We see it in cell phones and computers. As technology advances, it often gets smaller.
GE Global Research is now testing a turbine about the size of a desk that could power a small town of about 10,000 homes.
Doug Hofer, a GE engineer in charge of the project, shows a model of the tiny turbine.
Most turbines are driven by steam, requiring them to be much larger. But this one is driven by “supercritical carbon dioxide,” which is highly pressurized and extremely hot (up to 700 °C). The CO2 is so hot and pressurized that it forms something called a supercritical fluid, which is technically neither a liquid nor a gas, but rather, in a way, both.
The turbine is projected to be over 5 percent more efficient than steam turbines in the process of converting heat into electricity. Even more promising, the GE prototype is 10 megawatts, but the company would like to scale it up to 33 megawatts.
“The key thing will come down to economics,” says Doug Hofer, the GE engineer in charge of the project. While there’s work ahead, he says, “at this point we think our economic story is favorable compared to batteries.”