Labyrinth seals are widely used in industrial centrifugal compressors to reduce leakage. However, no work has been conducted to numerically investigate the detailed seal leakage flow and its effects in an environment of multistage centrifugal compressor. To clarify the flow mechanism of leakage flow and the interaction mechanism between leakage and mainstream flow in multistage centrifugal compressors, the flow of the last two stages from a four-stage centrifugal compressor is studied using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model with and without considerations of labyrinth seal leakage paths, i.e., two shroud seals, one interstage seal, and one balance piston seal. The results show that the leakage flow in shroud and hub cavities can be described as a Batchelor-type flow. The Ekman number of the cavity Batchelor flow is small and corresponds to thin boundary layers while the Rossby number is at unity order implying the importance of rotating effects. The leakage flow through the shroud, interstage, and balance piston labyrinth seals is decreased by the combined effects of throttling and diffusion flow, and has distinctive flow structures associated with the type of labyrinth seal. The influence of leakage flow on the mainstream flow can be described by suction or injection mode. The suction mode is beneficial to the improvement of mainstream flow quality while the injection mode is harmful. This work is of scientific significance to enrich the knowledge of internal fluid mechanics and of potential application value to control and design the leakage flow in real configurations of multistage centrifugal compressors.

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