An experimental study of the effect of a pilot flame on technically pre-mixed, self-excited combustion instabilities

Open Access
O'meara, Bridget C
Graduate Program:
Mechanical Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 23, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Domenic Adam Santavicca, Dissertation Advisor
  • Domenic Adam Santavicca, Committee Chair
  • Domenic Adam Santavicca, Committee Member
  • Jacqueline Antonia O'connor, Committee Member
  • Richard A Yetter, Committee Member
  • Michael Matthew Micci, Committee Member
  • Combustion
  • combustion dynamics
  • pilot flame
  • technically pre-mixed
  • self-excited instabilities
Combustion instabilities are a problem facing the gas turbine industry in the operation of lean, pre-mixed combustors. Secondary flames known as “pilot flames” are a common passive control strategy for eliminating combustion instabilities in industrial gas turbines, but the underlying mechanisms responsible for the pilot flame’s stabilizing effect are not well understood. This dissertation presents an experimental study of a pilot flame in a single-nozzle, swirl-stabilized, variable length atmospheric combustion test facility and the effect of the pilot on combustion instabilities. A variable length combustor tuned the acoustics of the system to excite instabilities over a range of operating conditions without a pilot flame. The inlet velocity was varied from 25 – 50 m/s and the equivalence ratio was varied from 0.525 – 0.65. This range of operating conditions was determined by the operating range of the combustion test facility. Stability at each operating condition and combustor length was characterized by measurements of pressure oscillations in the combustor. The effect of the pilot flame on the magnitude and frequency of combustor stability was then investigated. The mechanisms responsible for the pilot flame effect were studied using chemiluminescence flame images of both stable and unstable flames. Stable flame structure was investigated using stable flame images of CH* chemiluminescence emission. The effect of the pilot on stable flame metrics such as flame length, flame angle, and flame width was investigated. In addition, a new flame metric, flame base distance, was defined to characterize the effect of the pilot flame on stable flame anchoring of the flame base to the centerbody. The effect of the pilot flame on flame base anchoring was investigated because the improved stability with a pilot flame is usually attributed to improved flame anchoring through the recirculation of hot products from the pilot to the main flame base. Chemiluminescence images of unstable flames were used to identify several instability mechanisms and infer how these mechanisms are affected by the pilot flame. Flame images of cases in which the pilot flame did not eliminate the instability were investigated to understand why the pilot flame is not effective in certain cases. The phase of unstable pilot flame oscillations was investigated to determine how the phase of pilot flame oscillations may affect its ability to interfere with instability mechanisms in the main flame. A forced flame response study was conducted to determine the effect of inlet velocity oscillation amplitude on the pilot flame. The flame response was characterized by measurements of velocity oscillations in the injector and chemiluminescence intensity oscillations determined from flame images. As the forcing amplitude increases, the pilot flame’s effect on the flame transfer function magnitude becomes weaker. Flame images show that as the forcing amplitude increases, the pilot flame oscillations increase, leading to an ineffective pilot. The results of the flame response portion of this study highlight the effect of instability amplitude on the ability of a pilot flame to eliminate a combustion instability.