Detonation is a self-sustaining, supersonic, shock-driven, exothermic reaction. Detonation combustion can theoretically provide significant improvements in thermodynamic efficiency over constant pressure combustion when incorporated into existing cycles. To harness this potential performance benefit, countless studies have worked to develop detonation combustors and integrate these devices into existing systems. This dissertation consists of a series of investigations on two types of detonation combustors: the pulse detonation combustor (PDC) and the rotating detonation combustor (RDC).
In the first two investigations, an array of air-breathing PDCs is integrated with an axial power turbine. The system is initially operated with steady and pulsed cold air flow to determine the effect of pulsed flow on turbine performance. Various averaging approaches are employed to calculate turbine efficiency, but only flow-weighted (e.g., mass or work averaging) definitions have physical significance. Pulsed flow turbine efficiency is comparable to steady flow efficiency at high corrected flow rates and low rotor speeds. At these conditions, the pulse duty cycle expands and the variation of the rotor incidence angle is constrained to a favorable range. The system is operated with pulsed detonating flow to determine the effect of frequency, fill fraction, and rotor speed on turbine performance. For some conditions, output power exceeds the maximum attainable value from steady constant pressure combustion due to a significant increase in available power from the detonation products. However, the turbine component efficiency estimated from classical thermodynamic analysis is four times lower than the steady design point efficiency. Analysis of blade angles shows a significant penalty due to the detonation, fill, and purge processes simultaneously imposed on the rotor.
The latter six investigations focus on fundamental research of the RDC concept. A specially-tailored RDC data analysis approach is developed, which employs cross-correlations to detect the combustor operating state as it evolves during a test. This method enables expedient detection of the operating state from sensors placed outside the combustor, and can also identify and quantify instabilities. An investigation is conducted on a tangentially-injecting initiator tube to characterize the RDC ignition process. Maximum energy deposition for this ignition method is an order of magnitude lower than the required energy for direct initiation, and detonation develops via a deflagration-to-detonation transition process. Stable rotating detonation is preceded by a transitory onset phase with a stochastic duration, which appears to be a function of the reactant injection pressure ratio.
Hydrogen-ethylene fuel blends are explored as an interim strategy to transition to stable detonation in ethylene-air mixtures. While moderate hydrogen addition enables stable operation, removal of the supplemental hydrogen triggers instability and failure. Chemical kinetic analysis indicates that elevated reactant pressure is far more significant than hydrogen addition, and suggests that the stabilizing effect of hydrogen is physical, rather than kinetic. The role of kinetic effects (e.g., cell width) is also assessed, using H2-O2-N2 mixtures. Detonation is observed when the normalized channel width exceeds the classical limit of wch/λ = 0.5, and the number of detonations increases predictably when the detonation perimeter exceeds a critical value.