Editor’s note: A turbine of the sort described in this article may be useful to the wind industry because it would likely be powered by heat generated from natural gas, and natural gas and the wind industry are natural allies. This article comes from GE.
Though smallish, the turbine in the photo could contribute to solving some of the world’s biggest energy challenges, not to mention powering an entire town, says Doug Hofer, a steam turbine specialist at GE Global Research.
The model in Hofer’s hand was 3D-printed from plastic. A real version of the turbine, made from high-strength metal, would make the scientist hold up about 150 pounds. But even that’s like lifting a feather. Machines generating this kind of power typically weigh several tons.
“This compact machine will let us do amazing things,” Hofer says. “The world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power. The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both.”
Here’s how it work: The medium spinning this turbine isn’t steam but carbon dioxide, squeezed and heated so high that it forms a supercritical fluid. At that level, the difference between gas and liquid basically disappears and gives the CO2 marvelous properties that the turbine harnesses for superefficient power generation.
GE Reports recently ran a piece showing how this turbine can help energy companies turn CO2 into cleaner power. But Hofer and other GE researchers believe it can do a lot more and address other big energy challenges. In addition to the CO2 program with the government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), GE is working on other programs with the U.S. Department of Energy.
One is looking at using this technology to increase the efficiency of centralized power plants. Hofer and his team are gathering insights that could allow them to scale the technology to about 500 MW — enough to power a city. The research could lead to smaller “large” turbines that are more efficient. “With energy demand expected to rise by 50% over the next two decades, we can’t afford to wait for new, cleaner energy solutions to power the planet,” Hofer says. “We have to innovate now and make energy generation as efficient as possible. Programs like those we are working on with the U.S. Department of Energy are helping us get there.”
Hofer cautioned that the technology is in its early stages of development. But he and his team are planning to take it for a spin later this year.
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