The understanding of the processes involved in soot formation and oxidation is a critical factor for a reliable prediction of emissions in aero-engines, particularly as legislation becomes increasingly stringent. This work studies the flame structure and soot formation in a lab-scale burner, which reproduces the main features of a Rich-Quench-Lean (RQL) combustor, using high-fidelity numerical simulations. The investigated burner, developed at the University of Cambridge, is based on a bluff-body swirl-stabilised ethylene flame, with air provided in the primary region through two concentric swirling flows and quenching enabled by means of four dilution jets at variable distance downstream. Measurements for different air split between the two inlet swirling flows and dilution ports, and different height of the dilution jets, indicate noticeable differences in the soot tendency. Numerical simulations have been performed using Large-Eddy Simulation with the Conditional Moment Closure combustion model and a two-equation model for soot, allowing a detailed resolution of the mixing field and to directly take into account the effect of turbulent transport on the flame structure, which has been shown to have an important effect on the soot formation and evolution. The main objective of this work is to study the flow field and mixing characteristics in the burner’s primary region, in order to improve the understanding of the mechanisms leading to the soot behaviour observed in the experiment at different operating conditions. Results show the key role of mixing in determining the level of soot in the burner, with the soot production mainly related to the extension of the flame zone characterized by a rich mixture, with pyrolysis products and soot precursors. The presence of additional dilution air seems to improve the oxidation and leads to a leaner mixture in the primary combustion region whereas the air added through the outer swirl stream seems to have less impact on the mixture formation in the primary region. Analysis of the solution in mixture fraction space shows the importance of residence time for the soot formation and highlights the existence of a range of values of mixture fraction, between 0.1 and 0.2, where the soot production terms are maximum. High residence times and local air-to-fuel ratio in the range of high soot production should be avoided to decrease the level of soot mass fraction in the burner.

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