There are places in the world that make us feel small and force us to marvel at the skills and ambitions of their architects and engineers. They include cathedrals in Europe, NASA’s Cape Canaveral rocket launch pad or the Panama Canal. GE’s gas turbine plant in Greenville, S.C., may not be on everyone’s list. But it comes close.
The plant’s several manufacturing halls – equivalent in size to nearly 21 football fields – strike most first-time visitors as the playroom of a giant toddler. Massive yellow gantry cranes lift multi-ton rotors and stators gleaming like alien silver sunflowers. They flip them around their axis, and stack them on shafts the diameter and length of tree trunks.
The place smells of high-grade steel and pulses with an industrial symphony of electrical motors cutting in and out. Computer-guided milling machines larger than delivery trucks use jagged cutting heads drenched in white cooling liquid to shape huge turbine wheels.
The plant, which opened in 1968, even has its own railroad spur and also America’s largest train turntable to move the finished turbines around.
There’s also a natural gas plant that supplies a unique test stand designed to push turbines to the limit and withstand hot wind jetting out of them at 1,100 mph – 10 times faster than a Category 3 hurricane.
The place also has a 70,000-square-foot lab replete with 3D printers and powerful lasers. Engineers use them to develop and test parts for next-generation machines like the air-cooled Harriet 9HA turbine – the world’s largest and most efficient gas turbine. Although the facility is strictly off limits to outsiders, GE Reports recently got a tour. Take a look.
Two gas turbine shafts suspended in the air with stacked compressor and turbine rotors
A gas turbine of the half-shell. This image shows silver compressor blades in the front and turbines blades in the back.
Thailand’s star has been on the rise for quite some time. Within the span of a single generation, social and economic progress has propelled it from a low to upper-middle-income level and the country’s poverty rate has been cut almost in half. But while capital has been pouring in, reliable electricity is still hard to come by.
It’s the same story all over the developing world. Power plants are expensive and take time to build. In a place like Thailand, things get even more complicated—the country’s large cities are separated by long expanses of dense forest dotted by tiny villages.
Thailand has tackled electrification by implementing alternative energy projects and by demanding better energy efficiency, both by consumers and producers. Now, a Thai company called Gulf Energy Development has just announced the next big investment to supply the energy to Bangkok. It has placed an order for six cutting-edge GE gas turbines built especially to produce power in challenging situations.
“There is demand for power everywhere, but there is also demand for environmental responsibility,” says Sherif Mohamed, an engineer with GE Power & Water. “Nowadays, you need power, but you also need higher efficiency, flexibility and reliability in any power generation project.”
The gas turbines, which GE calls LM6000-PF+ (above and below), are highly efficient machines built around technology originally developed for aircraft engines.
Workers can install these “aeroderivatives” – the name hints at their aviation heritage – and start generating electricity in as little as three months, a feat GE most recently pulled off in Egypt.
The turbines operate with an industry-leading 56 percent efficiency and an burn both gas and liquid fuel. A single unit can pump out up to 58 megawatts of electricity, enough for the equivalent of 50,000 homes. Each unit has a small footprint of around 350 square meters so that it can be installed in places where space is limited.
Just like a jet engine on a runway, the turbines can quickly kick into high gear when power is needed. “For the Gulf Energy Development project, we should be able to reach full power – about 300 megawatts between all six units – from a cold start in 10 minutes,” says Nasser Chraibi, the product line manager at GE Power & Water. “Many places throughout the developing world need this kind of flexibility.”
The turbine’s winning attributes also stem from the fact that the expertise of four different GE businesses. The company calls this approach to innovation the GE Store. New jet engine technologies in the gas turbine come from GE Aviation. The gearbox that connects the turbine to the generator is being developed by GE’s Oil & Gas business. The generator and advanced control software comes out of GE Energy Management.
Ravi Kurmahorita, an executive vice president for Gulf Energy Development said his company would be the first market in the world to get the new power-producing turbine. GE plans to start deliveries next year.
It takes a tiny electric motor to vibrate all 4.55 ounces of an iPhone 6. But the engineers who are vibrating 80-pound gas turbine compressor blades to test their strength at GE’s component test laboratory in Greenville, SC, need a much bigger rig.
They bolt the blades to a heavy-duty table that vibrates faster than the eye can see. The setup subjects the blades to acceleration forces approaching 10 g, double what a racecar driver might experience when making a turn at a motorway.
The high-pitched whine in the video below, for example, is caused by a 20-inch blade made from a nickel super-alloy vibrating hard enough to displace the tip by up to a few inches for more than a million cycles.
Why is GE being so hard on this blade? Subjecting new components to extreme vibration helps designers make sure they will be able to handle extreme conditions.
Bert Stuck, general manager for GE’s power generation engineering component and development testing, says the test is meant to ensure that the part will be reliable in any situation a customer might experience.
Eventually, the team vibrates the blade to the point of failure. A pass in this test is equal to a break in the precise spot where engineers calculated it would be.
Vibration is just one of the many tests that Stuck’s team performs on newly designed components, before moving on to testing entire compressors and turbines.
(GE recently opened the world’s largest dedicated turbine test bed in Greenville. Since the test bed is not connected to the grid, it can do things to turbines that could otherwise destabilize or damage the power network.)
“We test [blades] to failure so we can determine what the design margins actually are, and make sure they match what we predicted,” Stuck says.
From 2001 to 2005, California experienced severe power shortages that led to rolling blackouts. This was a result of unwise electric energy policy, Enron energy trading fraud, and decades-long onerous restrictions on permissions for generating plants.
(The SPRINT system is designed for natural gas firing with turbine inlet temperatures of 1300ºC)
This worsened in 2005 and Californians had to endure sweltering afternoons for days. Consequently, permissions were granted for about 50 power plants, and 22 were installed within a year’s time.
Most of these were peaking plants, with low-capital cost, high-fuel cost, natural gas-fired, and had low emissions. They could be run for as little as two hours per day and had rapid load pickup, as fast as 50 MW in 10 minutes. Moreover, these machines didn’t require additional high-voltage lines and their footprint was similar to that of a substation, and they could be sited readily.
Around this time, GE rolled out CF6-80C2 turbo-fan engines for Boeing 747s, 767s and other aircraft. The engine could produce 72,000 pounds of thrust, was reliable and efficient, and its cost had fallen due to high-volume production. Its power rating was just right for peakers.
GE engineers saw this as a peaker application, which could also be used in high-speed ferries. Adopting the CF6 core technology, most of the parts were used directly in designing the aeroderivative LM6000PC SPRINT (Spray Inter-cooled Turbine). As a simple-cycle unit, it is rated at 48 MW. If the exhaust heat is sent to a steam boiler and this steam sent to a steam turbine with its own generator (combined cycle), it can generate up to 80 MW.
Designed for natural gas firing with turbine inlet temperatures of 1300ºC (2372ºF), engineers injected steam into the gas burners to keep NOx emissions down (Iron melts at 1200ºC and steel softens at 540ºC.) Further, the SPRINT system injected atomized water into the compressor to cool the air thereby reducing the power needed by the compressor, and provided more power to the generator.
As this unit was basically off the shelf, GE could deliver the turbine-generator unit within 70 days, and California’s companies snapped them up like hotcakes, with most orders going for peakers.
The LM6000PC SPRINT has a low-pressure compressor on the same spool as the low-pressure turbine and the electrical generator. This spool turns at 3600 RPM, providing 60-cycle power. It has a high-pressure compressor on the same spool as the high-pressure turbine turning at speeds up to 10,350 RPM. The two compressors produce a pressure ratio of 29 to 1. Air flow is 125 kilograms per second. Thermal efficiency is greater than 42 percent (simple cycle) and up to 55 percent (combined cycle).
The machine needs 8,047 BTUs of natural gas to produce one kWH of electricity. The current cost of natural gas is $4.45 per million BTUs. Hence the current fuel cost for a simple cycle peaker kilowatt hour is 3.6 cents, which is a commendable portion of the current cost of residential electricity in California (16.2 cents).
This story has a happy ending. People in California can now stay cool on hot afternoons.
Rolls-Royce has recently announced (6th May 2014) that it has signed an agreement to sell its Energy gas turbine and compressor business to Siemens for a £785 million cash consideration.
The business being sold supplies aero-derivative gas turbines, compressor systems and related services to customers in the Oil and Gas and Power Generation sectors.
On completion of the transaction, Rolls-Royce will receive a further £200 million for a 25 year licensing agreement, granting Siemens access to relevant Rolls-Royce aero-derivative technology for use in the 4 to 85 megawatt power output gas turbine range.
Rolls-Royce’s Energy gas turbine and compressor business has around 2,400 employees. In 2013, it was reported within the results of the Energy business where it contributed £871 million of revenue and £72 million of underlying profit. Siemens’ Energy sector has around 83,500 employees and in 2013 contributed revenue of €26.6 billion and underlying profit of €1.9 billion.
John Rishton, Rolls-Royce, CEO, said: “This agreement will give the Energy business greater opportunities as part of a much larger energy company and allows Rolls-Royce to concentrate on the areas of business where we can add most value.”
The transaction excludes certain smaller Power Generation sector assets. On completion of the transaction, Rolls-Royce’s shareholding in the Rolls Wood Group (RWG) joint venture, that provides maintenance, repair and overhaul services, will be transferred to Siemens.
The transaction has been approved by the boards of directors of Rolls-Royce and Siemens, and is expected to complete before the end of December 2014, subject to closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.
GE announced today that it made a binding offer to acquire the thermal power, renewable energy and electricity grid businesses of the French engineering conglomerate Alstom for $13.5 billion in cash.
GE said in a press release that the Alstom board “positively received” its offer and appointed a committee of independent directors to review the bid by June 2. The deal is expected to close in 2015.
Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO, said in a statement that the strategic bid would allow GE to boost its presence and scale in the growing global power generation sector. Immelt said power and water was “core to the future of GE” and one of the company’s “higher growth and [higher] margin industrial segments.”
The International Energy Agency estimates that global electricity generation will double by 2030 (see infographic). More than 50 percent of new power capacity over the next decade will come from gas and steam turbines, the technology that forms the crux of the deal.
Patrick Kron, Alstom’s chairman and CEO, said that “the combination of the very complementary energy businesses of Alstom and GE will create a more competitive entity to better service customer needs.” He said that Alstom’s employees would join “a well-known, major global player with the means to invest in people and technology to support worldwide energy customers over the long term.”
Kron said that the deal would allow Alstom to expand its transport business as a standalone company. A strong balance sheet would give it the ability to capitalize on opportunities in the dynamic rail transport market.
Immelt said that Alstom’s energy businesses were “very complementary in technology, operations, and geography” to GE’s power and grid businesses. “We expect a collaborative and prompt integration that will yield efficiencies in supply chain, service infrastructure, commercial reach, and new product development,” Immelt said.
GE expects that fast integration will generate more than $1.2 billion in annual synergies within five years and that the transaction will be “immediately accretive” for GE shareholders.
Alstom’s power business had €11 billion in sales ($15 billion) in fiscal year 2013 and employes 46,000 workers in France, U.K. and other countries.
“Alstom, like GE, is a company built on engineering, innovation and technology,” Immelt said. “We respect and value the deep industry and technology expertise of Alstom employees and expect them to add to our proven track record of developing talent and leadership in France and globally.”
This is not the first time the two companies meet. In fact, both GE and Alstom grew out of common roots.
The content of this ELE News article is from a blog post by GE REPORTS