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Full Steam Ahead!

Posted September 23, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Steam is responsible for generating 80% of the world's power. It's required for coal, combined-cycle natural gas, nuclear, geothermal, and even concentrated solar plants. Steam has played a key role in power generation for nearly 100 years, so what does the future hold for this venerable technology? Engineering360 dives deep into the history of steam turbines, noting basic designs haven't changed much at all, before looking at possible enhancements to existing techniques and systems. Will these turbines still factor in if renewable energy replaces traditional sources? And why has no other technology proven as effective at transforming thermal energy to mechanical energy?


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#1

Re: Full Steam Ahead!

09/23/2016 4:53 PM

It is primarily that steam turbines can take variable steam rates, still rotate at synchronous speed and extract work from the mass flow. The work being done per unit time is balanced against the electric power output from the generator at all times, or the thing would certainly grind to a halt, or trip on over speed.

Thus far, no one has come up with any other revolutionary device to utilize steam in the same way, at the same scale, with the same or better reliability, and with the same or better efficiency. Maybe somehow that is just around the corner? I don't know, because the principles are sound, repeatable, well-known, including the tweaks to get more out of the steam before having to condense it to liquid.

The only improvement would be to get rid of the latency of steam-water system, and shift everything over to supercritical CO2, and this is starting to emerge in power plants.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Full Steam Ahead!

09/24/2016 10:57 AM

Let's not forget that steam doesn't generally create pollution issues even though it is the largest "greenhouse" gas.

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Guru
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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Full Steam Ahead!

09/24/2016 3:15 PM

Yes, but what makes the steam (coal, natural gas) does, each with its own contributions.

Greenhouse gas is a misnomer anyway. CO2 and other gases do not blanket the atmosphere at all. They absorb and re-radiate all incoming radiation according to the laws of physics. True the radiation may be coming from below (the part "we" are concerned about), but it gets radiated in all directions, so there is some probability of the radiation being sent back where it came from (not necessarily at the same wavelength).

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#2

Re: Full Steam Ahead!

09/24/2016 3:36 AM

Has any work been performed to find a medium that expands at a much lower temperature or one that expands far greater in order to reduce the energy used?

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#5
In reply to #2

Re: Full Steam Ahead!

09/24/2016 3:18 PM

Look at SSC, Supercritical carbon dioxide. The low temperature fluid is nearly a liquid, and the compressor looks more like a pump than a turbine compressor. By far, this will do the work in the future, whether it is Fossil fuel closed Brayton cycle, or nuclear, or solar (CSP using molten salts as heat storage medium).

Since the SSC does not need to pass the liquidus line on the low end of the cycle, there is not nearly the vast amount of waste heat to eliminate as in steam cycle.

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