Since the turn of the last century, natural gas has been growing in popularity across the board as a fuel for power generation. Power from natural gas has traditionally been a relatively clean way to augment other sources of power, including renewables such as solar and wind. More recently, owing to lower prices and an increasing aversion to energy sources such as coal, methane-based gas has also been growing in appeal for baseload operations.
Harnessing the power of natural gas is the bailiwick of turbines, which have lately been going through exciting developments. The key word seemingly on everyone’s mind in the industry is efficiency. The race to build more efficient turbines has been gaining momentum over the past decade and does not seem to be slowing down. The major turbine manufacturers are in close competition to produce the most efficient machine in the marketplace.
Siemens, one of the major players in industrial turbines, originally held the industry lead with its SGT5-8000H. The company’s “Fortuna” plant, located near Düsseldorf, set a record, achieving a net energy conversion efficiency of approximately 61.5 percent.[i] (Another Siemens plant, this one in Irsching, Southern Germany, had held the record, and had been first to break the 60 percent threshold.[ii]) Siemens’ reign would not last, however, and they would eventually cede the lead position to a rival.
GE is currently powering the most efficient plant in the world – its 9HA.01 gas turbine. With a 62.22 percent efficiency rating, the plant, located in Bouchain, France, has set the mark for a combined-cycle power plant. The feat was so groundbreaking that even the Guinness Book of World Records includes Bouchain in its pages.[iii] The stage, however, has recently been set for another efficiency milestone.
At Power-Gen 2016, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) unveiled their M501JAC turbine, which is slated to break the 63 percent efficiency mark. Based on the J-series steam-cooled turbines, the JAC is an enhanced air-cooled derivative that has gone through extensive testing. In over 11,000 hours of commercial operation, the turbine achieved a 99.5 percent reliability rating.[iv] We have yet to see whether the turbine can indeed break GE’s record, but we can look at its cousins for some reference.
The M501JAC is derived from the steam-cooled M501J and the air-cooled system of the M501GAC.[v] According to MHPS’ catalogue, the M501J currently has a 62.0 percent efficiency rating in a combined-cycle layout.[vi] The previous G models, the M501G and M501GAC, have efficiencies of 58.4 percent and 59.5 percent, respectively.[vii] The significant increase in efficiency from the G to the GAC, when extrapolated to the J-series, looks promising. Breaking the 63 percent barrier appears to be within reach.
If MHPS does indeed raise the bar, the quest for more efficient machines will not be over. Just this past year, the U.S. Department of Energy selected for funding six projects that aim to increase efficiency to 65 percent.[viii] As we have seen, technology and the people behind it are well on their way.
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[i] “Siemens sets new world records at Düsseldorf power plant “Fortuna”,” Siemens, accessed January 20, 2017, http://www.siemens.com/press/en/feature/2014/corporate/2014-02-lausward.php?content=Corp&content=PG
[ii] “Siemens gas turbine breaks 60% efficiency barrier,” Plant Engineering, accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.plantengineering.com/industry-news/automation-news/single-article/siemens-gas-turbine-breaks-60-efficiency-barrier/42c56242c5c0ba803ab7fc5aa0d00336.html
[iii] “Most efficient combined cycle power plant,” Guinness World Records, accessed January 20, 2017, http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/431420-most-efficient-combined-cycle-power-plant
[v] “Development of 1600°C-Class High-efficiency Gas Turbine for Power Generation Applying J-Type Technology,”
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.mhi-global.com/company/technology/review/pdf/e503/e503001.pdf
[vi] “MHPS Gas Turbine M501J/M701J,” Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.mhps.com/en/catalogue/pdf/mhps_gas_turbine_m501j_m701j.pdf
[viii] “NETL Awards $30 Million in Project Funds to Achieve 65% CCGT Efficiency,” Power Engineering, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2016/07/netl-awards-30-million-in-project-funds-to-achieve-65-ccgt-efficiency.html