Rotating Detonation Engines (RDE) offer an alternative combustion strategy to replace conventional constant pressure combustion with a process that could produce a pressure gain without the use of a mechanical compressor. Recent numerical and experimental publications that consider air as the oxidizer have primarily focused on the ability of these annular combustors to sustain a stable continuous detonation wave when fueled by hydrogen. However, for this to be a viable consideration for the land-based power generation it is necessary to explore the ability to detonate natural gas and air within the confines of the annular geometry of an RDE. Previous studies on confined detonations have expressed the importance of permitting detonation cells to fully form within the combustor in order to achieve stability. This poses a challenge for natural gas–air fueled processes as their detonation cell size can be quite large even at moderate pressures. Despite the practical importance, only a few studies are available on natural gas detonations for air-breathing RDE applications. Moreover, the extreme thermodynamic condition (high temperature inside the combustor) allows limited accessibility inside the combustor for detailed experimental instrumentations, providing mostly single-point data. Recent experimental studies at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have reported detonation failure at higher methane concentration in an air-breathing RDE fueled by natural gas-hydrogen fuel blends. This encourages to perform a detailed numerical investigation on the wave characteristics of detonation in a natural gas-air fueled RDE to understand the various aspects of instability associated with the natural gas-air detonation.

This study is a numerical consideration of a methane-air fueled RDE with varying operating conditions to ascertain the ability to achieve a stable, continuous detonation wave. The simulations have been performed in a 2D unwrapped RDE geometry using the open-source CFD library “OpenFOAM” employing an unsteady pressure-based compressible reactive flow solver with a kε turbulence model in a structured rectangular grid system. Both reduced and detailed chemical kinetic models have been used to assess the effect of the chemistry on the detonation wave characteristics and the underlying flow features. A systematic grid sensitivity study has been conducted with various grid sizes to quantify the weakly stable overdriven detonation on a coarse mesh and oscillating features at fine mesh resolutions.

The main focus of the current study is to investigate the effects of operating injection pressure on detonation wave characteristics of an air-breathing Rotating Detonation Engine (RDE) fueled with natural gas-hydrogen fuel blends. Wave speeds, peak pressures and temperatures, and dominant frequencies have been computed from the time histories. The flow structures were then visualized using 2D contours of temperature and species concentration.

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