Turbulence simulations to improve turbine design

A commercial collaboration with GE Global Research and GE Aviation.

Understanding turbulence is key to improving the operating efficiency in a wide range of engines, from aircraft and submarines, to power-generating systems such as wind turbines.

But turbulence is a highly chaotic process that is extremely hard to predict, says Professor Richard Sandberg at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

He has been working on the issue in conjunction with GE Global Research and GE Aviation for the past five years, focusing particularly on turbulence in aircraft engines.

Professor Sandberg says when it comes to designing new turbomachinery components, computational fluid dynamic (CFD) modelling is widely used. But these models are really only accurate in known situations, where the flow behaviour is well recognised and the models have already been calibrated.

If you want to do something different, to go off design, or think of more radical concepts, you can’t really trust these models any more. And that is where we come in.

He and his team at the University of Melbourne have been developing highly detailed turbulence simulations for GE Aviation that are so complex it requires a supercomputer and many days to run them.

We try to reduce turbulence model uncertainty as much as possible, but this makes the simulations very costly. However, the reward is that we can really look at what happens in the flow. We get better understanding of the physics, which helps give GE Aviation insight.

Each simulation also produces high-fidelity data that Professor Sandberg uses to develop new, more accurate design tools. We mine that data to understand where existing models go wrong, and try to design better models that GE can then use in its design loop.

He says all the models he and his team are developing will improve the prediction accuracy of turbulent flows in general, and will be equally as useful for systems that generate thrust, such as aircraft engines, as for those that generate power, such as the wind turbine sector.

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