The diversification of power generation methods within existing power networks has increased the requirement for operational flexibility of plants employing steam turbines. This has led to the situation where steam turbines may operate at very low volume flow conditions for extended periods of time. Under operating conditions where the volume flow through the last stage moving blades (LSMBs) of a low-pressure (LP) steam turbine falls below a certain limit, energy is returned to the working fluid rather than being extracted. This so-called “ventilation” phenomenon produces non-synchronous aerodynamic excitation, which has the potential to lead to high dynamic blade loading. The aerodynamic excitation is often the result of a rotating phenomenon, with similarities to rotating stall, which is well known in compressors.

Detailed unsteady pressure measurements have been performed in a single stage model steam turbine operated with air under ventilation conditions. Detailed analysis revealed that the rotating excitation mechanism observed in operating steam turbines, is reproduced in the model turbine. 3D CFD has been applied to simulate the unsteady flow in the air model turbine. The numerical model consists of the single stage modeled as a full annulus, as well as the axial-radial diffuser. An unsteady CFD analysis has been performed for sufficient rotor revolutions such that the flow is globally periodic. It has been shown that the simulation reproduces well the characteristics of the phenomenon observed in the tests. The detailed insight into the flow field allows the drawing of conclusions as to the nature of the excitation mechanism. One result is that the LSMB tip clearance flow is found to have very little or no effect on the characteristics of mechanism for the case studied.

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