TECH SA: New turbine could change way electricity is powered

Southwest Research Institute spent six years creating small, efficient turbine

By Tiffany Huertas - Video Journalist, Jason Foster - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - Engineers at Southwest Research Institute spent six years working on a powerful turbine called the Super Critical CO2.

Institute engineer Jeff Moore said its power can generate electricity to 10,000 residents.

“A typical turbine uses heat from either solar or fossil energy or nuclear energy. It boils the water, it makes steam and it runs the steam through the turbine. This one is different because this one is using CO2,” Moore said. “The inlet temperature is 1,300 degrees. That is higher than the melting temperature of aluminum.  It is higher than most steam-type power plants operate today, like the types CPS operate at Calaveras Lake."

The turbine is also different because it's smaller. Turbines take up a lot of space, but this one is the size of a desk.

“Because CO2 is more dense gas than steam, we can get a lot more power in a smaller package,” Moore said.

Moore added it’s also a cleaner option.

“This system is using the same CO2 that we are trying to prevent releasing in the atmosphere,” Moore said.

A test of the turbine at its full power will take place at a new power plant that is under construction at the Southwest Research Institute. Construction of the $119 million power plant at SWRI is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

“This technology offers 2-4% higher efficiency than the state-of-the-art steam power plants and 10-15% higher than legacy plants. Improving the efficiency of a power plant by even 1% has a tremendous economic benefit to the plant and its customers. Furthermore, emissions are reduced proportional to these savings. Future embodiments of this technology, where fuel is burned directly with oxygen inside the turbine, will result in zero emissions with carbon capture, while maintaining high efficiency and low cost,” Moore said.

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