On the significance of rain droplet slowdown and deformation for leading-edge rain erosion
Abstract. Leading-edge rain erosion is a severe problem in the wind energy community since it leads to blade damage and a reduction in annual energy production in the order of several percent. The impact speed of rain droplets is a key driver for the erosion rate; therefore, its precise computation is essential. This study investigates the aerodynamic interaction of rain droplets and wind turbine blades. Based on findings from the literature and an analysis of the relevant parameter space, it is found that the aerodynamic interaction leads to a reduction in the impact speed. Additionally, the rain droplets deform and break up as they approach the wind turbine blade. An existing Lagrangian particle model, developed for research in aircraft icing, is adapted, extended, and validated for leading edge rain erosion to study the process in more detail. Results show that the droplet slowdown reduces predicted damage toward the tip of the blade by over 50 %. The model indicates that the aerodynamic blade interaction affects small droplets significantly more than large droplets. Due to this drop size dependency, the damage accumulation is shifted towards higher rain intensity events. Additionally, the droplet impact speed is sensitive to the aerodynamic nose radius of the airfoil. Due to this sensitivity and its drop size dependency, the slowdown effect provides interesting levers for erosion mitigation via blade design or operational adjustments. To conclude, the aerodynamic interaction between droplet and blade is non-negligible and needs to be taken into account in erosion lifetime models.
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