Development and application of a high-performance framework for high-fidelity simulations of plasma-assisted ignition of hydrocarbon fuels using nanosecond pulsed discharges

Deak, Nicholas E.
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The application of non-equilibrium plasma (NEP) pulses to ignite hydrocarbon/air mixtures has emerged as a promising technology for ensuring reliable ignition and combustion stability in difficult regimes. Despite its promise, major challenges and limitations still remain, particularly in the realm of conducting high-fidelity multidimensional numerical studies. The aim of this thesis is to develop, implement, and apply a robust and efficient computational framework that addresses some of these shortcomings. As a preliminary step, the ignition of hydrocarbon/air mixtures by nanosecond pulsed discharges (NSPD) is investigated using a zero dimensional isochoric adiabatic reactor. A state-of-the-art two-temperature kinetics model, comprised of an experimentally-verified NEP plasma mechanism coupled with a hydrocarbon/air oxidation mechanism, is used. Simulations are performed to assess the impact of changing initial pressure (which varies from 1 to 30 atm) and fuel type (methane and ethylene). It is found that at lower pressures, plasma-assisted ignition (PAI) imparts a benefit over thermal ignition for both fuel types, through the creation of combustion radicals O, H, and OH. At higher pressures, PAI of methane loses efficiency compared to ethylene, due to a lack of available H radicals (which are swept up by O₂), which limits the conversion of formaldehyde to formyl. Next, a robust and efficient framework for simulating NSPD in multiple dimensions is developed. The reactive Navier-Stokes equations are extended to include a drift-diffusion plasma-fluid model with a local field approximation (LFA) in a finite-volume solver, which uses an adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) strategy to address the wide separation of length scales in the problem. A two-way coupling strategy is used whereby the plasma-fluid model and reactive Navier-Stokes equations are integrated simultaneously. An effective grid refinement approach is developed in order to ensure that the physical structures that arise during and after the NSD (including the propagating streamer heads, electrode sheaths, and expansion wave during the inter-pulse period) are resolved efficiently. Severe time step size restrictions that arise from the explicit temporal integration of the transport terms are mitigated through use of a semi-implicit approach for solving Poisson's equation for the electric potential, and an implicit strategy for evaluating electron diffusion terms. A series of numerical studies are then conducted to investigate the ignition and propagation phases of atmospheric air streamers in axisymmetric discharge configurations. A range of conditions and configurations are explored to characterize the streamer, with an emphasis on the cathode sheath region, which supports steep gradients in charged species number densities as well as strong electric fields. The formation of the cathode sheath is shown to be a consequence of processes at the cathode surface, driven by electron losses at the boundary, and a strong dependence on the emission of secondary electrons. Finally, the oxidation of ethylene/air mixtures mediated by NSPD is simulated in a pin-to-pin configuration. All phases of the plasma discharge are simulated explicitly (including streamer ignition, propagation, and connection, as well as the subsequent spark phase), along with the evolution of the plasma during the inter-pulse period. Temporally and spatially-resolved results are presented, with an emphasis on the analysis of heating and energy deposition, as well as of the evolution of the concentration of active particles generated during the NSPD and their influence on ignition. The impact of pin thickness is discussed, and it is shown that the use of thin pins limits the regions of energy deposition and temperature increase near the pin tips, hindering ignition. The application of multiple pulses is explored and it is shown that multiple voltage pulses of the same strength leads to substantial energy deposition and temperature increases O(1,000 - 10,000 K) near the pin tips. Discussion is rounded out by addressing how pulse frequency and initial mixture control the generation of active particles and combustion products. Finally, recommendations for future work are provided.