DOE research grant leads to gas turbine manufacturing improvements

Source: US Department of Energy

Research sponsored by the US Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has led to a new licensing agreement that will improve the performance of state-of-the-art gas turbines, resulting in cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy. The collaborative technology license agreement, penned by Mikro Systems Inc. and Siemens Energy Inc., reflects growth in US-based manufacturing know-how and leadership in cutting-edge technology development and rapid implementation.  

Gas turbines, which are used to produce electricity for industrial or central power generation applications, consist sequentially of compressor, combustor, and turbine sections. Incoming air is compressed to a high-pressure state in the compressor section, and heated to high temperature via 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 gas’ energy into mechanical work. Improved airfoils—the focus of Mikro System’s FE-funded research—can tolerate higher gas temperatures and/or use less cooling, resulting in improved energy efficiency. 

Mikro Systems received a Small Business Innovation Research grant to apply its patented Tomo-Lithographic Molding (TOMOSM) technology to gas turbine airfoils. 

TOMO is a manufacturing platform that enables rapid, cost-effective development and production of high-performance products made from metals, ceramics, polymers, and composite material systems. Applied to gas turbines, it enables more sophisticated airfoil designs with improved cooling characteristics, which leads to higher operating temperatures and improved efficiency. 

In addition to enabling designs that were previously impossible to manufacture, the technology will reduce time-to-market for future design enhancements through reduced tooling costs, reduced production lead times, and more efficient manufacturing processes. 

Under the new licensing agreement, Siemens Energy and Mikro Systems will work together to validate and certify TOMO technology for use in commercial production of stationary and moving airfoil components. This will include production trials and application-specific component testing. Siemens Energy will establish a field office near Mikro Systems’ Virginia facilities to support Mikro Systems’ commercialization efforts and add domestic jobs. Successful commercialization of this novel technology will create additional jobs in this high-tech industry. 
Mikro Systems’ strategy is to apply the technology to a wide range of gas turbine applications, including commercial and military aviation engines, and next-generation turbines for use in integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and natural gas combined cycle power plants. 

TOMO technology is also contributing to Siemens Energy’s ARRA-funded 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.

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