Apr 13, 2016 | By Alec

Though it’s not something you often think about when plugging in your laptop and turning on your coffee maker, supporting an ever-growing energy grid is actually a huge challenge that is stretching our energy sources to their limits. Experts are therefore hard at work trying to find the next generation of energy generators that can adequately support our electricity addiction, and GE might have just found a solution. Using 3D printing, they have developed a working prototype turbine that is small enough to fit on your desk, and yet has the potential to produce power for around 10,000 homes. What’s more, the turbine is completely clean as it uses heat waste from other energy sources. Could this be the turbine of the future?

Of course GE isn’t a stranger to 3D printing, as they frequently use metal 3D printing to develop new products. In 2015, they opened a 3D printing factory in India worth $200 million, and just last week a new additive manufacturing facility opened in Pittsburgh as well. While those facilities use metal 3D printing frequently, this new and very efficient turbine was actually modeled in plastic by engineers at GE Global Research in Albany, New York, before a functional metal prototype was made. In the photo above, the project’s lead engineer Doug Hofer can be seen holding up their 3D printed plastic model with ease, while its functional brother would weigh around 150 pounds – still very light for a turbine.

But the real revolution isn’t in the design process; it’s in how this turbine generates power. Rather than steam, which is typically used to set turbines in motion, this desk-sized creation uses ‘supercritical carbon dioxide’. This is essentially carbon dioxide stored under high pressures at temperatures of 700˚C. In that condition, the CO2 exists in a state somewhere between gas and liquid, and is extremely efficient at generating power. Where most steam turbines transfer about 40 percent of the heat into energy, this new innovation reaches numbers of around 50 percent thanks to better heat-transfer properties. It’s also much quicker. While a steam turbine takes up to 30 minutes to get cranked up, this carbon dioxide setup does the job in just a minute or two.

But perhaps more importantly, the carbon dioxide doesn’t produce waste. The substance is simply cooled, repressurized and then returns for another pass in the turbine. To do so, the substance can even use heat waste from other power sources, such as solar or nuclear. That heat is used to melt salts, which in turn is used to heat the carbon dioxide gas. This makes it an excellent option for making energy production as a whole more efficient and cleaner. “The world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power. The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both,” Hofer told dailymail. “This compact machine will allow us to do amazing things.”

Hofer further confirmed that this turbine’s power cycle can be used to create a fully closed loop when combined with Concentrated Solar Power (CPV) technology. This technology uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate that power, and can – unlike other photovoltaic technologies – be used for hours after the sun goes down. In such a setup, with the CO2 being circulated continuously, this turbine could theoretically be completely waste free. Furthermore, the turbine can even be used as part of energy grid storage setup, in which it is powered up or shut down quickly to cope with energy demand – something other renewable energy sources struggle with.

All these features make this next-gen turbine a very promising option indeed. Unfortunately, it is still in quite an early development phase. The team is currently working with the US Department of Energy and other government agencies to test the prototype, but they have already said the same desk-sized model could be scaled up to generate 500 megawatts – enough to power a whole city. Hopefully, most of the testing can be completed over 2016, after which GE can determine the turbine’s commercial viability. “The key thing will come down to economics,” Hofer says. “At this point we think our economic story is favorable compared to batteries.”

According to Hofer, this new energy efficient solution couldn’t come at a better time. “With energy demand expected to rise by 50 percent over the next two decades, we can't afford to wait for new, cleaner energy solutions to power the planet,” he argued. “We have to innovate now and make energy generation as efficient as possible. Programs like those we are working on with the US Department of Energy are helping us get there.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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bradon wrote at 4/19/2016 9:54:41 PM:

if it is finalized the power industry will be changed forever

Rao Shahid Ahmad wrote at 4/19/2016 1:24:58 PM:

Anxious 😩 to see the actual turbine soon in 2016

Robin Leech wrote at 4/14/2016 12:48:51 AM:

This reminds me of a design for a system that used propane etc. and (supposedly)worked by taking advantage of the volatile supercritical fluid properties so that one condensing tank (or more) would be heavier and one would be mostly vapor on the hot side with one way valves I guess, so it would basically move in and out of water/a solar heat source to turn a turbine.

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