How much more can I get with what I have?

Gas turbines are continuing their trend in becoming more efficient with each generation. However, the rate at which their efficiency increases is not significant enough to match more and more constraining environmental goals and regulations. New technologies like combined cycles therefore need to be used to increase cycle-specific power (more power produced without burning additional fuel).

The first generation of combined cycles featured a bottoming steam cycle that uses the heat from the gas turbine exhausts to boil off water in order to power a turbine and generate power. This traditional approach has been around since about 1970 and nowadays allows obtaining an additional 20% in cycle thermal efficiency (40% in simple gas turbine cycle configuration vs. 60% as a combined gas-steam cycle).

Figure 1: General efficiency increases over time for simple and combined cycle gas turbines
Figure 1: General efficiency increases over time for simple and combined cycle gas turbines
Figure 2: Example of a simple, recuperated Brayton, supercritical CO2 cycle that uses the exhaust flow of a gas turbine to heat its working fluid
Figure 2: Example of a simple, recuperated Brayton, supercritical CO2 cycle that uses the exhaust flow of a gas turbine to heat its working fluid

While this traditional approach is definitely effective, it does have some drawbacks; the equipment usually takes a significant amount of 3D space, there is always the risk of corrosion and substantial structural damage when working with 2-phase fluids, and so on. This, therefore, allows for different technologies to emerge, like supercritical CO2 cycles.

A supercritical fluid is a fluid that is used above its critical pressure and temperature and therefore behaves as neither a liquid nor a gas but as a different state (high density vs gas, absence of surface tensions, etc.). As a working fluid, supercritical CO2 has numerous advantages over some other fluids, including a high safety usage, non-flammability/toxicity, high density, inexpensiveness and absence of 2-phase fluid.

 

Figure 3: Example of difference in power density between supercritical carbon dioxide (left) and steam (right) for a 10 MW power turbine
Figure 3: Example of difference in power density between supercritical carbon dioxide (left) and steam (right) for a 10 MW power turbine

Moreover, steam turbines are usually difficultly scalable to small capacities which mean that they are mostly used in a bottoming cycle configuration for high power gas turbines. On the other hand supercritical CO2 (Rankine) cycles can be used for smaller machines as well as the bigger units while featuring an efficiency comparable to the one of a typical Rankine cycle and estimated lower installation, operation and maintenance costs.

Figure 4 Cycle efficiency comparison of advanced power cycles (source: A Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Cycle for Next Generation Nuclear Reactors. Dostal, V., 2004
Figure 4 Cycle efficiency comparison of advanced power cycles (source: A Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Cycle for Next Generation Nuclear Reactors. Dostal, V., 2004

The paper I presented at the ASME Power & Energy 2015 compares different configurations of SCO2 bottoming cycles for an arbitrary case for different boundary conditions before applying the selected cycle to a wide range of existing gas turbine units. This allowed determining how much additional power could be generated without needing to burn additional fuel and the results were far from insignificant! For the machines studied the potential for power increase ranges from 15% to 40% of the gas turbine unit power. Want to know how much more power you can get with your existing machines? Contact us to get a quote for a feasibility study before designing the waste heat recovery system yourself or with our help.

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