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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

Optimizing Cooling Passages


in Turbine Blades
by Robert Yancey, Michael Dambach, J.S. Rao, Marc Ratzel and David Corson
Altair Engineering, Inc.

Abstract
Turbine blades have internal passages that provide cooling during operation in a high
temperature engine. The design of the cooling passages is critical to achieve near uniform
temperature of the blade during operation. The temperature of the blade is dependent on the
thermal properties of the blade material as well as the fluid dynamics of the air circulating in
the cooling passages. Computational optimization methods have successfully been applied
to design lighter and more efficient structures for many aerospace structures. An extension of
these techniques is now applied to guiding the thermal design of a turbine blade by designing
the optimal cooling passage layout. Optimization methods will be applied to determine the
optimum pattern of the cooling passages and then to optimize the size of the individual
cooling passages. The goal is to produce a more thermally efficient turbine blade design that
will produce blades with longer lives and better performance.

Introduction
Individual turbine blades make up the turbine section of a gas turbine engine. The blades
purpose is to extract energy from the high temperature, high pressure gas produced by the
combustor. Cooling of the blade is very important and one of the cooling methods is to include
internal air channels in the blade. These internal cooling passages rely on convection cooling
and work by passing cooling air through passages internal to the blade. Heat is transferred by
conduction through the blade, and then by convection into the air flowing inside of the blade.
A large internal surface area is desirable for this method, so the cooling paths tend to be
serpentine and full of small fins.[1][2 Optimizing the cooling passages will lead to more efficient
cooling and hence more efficient operation. Also, if the weight of the blades can be reduced,
this leads to overall weight reduction and fuel efficiency improvements.

Optimization Methods
The traditional design process involves an iterative trial and error approach where a design
is incrementally refined until an acceptable design is achieved. A design is produced, next it
is modeled and analyzed mathematically and then based on the analysis results, the design
is modified and reanalyzed. This process is repeated until all design requirements are met.
Once the design requirements are achieved analytically, a prototype is built and tested. If the
prototype testing indicates a problem, the product is redesigned and the design process repeats.

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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

The traditional design approach can be time-consuming and may fall short of an optimum
solution. By contrast, an optimization-driven solution can provide better conceptual designs,
moves the trial and error process to the computer, and ensures all design constraints
are achieved in an optimum manner. The end result is shorter design times and more
robust designs.
Finite element based optimization methods have been widely used for the optimization of
metallic structures [3-5] including many aerospace components [6-8] such as turbine blades
[9,10]

and has now added capabilities for optimizing composite structures [11,12]. Components

engineered with these tools have shown lower weight, increased performance, and the ability
to operate in more robust environments.

Optimizing Cooling Passages


The goal of this study was to apply optimization methods to the design of cooling passages
in a turbine blade. A representative turbine blade geometry was used as shown in Figure 1
along with the coordinate system used for the study. The Y-axis runs from the root to the
blade tip. The portion of the blade for study was extracted and shown in Figure 2.
The extracted geometry just includes the airfoil shape that would include the cooling
passages. Cylindrical cooling passages were modeled into the blade shape and the entire
model was meshed in HyperMesh. An example with four cooling passages is shown in Figure
3 with the corresponding finite element mesh Since computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
software will be used to generate the temperature and pressure boundary conditions on the
blade, HyperMesh was used to generate the CFD mesh on the outside of the blade as shown
in Figure 4.

Figure 1. Turbine Blade Geometry

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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

Figure 2. Extracted Geometry for Optimization

Figure 3. FEA Mesh of Blade with Cooling Passages

Figure 4. CFD Mesh on Outside of Blade

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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

A HyperWorks script was written to allow for variation of the size and number of cooling
passages. The script takes as input the number of cooling passages and the diameter of the
cooling passages and distributes these uniformly across the blade shape, taking into account
the change in pitch by using a camber line at the root and tip of the blade. The meshing of
the blade for the thermal mesh is carried out automatically in HyperMesh[13]. Constraints are
built into the script that prevents cooling passages from extending beyond the blade profile or
into an adjacent cooling passage. The script also submits the analysis run to a Radioss and
returns the results[14].
A CFD simulation using AcuSolve was performed on a mesh with boundary layers on the
non slip walls and tetra elements in the core of the fluid domain as shown in Fig. 4. Special
care has been taken to generate a smooth transition between the last boundary layer
elements and the adjacent tetra elements. The complete mesh contained around 700.000
cells. To consider turbulence effect, the Spalart-Allmaras turbulence model with standard
wall functions has been applied. For the underlying mesh, the maximum y+ value was 240.
Assuming rotational symmetry, periodicity was prescribed for the two boundaries aligned with
the inflow direction. A fixed mass flow rate was used as an inflow condition and zero pressure
was prescribed at the outlet. The rotation of the impeller was modeled by using a rotating
reference frame with a constant angular velocity. An advective-diffusive equation governing
the transport of enthalpy has been used for heat transfer modeling. The enthalpy equation
was solved in a coupled manner with the flow equations.
HyperStudy was used to set up an optimization analysis of the turbine blade [15]. An adaptive
response surface (ASR) optimization method was used since it allows for a discrete variable
number of cooling passage holes. The size and number of cooling passages were the
variables used in the study. The script described previously was produced to automate the
model set-up for each run in the optimization. The script produces the turbine blade mesh
based on cooling passage geometry parameters (position and diameter of passages).
The thermal boundary conditions and pressure on the outside of the blade are provided from
the AcuSolve CFD analysis performed prior to the study. The CFD analysis is only carried out
once and is not repeated for each optimization run. The material properties are also fixed.
Therefore, the size, position, and number of cooling passages are the only variables for
each analysis run. The internal passages were assigned a constant temperature
assuming a constant coolant temperature. Variations in the temperature due to flow were
not considered. A flowchart of the process is shown in Figure 5. The gray area designates the
optimization loop.

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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

For the HyperStudy optimization analysis, an objective function was set to minimize the
displacement of the blade in the y-direction (root to tip). Thermal expansion in this direction
can cause the blade to contact the casing. The optimum configuration of the model is shown
in Figure 6. The optimized blade tip displacement showed a 4% reduction over the baseline
model shown in Figure 3. The mass of the optimized blade was 6.6% less than the baseline
providing an added benefit. The optimized blade shows a total of 8 cooling passages of
variable size. As shown, the optimization produced larger and more cooling passages towards
the trailing edge indicating that the sensitivity of the tip displacement was mostly influenced
by the cooling passages on the trailing edge. The analysis run performed 25 iterations to
achieve the optimal result for the set of conditions considered. The entire optimization
process was automated as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Flowchart of Analysis Process

Figure 6. Optimal Cooling Passage Design for


Given Set of Boundary Conditions (4 Holes with diameters
of 5.8, 7.2, 9.0, and 10.8 mm respectively)

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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

Discussion
Several simplifying assumptions were made in this study. The main flow path is between the
combustor flame, diaphragms and blades. We assumed it to be cyclically symmetric with one
rotating blade of the rotor. We did not include radiation effects. Though the flow is not steady,
we assumed this to be mean flow for the purpose of illustrating structural optimization. For
simplicity, we used a Spalart-Allmaras turbulence model although a K-epsilon or K-omega
model is more appropriate for this type of analysis. We assumed that there is no secondary
(cooling) flow from the compressor. We did not include centrifugal loads. Steady state
conditions were assumed acknowledging that maximum thermal strains are generating during
the transient conditions of start-up.
The main objective of the study was to determine if the cooling passages of a turbine blade
could be optimized using finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics working
together with a numerical optimization code. Future work should consider modeling the
coolant flow within the cooling passages, looking at arbitrary shapes for the cooling passages,
considering start-up transient conditions, and performing stochastic studies on the material
properties for heat transfer and thermal expansion. The study should also consider additional
constraints and/or different objective functions. Generally with numerical optimization, one
can consider multiple constraints and a single objective function. For example, one could set
a constraint on blade tip displacement and set the objective function to minimize the thermal
strains globally or at a particular point.

Conclusions
It has been difficult in the past to perform numerical optimization for structures that operate
in an environment where multiple physical conditions affect the performance. For example,
structural optimizations are straight forward when just load or temperature effects or
included. When pressure, temperature, and flow are all considered, it has been a challenge
to manage all of the variables and develop a process flow that can be completely automated.
In general, some human intervention is required at each step of the process.
This study provides a demonstration of how the process can be automated and optimization
can be performed for a turbine application that includes pressure, temperature, and flow
considerations. To be truly useful, a more in depth study would be required to determine
sensitivities and validate the modeling assumptions with test data. The intent of this study
was to provide a proof of concept of the approach. Given the success of this effort, we plan
to continue this effort to refine the approach and produce studies that can have a definite
impact on improving the performance of turbine engines.

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Optimizing Cooling Passages In Turbine Blades

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