Engineers have developed a turbine which has the potential to power a small town all the while being no bigger than your office desk.
According to the researchers at GE the turbine could power 10,000 homes and, could help to solve some of the world’s growing energy challenges.
But rather than steam, which is typically used to set turbines in motion, the new turbine uses carbon dioxide.
The unit’s compact size and ability to turn on and off rapidly could make it useful in grid storage. It’s about one-tenth the size of a steam turbine of comparable output, and has the potential to be 50 percent efficient at turning heat into electricity. Steam-based systems are typically in the mid-40 percent range; the improvement is achieved because of the better heat-transfer properties and reduced need for compression in a system that uses supercritical carbon dioxide compared to one that uses steam. The GE prototype is 10 megawatts, but the company hopes to scale it to 33 megawatts.
A 3D-printed model of the turbine has been made to demonstrate the principle, but a final version of the current prototype would be expected to weigh just 150 lbs (68 kg).
The approach of repurposing heat to generate molten salts is the basis of certain types of solar power generation.
Concentrated Solar Power (CPV) is a technology which uses mirrors and lenses to reflect sunlight onto a narrow area.
The resulting heat melts a salt, with the molten salt the used to boil water to steam, driving a turbine. Unlike photovoltaic technologies – used in the typical solar cells of panels seen on houses – CPV can work for hours after the sun goes down.
“The key thing will come down to economics,” says Doug Hofer, the GE engineer in charge of the project. While there’s work ahead, he says, “at this point we think our economic story is favorable compared to batteries.”