Driving Turboexpander Technology

Turboexpanders are used in a number of applications, including floating LNG (liquefied natural gas), LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) / NGL (natural gas liquids), dew point control, and ethylene plants.  Used as a highly efficient system that takes advantage of high pressure, high-temperature flows, the turboexpander both produces cryogenic temperatures and simultaneously converts thermal energy into shaft power.  Essentially, a turboexpander is comprised of a radial inflow expansion turbine and a centrifugal compressor combined as a single unit on a rigid shaft. The process fluid from a plant stream will run through the expansion turbine to both provide low-temperature refrigeration and convert thermal energy to mechanical power as a byproduct.  First, the gas will radially enter the variable inlet nozzles (or guide vanes) of the turbine, which will allow for a localized increase in fluid velocity prior to entering the turbine wheel.  The turbine wheel will accept this high-temperature, high-pressure, accelerated gas and convert it into mechanical energy via shaft rotation. The primary product of a turboexpander manifests at the outflow of this turbine.  After the process gas passes through the turbine wheel, this gas has expanded so dramatically that it produces cryogenic temperatures colder than any other equipment in the plant.

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Figure 1- Typical Turboexpander – Expander-Compressor Configuration

The useful mechanical energy converted from this system is generally used to drive a centrifugal compressor positioned on the opposite end of the shaft.  In the case of this expander-compressor setup, the mentioned turboexpander technology avoids the excessive use of fuel consumption seen in other systems, and significantly decreases the CO2 footprint of the overall design.  As well, there are various examples of turboexpanders that use an expander-generator setup, which converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into direct electrical power.  Turboexpanders have come a long way in the last 40 years.  With the advent of magnetic bearings and more advanced sealing systems, turboexpanders have been able to handle shaft speeds in large and small machines of up to 10,000 rpm and 120,000 rpm, respectively.  Moreover, innovations in specific CFD modules for turbomachinery have allowed turboexpander systems to achieve efficiencies upwards of 90%.

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Using 1D Models to Predict the Thermal Growth and Stresses During The Start up and Shutdown Phase of a Steam Turbine

Steam turbines are not just restricted to conventional or nuclear power plants, they are widely used in combined cycle power plants, concentrated solar thermal plants and also geothermal power plants. The operational requirements of a steam turbine in the combined cycle and CSP’s means that they operate under transient conditions. Even in conventional steam turbines, the market requirements are changing with requirements for faster and more frequent start-up which can result into faster deterioration of the equipment and reduced lifespan. During the startup phase, significant heat exchange takes place between the steam and the structural components that include the valves, rotor and casing. The accuracy of the life prediction is strongly affected and dependent on the accuracy of the transient thermal state prediction [1].

Though the expansion of steam takes place in the nozzles and blades, the influence of the leakage steam during the startup phase is significant with steam expanding through the labyrinths resulting in expansions, condensation, and increased velocities which may even reach supersonic levels. During cold start, the flow is minimal, the temperature of the metal is at room temperature and heat exchange happens between the steam and metal parts resulting in thermal stress.

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Understanding the Characteristics of Varying Centrifugal Blower Designs

Many people speculate about the confusion on what is considered a compressor, a blower, or simply a fan.  In essence, each of these turbo-machines achieve a pressure rise by adding velocity to a continuous flow of fluid.  The distinctions between fans, blowers, and compressors are quite simply defined by one parameter, the specific pressure ratio.  Each machine type, however, utilizes a number of different design techniques specific to lower and higher-pressure applications.  As per the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the specific pressure is defined as the ratio of the discharge pressure over the suction pressure (or inlet pressure).  The table shown below defines the range at which fans, blowers, and compressors are categorized.
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Similarities between the design of fans and blowers occur near the lower end of a blower’s range.  As well, many design parallels exist between high-pressure blowers and compressors.  For the article, we will be investigating the different design characteristics of centrifugal blowers. Blower selection depends on a number of factors including operating range, efficiency, space limitations, and material handled.   Figure 1 shows a number of different impeller blade designs that are available for centrifugal blowers.

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Gaining Turbomachinery Insight Using a Fluid Structure Interaction Approach

Existing research studies for the corresponding flow-induced vibration analysis of centrifugal pumps are mainly carried out without considering the interaction between fluid and structure. The ignorance of fluid structure interaction (FSI) means that the energy transfer between fluid and structure is neglected. To some extent, the accuracy and reliability of unsteady flow and rotor deflection analysis should be affected by this interaction mechanism.

In recent years, more and more applications of FSI are found in the reliability research of turbomachinery. Most of them are about turbines, and a few of them address pumps. Kato [1] predicted the noise from a multi-stage centrifugal pump using one-way coupling method. This practical approach treats the fluid physics and the solid physics consecutively.

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Minimizing Environmental Impacts of Geothermal Energy

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Geothermal energy is categorized as a “green energy”, with low emission of approximately 5% of carbon dioxide, 1% H2S, 1% sulfur dioxide and less than 1% of the nitrous oxide of an equal sized fossil or coal power plant. Concentrations of each environmentally disruptive gases are controlled by temperature, composition of fluid, and geological setting. Although most of the geothermal emissions commonly come from existing geothermal resource gas, some percentage of the emission also comes from various processes of the energy conversion process. Non-condensable gases are also emitted as a part of high temperature process of geothermal energy conversion.

According to various studies, the type of geothermal power plant design would really impact the production rate of the mentioned gasses. The selection between open-loop and closed (binary)-loop system is essential while taking into consideration air emission. Geothermal plants to this date are commonly separated into three main cycle design: dry-steam, flash-steam or binary –the first two extensively generate more greenhouse gasses (GHGs) compared to the last. In a binary loop system, gases which are removed from the system will not be transferred to the open atmosphere, instead, after transferring the heat gasses will be run through back to the ground, and result in minimal air pollution. In contrary, open-loop system emits all of the emission gas contained such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and many more. There are also different factors which cause the technology to emits gases that are naturally present in the fluid such as fluid chemistry/composition, fluid phase, and geological setting to temperature.

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A Reasonable Approach to Pump Design While Avoiding Resonance

For the majority of pump application, the growing use of variable speed operation has increased the likelihood of resonance conditions that can cause excessive vibration levels, which can negatively impact pump performance and reliability. Mechanical resonance is the tendency of a mechanical system to absorb more energy when the frequency of its oscillations (external excitation source) matches the system’s natural frequency of vibration more than it does at other frequencies. To avoid vibration issues, potential complications must be properly addressed and mitigated during the design phase.

Some of the factors that may cause excitation of a natural frequency include rotational balance, impeller exit pressure pulsations, and gear couplings misalignment. The effect of the resonance can be determined by evaluating the pumping machinery construction. All aspects of the installation such as the discharge head, mounting structure, piping and drive system will affect lateral, torsional and structural frequencies of the pumping system. It is advised that the analysis be conducted during the initial design phase to reduce the probability of reliability problems and the time and expense associated.

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Development of Molten Salt Energy Storage

Over the past couple of years, energy storage technology has significantly evolved to meet engineering demand and political regulations. This wasn’t initially looked as a desirable investment due to the high production cost, however over time, exploration of such technology by bigger companies has driven down the manufacturing cost and generated more demand. With occurrences such as rapid capital raise of smaller start-up companies, to the acquisition of Solar City by Tesla, the market of energy storage is predicted to continue growing. The technology allows for collection of energy produced to be used at a later time. Energy storage systems have wide technology variation to manage power supply – from thermal, compressed air to everyday batteries.

blog-post-2-image-1Molten Salt Usage

The usage of molten salt in thermal energy storage applications has become more common. In commercial solar energy storage, molten salt (from potassium nitrate, lithium nitrate and more) is used in conjunction with concentrated solar energy for power generation. Molten salts are able to absorb and keep heat energy transferred from the fluid mediator, then to transfer it again when it’s needed. In the liquid state, molten salt has a similar state to water. It also has the capacity to retain temperatures of  1000 Fahrenheit. Though efficiency is known to be lower than other storage media such as batteries, (70% vs 90%), the main advantage of the usage of molten salt is lower costs which allows the technology to be implemented in a higher volume production.

How Molten Salt Energy Storage Works

Using solar energy as the main source of energy, heliostats (mirrors used to track sun/solar heat) are used to reflect the solar radiation into an energy receiver at the power plant. Molten salt then is used to collect this heat energy from the concentrated pool. The molten salt will later be stored. When power is needed, hot molten salt is transferred to a HX (or steam generator) to produce steam at a high pressure and temperature. The steam then will be used for electricity generation as the live steam in a conventional steam power plant. After exiting the generator, molten salt will then be transferred back to the thermal storage tank to again absorb energy.

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Impeller Design Challenges on Integrally Geared Centrifugal Compressors

The integrally geared compressor, also known as a multi-shaft compressor, is a technology that has been around since the 1960s, but remains underdeveloped.  Usually seen in applications in the industrial gases industry, integrally geared compressors (IGCs) can range in size from small product machines to steam turbine driven high-horsepower, high-flow compressors for air separation plants.  These compressors modular construction principle, consisting of as many as eight different stages, allows for implementation in a large number of varied customer processes.  The main advantages of IGCs in the industrial gases industry is the compact design and smaller installation footprint, efficiency increases due to the use of multiple speeds for separate impellers, and overall lower operational and installation costs.

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Figure 1 – Semi-Open Impeller

One of the key design differences between the standard inline compressors and the IGCs is that the integrally geared compressor makes use of both closed AND semi-open impellers.  The reason for the use of open impellers in IGCs are the higher strengths due to better manufacturing techniques, speed of manufacture, and the inherent lower costs.  However, the main drawback to having an open impeller in your system is that in the event of impeller rub, the damage to the compressor would be significantly worse than with a closed impeller.

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The Balancing Act – Rotor Stability

When designing rotating equipment, it is extremely important to take into account the types of unbalance that can occur. Forgetting this step can result in vibrations that lead to damage of the rotating parts, increasing maintenance costs and lowering efficiency. Currently, if a rotating part already vibrates or makes any noises, maintenance engineers rely on OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or third parties services companies to conduct balancing services.

Types of Unbalances

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Figure 1: Static and Couple Forms of Unbalance

The three types of unbalances to consider are static, couple and dynamic. Static unbalance (Figure 1) occurs when a mass at a certain radius from the axis of rotation causes a shift in the inertia axis. Couple unbalance, usually found in cylindrical shapes, occurs when two equal masses positioned at 180 degrees from each other cause a shift in the inertia axis, leading to vibration effects on the bearings. Lastly and most common, dynamic unbalance occurs when you have a combination of both static and couple unbalance.

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The Importance of Turbulence Modelling

What is the importance of turbulence modelling in capturing accurate 3D secondary flow and mixing losses in turbomachinery? An investigation on the effect of return channel (RCH) dimensions of a centrifugal compressor stage on the aerodynamic performance was studied to answer this question by A. Hildebrandt and F. Schilling as an effort to push turbomachinery one step further.

W. Fister was among the first to investigate the return channel flow using 3D-CFD. At that time the capability of commercial software was not extended and any computational effort was limited by the CPU-capacity. Therefore, only simplified calculations that included constant density without a turbulence model (based on the Prandtl mixing length hypothesis) embedded in in-house code, were performed.

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