Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department/Program

Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Richard Axelbaum


As the issues of global warming and the energy crisis arouse extensive concern, more and more research is focused on maximizing energy efficiency and capturing CO2 in power generation. To achieve this, in this research, we propose an unconventional concept of combustion - direct combustion of high water content fuels. Due to the high water content in the fuels, they may not burn under air-fired conditions. Therefore, oxy-combustion is applied. Three applications of this concept in power generation are proposed - direct steam generation for the turbine cycle, staged oxy-combustion with zero flue gas recycle, and oxy-combustion in a low speed diesel-type engine. The proposed processes could provide alternative approaches to directly utilize fuels which intrinsically have high water content. A large amount of energy to remove the water, when the fuels are utilized in a conventional approach, is saved. The properties and difficulty in dewatering high water content fuels: e.g. bioethanol, microalgae and fine coal) are summarized. These fuels include both renewable and fossil fuels. In addition, the technique can also allow for low-cost carbon capture due to oxy-combustion. When renewable fuel is utilized, the whole process can be carbon negative.

To validate and evaluate this concept, the research focused on the investigation of the flame stability and characteristics for high water content fuels. My study has demonstrated the feasibility of burning fuels that have been heavily diluted with water in a swirl-stabilized burner. Ethanol and 1-propanol were first tested as the fuels and the flame stability maps were obtained. Flame stability, as characterized by the blow-off limit -- the lowest O2 concentration when a flame could exist under a given oxidizer flow rate, was determined as a function of total oxidizer flow rate, fuel concentration and nozzle type. Furthermore, both the gas temperature contour and the overall ethanol concentration in the droplets along the spray were measured in the chamber for a stable flame. The experimental results indicate significant preferential vaporization of ethanol over water. Modeling results support this observation and indicate that the vaporization process is best described as the distillation limit mode with enhanced mass transfer by convection.

Further, the influence of preferential vaporization on flame stability was investigated. A procedure was developed to evaluate the extent of preferential vaporization and subsequent flame stability of a fuel in aqueous solution. Various water soluble fuels were analyzed via this procedure in order to identify a chemical fuel showing strong preferential vaporization. t-Butanol was identified as having excellent physical and chemical properties, indicating stronger preferential vaporization than ethanol. Flame stability tests were run for aqueous solutions of both t-butanol and ethanol under identical flow conditions. Flame stability was characterized by the blow-off limit. In each comparison, the energy contents in the two solutions were kept the same. For the experiments under high swirl flow conditions: 100% swirl flow), 12.5 wt% t-butanol has slightly lower blow-off limits than 15 wt% ethanol, and 8.3 wt% t-butanol has much lower blow-off limits than 10 wt% ethanol. For the experiments under a low swirl flow condition: 50% swirl/50% axial flow), 12.5 wt% t-butanol has a much lower blow-off limit than 15 wt% ethanol. The time to release the fuel from a droplet was also calculated for both ethanol and t-butanol. For the same size droplet, the time to release t-butanol is much shorter than that of ethanol under the same conditions. Faster release of the fuel from water enhances flame stability, which is consistent with the experimental results.

For the oxy-combustion characteristics of low-volatility fuel with high water content, glycerol was chosen as the fuel to study. It is found that self-sustained flame can be obtained for glycerol solution with concentration as high as 60 wt%, when burned in pure O2. However, the flame is lifted far away from the nozzle. To obtain a stable flame for a low glycerol concentration solution, t-butanol or ethanol was added as an additive. Experiments showed that an attached flame can be obtained by burning a mixture of 8.3 wt% t-butanol, 30 wt% glycerol and 61.7 wt% water: B8.3/G30) or 10 wt% ethanol, 30 wt% glycerol and 60 wt% water: E10/G30) under oxy-fired condition. The flame stability for B8.3/G30 and E10/G30 was characterized under 100% and 85% swirl flow conditions. Under 100% swirl flow condition, the blow-off limits are approximately the same for both cases. Under 85% swirl, the blow-off limits for B8.3/G30 are much lower in the low flow rate region. Additionally, the lift-off limits for B8.3/G30 are lower than those for E10/G30, which means the flame stability for B8.3/G30 is better. To study the flame structure, contours of temperature across the chamber's centerline were obtained for four attached flames. It was found that the flame becomes narrower as the swirl intensity decreases. A high temperature zone in the inner recirculation zone: IRZ) is formed for the four flames. This hot zone is critical to provide heat to vaporize the glycerol in near burner region, so that flame can be attached on the nozzle.

For practical purposes, a PRB coal water slurry was studied in terms of preparation, characterization, atomization and combustion. A procedure to prepare stable coal water slurry from PRB coal was developed. Triton X-100 is a good nonionic surfactant for PRB coal. On the contrary, PSS, which is ionic, is not effective for PRB coal. Due to the hydrophilic surface property of PRB coal, the maximum loading of the coal in slurry can only reach 50 wt%. The viscosities of slurries containing various concentrations of Triton X-100 were measured. To deliver the slurry in a burner, two types of two fluid nozzles -- internal mixing and external mixing -- were investigated and both nozzles were able to generate a spray with good quality. Preliminary oxy-combustion experiments were successfully conducted. Due to the high swirl flow in the combustor, the nozzle overheated which caused clogging. Additional research is needed to solve this issue and characterize the flame systematically.


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