Foil bearings are widely used for oil-free microturbomachinery. One of the critical technical issues related to reliability of the foil bearings is a coating wear on the top foil and rotor during start/stops. Especially for heavily loaded foil bearings, large start torque requires a large drive motor. Bearing cooling is also mandatory for certain applications because the foil bearings can generate significant amount of heat depending on operating conditions. Usually axial flow is used through the space between the top foil and bearing sleeve. In this paper, a hybrid air foil bearing with external pressurization is introduced. A flexible steel tube is attached to the backside of the top foil with orifice holes, and externally pressurized air is directly supplied to the bearing clearance to lift off the rotor before rotor spins. The hybrid operation eliminates the coating wear during start/stop cycles, reduces drag torque during starts, and eliminates axial flow cooling. The hybrid foil gas bearing was constructed using a multiple compression springs to demonstrate a feasibility of the concept. A simple analytical model to calculate top foil deflection under hydrostatic pressurization has been developed. Predictions via orbit simulations indicate the hybrid air foil bearings can have much higher critical speed and onset speed of instability than hydrodynamic counter part. Measured load capacity was slightly higher than hydrodynamic bearing even under smaller amount of air flow. In addition, the hybrid operation was very effective for bearing cooling even if the cooling flow rate was lower than hydrodynamic counterpart. The measured very small drag torque during the start/stop demonstrates the hybrid foil bearing can have near-infinite life time without wear of the bearing and rotor surface. The experimental studies show high potential of the hybrid air foil bearings for various oil-free turbomachinery, especially for heavily loaded high temperature applications.

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