A gas turbine, also called a combustion turbine, is a rotary engine that extracts energy from a flow of combustion gas. It has an upstream compressor coupled to a downstream turbine, and a combustion chamber in-between. (Gas turbine may also refer to just the turbine element.)
Energy is added to the gas stream in the combustor, where air is mixed with fuel and ignited. Combustion increases the temperature, velocity and volume of the gas flow. This is directed through a nozzle over the turbine's blades, spinning the turbine and powering the compressor.
Theory of operation
Gas turbines are described thermodynamically by the Brayton cycle, in which air is compressed isentropically, combustion occurs at constant pressure, and expansion over the turbine occurs isentropically back to the starting pressure.
In practice, friction and turbulence cause:
As with all cyclic heat engines, higher combustion temperature means greater efficiency. The limiting factor is the ability of the steel, nickel, ceramic, or other materials that make up the engine to withstand heat and pressure. Considerable engineering goes into keeping the turbine parts cool. Most turbines also try to recover exhaust heat, which otherwise is wasted energy. Recuperators are heat exchangers that pass exhaust heat to the compressed air, prior to combustion. Combined cycle designs pass waste heat to steam turbine systems. And combined heat and power (co-generation) uses waste heat for hot water production.
Mechanically, gas turbines can be considerably less complex than internal combustion piston engines. Simple turbines might have one moving part: the shaft/compressor/turbine/alternative-rotor assembly (see image above), not counting the fuel system.
More sophisticated turbines (such as those found in modern jet engines) may have multiple shafts (spools), hundreds of turbine blades, movable stator blades, and a vast system of complex piping, combustors and heat exchangers.
As a general rule, the smaller the engine the higher the rotation rate of the shaft(s) needs to be to maintain top speed. Turbine blade top speed determines the maximum pressure that can be gained,this produces the maximum power possible independent of the size of the engine. Jet engines operate around 10,000 rpm and micro turbines around 100,000 rpm.
Thrust bearings and journal bearings are a critical part of design. Traditionally, they have been hydrodynamic oil bearings, or oil-cooled ball bearings. These bearings are being surpassed by foil bearings, which have been successfully used in micro turbines and auxiliary power units.
Types of gas turbines
Aeroderivatives and jet engines
Airbreathing jet engines are gas turbines optimized to produce thrust from the exhaust gases, or from ducted fans connected to the gas turbines. Jet engines that produce thrust primarily from the direct impulse of exhaust gases are often called turbojets, whereas those that generate most of their thrust from the action of a ducted fan are often called turbofans or (rarely) fan-jets.
Gas turbines are also used in many liquid propellant rockets, the gas turbines are used to power a turbopump to permit the use of lightweight, low pressure tanks, which saves considerable dry mass.
Aeroderivatives are also used in electrical power generation due to their ability to startup, shut down, and handle load changes more quickly than industrial machines. They are also used in the marine industry to reduce weight. The GE LM2500 and LM6000 are two common models of this type of machine.
Amateur gas turbines
Increasing numbers of gas turbines are being used or even constructed by amateurs.
In its most straightforward form, these are commercial turbines acquired through military surplus or scrapyard sales, then operated for display as part of the hobby of engine collecting. In its most extreme form, amateurs have even rebuilt engines beyond professional repair and then used them to compete for the Land Speed Record.
The simplest form of self-constructed gas turbine employs an automotive turbocharger as the core component. A combustion chamber is fabricated and plumbed between the compressor and turbine sections.
More sophisticated turbojets are also built, where their thrust and light weight are sufficient to power large model aircraft. The Schreckling design constructs the entire engine from raw materials, including the fabrication of a centrifugal compressor wheel from plywood, epoxy and wrapped carbon fibre strands.
Like many technology based hobbies, they tend to give rise to manufacturing businesses over time. Several small companies now manufacture small turbines and parts for the amateur. Most turbojet-powered model aircraft are now using these commercial and semi-commercial microturbines, rather than a Schreckling-like home-build.
Auxiliary power units
Auxiliary power units (APUs) are small gas turbines designed for auxiliary power of larger machines, such as those inside an aircraft. They supply compressed air for aircraft ventilation (with an appropriate compressor design), start-up power for larger jet engines, and electrical and hydraulic power.
Industrial gas turbines for electrical generation
Industrial gas turbines differ from aeroderivative in that the frames, bearings, and blading is of heavier construction. Industrial gas turbines range in size from truck-mounted mobile plants to enormous, complex systems. They can be particularly efficient—up to 60%—when waste heat from the gas turbine is recovered by a heat recovery steam generator to power a conventional steam turbine in a combined cycle configuration. They can also be run in a cogeneration configuration: the exhaust is used for space or water heating, or drives an absorption chiller for cooling or refrigeration. A cogeneration configuration can be over 90% efficient. The power turbines in the largest industrial gas turbines operate at 3,000 or 3,600 rpm to match the AC power grid frequency and to avoid the need for a reduction gearbox. Such engines require a dedicated enclosure, both to protect the engine from the elements and the operators from the noise.
Simple cycle gas turbines in the power industry require smaller capital investment than either coal or nuclear power plants and can be scaled to generate small or large amounts of power. Also, the actual construction process can take as little as several weeks to a few months, compared to years for base load power plants. Their other main advantage is the ability to be turned on and off within minutes, supplying power during peak demand. Because they are less efficient than combined cycle plants, they are usually used as peaking power plants, which operate anywhere from several hours per day to a few dozen hours per year, depending on the electricity demand and the generating capacity of the region. In areas with a shortage of base load and load following power plant capacity, a gas turbine power plant may regularly operate during most hours of the day and even into the evening. A typical large simple cycle gas turbine may produce 100 to 300 megawatts of power and have 35–40% thermal efficiency. The most efficient turbines have reached 46% efficiency.
Compressed air energy storage
One modern development seeks to improve efficiency in another way, by separating the compressor and the turbine with a compressed air store. In a conventional turbine, up to half the generated power is used driving the compressor. In a compressed air energy storage configuration, power, perhaps from a wind farm or bought on the open market at a time of low demand and low price, is used to drive the compressor, and the compressed air released to operate the turbine when required.
Turboshaft engines are often used to drive compression trains (for example in gas pumping stations or natural gas liquefaction plants) and are used to power almost all modern helicopters. The first shaft bears the compressor and the high speed turbine (often referred to as "Gas Generator" or "N1"), while the second shaft bears the low speed turbine (or "Power Turbine" or "N2"). This arrangement is used to increase speed and power output flexibility.
Radial gas turbines
In 1963, Jan Mowill initiated the development at Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk in Norway. Various successors have made good progress in the refinement of this mechanism. Owing to a configuration that keeps heat away from certain bearings the durability of the machine is improved while the radial turbine is well matched in speed requirement.
Scale jet engines
Also known as miniature gas turbines or micro-jets.
Many model engineers relish the challenge of re-creating the grand engineering feats of today as tiny working models. Naturally, the idea of re-creating a powerful engine such as the jet, fascinated hobbyists since the very first full size engines were powered up by Hans von Ohain and Frank Whittle back in the 1930s.
Recreating machines such as engines to a different scale is not easy. Because of the square-cube law, the behaviour of many machines does not always scale up or down at the same rate as the machine's size (and often not even in a linear way), usually at best causing a dramatic loss of power or efficiency, and at worst causing them not to work at all. An automobile engine, for example, will not work if reproduced in the same shape at the size of a human hand.
With this in mind the pioneer of modern Micro-Jets, Kurt Schreckling, produced one of the world's first Micro-Turbines, the FD3/67. This engine can produce up to 22 newtons of thrust, and can be built by most mechanically minded people with basic engineering tools, such as a metal lathe. Its radial compressor, which is cold, is small and the hot axial turbine is large experiencing more centrifugal forces, meaning that this design is limited by Mach number. Guiding vanes are used to hold the starter, after the compressor impeller and before the turbine. No bypass within the engine is used.
Also known as:
Microturbines are becoming widespread for distributed power and combined heat and power applications. They are one of the most promising technologies for powering hybrid electric vehicles. They range from hand held units producing less than a kilowatt, to commercial sized systems that produce tens or hundreds of kilowatts.
Part of their success is due to advances in electronics, which allows unattended operation and interfacing with the commercial power grid. Electronic power switching technology eliminates the need for the generator to be synchronized with the power grid. This allows the generator to be integrated with the turbine shaft, and to double as the starter motor.
Microturbine systems have many advantages over reciprocating engine generators, such as higher power density (with respect to footprint and weight), extremely low emissions and few, or just one, moving part. Those designed with foil bearings and air-cooling operate without oil, coolants or other hazardous materials. Microturbines also have the advantage of having the majority of their waste heat contained in their relatively high temperature exhaust, whereas the waste heat of recriprocating engines is split between its exhaust and cooling system. However, reciprocating engine generators are quicker to respond to changes in output power requirement and are usually slightly more efficient, although the efficiency of microturbines is increasing. Microturbines also lose more efficiency at low power levels than reciprocating engines.
Microturbine designs usually consist of a single stage radial compressor, a single stage radial turbine and a recuperator. Recuperators are difficult to design and manufacture because they operate under high pressure and temperature differentials. Exhaust heat can be used for water heating, space heating, drying processes or absorption chillers, which create cold for air conditioning from heat energy instead of electric energy.
Typical microturbine efficiencies are 25 to 35%. When in a combined heat and power cogeneration system, efficiencies of greater than 80% are commonly achieved.
MIT started its millimeter size turbine engine project in the middle of the 1990s when Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Alan H. Epstein considered the possibility of creating a personal turbine which will be able to meet all the demands of a modern person's electrical needs, just like a large turbine can meet the electricity demands of a small city. Problems have occurred with heat dissipation and high-speed bearing in these new microturbines. Moreover, their expected efficiency is very low 5-6%. According to Professor Epstein current commercial Li-ion rechargeable batteries deliver about 120-150 Wh/kg. MIT's millimeter size turbine will deliver 500-700 Wh/kg in the near term, rising to 1200-1500 Wh/kg in the longer term.
Most gas turbines are internal combustion engines but it is also possible to build an external combustion gas turbine which is, effectively, a turbine version of a hot air engine.
External combustion has been used for the purpose of using pulverized coal or finely ground biomass (such as sawdust) as a fuel. External combustion gas has been used both directly and indirectly. In the direct system, the combustion products travel through the power turbine. In the indirect system, a heat exchanger is used and clean air travels through the power turbine. The thermal efficiency is lower in the indirect type of external combustion, however the blades are not subjected to combustion products.
Gas turbines in vehicles
A key advantage of jets and turboprops for aeroplane propulsion - their superior performance at high altitude compared to piston engines, particularly naturally-aspirated ones - is irrelevant in automobile applications. Their power-to-weight advantage is far less important.
Gas turbines offer a high-powered engine in a very small and light package. However, they are not as responsive and efficient as small piston engines over the wide range of RPMs and powers needed in vehicle applications. In hybrids, gas turbines reduce the responsiveness problem, and the emergence of the continuously variable transmission may also help alleviate this.
Turbines have historically been more expensive to produce than piston engines, though this is partly because piston engines have been mass-produced in huge quantities for decades, while small gas turbine engines are rarities; but turbines are mass produced in the closely related form of the turbocharger.
Passenger Road Vehicles (Cars, Bikes, and Buses)
A number of experiments have been conducted with gas turbine powered automobiles, the largest by Chrysler. More recently, there has been some interest in the use of turbine engines for hybrid electric cars. The common turbocharger for gas or diesel engines is also a turbine derivative.
In 1950, designer F.R. Bell and Chief Engineer Maurice Wilks from British car manufacturers Rover unveiled the first car powered with a gas turbine engine. The two-seater JET1 had the engine positioned behind the seats, air intake grilles on either side of the car, and exhaust outlets on the top of the tail. During tests, the car reached top speeds of 140 km/h, at a turbine speed of 50,000 rpm. The car ran on petrol, paraffin or diesel oil, but fuel consumption problems proved insurmountable for a production car. It is currently on display at the London Science Museum.
American car manufacturer Chrysler demonstrated several prototype gas turbine-powered cars from the early 1950s through the early 1980s. Chrysler built fifty Chrysler Turbine Cars in 1963 and conducted the only consumer trial of gas turbine-powered cars. Their turbines employed unique rotating recuperator that significantly increased efficiency. Chrysler put many cars into the hands of consumers, making this effort a small-scale near-production run.
Japanese car manufacturer Toyota demonstrated several gas turbine powered prototype vehicles such as the Century gas turbine hybrid in 1975, the Sports 800 Gas Turbine Hybrid in 1977 and the GTV in 1985. No production vehicles were made.
The fictional Batmobile is often said to be powered by a gas turbine or a jet engine. The 1960s television show vehicle was said to be powered by a turbine engine, with a parachute braking system. For the 1989 Batman film, the production department built a working turbine vehicle for the Batmobile prop. Its fuel capacity, however, was reportedly only enough for 15 seconds of use at a time.
In 1993 General Motors introduced the first commercial gas turbine powered hybrid vehicle—as a limited production run of the EV-1 series hybrid. A Williams International 40 kW turbine drove an alternator which powered the battery-electric powertrain. The turbine design included a recuperator. Later on in 2006 GM went into the EcoJet concept car project with Jay Leno.
Rover and the British Racing Motors (BRM) Formula One team joined forces to produce the Rover-BRM, a gas turbine powered coupe, which entered the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther. It averaged 107.8 mph (173 km/h) and had a top speed of 142 mph (229 km/h). American Ray Heppenstall joined Howmet Corporation and McKee Engineering together to develop their own gas turbine sports car in 1968, the Howmet TX, which ran several American and European events, including two wins, and also participated in the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cars used Continental gas turbines, which eventually set six FIA land speed records for turbine-powered cars.
For open wheel racing, 1967's revolutionary STP Oil Treatment Special four-wheel drive turbine-powered special fielded by racing and entrepreneurial legend Andy Granatelli and driven by Parnelli Jones nearly won the Indianapolis 500; the STP Pratt & Whitney powered turbine car was almost a lap ahead of the second place car when a gearbox bearing failed just three laps from the finish line. In 1971 Lotus principal Colin Chapman introduced the Lotus 56B F1 car, powered by a Pratt & Whitney gas turbine. Chapman had a reputation of building radical championship-winning cars, but had to abandon the project because there were too many problems with turbo lag.
The arrival of the Capstone Microturbine has led to several hybrid bus designs, starting with HEV-1 by AVS of Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1999, and closely followed by Ebus and ISE Research in California, and Designline in New Zealand. AVS turbine hybrids were plagued with reliability and quality control problems, resulting in liquidation of AVS in 2003. The most successful design by Designline is now operated in 5 cities in 6 countries, with over 30 buses in operation worldwide, and order for several hundred being delivered to Baltimore , and NYC.
The MTT Turbine SUPERBIKE appeared in 2000 (hence the designation of Y2K Superbike by MTT) and is the first production motorcycle powered by a turbine engine - specifically, a Rolls-Royce Allison model 250 turboshaft engine, producing about 283 kW (380 bhp). Speed-tested to 365 km/h or 227 mph (according to some stories, the testing team ran out of road during the test), it holds the Guinness World Records for most powerful production motorcycle and most expensive production motorcycle, with a price tag of US$185,000.
The first use of a gas turbine in an armoured fighting vehicle was in 1954 when a unit, PU2979, specifically developed for tanks by C. A. Parsons & Co., was installed and trialled in a British Conqueror tank. Since then, gas turbine engines have been used as auxiliary power units (APUs) in some tanks and as main powerplants in Soviet/Russian T-80s and U.S. M1 Abrams tanks, among others. They are lighter and smaller than diesels at the same sustained power output but the models installed to date are less fuel efficient than the equivalent diesel, especially at idle, requiring more fuel to achieve the same combat range. Successive models of M1 have addressed this problem with battery packs or secondary generators to power the tank's systems while stationary, saving fuel by reducing the need to idle the main turbine. T-80s can mount three large external fuel drums to extend their range. Russia has stopped production of the T-80 in favour of the diesel-powered T-90 (based on the T-72), while Ukraine has developed the diesel-powered T-80UD and T-84 with nearly the power of the gas-turbine tank.
A turbine is theoretically more reliable and easier to maintain than a piston engine, since it has a simpler construction with fewer moving parts but in practice turbine parts experience a higher wear rate due to their higher working speeds. The turbine blades are highly sensitive to dust and fine sand, so that in desert operations air filters have to be fitted and changed several times daily. An improperly fitted filter, or a bullet or shell fragment that punctures the filter can damage the engine. Piston engines also need well-maintained filters, but they are more resilient if the filter does fail.
Like most modern diesel engines used in tanks, gas turbines are usually multi-fuel engines.
Gas turbines are used in many naval vessels, where they are valued for their high power-to-weight ratio and their ships' resulting acceleration and ability to get underway quickly.
The first gas-turbine-powered naval vessel was the Royal Navy's Motor Gun Boat MGB 2009 (formerly MGB 509) converted in 1947. Metrovick developed the "Beryl" engine equipping an existing F2/3 jet engine with a power turbine. As the test was successful, the Fast Patrol Boats Bold Pioneer and Bold Pathfinder built in 1953 were the first ships created specifically for gas turbine propulsion.
The Swedish Navy produced 6 Spica class torpedoboats between 1966 and 1967 powered by 3 Bristol Siddeley Proteus 1282, each delivering 4300 hp. They were later joined by 12 upgraded Norrköping class ships, still with the same engines. With their aft torpedo tubes replaced by antishipping missiles they served as missile boats until the last was retired in 2005.
The Finnish Navy issued two Turunmaa class corvettes, Turunmaa and Karjala, in 1968. They were equipped with one 22 000 shp Rolls-Royce Olympus TMB3 gas turbine and three Wärtsilä marine diesels for slower speeds. They were the fastest vessels in the Finnish Navy; they regularly achieved 35 knot speeds and 37,3 knots on sea trials. The Turunmaas were paid off in 2002. Karjala is today a museum ship in Turku, and Turunmaa serves as a flotating machine shop and training ship for Satakunta Polytechnical College.
The next series of major naval vessels were the four Canadian Iroquois class helicopter carrying destroyers first commissioned in 1972. They used 2 ft-4 main propulsion engines, 2 ft-12 cruise engines and 3 Solar Saturn 750 kW generators.
The first U.S. gas-turbine powered ships were the U.S. Coast Guard's Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutters the first of which (USCGC Hamilton) commissioned in 1967. Since then, they have powered the U.S. Navy's Perry-class frigates, Spruance-class and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers. USS Makin Island, a modified Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, is to be the Navy's first amphib powered by gas turbines. The marine gas turbine operates in a more corrosive atmosphere due to presence of sea salt in air and fuel and use of cheaper fuels.
There have been a number of experiments in which gas turbines were used to power seagoing commercial vessels. The earliest of these experiments may have been the oil tanker "Auris" (Anglo Saxon Petroleum) - circa 1949.
The United States Maritime Commission were looking for options to update WWII Liberty ships and heavy duty gas turbines were one of those selected. In 1956 the "John Sergeant" was lenghened and installed with a General Electric 6600 SHP HD gas turbine, reduction gearing and a variable pitch propeller. It operated for 9700 hours using residual fuel for 7000 hours. The success of this trial opened the way for more development by GE on the use of HD gas turbines for marine use with heavy fuels. The "John Sergeant" was scrapped in 1972 at Portsmouth PA.
Between 1970 and 1982, Seatrain Container Lines operated a scheduled container service across the North Atlantic with four 26,000 tonne dwt. container ships. Those ships were powered by twin Pratt & Whitney gas turbines of the FT 4 series. The four ships in the class were named "Euroliner", "Eurofreighter", "Asialiner" and "Asiafreighter". They operated a transatlantic container service between ports on the eastern seaboard of the United States and ports in north west Europe. Following the dramatic OPEC price increases of the mid-nineteen seventies, operations were constrained by rising fuel costs. Some modification of the engine systems on those ships was undertaken to permit the burning of a lower grade of fuel (i.e. marine diesel). The modifications were partially successful. It was proved that particular fuel could be used in a marine gas turbine but, savings made were less than anticipated due to increased maintenance requirements. After 1982 the ships were sold, then re-engined with more economical diesel engines. Because the new engines were much larger, there was a consequential loss of some cargo space.
The first passenger ferry to use a gas turbine was the GTS Finnjet, built in 1977 and powered with two Pratt & Whitney FT 4C-1 DLF turbines, generating 55000 kW and propelling the ship to a speed of 31 knots. However, the Finnjet also illustrated the shortcomings of gas turbine propulsion in commercial craft, as high fuel prices made operating her unprofitable. After just four years of service additional diesel engines were installed on the ship to allow less costly operations during off-season. Another example of commercial usage of gas turbines in a passenger ship are Stena Line's HSS class fastcraft ferries. HSS 1500-class Stena Explorer, Stena Voyager and Stena Discovery vessels use combined gas and gas (COGAG) setups of twin GE LM2500 plus GE LM1600 power for a total of 68,000 kW. The slightly smaller HSS 900-class Stena Charisma, uses twin ABB–STAL GT35 turbines rated at 34,000 kW gross. The Stena Discovery was withdrawn from service in 2007, another victim of too high fuel costs.
In July 2000, the Millennium became the first cruise ship to be propelled by gas turbines, in a Combined Gas and Steam Turbine configuration. The RMS Queen Mary 2 uses a Combined Diesel and Gas Turbine configuration.
Advances in technology
Gas turbine technology has steadily advanced since its inception and continues to evolve; research is active in producing ever smaller gas turbines. Computer design, specifically CFD and finite element analysis along with material advances, has allowed higher compression ratios and temperatures, more efficient combustion and better cooling of engine parts. On the emissions side, the challenge in technology is increasing turbine inlet temperature while reducing peak flame temperature to achieve lower NOx emissions to cope with the latest regulations. Additionally, compliant foil bearings were commercially introduced to gas turbines in the 1990s. They can withstand over a hundred thousand start/stop cycles and eliminated the need for an oil system.
On another front, microelectronics and power switching technology have enabled commercially viable micro turbines for distributed and vehicle power.
Advantages and disadvantages of gas turbine engines
Advantages of gas turbine engines
Disadvantages of gas turbine engines
These disadvantages explain why road vehicles, which are smaller, cheaper and follow a less regular pattern of use than tanks, helicopters, large boats and so on, do not use gas turbine engines, regardless of the size and power advantages imminently available.
Published - July 2009
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