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Supersonic Detonations

An international team is conducting research into the reduction of pollutant emissions in jet engines at TU Berlin's Energy Lab.

Video with english subtitles

Assembly of the various components of the combustor. The combustor consists of an annulus between two steel cylinders.

Since its opening in 2013 it has not been unusual to see people passing the doors of the Energy Lab suddenly flinch. No wonder given the commotion and detonations within! The doors shake, the ventilation system rattles and the force of an explosion rolls throughout the entire building and beyond. This is the only test station of its type in Germany allowing the continuous examina-tion of detonation waves under controlled conditions.  Richard Blümner, research assistant in the Chair of Fluid Dynamics in Faculty V (Mechanical Engineering and Transport Systems), describes the challenge thus:  "The term 'detonation wave' alone is an exciting theme for an engineer. You have to start by bringing these extremely high energy processes under control."

The Rotating Detonation Combustor with high speed camera.

The detonation waves are generated in what is known as a Rotating Detonation Combustor (RDC). The pressure gain combustion in a detonation wave provides a very good opportunity to increase the efficiency of combustion systems in power stations, air-craft and rockets and thus reduce pollutant emissions. The higher the pressure level during combustion, the greater the efficiency, and a very high level of pressure indeed can be generated through a detonation wave.

Control and monitoring of the test station is performed by the control room with its specially developed software.

A detonation wave rolls out at a supersonic speed of approximately two kilometers per second, which is about six times faster than the speed of sound. "The wonderful thing about this research topic is that it addresses a highly innovative concept. The utilization of detonation waves in technical plants is a very new area of science, and has only been researched for the last two or three decades. This is a very short period of time for a technical system", says Blümner. Project leader Dr. Myles Bohon takes up the story: "We are conducting fundamental research and I am excited to see how this technology will develop in the future. We have a number of challenges to overcome, such as the extremely high temperatures in the burner. Our aim is to achieve a sustainable and long-term improvement in the efficacy of the combustion chamber."

When the alarm status shows, the test station shuts down automatically.

The RDC project is being conducted within the Chair of Fluid Dynamics led by Professor Oliver Paschereit and has received fund-ing from the Einstein Foundation Berlin since 2016. Along the way the project has also succeeded in becoming incorporated into the Federal Government's aeronautical research program. The research group is led by Dr Myles Bohon and Professors Ephraim Gutmark and Panagiotis Stathopoulos and is very international in terms of its members, with researchers coming from Romania, Germany, USA and Iran. Future cooperation is also being sought with European partners from France and Italy.

Everyone involved in the project shares a common goal: To develop a product for use in the real world. Climate change requires the most efficient possible use of fuels in the future. Even if it might still be 20 years before the technology is used in aircraft and power stations, the basis is being laid at TU Berlin now.

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The team

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Oliver Paschereit, head of the Chair of Fluid Dynamics


The Rotating Detonation Combustor (RDC) is a very important project for our institute. The concept is highly innovative and will introduce a completely new technology into gas turbines. We wish to make it possible to offer energy at low prices and with ultra-low pollutant emissions as well as to enable the construction of highly-efficient aircraft engines with low emissions.

Myles Bohon, postdoctoral researcher at the Chair of Fluid Dynamics and head of the Rotating Detonation Combustor research group


The international research community is very interested in the further development of pressure gain combustion. The advantage of the conditions at the TU Lab is that they allow us to redesign the technology involved from scratch, while also drawing upon transdisciplinary experience. The knowledge our international colleagues bring to the project is of great benefit to us. Our recent meeting with seven European organizations will result in funding being made available for more doctoral students.

Professor Ephraim Gutmark, PhD/DSc, Einstein Visiting Fellow, Professor for Aerospace Engineering & Engineering Mechanics at the University of Cincinnati


I have been working with Oliver Paschereit for more than 20 years now. I have been working on pressure gain combustion in the USA for 15 years. On the basis of the experience we have gained we were able to successfully submit an application to the Ein-stein Foundation and bring this technology to Berlin. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to work with students, doctoral candi-dates and post-doctoral students at TUB. Every two weeks we stage a video conference to discuss the progress we have been able to make in the project. The newly constructed lab in Berlin provides us with a highly modern and efficient location to conduct research.

Eric Bach, research assistant in the Chair of Fluid Dynamics


I am interested in combustion research in general, and detonation research in particular. The topic is a highly interdisciplinary one, incorporating physical and chemical issues. I am looking with my research to forge a bridge between combustion chambers and turbines. An RDC combustion chamber produces flows with supersonic speeds which additionally have very high frequency fluc-tuations and shifting characteristics. This represents a great challenge as conditioning these flows for a turbine requires the right transfer geometry and I am seeking to define what that is.

Richard Blümner, research assistant in the Chair of Fluid Dynamics


Climate change confronts all of us with special challenges, and combustion engineers are no exception: We have to reduce emis-sions. The utilization of detonation waves has the great advantage of enabling a more efficient use of fuels – using less fuel to achieve the same output as conventional systems. We can make a great contribution to this through our research project.

Recorded by Anna Groh, "TU intern" 25 June 2018


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