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Optics and Lasers in Engineering 55 (2014) 262 266

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Optics and Lasers in Engineering


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Lean burn limit and time to light characteristics of laser ignition in gas turbines
J. Grifths a,n, M. Riley b, A. Kirk b, A. Borman a, J. Lawrence a, C. Dowding a
a b

Laser and Photonics Engineering Group, School of Engineering, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS, United Kingdom Combustion Group, School of Engineering, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS, United Kingdom

art ic l e i nf o
Article history: Received 27 September 2013 Received in revised form 28 November 2013 Accepted 29 November 2013 Available online 20 December 2013 Keywords: Laser ignition Gas turbine Time to light Lean burn limit Air/fuel ratio

a b s t r a c t
This work details a study of laser ignition in a low pressure combustion test rig, representative of an industrial gas turbine (SGT-400, Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery Ltd.) and for the rst time investigates the effect of air mass ow rate on combustion characteristics at air/fuel ratios at the lean burn limit. Both the lean burn limit and time taken to light are essential in determining the suitability of a specied air/fuel ratio, especially in multi-chamber ignition applications. Through extension of the lean burn limit and reduction of the time taken to light, the operating window for ignition with regards to the air/fuel ratio can be increased, leading to greater reliability and repeatability of ignition. Ignition of a natural gas and air mixture at atmospheric pressure was conducted using both a standard high energy igniter and a laser ignition system utilizing a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser source operating at 1064 nm wavelength. A detailed comparison of the lean burn limit and time taken to light for standard ignition and laser ignition is presented. & 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Conventional spark ignition (SI) using high energy electrical igniters is near its limit of durability and exibility for its use in the ignition of lean air/fuel mixtures in stationary gas turbine applications. Laser ignition (LI) offers the potential to consistently ignite lean air/fuel mixtures with reduced combustion times whilst also addressing the durability issues associated with conventional SI systems [13]. Potential for the use of leaner air/fuel mixtures is particularly attractive as this results in lower ame temperatures, reduced NOx emissions and reduced CO emissions by providing an excess of O2 for oxidation to CO2. The potential for the application of lasers in the ignition process was rst identied shortly after the advent of pulsed laser sources in 1964 by Ramsden et al. [4] who demonstrated the breakdown of air using a focussed ruby laser. However, it was many years before any signicant interest in LI developed, primarily due to the availability of suitable pulsed laser systems. Since then, extensive research into the application of lasers in the ignition of various systems such as internal combustion engines and natural gas reciprocating engines has been conducted [5,6]. The LI process typically involves the use of highly focussed UV to near-IR laser radiation on locally ionize target molecules in a

Corresponding author. Tel.: 44 1522 837 936. E-mail address: jgrifths@lincoln.ac.uk (J. Grifths).

combustible mixture, leading to full-scale combustion. Through manipulation of process parameters and depending on the combustible mixture composition, either photo-dissociation or multiphoton ionization can be achieved. In a review paper published in 2005, Phuoc et al. [7] categorized various LI techniques into three distinct mechanisms: thermal ignition, photochemical ignition and multiphoton ionization. Primarily due to its relative independence regarding absorption characteristics of the combustible mixture, multiphoton ionization has emerged as the most commonly applied laser-based ignition mechanism [8,9]. In this mechanism, ionization occurs as a result of collision of multiple incident photons with target molecules. Whilst shorter wavelength photons may be sufciently energetic so as to allow single photon ionization, longer wavelengths (that is, visible or IR) require multiple collisions to dissociate electrons. Once released, these electrons readily absorb more photons by the process of inverse bremsstrahlung, increasing their kinetic energy. Collision of these excited electrons with target molecules causes further ionization, leading to avalanche breakdown of the combustible mixture. A vast majority of ignition applications requires combustion to be initiated in multiple chambers (or cans) which possess a specic challenge regarding ignition window and the lean burn limit. For instance, in the case of the SGT-400 gas turbine which forms the basis of this investigation, there are six combustion cans which are lit consecutively using standard high energy igniters. During the ignition process, the air/fuel ratio in unlit

0143-8166/$ - see front matter & 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.optlaseng.2013.11.016

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cans becomes progressively leaner as successive cans light. This phenomenon, referred to as leaning out, is due to an increase in the ame loss coefcient which is induced as each can is lit, increasing the local air resistance in that can. This resistance diverts more of the compressors air through the remaining, unlit cans. If the starting air/fuel ratio was close to the lean burn limit, this leaning out may make ignition in these cans impossible. As such, in order to achieve reliable and repeatable combustion, the air/fuel ratio must be tailored so as to allow a sufciently large ignition window, thus rendering air/fuel ratios approaching the lean burn limit unsuitable. It is therefore desired that the lean burn limit be increased or the time to light be reduced to such an extent that the cans light near simultaneously. Laser ignition has the potential to increase the lean burn limit and therefore allow the use of leaner combustible mixtures [10,11]. The use of a high repetition rate pulsed laser source, multiplexed to multiple cans, could also reduce the discrepancy regarding time taken to light for individual cans [12]. In this work, the lean burn limit (henceforth referred to as the lean air/fuel ratio) and time taken to light characteristics of laser ignition in a low pressure combustion test rig are investigated and compared with analogous results from the standard ignition using a high energy igniter. The effect of air mass ow rate is studied and the potential for lasers to overcome issues associated with combustion in multiple cans is discussed.

2.2. Laser ignition system A laser ignition system was developed utilizing a Q-switched Nd:YAG TEM00 laser (Brilliant; Quantel, Ltd.) with a pulse duration of 9 ns, operating at 10 Hz repetition rate and 1064 nm wavelength. The laser ignition system, along with the experimental setup for the investigation, is shown in Fig. 1. A polarization based optical attenuator was used to manipulate the laser power. This avoids unwanted thermal lensing effects associated with changing the ashlamp/Q-switch delay time to manipulate the output power, which can lead to changes in the spatial properties of the beam [13,14]. The polarization based variable attenuator consisted of a 1/2 wave plate and polarizing beam splitting cube, as shown in Fig. 1. A power meter (Maestro; Gentec Electro-Optics, Inc.) connected to a data acquisition and control computer was used to measure the power dumped by this attenuator set-up and used to infer the value for power exiting the laser ignition system. A 1/4 wave plate was used to protect the laser source from back reections, necessitating a beam dump at the unused face of the polarizing beam-splitting cube. 2.2.1. Laser igniter assembly A custom laser igniter was designed as a like-for-like replacement for the existing standard igniter used with a SGT-400 pilot burner. The ignition lance consisted of a clear aperture for transmission of the laser beam, an a-spherical focussing optic with an effective focal length of 15.29 mm and an anti-reective coated N-BK7 output window. The optical elements within the lance were spaced using copper washers. To ensure that no ingress of the combustible gaseous mixture within the combustion chamber occurred, the tip of the ignition lance was sealed with red silicone around the edge of the output window. 3. Results and discussion The experimental work focused on: (i) calibration of the laser igniter to determine the required pulse energy to achieve the consistent spark formation at atmospheric pressure, (ii) determination of the lean air/fuel ratio at which successful ignition occurs for a given mass ow rate of air and (iii) monitoring the time taken to light the combustible mixture at each lean air/fuel ratio. 3.1. Calibration of the laser igniter Initially, the laser pulse energy required for the spark formation was determined. Operating at 10 Hz repetition rate, the laser pulse

2. Experimental procedures 2.1. Low pressure combustion test rig For this work, the atmospheric combustion facility (ACF) at the Siemens Firth Road site in Lincoln, UK was used as the experimental rig. The ACF can be tted with a single combustor can from a range of Siemens industrial gas turbines. For the purpose of this investigation, the rig was tted with a combustion can and pilot burner from an SGT-400 industrial gas turbine. Use of the ACF rig allowed the replication of starting conditions encountered in a full scale combustor can, that is, identical mass ow rates and inlet temperatures for both the fuel and air supplies. In normal operation, combustion on the ACF rig was initiated using a high energy igniter. This igniter had a xed repetition rate of two sparks per second. The spark was located at approximately 1.00 mm from the tip of the igniter, which was ush with the face of the burner.

Fig. 1. Experimental set-up with (1) laser source, (2) 1/2 wave plate, (3) polarizing beam splitting cube, (4) 1/4 wave plate, (5) ignition lance, (6) SGT-400 pilot burner, (7) beam-steering mirror(s), (8) power meter, (9) beam dump, (10) data acquisition and control computer, (11) combustion chamber, (12) control panel, (13) gas in, (14) air in and (15) camera. The dashed-dot line represents the optical path whereas the dashed line represents the optical path for back reections.

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Fig. 2. Laser induced spark probability with increasing laser pulse energy (1064 nm and 10 Hz).

Fig. 3. Average laser induced spark intensity with increasing laser pulse energy (1064 nm and 10 Hz).

energy was gradually increased until consistent sparking was observed. A photodiode sensor (VTB1012H; Excelitas Technologies Corp.) with a peak response of 920 nm and a spectral response of 3201100 nm, and an oscilloscope (DSOX2002A; Agilent, Incs.) operating at 70 MHz and 2 GS/s were connected to a data acquisition computer and used to record the number of sparks formed over a period of 50 s, corresponding to a maximum of 500 sparks. The power was monitored over the duration of this measurement and averaged. The spark probability is shown in Fig. 2. Fig. 2 reveals three distinct energy regimes. At incident pulse energies of less than 4 mJ no spark formation occurred, resulting in near complete pulse energy transmission through the focal point. The second regime existed for incident pulse energies between 4 and 7 mJ, characterized by inconsistent spark formation. Optical breakdown can only occur when the incident laser radiation is above a threshold value; therefore, for pulse energies close to this threshold value as opposed to those well in excess of it, a statistically smaller fraction of the laser pulse is capable of causing optical breakdown, resulting in reduced spark probabilities [15]. The third regime existed at incident pulse energies above 7 mJ and was characterized by consistent spark formation, congruous with observations made by Chen et al. [16]. Having established the threshold incident pulse energy for consistent spark formation the threshold for saturation of the laser induced plasma was then determined. This is essential as exceeding this threshold ensures that the densest possible spark for a given optical set-up is generated consistently during operation. The intensity of each spark generated was measured over a period of 50 s and averaged for pulse energies up to 35 mJ, as shown in Fig. 3. Fig. 3 shows that, after the threshold for spark formation of 4 mJ is exceeded, the intensity of the sparks generated increases with increasing pulse energy, with this trend continuing even after the threshold for consistent spark formation of 10 mJ is exceeded. However, at pulse energies greater than approximately 15 mJ the intensity of the sparks generated remains relatively consistent. This can be attributed to saturation of the laser generated plasma, resulting in no signicant change in plasma density for incident pulse energies greater than approximately 15 mJ [17]. 3.2. Determination of lean air/fuel ratio The lean air/fuel ratio was determined for a series of air mass ow rates. Allowing time for the mass ow rate of the gas to settle

and the combustible mixture to reach equilibrium at a predetermined air/fuel ratio, either the laser igniter or the standard igniter was activated for a period of 10 s. During this time, the camera feed was monitored for successful ignition. Fig. 4 shows the camera feed for both sparking and successful ignition. Failure to ignite the mixture within the 10 s time period was noted, as was any instance in which ignition occurred but the ame was subsequently quenched. This procedure was repeated 20 times for each predetermined air/fuel ratio. The criteria for lean air/fuel ratio at a given mass ow rate of air was no failed ignition events and no successful ignition with subsequent quenching of the ame. It was a practice, if possible, to start at an air/fuel ratio at which it was known that the mixture would light successfully and subsequently increase the air/fuel ratio in intervals of ten until the lean air/fuel ratio was surpassed. The results of the study, conducted over four mass ow rates of air, are shown in Figs. 5 and 6 for the standard igniter and laser igniter respectively. The results shown in Figs. 5 and 6 reveal a good correlation for lean air/fuel ratio between the standard igniter and laser igniter at mass ow rates of air of up to 0.4 kg/s. At 0.5 kg/s air mass ow rate the leanest air/fuel ratio at which consistent ignition was initiated using the laser igniter was approximately 8% fuel richer when compared with the standard igniter. It should also be noted that the criteria for successful ignition could not be met at any air/ fuel ratio for this mass ow rate of air. This was attributed to the location of the laser spark within the combustion chamber. The laser spark was located approximately 5 mm from the face of the burner along the optical axis, 4 mm further into the chamber than high energy igniter spark, and as such is subject to increased ow velocities. Specic to the multiphoton ionization laser ignition process, high ow velocities may have the effect of removing electrons generated by the leading edge of the laser pulse from the focal point of the beam before further collision can occur, effectively reducing the duration and density of the laser induced plasma [18]. For a ame kernel to grow and propagate into a self-sustaining ame, its minimum dimension must exceed the quenching distance. The minimum quenching distance increases in proportion to the intensity of turbulence, such as from raised ow velocities. Furthermore, theoretical and experimental works have shown that the minimum energy necessary to heat (to its adiabatic ame temperature) a volume of gas equal to the minimum quenching distance is proportional to the cube of the quenching distance [19].

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Fig. 4. Camera feed showing (a) laser induced spark formation and (b) successful ignition (35 mJ, 1064 nm, 10 Hz, and 0.2 kg/s air mass ow rate, and 0.33 g/s gas ow rate).

3.3. Time to light characteristics As part of the aforementioned procedure for determining the lean air/fuel ratio, the time taken to light was recorded for each successful ignition event. The results of the study, conducted where possible over four mass ow rates of air, are shown in Figs. 7 and 8 for the standard igniter and laser igniter respectively. From Figs. 7 and 8 it is evident that, at air mass ow rates of up to 0.4 kg/s, the trend for time to light is consistent for both the standard igniter and laser igniter, that is, the time taken to light increases with increasing air mass ow rate. It should be noted, however, that the standard deviation in time taken to light also increases markedly. From Fig. 8 it is evident that the time taken to light is in the order of several seconds, much longer than the duration of the laser spark. This is attributable to the probabilistic nature of ignition. Whilst spark formation is necessary for subsequent ignition, not all laser induced breakdown events result in ignition of the air/fuel mixture. In the case of the standard igniter, the time taken to light decreases at 0.5 kg/s mass ow rate of air. This can be attributed to the lean air/fuel ratio value stated of 490 not being a true representation of lean air/fuel ratio as regards ignition solely. It was possible to light reliably at air/fuel ratios of up to 520. However, the ame was subjected to extinction and therefore failed the criteria for lean air/fuel ratio in this investigation.

Fig. 5. Lean air/fuel ratio for a standard igniter with increasing mass ow rate of air.

4. Conclusions The lean burn limit and time taken to light characteristics of laser ignition in a low pressure combustion test rig have been investigated. Ignition of a natural gas and air mixture at atmospheric pressure was conducted using both a standard high energy igniter and a laser ignition system utilizing a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser source operating at 1064 nm wavelength. For the rst time, the effect on gas turbine combustion characteristics of interactions between a laser spark and combustible mixture under realistic engine like conditions has been investigated. Initially the threshold pulse energy required for laser induced spark formation was determined and found to be 4 mJ, with consistent spark formation occurring at pulse energies greater than 7 mJ. Plasma saturation was found to occur with incident pulse energies greater than 15 mJ. As such, pulse energy well in excess of this value (35 mJ) was used for ignition in this investigation. The lean air/fuel ratio was found to be consistent for laser ignition and conventional ignition for air mass ow rates of less than 0.4 kg/s. At higher air mass ow rates the laser failed to consistently meet the predetermined criteria for successful ignition. This was attributed to the advanced location of the laser

Fig. 6. Lean air/fuel ratio for the laser igniter with increasing mass ow rate of air (35 mJ, 1064 nm, and 10 Hz). * denotes a lean air/fuel ratio which failed to meet the criteria for successful ignition as the result of two failures to light.

Hence, any increases in the turbulent ow require exponential increases in the delivered ignition energy to achieve ignition of the air/fuel mixture.

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investigation has also identied ow velocity in the vicinity of the laser induced spark as a key factor affecting successful initiation of combustion during the multiphoton laser ignition process. The effect of ow speed and turbulence on the multiphoton laser ignition process remains an active research eld. It is of paramount importance to determine the photon ux density and volumetric energy density required for successful ignition of air/fuel mixtures under gas dynamic conditions representative of real engine operation.

Acknowledgments The authors would like to thank Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery Ltd. (SITL) for funding this investigation as part of a wider investigation of laser ignition for gas turbines. References
Fig. 7. Time to light at lean air/fuel ratio for a standard igniter with increasing mass ow rate of air. [1] Laser ignition: a new concept to use and increase the potentials of gas engines. ASME; 2005. [2] Grifths J, Lawrence J. Laser cleaning of the output window in a laser ignition system for gas turbines. In: Proceedings of the ICALEO'12; 2012. [3] Grifths J, Lawrence J, Fitzsimons P. Effect of ignition location on the in-process removal of combustion deposits from the output window of a gas turbine laser ignition system. Opt Laser Technol 2013;48:32630. [4] Ramsden SA, Davies WE. Radiation scattered from the plasma produced by a focused ruby laser beam. Phys Rev Lett 1964;13(7):227. [5] Dale J, Smy P, Clements R. Laser ignited internal combustion enginean experimental study. 1978. [6] Development of advanced laser ignition system for stationary natural gas reciprocating engines. ASME; 2005. [7] Phuoc TX. A comparative study of the photon pressure force, the photophoretic force, and the adhesion van der Waals force. Opt Commun 2005;245(16):2735. [8] Ronney PD. Laser versus conventional ignition of ames. Opt Eng 1994;33:510. [9] Kopecek H, Maier H, Reider G, Winter F, Wintner E. Laser ignition of methane air mixtures at high pressures. Exp Therm Fluid Sci 2003;27(4):499503. [10] Weinrotter M, Kopecek H, Tesch M, Wintner E, Lackner M, Winter F. Laser ignition of ultra-lean methane/hydrogen/air mixtures at high temperature and pressure. Exp Therm Fluid Sci 2005;29(5):56977. [11] Bker D, Brggemann D. Advancing lean combustion of hydrogenair mixtures by laser-induced spark ignition. Int J Hydrogen Energy 2011;36 (22):1475967. [12] Yalin AP, Joshi S, DeFoort M, Willson B. Towards multiplexed ber delivered laser ignition for natural gas engines. J Eng Gas Turbines Power 2008;130:044502. [13] Mullett J, Dodd R, Williams C, Triantos G, Dearden G, Shenton A, et al. The inuence of beam energy, mode and focal length on the control of laser ignition in an internal combustion engine. J Phys D 2007;40(15):4730. [14] Mullett JD, Dearden G, Dodd R, Shenton AT, Triantos G, Watkins KG. A comparative study of optical bre types for application in a laser-induced ignition system. J Opt A: Pure Appl Opt 2009;11(5)054007. [15] Chen Y-, Lewis JWL, Parigger C. Spatial and temporal proles of pulsed laserinduced air plasma emissions. J Quant Spectrosc Radiat Trans 2000;67 (2):91103. [16] Chen Y-L, Lewis JWL, Parigger C. Probability distribution of laser-induced breakdown and ignition of ammonia. J Quant Spectrosc Radiat Trans 2000;66 (1):4153. [17] Yalcin S, Crosley D, Smith G, Faris G. Spectroscopically determined temperatures and electron densities in laser produced sparks. Int OSA Annu Meet Tech Dig 1995;67:147. [18] Tran XP. Laser-induced spark ignition fundamental and applications. Opt Lasers Eng 2006;44(5):35197. [19] Lefebvre AH, Ballal DR. Gas turbine combustion. 3rd ed. CRC Press; 2010.

Fig. 8. Time to light at lean air/fuel ratio for the laser igniter with increasing mass ow rate of air (35 mJ, 1064 nm and 10 Hz).

induced spark within the combustion chamber relative to that induced by the high energy igniter, resulting in quenching of the ignition kernel by high ow velocities. The time taken to light was comparable albeit consistently longer for laser ignition when compared with the standard ignition. This work has demonstrated that laser based ignition systems can, broadly speaking, match conventional systems utilizing high energy igniters in ignition of gas turbines. It should be noted, however, that whilst conventional spark ignition using high energy electrical igniters is a mature technology, there remains signicant scope for optimization of the laser ignition process. This