DOE research to improve natural gas turbines commercialized by Siemens

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An airfoil manufacturing technology promises to improve the performance of natural gas turbines and has been commercialized through research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Siemens Energy Inc. licensed the technology in 2011. Siemens has now opened a new facility in Charlottesville, Va., employing Mikro Systems patented Tomo-Lithographic Molding (TOMOsm) manufacturing technology to manufacture improved airfoils.

DOE Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants funded the essential research and development that advanced the capabilities of TOMO technology, as well as the work that led to the technology's manufacturing readiness. The Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) managed the SBIR grants.

The technology is also contributing to Siemens Energy's Recover Act-funded, NETL-managed project to develop hydrogen turbines for coal-based IGCC power generation that will improve efficiency, reduce emissions, lower costs and allow for carbon capture and storage.

Gas turbines, which are used to produce power for industrial, utility and aerospace applications, consist sequentially of compressor, combustor and turbine sections. Incoming air is compressed to high pressure in the compressor section, and then heated to high temperature by the combustion of fuel in the combustor section. The high-temperature, high-pressure gas is then expanded through a series of rotor-mounted airfoils in the turbine section, converting the energy of the gas into mechanical work. Improved airfoils can tolerate higher gas temperatures and/or use less cooling air, resulting in improved energy efficiency.

Mikro Systems received DOE support to apply its TOMO technology to a range of turbine components, with the goal of improving the efficiency and performance of gas turbines used in power generation. The technology enables more sophisticated designs with improved cooling characteristics, which leads to higher operating temperatures and improved efficiency.

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