The theory underlying a novel method of gas compression driven by shear flow for next generation turbo-machinery is presented. The concept is based on the conversion of shaft power into hydrodynamic pressure and fluid flow that occur in the shear flow between a smooth rotating disk and a compliant surface counterface. This also holds for the inverse process, where gas expansion through the gap between the compliant surface and a shaft-mounted disk converts gas pressure into rotating power and torque.
This is a logical evolutionary step that leverages the proven functionality of self-actuated fluid film compliant foil bearings and seals which operate in the hydrodynamic regime. Thus, as in these devices, the process of compression induced by shear flow is dominated by the balance between pressure and viscous forces which are in turn enhanced and controlled by tribological effects arising between the fluid film and the geometry of the counterface compliant surface.
A model based on the compressible Reynolds equation coupled to the thin-plate theory formulation for compliant foil deflection is presented and parametrically solved to predict pressure, flow rate, and shear losses. The smooth disk and four-pad (sectored) compliant counterface effective size (7.6 mm < r < 14.1 mm), disk operating speed (50,000 to 360,000 rpm), nominal initial gap (0.03 mm < h0 < 0.635 mm), and overall operating conditions chosen for the parametric study correspond to those envisioned for eventual practical integration of miniaturized external combustion bladeless gas turbine engines and turbocompressors. Theoretical performance curves reporting flow versus pressure as well as compression power requirements versus speed were obtained. The predictions of the analysis are compared to results obtained experimentally on a proof of concept engine and presented in a companion paper.
The simplicity of the bladeless geometry makes it amenable to deployment in multistage configurations, so that in conjunction with its foil bearing predecessors, this novel technology will result in low cost, ultra-high speed, high specific power and power density, high efficiency, oil-free and maintenance-free engines — attractive for many practical applications, ranging from military micro-UAV propulsion and portable power systems, to domestic combined heat and power turboalternators, and even micro-compressors for portable medical devices. As a point of reference, it is anticipated that a 10-stage bladeless compressor based on a compression stage as described herein would have a size comparable to that of a 355 mL soda can delivering a flow of 1 kg/min of compressed air.