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Turbulent Combustion

Types of Flames
Basic Concept of Turbulence
Turbulent Flame
Flame Stability

Types of Flames
Two basic categories

Both characterized as
Laminar or Turbulent

Results from gaseous
reactants that are mixed
prior to combustion
Flame propagates at
velocities slightly less
than a few m/s

Example: Spark Ignition Engine

Reacts quite rapidly

Non-premixed (Diffusion)
Gaseous reactants
are introduced
separately and mix
during combustion
Energy release rate
limited by mixing

Example: Diesel Engine

Reaction zone
between oxidizer and
fuel zone


Ex. Bunsen Burner

Flame moves at fairly low velocity
Mechanically create laminar

Ex. Candle Flame
Fuel: Wax, Oxidizer: Air
Reaction zone between wax
vapors and air

Heat release occurs much faster
Increased flame propagation
No definite theories to predict

Can obtain high rates of
combustion energy release per
unit volume
Ex. Diesel Engine
Modeling is very complex, no
well established approach

Turbulence : Basic Concepts

Turbulent flow results when instabilities in a flow are not
sufficiently damped by viscous action and the fluid velocity
at each point in the flow exhibits random fluctuations.
The random unsteadiness associated with various flow
properties is the hallmark of a turbulent flow and is
illustrated for the axial velocity component in the next
One particularly useful way to characterize a turbulent flow
field is to define mean and fluctuating quantities. Mean
properties are defined by taking a time-average of the flow
property over a sufficiently large time interval
t = t2 t1.

The fluctuation, p'(t), is the difference between the

instantaneous value of the property, p(t), and the mean
value, pavg , or
p(t)= pavg+ p'(t)
Or, in general, we can write:
Y(t)= Yavg + Yi'(t)
This manner of expressing variables as a mean and a
fluctuating component is referred to as the Reynolds

At this point, the key question arises :

What is the physical nature of a

turbulent flow?

The following figure gives a

partial answer to this
question. In this figure, we
see fluid blobs and filaments
of fluid intertwining. A
common notion in fluid
mechanics is the idea of a
fluid eddy
An eddy is considered to be
a macroscopic fluid element
in which the microscopic
elements composing the
eddy behave in some ways
as a unit.

For example, a vortex imbedded in a flow would be

considered an eddy.
A turbulent flow comprises many eddies with a multitude
of sizes and vorticities, a measure of angular velocities.
A number of smaller eddies may be imbedded in a larger
eddy. A characteristic of a fully turbulent flow is the
existence of a wide range of length scales, i.e., eddy
For a turbulent flow, the Reynolds number is a measure
of the range of scales present; the greater the Reynolds
number, the greater the range of sizes from the smallest
eddy to the largest. It is this large range of length scales
that makes calculating turbulent flows from first
principles intractable. We wilt discuss length scales in
more detail in the next section.

The rapid intertwining of fluid elements is a

characteristic that distinguishes turbulent flow
from laminar flow.
The turbulent motion of fluid elements allows
momentum, species, and energy to be
transported in the cross-stream direction much
more rapidly than is possible by the molecular
diffusion processes controlling transport in
laminar flows.
Because of this, most practical combustion
devices employ turbulent flows to enable rapid
mixing and heat release in relatively small



In the turbulence literature, many length scales have

been defined; however, the following four scales are of
general relevance to our discussion and, in general,
are frequently cited. In decreasing order of size, these
scales are as follows:
(L) Characteristic width of flow or macroscale
This is the largest length scale in the system and is the
upper bound for the largest possible eddies. In a
reciprocating internal combustion engine, L might be
taken as the time varying clearance between the
piston top and the head, or perhaps the cylinder bore.


(l o) Integral scale or turbulence macroscale

The integral scale physically represents the
mean size of the large eddies in a turbulent
flow; those eddies with low frequency and large
wavelength. The integral scale is always
smaller than L, but is of the same order of

3. (l)

Taylor microscale

The Taylor microscale is an intermediate length

scale between the integral scale (lo) and
Kolmogorov Scale (lk), but is weighted more
towards the smaller scales. This scale is
related to the mean rate of strain.

4. (lk) Kolmogorov microscale

The Kolmogorov microscale is the smallest length scale
associated with a turbulent flow and, as such, is
representative of the dimension at which the dissipation
of turbulent kinetic energy to fluid internal energy occurs.
Thus, the Kolmogorov scale is the scale at which
molecular effects (kinematic viscosity) are significant.
The final point we wish to make concerning lk is possible
physical interpretations. In Tennekes model of a
turbulent flow, lk represents the thickness of the smallest
vortex tubes or filaments that permeate a turbulent flow,
while others suggest that lk represents the thickness of
vortex sheets imbedded in the flow.


Unlike a laminar flame, which has a propagation velocity
that depends uniquely on the thermal and chemical
properties of the mixture, a turbulent flame has a
propagation velocity that depends on the character of the
flow, as well as on the mixture properties.
For an observer traveling with the flame, we can define a
turbulent flame speed, St as the velocity at which
unburned mixture enters the flame zone in a direction
normal to the flame.

In this definition, we assume that the flame surface is

represented as some time-mean quantity, recognizing
that the instantaneous position of the high-temperature
reaction zone may be fluctuating wildly.
Since the direct measurement of unburned gas velocities
at a point near a turbulent flame is exceedingly difficult,
at best, flame velocities usually are determined from
measurements of reactant flow rates. Thus, the turbulent
flame speed can be expressed as :

St= m / (Aavg u)
The reason for using this time-smoothed flame area is
shown below :

determinations of
turbulent flame speeds
are complicated by
determining a suitable
flame area. A, for thick,
and frequently curved,
flames. The ambiguity
associated with
determining this flame
area can result in
considerable uncertainty
in the measurement of
turbulent burning velocity.


Again, referring to the previous figure we can say that The
instantaneous flame front is highly convoluted, with the
largest, folds near the top of the flame (Fig. a). The
positions of the reaction zones move rapidly in space,
producing a time-averaged view that gives the appearance
of a thick reaction zone (Fig. b).
This apparently thick reaction zone is frequently referred to
as a turbulent flame brush.
The instantaneous view, however, clearly shows the actual
reaction front to be relatively thin, as in a laminar premixed
flame. These reaction fronts are sometimes referred to as
laminar flamelets.

As mentioned above, spark-ignition engines operate with

turbulent premixed flames. Recent developments in
laser-based instrumentation have allowed researchers to
explore, in much more detail than previously possible,
the hostile environment of the internal combustion
engine combustion chamber. This is shown in the next
In these flame visualizations, we see that the division
between the unburned and burned gases occurs over a
very short distance and the flame front is distorted by
both relatively large- and small-scale wrinkles.

This figure shows a time

sequence of twodimensional flame
visualizations in a sparkignition engine from a
The flame begins to
propagate outward from
the spark plug, as shown
in the first frame, and
moves across the
chamber until nearly all
the gas is burned.

Three Flame Regimes

The visualizations of
turbulent, flames
presented before suggest
that the effect of
turbulence is to wrinkle
and distort an essentially
laminar flame front.
Turbulent flames of this
type are referred to as
being in the wrinkled
laminar-flame regime.

This is one pole in our

classification of turbulent
premixed flames. At the
other pole is the
Falling between these
two regimes is a region
sometimes referred to as
the flamelets-in-eddies

Regime Criteria
Recall that the smallest scale, the Kolmogorov
microscale, lk, represents the smallest eddies in the flow.
These eddies rotate rapidly and have high vorticity,
resulting in the dissipation of the fluid kinetic energy into
internal energy, i.e., fluid friction results in a temperature
rise of the fluid.
At the other extreme of the length-scale spectrum is the
integral scale, lo which characterizes the largest eddy
sizes. The basic structure of a turbulent flame is
governed by the relationships of lk and lo to the laminar
flame thickness, l.

The laminar flame thickness characterizes

the thickness of a reaction zone controlled
by molecular, not turbulent, transport of
heat and mass. More explicitly, the three
regimes are defined by :
Wrinkled laminar flames: l < lk
Flamelets in eddies: lo > l > lk
Distributed reactions:

l > lo

When the flame thickness, is much thinner than the

smallest scale of turbulence, the turbulent motion can
only wrinkle or distort the thin laminar flame zone. The
criterion for the existence of a wrinkled laminar flame is
sometimes referred to as the Williams-Klimov
At the other extreme, if all scales of turbulent motion are
smaller than the reaction zone thickness, then transport
within the reaction zone is no longer governed solely by
molecular processes, but is controlled, or at least
influenced, by the turbulence. This criterion for the
existence of a distributed-reaction zone is sometimes
referred to as the Damkohler criterion.

Hence, in addition to the Reynolds Number (Re), we

have another number that that characterizes the
turbulent flame velocity called Damkhler number (Da).
The fundamental meaning of the Damkhler number,
Da, used here is that it represents the ratio of a
characteristic flow or mixing time to a characteristic
chemical time.
It represents the ratio between the characteristic flow
time to the characteristic chemical time.

When chemical reaction

rates are fast in
comparison with fluid
mixing rates, then Da > 1,
and a fast-chemistry
regime is defined.
Conversely, when
reaction rates are slow in
comparison with mixing
rates, then Da < 1.
This is shown in the
figure to the right.

Definition of the three flame regions

In this regime, chemical reactions occur in thin
Referring again to the previous figure, we see
that reaction sheets occur only for Damkohler
numbers greater than unity, depending on the
turbulence Reynolds numbers, clearly indicating
that the reaction-sheet regime is characterized
by fast chemistry (in comparison with fluid
mechanical mixing).

One way to enter this regime is to require
small integral length scales, (lo / lk) < 1, and
small Damkohler numbers (Da < 1). This is
difficult to achieve in a practical device,
since these requirements imply that,
simultaneously, lo, must be small and vrms
must be large, i.e., small flow passages and
very high velocities.
Pressure losses in such devices surely
would be huge and, hence, render them
impractical. Also, it is not clear that a flame
can be sustained under such conditions.

This regime lies in the wedge-shaped
region between the wrinkled laminar flame
and distributed-reaction regimes as shown
in the previous figure. This region is
typified by moderate Damkohler numbers
and high turbulence intensities. This
region is of particular interest in that it is
likely that some practical combustion
devices operate in this regime.

Flame stabilization
Low velocity bypass ports
Refractory burner tiles
Bluff body Flame-holder (Recirculation)
Swirl or jet-induced recirculating flows
Rapid increase in flow area creating
recirculating separated flow