Integrated Design Optimization of Electrically-Driven Vapor Compression Cycle Systems for Aircraft: Powered by High-Speed Centrifugal Compressors

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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In 2022 the aviation sector accounted for 1.9%of global greenhouse gas emissions, 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, and 3.5% of effective radiative forcing. To reach the long-term target of net zero emissions, revolutionary aircraft designs, featuring electrified or hydrogen powered propulsion systems, are needed. At the same time, the electrification of the non propulsive aircraft subsystems is necessary to comply with the requirements of emissions abatement in the short and medium time horizon.

Among the auxiliary subsystems, the Environmental Control System (ECS) is the largest consumer of non-propulsive power, accounting for up to 3-5% of the total fuel burn. The replacement of the conventional Air Cycle Machine (ACM) with an electrically-powered ECS based on the Vapor Compression Cycle (VCC) system could enable: i) a substantial decrease in fuel consumption; ii) a finer regulation of the relative humidity in the air distribution system, leading to improved air quality in the cabin and flight deck; iii) a reduction in maintenance costs and an increase in system reliability, due to the removal of the maintenance-intensive bleed system. However, the adoption of VCC systems in the aerospace sector has been historically very limited, due to safety concerns regarding the ozone depleting potential, toxicity and flammability of the working fluids used as refrigerants, as well as because of a lack of research specifically targeting airborne applications.

This dissertation documents research work performed as part of the NEDEFA project, which entails the investigation of VCC-based ECS architectures powered by oil-free highspeed centrifugal compressors. The first objective is to advance of the state-of-the-art regarding high-speed compressors operating with gas bearings, i.e., the key technological enablers of airborne VCC systems. The second target is to develop of a methodology for the integrated design of aircraft ECS, namely, a design philosophy in which the system and the main components are optimized simultaneously.

The main outcomes of this work are the development of a preliminary design model for high-speed compressors, extensively validated with experimental data and computational fluid dynamics simulations, and the implementation of an integrated design framework for aircraft ECS, embedding a multi-point and multi-objective optimization strategy. The compressor model has been applied to derive design guidelines for single-stage and twin-stage machines operating with arbitrary working fluids, as well as to perform the fluid dynamic design optimization of the compressor that will be installed in the IRIS (Inverse organic Rankine Integrated System) test rig of the Propulsion and Power Laboratory. Furthermore, the integrated design method has been used to size and compare the performance of two alternative ECS configurations for a single-aisle, short-haul aircraft resembling the configuration of an Airbus A320, i.e., a bleedless ACM and an electrically driven VCC. The results reveal that the optimal VCC system could be both more efficient and lighter than the corresponding ACM architecture, leading to potential fuel savings in the order of 20% for the prescribed application.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Colonna, P., Supervisor
  • Pini, M., Advisor
Award date18 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Environmental control system (ECS)
  • Centrifugal compressors
  • More electric aircraft/rotorcraft
  • Heat pump
  • Integrated design optimization


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