News Release

Release Date: June 19, 2017

Research Partnership Propels Improvements in Turbine Performance

START Lab Gas Turbine Test Bay

While gas turbines are integral to the propulsion of ships across the oceans and jets streaking through sky, many may not realize that these devices are responsible for producing vital electricity that helps powers our Nation. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is dedicated to ensuring our energy security, and developing and improving novel energy technology is part and parcel to its mission. Therefore, it’s no surprise that improving turbine performance is a core component of NETL’s Advanced Turbines Program, which seeks to develop next-generation turbine technology to accelerate performance, efficiency, and emissions reduction beyond the capabilities of current state-of-the-art systems.

Solving the challenges associated with developing advanced turbine systems is no easy task. In an effort to stimulate rapid technology advancements, NETL made a strategic investment in a research collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University’s Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START) Laboratory and industry partner Pratt & Whitney (a division of United Technologies). Established in 2011, this ongoing research partnership has the goal of transitioning new cooling technologies into working-scale gas turbines.

Turbines are mechanical devices that serve as the backbone of electricity production. While the operations of most turbines are very similar, different turbines draw energy from different sources: water, steam, gas, or air. Each source of energy requires a different turbine system design. In gas turbines, incoming gas is compressed to high pressure as it moves through the compressor section. It is then heated to a high temperature by the combustion of fuel in the combustor portion of the turbine. The high-temperature, high-pressure gas then passes through a series of rotor-mounted airfoils, causing them to spin at a speed consistent with the generator, which converts the kinetic energy of the moving gas into electricity.

A key factor to improving gas turbine performance is the ability to increase the operating temperature. To achieve this, component cooling, particularly of turbine airfoils is essential. The START project will explore the ability to cool gas turbine components with minimal cooling air to allow for higher operational temperatures and minimized aerodynamic losses. Results of this work will improve turbine operating efficiency, reduce fuel requirements, lower emissions, and decrease the cost of electricity.

The START Lab at Penn State is ideally suited to conduct research that pushes the boundaries of what current systems are capable of. Their experimental capabilities for gas turbine research are unique due to a continuous flow operation facility that can reproduce realistic full-scale engine conditions—conditions representative of modern gas turbine engines. Through collaborative research efforts, this world class test facility will allow new design concepts for cooling and leakage control to be accelerated and developed more quickly, leading to more efficient turbines.

This project is a prime example of how NETL’s Technology Development and Integration Center and Research and Innovation Center supports research and development. NETL’s efforts, in close collaboration with Penn State, Pratt & Whitney, and Ames Laboratory are geared to develop baseline and advanced airfoil cooling geometries, which will be evaluated in a series of test campaigns using the START turbine rig. NETL is also engaged in discussions with representatives from turbine manufacturers and other government agencies to develop strategies for the use of the START facility to support the goals of other land-based power generation interests.

The outcomes of this partnership are already leading to promising possible technology advancements in cooling of gas turbine components, which will be a boon to the gas turbine industry.