finally, the significance and applications of anchored and lifted flames to combustor stability and LBO in practical gas turbine combustors are discussed.