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Ryan Gunning, from Chester, has been working with Dr Andy Williams, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, who is based at Thornton Science Park.

Compressors are used throughout industry and in many everyday products. They are used to increase the power density of engines, whether in cars, aircraft, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) or ships. They are also used in applications such as vacuum cleaners and hand driers.

Ryan’s research has been focussing on open, high speed compressor systems, specifically those used in turbochargers for automotive applications. These work by a series of moving blades on a rotor applying a force to the air which is moving through it. This force then increases the energy the air has, ultimately leading to an increase in the air pressure. These devices are designed to operate at a particular air flow rate, but the wider the range of flow rates they can operate over, the more we can achieve with them. Since the very early applications of centrifugal compressors, the upper flow rate has been limited by the choking of the flow and the lower flow rate has been limited by a point at which the air in the compressor and pipe system becomes unstable. The latter limit is referred to in the industry as surge.

Third year undergraduate Ryan Gunning and Dr Williams have just finished the modelling stages of their research work. For the last six months they have been studying the flow dynamics during surge and understanding how it is influenced by a variety of external parameters. Ryan has developed his own model which represents the flow through a compressor and pipe system, allowing him to quickly explore practical (and less practical) ideas for controlling the flow behaviour with the aim of eliminating surge.

Together with Dr Williams, he has determined at least three substantially different practical techniques which can form the basis of stabilising the flow. A bespoke turbocharger test rig at Thornton Science Park is ideally placed to develop and prove this technology. Dr Williams and Ryan are now preparing for experimental verification of the concepts, which is expected to take place this summer.

Dr Williams said: “With conventional compressors, the inability to operate at low flow rates means that, in automotive engine applications, we either add in more cost, sacrifice efficiency or accept poor low speed torque as a direct result of the surge limit. If the research being carried out by Ryan and myself comes to fruition, it is feasible that two stage turbo systems could be replaced by a single stage turbo with better overall performance at lower cost – all of which are highly valuable. We work hard at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Thornton Science Park to ensure that our students get ‘real world’ experience – Ryan’s research is a great example of what we do best!”

Ryan said: “Researching potential solutions for this significant issue in the automotive and transport sector, at Thornton Science Park, has been incredibly interesting and challenging."

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