September 24, 2009

GE Working on Pulse Detonation For 65% Efficient Natural Gas Power Generation Turbines

MIT Technology Review interview with Michael Idelchik, vice president of advanced technologies at GE Research.

Pulse detonation technology, or supersonic combustion. With this one, rather than burning fuel at constant pressure, you let the pressure rise, so basically you generate a shock wave; you're releasing heat in a detonation. An existing turbine burns at constant pressure. With detonation, pressure is rising, and the total energy available for the turbine increases. We see the potential of 30 percent fuel-efficiency improvement. Of course realization, including all the hardware around this process, would reduce this.

I think it will be anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent. That's percentage points--say from 59 to 60 percent efficient to 65 percent efficient. We have other technology that will get us close [to that] but no other technology that can get so much at once. It's very revolutionary technology.

The first application will definitely be land-based--it will be power generation at a natural-gas power plant.

You detonate anywhere from 50 to 80 hertz. Then you have unsteady flow going into the turbine. So you need to rethink how your turbine works. You don't have a steady flow anymore.

You have to look at the mechanical stability, vibrational analysis. You have to protect the compressor; detonation happens in both directions, so you have to close one end. So controls and synchronization of the detonation chambers become a really big challenge as well. You have to absorb the energy from detonation and convert it to shaft horsepower. That has to be done very well, otherwise you can lose everything in the turbine. What blade design and nozzle design will allow you to extract the most horsepower?

Multiscale models and simulations--from nanoseconds all the way up to 20 to 30 milliseconds is needed to create this kind of system. Evolution of valve technology and materials to go with that. Understanding how to design a robust detonation tube, how to produce detonation consistently and operate within the load range of the turbine, from idle to max power.

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