Pressure-energized seal rings intended to withstand flows better than do conventional pressure-energized seal rings have been conceived. The concept applies, more specifically, to seal rings used on some valve stems, pistons, and the like. A conventional pressure-energized seal ring generally has a U-shaped cross section and consists of an elastomer or other suitable polymer with an embedded metal energizing spring (see Figure 1). The working fluid from the high-pressure side that one seeks to seal is allowed into the U-shaped cavity, so that the pressure pushes the sides of the seal ring tighter against the gland and body sealing surfaces, thereby increasing the degree of sealing. Unfortunately, when the seal ring is exposed to flow of the working fluid, under some conditions, the flow grabs the lip of the U-shaped cross section and ejects or deforms the seal ring so that, thereafter, a proper seal is not obtained.

Figure 1. A Conventional Pressure-Energized Seal Ring is pushed directly against two sealing surfaces by the pressure in the working fluid.
Figure 2 depicts one of several alternative seal rings according to the present concept. One element of the concept is to modify the U-shaped cross section from that of the corresponding conventional seal ring to eliminate the exposed lip and prevent entry of the working fluid into the U-shaped cavity. Unlike in the conventional seal, pressurized fluid would not push the seal ring directly against the both gland and body sealing surfaces. Instead, the pressure would directly push the seal ring against a gland sealing surface only. In so doing, the pressure would squash the seal ring into a smaller volume bounded by the gland and body sealing surfaces, and would thereby indirectly press the seal ring more tightly against the body sealing surface.

Figure 2. A Conceptual Pressure-Energized Seal Ring would be directly pushed axially (vertically in this view) against a gland sealing surface but would be indirectly pushed radially against the body sealing surface through squashing.
To enhance the desired squashing deformation, a spring having an approximately parallelogram cross section would be embedded in the modified U-shaped cavity. As the pressure pushed two corners of the approximate parallelogram closer together along the axis of the seal ring, the other two corners of the approximate parallelogram would be pushed farther apart along a radius of the ring, thereby causing the polymeric ring material to push radially harder against the body sealing surface. From the radially innermost corner of the approximate parallelogram, the spring material would extend radially, then axially into recesses in the seal gland. These extensions would help to restrain the seal ring against ejection.

A seat retainer would hold the sealing ring in the gland and form a mechanical compression seal to prevent or at least reduce leakage of pressurized fluid into the cavity behind the seal. However, because there would likely be a little leakage, the cavity behind the seal should be vented to the low pressure side to prevent buildup of pressure in the cavity over time; otherwise, the built-up pressure could cause ejection of the seal ring when the pressure on the high-pressure side was reduced.

Polymeric seal-ring materials may not be able to withstand working conditions in applications that involve abrasive and/or hot working fluids. For such applications, all-metal seal rings may be preferred. The bottom part of Figure 2 shows one example of an alternative gland configuration with an all-metal seal ring.

This work was done by Bruce Farner of Stennis Space Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to the Intellectual Property Manager, Stennis Space Center, (228) 688-1929. Refer to SSC- 00262/3, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.