You are on page 1of 4

Proc. Transducers 03, Boston MA, USA, 8-12 June 2003, pp.

702-705
DESIGN, FABRICATION AND CHARACTERIZATION OF AN
AXIAL-FLOW TURBINE FOR FLOW SENSING

Guodong Hong
a
, Andrew S. Holmes
a
, Mark E. Heaton
a,b
, Keith R. Pullen
c

a
Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Imperial College, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2BT, UK
b
Exitech Ltd, Oxford Industrial Park, Yarnton, Oxford OX5 1QU, UK
c
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial College, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2BX, UK
e-mail: a.holmes@imperial.ac.uk


ABSTRACT

This paper presents a novel micro-power conversion
device that combines an axial flow turbine with an axial-
flux electromagnetic generator. The device has a sandwich
structure, consisting of a top silicon stator, a polymer rotor
and a bottom silicon stator. Axial gas flow through the
device causes rotation, while permanent magnets embedded
in the rotor induce output voltage in planar coils on the
stators. Compared to radial flow devices the axial-flow
design is more compact and can operate at lower pressure
ratios. Details of the device design and fabrication process
are given, and preliminary results are presented for the
variation of output voltage, rotation speed, and pressure
ratio with flow rate for nitrogen gas. The test results show
operation over a wide dynamic range.

INTRODUCTION

Techniques for measuring fluid flow rates have been
well established for many years. For example, thermal
methods based on convective cooling of a hot wire/film are
widely used in instrumentation, as are differential pressure
and doppler methods. For air-speed sensing, the traditional
approach has been to use the Pitot tube, which is based on
measurement of the stagnation pressure [1].
An alternative approach to flow sensing is to use the
flow to generate vibration or rotation of moving parts.
Although more complex, devices based on this principle are
preferred in some safety-critical applications because they
generate a frequency output, and are thus less prone to
giving spurious readings. Furthermore, sensors of this
latter type generate electrical power, allowing them to be
self-powered in applications where sufficient energy can be
extracted from the flow. This is opens up the possibility of
remote wireless flow sensors that can power themselves
and send data by radio link.
In this paper we describe a micro-power conversion
device that combines an axial flow turbine with an axial-
flux electromagnetic generator. The device has a sandwich
structure, as shown in Figure 1, consisting of a top silicon
stator, a rotor and a bottom silicon stator. Axial gas flow
through the device causes rotation, while permanent
magnets embedded in the rotor induce output voltage in
planar coils on the stators.
The axial-flow turbine geometry was chosen because it
allows operation at low pressure ratios, as required for
efficient extraction of power directly from a gas flow. In
contrast, previous work on micro-turbines has focused
mainly on radial-flow designs [2,3]. Axial-flow devices are
more difficult to realise by microfabrication because the
turbine blades have to be inclined with respect to the flow.
Furthermore, for efficient operation, the blade angle should
vary in the axial direction, and preferably also in the radial
Figure 1. Micro-engineered turbo-generator based on axial-flow turbine and axial-flux, permanent
magnet generator: (a) cross-section; (b) details of blade and guide vane profiles.
Proc. Transducers 03, Boston MA, USA, 8-12 June 2003, pp. 702-705
direction. We have used a combination of UV lithography
and excimer laser micromachining to produce SU8 polymer
rotors and stator inserts with the required blade and guide
vane profiles.
The axial flux geometry was chosen for the generator
because it allows planar spiral coils, which are particularly
well suited to microfabrication. This geometry has been
widely used in larger scale motors and generators [4].
The following sections describe the device structure,
fabrication process, and preliminary results for the variation
of induced voltage, shaft speed and pressure drop with
nitrogen flow rate.

DEVICE DESIGN

Turbine Design: The three main design parameters
defining a turbine geometry are the pressure ratio, the
annulus dimensions (inner and outer diameters of fluid
channel for our device), and the shaft speed [5]. Figure 2a
shows the values used in our work. The overall scale of the
first prototypes was set by the decision to use conventional
2 mm-dia ball-race bearings, and commercial 1 mm-dia
NdBFe (Neodymium Boron Iron) permanent magnets in the
rotor. The inner radius of the fluid channel was made just
large enough to accommodate a central bearing, with a ring
of 10 permanent magnets outside it. The nominal shaft
speed was set at 30% of the maximum operating speed of
the bearings, while the pressure ratio was taken as the
stagnation pressure corresponding to a forward speed of
around 100 ms
-1
, assuming the device is used as an air
speed transducer. Based on these parameters, the blade
shapes for the stator and rotor were generated using
standard turbomachinery practice, taking into account
constraints on minimum blade width imposed by the rotor
fabrication process. Further details of the design process
will be reported in a later publication. For simplicity, the
same blade shape was used both for the rotor blades and the
inlet stator guide vanes (see Figure 2b). These were
designed such that the flow exiting the rotor should be
purely axial at the nominal shaft speed, allowing straight
guide vanes to be used on the lower stator.


Figure 2. (a) Design parameters for prototype turbine; (b)
blade profile for inlet stator and rotor (dimensions in m).

Generator Design: The generator was designed with a
view to maximising the induced voltage in the stator coils.
Accordingly, the maximum number of turns per layer was
used in each coil. This number was limited to 13 by the coil
fabrication process. A two-layer process was employed,
with 10 coils per layer, giving a total of 520 turns including
both stators. With the permanent magnets used (B = 1160
mT), simulations showed that that the device should
generate an open-circuit output voltage of approximately 3
V at the nominal shaft speed. Larger voltages could be
obtained by increasing the number of layers, but this would
make the stator fabrication process overly complex. In any
case, as the number of layers increases the advantage
gained by the additional turns is increasingly offset by flux
leakage.

FABRICATION

Stator Fabrication: The stators were produced by a
process involving double-sided fabrication on 4-dia,
thermally oxidised silicon substrates. First, cavities were
etched in the backside of a silicon wafer by deep RIE, and
filled with soft magnetic material (nickel) by electroplating
(see Figure 3a). Second, the two-layer planar coils were
fabricated on the front side by multi-layer UV lithography
and copper electroplating (Figure 3b). The insulation layer
between the two layers of each coil, and the top protection
layer, were made by SU8 photolithography. Finally, the
cross-linked SU8 was re-patterned by RIE [6] to form a
mask for through-wafer silicon etching by deep RIE (Figure
3c). In the coil fabrication, an over-plating method based on
thin photoresist masks was used to form mushroom-shaped
tracks. These were coated by evaporation with Cr to
improve the adhesion of subsequent SU8 layers. The coil
tracks were 15-20 m high, with a width of 30 m and a
pitch of 60 m. Figure 4 shows an SEM photograph of a
finished coil prior to deposition of the top protection layer.


Figure 3. Stator cross-sections after (a) back-side
processing, (b) fabrication of two-layer coils, (c) through-
wafer etching for fluid channel.
Proc. Transducers 03, Boston MA, USA, 8-12 June 2003, pp. 702-705

Figure 4. SEM photograph showing top layer of a stator
coil, prior to deposition of the protective SU8 layer.

Rotors: The rotor blades and guide vanes, both of which
required curved profiles, were produced by excimer laser
micromachining [7] with a dynamically variable mask.
Cross-linked SU8 is well suited to machining by laser
ablation at 248 nm wavelength, producing relatively clean
structures with good surface finish. With the set-up
available, the blades had to be machined individually, with
two machining operations being required for each blade,
one for the convex side and another for the concave side. A
fixed mask was used to protect other regions of the rotor
from exposure, and a moving mask was translated, under
computer control, in front of the fixed mask so that
different parts of the blade received different exposures.
To minimise the laser processing time, a preform of the
rotor or stator insert was first formed in thick (up to 1mm)
SU8 by 2-level photolithography. The blade surfaces were
then machined using the laser. The ablation depth per pulse
is around 0.35 m per pulse at a fluence of 1 J/cm
2
, so the
convex and concave surfaces required approximately 1700
and 2700 pulses respectively. This corresponds to a total
machining time of several minutes for each blade at a
typical laser pulse repetition rate of 20 Hz. Figures 5 and 6
show SEM images of rotors before and after the laser
machining process.


Figure 5. SEM photograph showing an SU8 rotor preform
fabricated by 2-layer photolithography.

Figure 6. SEM photograph showing an SU8 rotor after
laser micromachining of the turbine blades.

Assembly: The permanent magnets and a precision-
machined steel shaft were manually inserted into the
cavities in the rotor, and secured in place with SU8 which
was applied using a needle and then cured by UV exposure
and heating. The entire device was then assembled on a
metal jig with integral pins to align the two stators. An SU8
spacer was used to define the gap between the stators, as
shown in Figure 1.

CHARACTERIZATION

Preliminary tests have been carried out on the first
prototype devices, using a test jig for measuring the
induced voltage and pressure drop as a function of nitrogen
flow rate. Figure 7 shows the measured variation with flow
rate of the peak-to-peak output voltage and rotor speed.
These show very good linearity over a wide dynamic range.
The rotation speed was inferred from the frequency of the
induced output voltage. Figure 8 shows the variation of
pressure drop with flow rate, which shows that the sensor
can be actuated by a small pressure head, as required for
direct measurement of air-speed.

0
100
200
300
400
500
600
700
0 20 40 60 80
Flow Rate (LPM)
V
o
l
t
a
g
e

(
m
V
)
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
R
o
t
a
t
i
o
n

S
p
e
e
d

(
k
r
p
m
) Left Axis
Right Axis
Figure 7. Measured variation of peak-to-peak output
voltage and rotation speed with nitrogen flow rate.

The rotation speed of the rotor reaches 136 krpm at a
nitrogen flow rate of 80 LPM, and at this speed the
generated voltage is 640 mV peak-to-peak. For comparison,
FEM simulations in ANSYS suggest that the voltage
Proc. Transducers 03, Boston MA, USA, 8-12 June 2003, pp. 702-705
generated should be around 3 V at 30 krpm. The
experimental value is lower for two reasons. First, the
devices tested did not have soft magnetic pole pieces on
their stators; second, there were some electrical short-
circuits between the layers of the stator coils. This problem
has been eliminated in a second generation of devices now
in fabrication.

0
50
100
150
200
250
300
350
400
0 20 40 60 80
Flow Rate (LPM)
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e

D
r
o
p

(
m
b
a
r
)

Figure 8. Measured variation of pressure drop across
turbine with nitrogen flow rate..

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

The device described in this paper represents a first step
towards a fully microengineered axial-flow turbine that can
extract power from a fluid flow and generate electricity.
The first prototypes were intentionally made relatively large
so that conventional bearings and permanent magnets could
be employed. Future work will aim to incorporate micro-
engineered bearings and permanent magnets deposited by,
for example, screen printing or electroplating. These steps
should allow further miniaturisation of the device, and also
eliminate some of the manual assembly operations.
Although the existing device was developed with air-
speed sensing in mind, it could also be used to provide
power for other types of remote sensor in applications
where power can be extracted from a fluid flow.
In conclusion, a novel micro-power conversion device
has been demonstrated based on an axial flow turbine with
an integral axial-flux electromagnetic generator. A
fabrication process has been developed that involves deep
silicon etching and multi-layer electroplating for the stator
parts, and excimer laser micromachining of SU8 for the
rotors. Preliminary measurements have been made of the
variation of output voltage, rotation speed, and pressure
ratio with flow rate for nitrogen gas. These test results show
successful generation or electrical output at flow rates
between 5 and 80 LPM.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This work was supported by the UK Engineering and
Physical Sciences Research Council, under Grant No.
GR/N18895 - Microengineered Axial-Flow Pumps and
Turbines. The authors are grateful to Karl Boehlen and
Jason Dallimore, both of Exitech Ltd, for their assistance
with laser micromachining, and to Dr John Stagg of
Imperial College for his help with deep reactive ion
etching.

REFERENCES

[1] B. S. Massey, Mechanics of fluids, 6
th
edition,
Routledge, 1989.
[2] T. G. Wiegele, Micro-turbo-generator design and
fabrication: a preliminary study, Proc. IECEC 96,
vol. 4, pp. 2308-2313.
[3] A. Mehra, A. A. Ayon, I. A. Waitz, M. A. Schmidt,
Microfabrication of high-temperature silicon devices
using wafer bonding and deep reactive ion etching,
IEEE Journal of MicroElectroMechanical Systems,
8(2), pp. 152-160 (1999).
[4] K. R. Pullen, M. R. Etemad, A. Fenocchi, The high
speed axial flux disc generator unlocking the
potential of the automotive gas turbine, IEE
Colloquium on Machines and Drives for Electric and
Hybrid Vehicles, London, 28 June 1996, Digest No.
1996/152, pp. 8/1-8/4.
[5] H. I. H. Saravanamutto, C. F. C. Rogers, H. Cohen,
Gas Turbine Theory, 5
th
edition, Prentice Hall,
2001.
[6] G. Hong, A. S. Holmes, M. E. Heaton, SU8 resist
plasma etching and its optimisation, Symp. on
Design, Test, Integration and Packaging of
MEMS/MOEMS, Mandelieu - La Napoule, France, 5-7
May 2003.
[7] M. C. Gower, Excimer laser microfabrication and
micromachining, Proc. 1
st
International Symp. on
Laser Precision Microfabrication, Omiya, Saitama,
Japan, 14-16 June 2000, SPIE vol. 4088, pp. 124-131.