This paper discusses the impact of inlet flow distortions on centrifugal compressors based upon a large experimental data base in which the performance of several impellers in a range of corrected flows and corrected speeds have been measured after been coupled with different inlet plenums technologies. The analysis extends to centrifugal compressor inlets including a side stream, typical of liquefied natural gas applications. The detailed measurements allow a thorough characterization of the flow field and associated performance. The results suggest that distortions can alter the head by as much as 3% and efficiency of around 1%. A theoretical analysis allowed to identify the design features that are responsible for this deviation. In particular, an extension of the so-called “reduced-frequency,” a coefficient routinely used in axial compressors and turbine aerodynamics to weigh the unsteadiness generated by upstream to downstream blade rows, allowed to determine a plenum-to-impeller reduced frequency that correlates very well with the measured performance. The theory behind the new coefficient is discussed together with the measurement details and validates the correlation that can be used in the design phase to determine the best compromise between the inlet plenum complexity and impact on the first stage.

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