Supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycles impact renewable power

Adrienne SorensenAugust 22, 20187280

Supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycles impact renewable power 

The DOE SunShot loop is created to show very efficient turbine expander and recuperator performance for advanced supercritical carbon dioxide concentrating clean power cycles.

Create more electricity for a given amount of heat

Supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycles have the potential to decrease the price of concentrating solar power (CSP) by improving the efficiency of converting high temperature solar heat into electricity. Through three SunShot Initiative-funded projects, GE Global Research (GE) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have taken steps toward commercializing the technology. Using sCO2, carbon dioxide combines characteristics of liquids and gases as the fluid in turbine power cycles aides to improve CSP plant efficiency. sCO2 is heated over 700 °C to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Using similar thermal energy inputs as a traditional CSP plant, a sCO2 power cycle creates more electricity for a given amount of heat, improving plant efficiency and lowering the  cost of electricity. Because of the physical characteristics of sCO2, the turbines are smaller than traditional steam-powered turbomachinery. This results in less material utilization, reduced upfront capital prices, and aides to create the plant to be more economical.

To accelerate this research, SwRI and GE focused on critical spaces in creating the technology to be more reliable. The duo invented a critical component for the sCO2Brayton cycle: a high-efficiency sCO2hot-gas turbo-expander. The turbo-expander with flow of sCO2 to mimic real-world, variable generation scenarios at the 1 megawatt (MW) scale is being tested to ensure performance as expected.  In conjunction SunShot awarded two projects to the GE and SwRI team to create parts for sCO2 technology. In one, GE created prediction models to confirm the long-term reliability of the bearings and seals to ensure the 30-year lifetime required for the turbomachinery. In the second, the team is working on an optimal compression system to help a sCO2 power block work at a variety of temperatures and pressures. 

Feasibility of this high-efficiency, economical power cycle 

Due to the team’s success at investing CSP technology to be more efficient, the Energy Department selected GE, SwRI, and the Gas Technology Institute for an $80 million award to create a 10 MW pilot facility in San Antonio. The team will customize, create, and display the feasibility of this high-efficiency, economical power cycle. The new award will take the design and testing phase to demonstrate at the utility-scale level which is the last steps to commercialization. Successfully proving the viability of the technology goes beyond the renewable energy generation. It can be also used for geothermal, nuclear, and fossil technologies. If successful, the facility has the potential to be  more efficient and reducing costs.  

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