Looking to solve the problem of range anxiety in electric vehicles, many companies have started exploring the business model of recharging electric batteries in automotive vehicles with a parallel turbine engine driving a generator – coined under the term ‘micro-turbine range extender’ (or MTRE). As seen in the turbine-powered car programs initiated in the 50s and 60s, issues with low efficiencies, slow throttle response, and capital cost of the powertrain rendered all of these programs futile shortly after their inception. However, the revolution of electric vehicles and hybrid technologies has allowed this technology to resurface from a different direction. With battery-driven electric motors designated as the main driver, these cars are equipped with a technology that has both energy efficient low-end torque as well as groundbreaking throttle response and many of the former drawbacks during its initial iterations are solved using an electric drivetrain. The turbine-engine, instead of operating as the main driver, will now only operate at its most efficient power output mode and work to simply drive electricity through the generator, recharging the vehicle’s battery packs. Acting as an isolated thermo-mechanical system, a micro-turbine range extender can be designed and optimized without having to worry about the varying duty cycles and idling that is inherent in the vehicle’s drivetrain. The thermodynamic model of a typical micro-turbine range extender can be seen below in Figure 1.
One application within commercial vehicles that has benefitted from this technology utilizes a MTRE system developed by Wrightspeed. The specific application lies within retrofitting refuse trucks with this electric powertrain in order to help them save an estimated $35,000 a year on fuel and maintenance costs. In such heavy-duty applications, it is obvious that the potential for fuel cost and maintenance savings is much higher due to the large fuel burning needed for these vehicles as well as the harsh drive cycle a refuse truck goes through. The question in the expansion of this technology generally comes in two forms: What makes the micro-gas turbine range extender a better alternative than a normal ICE hybrid option? – and – What is the viability of scaling this for consumer vehicles given the capital cost of the drivetrain?
Supersonic axial turbines have attracted interest in the industry since the 1950s due to the high power they provide, allowing a reduction in the number of low-pressure stages, and thus leading to lighter turbines as well as lower manufacturing and operational costs. Due to these valuable features, supersonic axial turbines are currently widely used in different power generation and mechanical drive fields such as rocket engine turbopumps [1, 2, 3, 4], control stages in high pressure multi-stage steam turbines, standalone single stage and 2-row velocity compound steam turbines [5, 6], ORC turbo-generator including geothermal binary power stations [7, 8, 9, 10], turbochargers for large diesel engines  and other applications. Therefore it is not forgotten, but instead a very important field in turbomachinery when highest specific power, compactness, low weight, low cost and ease of maintenance are dominant requirements. Especially nowadays, when development of small capacity reusable low-cost rocket launchers, compact and powerful waste heat recovery (WHR) units in the automotive industry, distributed power generation, and other fields are in extreme demand.
Typically, supersonic turbine consists of supersonic nozzles with a subsonic inlet and one or two rows of rotating blades. The turbine usually has partial arc admission. The total flow could go through either a single partial arc or several ones. The latter is typical for a steam turbine control stage or standalone applications. The inlet manifold or nozzles chests, as well as exhaust duct, are critical parts of the turbine as well. Due to the very frequent application of partial admission, it is not possible to implement any significant reaction degree. Thus, this kind of turbine is almost always an impulse type. However, some reaction degree could still be applied to full admission turbines. The influence of the rotor blades profile designed for high reaction degree on rotor-stator supersonic interaction and turbine performance is not well studied at the moment.
The concept of turbine-powered automotive vehicles is not necessarily an unfamiliar idea or a technology that has yet to be explored. In fact, several prominent automakers explored this concept as early as the 1950s and 60s – with real, functional prototypes. Notably, Rover-BRM in the UK as well as Chrysler and General Motors in the US employed turbine engine programs to test the viability of such engines in the commercial market. The Chrysler turbine engine program began its research back in the late 1930s and eventually ran a public user program from September 1964 to January 1966 where a total of 55 cars were built. General Motors had tested gas turbine-powered cars with its many iterations of the Firebird in the 50s and 60s. Rover and British Racing Motors developed several prototypes of their Rover-BRM concept that actually participated in the Le Mans race three years in a row, from 1963 through 1965. However, even Chrysler, which was considered the leader of gas turbine research in automobiles, had to eventually abandon their program in 1979 after seven iterations of the turbine engine. Many of the initial issues with heat control and acceleration-lag were improved during the program’s lifetime, but the program had never paid off in the retail automotive sector, and its continued development was deemed too risky for Chrysler at the time.
Several decades later, we are seeing a resurgence of turbine motors in automobiles, but now serving as a range extender generator for electric vehicles instead. As with many upcoming technologies, learning from past research and failed historical attempts can bring light to the most elegant and innovative solutions for today’s modern challenges. This revolution of an old concept shares many of the qualities that made turbine engines attractive back in its initial development phase. Such advantages include the ability to run on any flammable liquid and the high power density that results in a significantly lower weight and size contribution than its piston engine counterpart.
Steam turbine technology has advanced significantly since it was first developed by Sir Charles Parson in 1884 . The concept of impulse steam turbines was first demonstrated by Karl Gustaf Patrik de Laval in 1887. A pressure compounded steam turbine based on in de laval principle was developed by Auguste Rateau in 1896. Westinghouse was one of the earliest licensee for manufacturing steam turbines obtained from Sir Charles Parson and became one of the earliest Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) in power generation and transmission.
Over the years, as steam turbine technology advanced, the design principles were based on either impulse type or reaction type with reaction type being more efficient. Though impulse was not as efficient as reaction type, it gained popularity due to lower cost and compact size. With advances in design and optimization methods being employed, the efficiency levels between these two types are not very distant, ranging between 2 – 5% based on the size and application. Read More
Global warming and the growing demand for energy are two primary problems rising in the power generation industry. A simple solution to these problems has been researched for a number of years. The SCO2 Brayton cycle is often looked into as an alternative working fluid for power generation cycles due to its compactness, high efficiency and small environmental footprint. The usage of SCO2 in nuclear reactors has been studied since the early 2000s in development of Generation IV nuclear reactors, but the idea itself can be traced back to the 1940s. During this time however, no one really looked into the potential of supercritical CO2 since steam was found to be efficient enough, not to mention it was the more understood technology when compared to SCO2. In modern times though, demand of more efficient energy continues to rise and with it, the need for SCO2.
The potential of supercritical CO2 implementation is vast across power generation applications spanning nuclear, geothermal and even fossil fuel. The cycle envisioned is a non-condensing closed loop Brayton cycle with heat addition and rejection inside the expander to indirectly heat up the carbon dioxide working fluid. Read More
People are pushing turbine inlet temperature to extremes to achieve higher power and efficiency. Material scientists have contributed a lot to developing the most durable material under high temperatures such as special steels, titanium alloys and superalloys. However, turbine inlet temperature can be as high as 1700˚C  and cooling has to be integrated to the system to prolong blade life, secure operation and achieve economic viability.
A high pressure turbine can use up to 30% of the compressor air for cooling, purge, and leakage flows, which is a huge loss for efficiency. It is worth it only if the gain of turbine inlet temperature can outweigh the loss of cooling. This applies to both aviation engines and land based gas turbines.
The history of turbine cooling goes back 50 years and has evolved to fit different environments. The diversity of turbine cooling technology we see today is just the tip of the iceberg. As time goes on and technology advances, people are able to achieve higher cooling efficiency at lower coolant usages. For different goals and needs, different constructs can be applied but the detailed cooling design must balance with the whole system and make the most of technological advances in the areas. For example, if the flow path is optimized, mechanical design is modified, or if new material is employed, the cooling design needs to change accordingly. One thing worth mentioning is that manufacturing of hot section components and turbine cooling design have an interdependent cause and effect, outpacing and leading each other to new levels. Merging of disciplines and additive manufacturing will, in the future, bring more flexibility to turbine cooling design.
Historically turbomachinery development began with empirical rules postulated by early pioneers. With the need for jet engine for aircraft propulsion, dimensionless analysis became popular, followed by the 1 D mean line design and 2D meridional methods. Today 2D meridional methods with 3D blade to blade CFD/FEA methods are a necessity as efficiency and reliability requirements are further pushed.
One key aspect of 2D meridional design is S1-S2 optimization, which is a time consuming, laborious task and hence subject to human errors. S1-S2 optimization is a task of reviewing, adjusting and optimizing the flow path in the Tangential (S1 or blade-to-blade or pitchwise) and the Meridional (S2 or span wise) planes. The main purpose is to:
Fit the flow path to specific meridional dimensional constraints
Adjust blade-to-blade parameters while taking into account structural constraints.
– Input a set of boundary conditions, geometrical parameters and constraints that are known to the user.
Step 2: Design space generation
– Thousands of machine flow path designs can be generated from scratch
– Explore a set of design solution points using the Design Space Explorer
– Adjusting geometric parameters while retaining the desired boundary conditions is also possible
Optimization (or parametric studies) of a twin spool bypass turbofan engine with mixed exhaust and a cooled turbine can be considered one of the most complex problem formulations. For engine selection, determining the thrust specific fuel consumption and specific thrust is necessary against variables such as design limitations (Inlet temp, etc.), design choices (fan pressure ration, etc.) and operating conditions (speed & altitude). The task involves cycle level studies following machine, module, stage and component level optimization. This calls for an integrated environment (IE) and it is desirable to have such an IE operating on a “single” platform.
Historically IE was developed for the design of axial turbines (mainly steam). Later, it was expanded for gas turbines (especially blade cooling calculations) and axial compressors via plug-in modules. The new challenge designers face today is developing mixed flow machinery. An effective system for modern turbomachinery design needs to do the following:
Nowadays, gas and steam turbines are contributing to more than 80% of the electricity generated worldwide. If we add the contribution from hydro turbines too, then we reach 98% of total production.
The improvement of the flow path is crucial, and an advanced design can be achieved through several strategies. The aerodynamic optimization of gas and steam turbines can lead to enhanced efficiency. In addition to that, the minimization of secondary losses is possible by introducing advanced endwall shaping and clearance control. Moreover, further increase of efficiency can be achieved by decreasing the losses of kinetic energy at the outlet from the last stage of the turbine. This can be done using longer last-stage blades as well as improving the diffuser recovery and stability.