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Nonlinear thermoacoustic oscillations of a ducted laminar premixed flame

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Finding limit cycles and their stability is one of the central problems of nonlinear thermoacoustics. However, a limit cycle is not the only type of self-excited oscillation in a nonlinear system. Nonlinear systems can have quasi-periodic and chaotic oscillations. This thesis examines the different types of oscillation in a numerical model of a ducted premixed flame, the bifurcations that lead to these oscillations and the influence of external forcing on these oscillations.

Criteria for the existence and stability of limit cycles in single mode thermoacoustic systems are derived analytically. These criteria, along with the flame describing function, are used to find the types of bifurcation and minimum triggering amplitudes. The choice of model for the velocity perturbation field around the flame is shown to have a strong influence on the types of bifurcation in the system. Therefore, a reduced order model of the velocity perturbation field in a forced laminar premixed flame is obtained from Direct Numerical Simulation. It is shown that the model currently used in the literature precludes subcritical bifurcations and multi-stability.

The self-excited thermoacoustic system is simulated in the time domain with many modes in the acoustics and analysed using methods from nonlinear dynamical systems theory. The transitions to the periodic, quasiperiodic and chaotic oscillations are via sub/supercritical Hopf, Neimark-Sacker and period-doubling bifurcations. Routes to chaos are established in this system.

It is shown that the single mode system, which gives the same results as a describing function approach, fails to capture the period-2, period-k, quasi-periodic and chaotic oscillations or the bifurcations and multi-stability seen in the multi-modal case, and underpredicts the amplitude.

Instantaneous flame images reveal that the wrinkles on the flame surface and pinch off of flame pockets are regular for periodic oscillations, while they are irregular and have multiple time and length scales for quasi-periodic and chaotic oscillations. Cusp formation, their destruction by flame propagation normal to itself, and pinch-off and rapid burning of pockets of reactants are shown to be responsible for generating a heat release rate that is a highly nonlinear function of the velocity perturbations. It is also shown that for a given acoustic model of the duct, many discretization modes are required to capture the rich dynamics and nonlinear feedback between heat release and acoustics seen in experiments.

The influence of external harmonic forcing on self-excited periodic, quasi-periodic and chaotic oscillations are examined. The transition to lock-in, the forcing amplitude required for lock-in and the system response at lock-in are characterized. At certain frequencies, even low-amplitude forcing is sufficient to suppress period-1 oscillations to amplitudes that are 90% lower than that of the unforced state. Therefore, open-loop forcing can be an effective strategy for the suppression of thermoacoustic oscillations.

This thesis shows that a ducted premixed flame behaves similarly to low-dimensional chaotic systems and that methods from nonlinear dynamical systems theory are superior to the describing function approach in the frequency domain and time domain analysis currently used in nonlinear thermoacoustics.


This thesis was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci prize in 2013 for outstanding doctoral research in fluid mechanics, turbulence, combustion and acoustics (a Europe wide award). This thesis was also awarded the silver award of the ERCOFTAC (European research community on flow, turbulence and combustion) 10th Osborne Reynolds Award in 2013.



Juniper, Matthew
Dowling, Ann


Rocket science, Gas turbine engines, Nonlinear dynamical systems, Fluid dynamics, Thermoacoustics, Combustion, Energy technologies, Nonlinear science, Complex systems, Control theory


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
University Gas Turbine Partnership, Rolls Royce Plc., EPSRC, Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Award, Trinity college fellowships, Ford foundation fellowship, Rouse Ball and Eddington fellowships, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, International Gas Turbine Institute, The Combustion Institute.