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?
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To go back to the question, blade tip losses represent a major efficiency penalty in a turbine rotor. These losses are presently controlled by maintaining close tolerances on tip clearances. Tip leakage resulting by gaps between the blade tip and the casing can account for about 1/3 of the total losses in a turbine stage. The reason is mainly the offloading of the tip since the leaking fluid is not exerting a force on the blade, as well as the generation of complicated flow further downstream due to the leakage vortex.
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.
One of the most challenging tasks during turbomachinery design is the definition of aerodynamic shape of the blades, taking into account the complicated flow phenomena and the effect that the shape will have to other disciplines of the design. The rapid increase of computational resources along with the development of CFD has led to a big interference of optimization methods and numerical simulations as part of the design process. There are two main categories in which optimization methods fall: the stochastic models and the gradient-based models. The first family of models focuses on finding the optimum design, while the second uses the gradient information to lead the optimization. Apart from the optimization algorithms, there are several techniques that help designers understand the dependence of design parameters towards others and extract meaningful information for the design. First, the design of experiment approach (DoE) consists of the design of any task that aims to describe or explain the variation of information for conditions that are hypothesized to reflect the variation. Next, we have the surrogate models that are used instead of the optimization algorithms to generate a model that is as accurate as possible while using as few simulation evaluations as possible with low computational cost. The most common surrogate models used for turbomachinery design are the Response Surface Method, the Kriging Model and the Artificial Neural Networks. Last, data mining approaches have recently become very popular as they allow engineers to look for patterns in large data sets to extract information and transform it into an understandable structure for further use.
As far as the aerodynamic design optimization methods is concerned, they can be grouped into inverse and direct designs. Inverse methods rely on definition of pressure distribution and they iterate along blade shape, changing to develop a final profile shape. The computational cost is low and such methods can be combined with an optimization method in an efficient design process. However, the biggest disadvantages lies on the fact that this approach is strongly dependent on the experience of the designer. Young engineers may fail to define a pressure distribution that performs well in design and off-design conditions. In addition, with the inverse method approach the user cannot account for geometric and mechanical constraints.
Centrifugal compressors span a number of applications including oil compression systems, gas shift systems, HVAC, refrigeration, and turbochargers. It works by using energy from the flow to raise pressure, using gas to enter the primary suction eye (impeller). As the impeller rotates, the blades on the impeller push the gas outwards from the center to the open end of impeller to form a compression. Compressors are commonly used for combustion air supplies on cooling and drying systems. In HVAC system application, fans produce air movement to the space that is being conditioned. As a key component of an energy cycle, design/performance requirement must be met. While a design can easily be scaled from an existing design through appropriate parameters, a tailored design from scratch to confirm with design requirement for the specific cycle would give a better match and improve overall cycle performance.
There are variants of non-aerodynamic constraints in centrifugal compressor design practice, from frame size to durability and ultimately cost. An optimized impeller design should also ensure that aerodynamic problems associated with the all compressor components are minimized. With all of these (aerodynamic and non-aerodynamic) design constraints, there is no better way to optimize your compressor design than starting from the preliminary step, making sure that your compressor meets your criteria from a one dimensional basis ( a step that is often overlooked in practice). Read More
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
There are two crucial factors in any power generating system: performance and economy. As we know, higher efficiency is naturally more desirable, though higher efficiency plants usually come with the price of high cost investment. A power system would simply not be feasible should one neglect one of the two main factors. A highly efficient plant would not be feasible in practice if it gives no financial incentives to the producer as well as the end-user. A good power plant design must possess a good balance of efficiency and economy.
One of the main goals in power generation practice is to deliver the lowest possible cost per unit of electricity to meet the growing demand. Often in practice, economic assessment of a power plant is depicted by their levelized cost of energy (LCOE), also known as levelized energy cost (LEC), which is the average price per unit of power delivered to break even with total cost (capital and operating) over the length of its operating lifetime.
Generally, cost factor which contributes to power generation can be categorized into two main groups: capital cost and operating charges. Capital cost (usually consisting of a series of fixed cost factors which do not vary with the level of output) encompasses equipment, rent/land cost, and any other costs associated with the establishment of the power generation plant, up until when it’s ready to operate. This is a critical data point needed for accurate investment decision making. Whereas operating cost (combination of fixed, semi-fixed and variable charges) covers all costs related to daily operational and/or production cost incurred – which should include maintenance, fuel, feed water, etc.
Nowadays, organic Rankine cycles (ORCs) are a widely studied technology. Currently, several research and academic institutions are focused on the design, optimization, and dynamic simulation of this kind of system. Regarding the numerical analysis of an ORC, several steps are required to select the optimal working fluid and the best cycle configuration, taking into account not only nominal performance indexes, but also economic aspects, off-design efficiency, the dynamic behaviour of the plant, and the plant volume or weight.
To begin, a detailed description of the heat source and heat sink, evaluation of all the technical constraints (component selection or plant layout), and both environmental and safety issues is needed. The most significant stage of the design is definitely the correct choice with both working fluid and cycle configuration. Making the wrong choice at this stage will result in poor cycle performance. A huge number of possible working fluids can be selected for ORC systems, which is one of the major advantages of these systems since they can be suitable for almost every heat source but, on the other hand, it makes the resolution of the optimization problem inevitably more complicated. 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