Network drives turbine technology to new highs

Gas turbine technology should be focused on high efficiency and flexibility to accommodate part load operation and quick start-ups and shutdowns, yet the sector is suffering from R&D under-investment, according to Christer Bjàƒ¶rkqvist, managing director of the European Turbine Network.

PEi: There are a number of associations in Europe that are dedicated to the conventional turbine (gas and steam) sector. What makes the European Turbine Network [ETN] different?

CB: What makes ETN unique is that we represent the whole value chain of the stationary gas turbine technology community in Europe, including users, such as in power generation and CHP, as well as oil & gas, OEMs, universities, R&D institutes, consultants, service providers and equipment suppliers. ETN therefore forms a very powerful and focused association with a diverse expertise on gas turbine technology and markets, enabling us to set up EU- [European Union] and industry-funded collaborative pre-competitive research projects. ETN also has vast experience in initiating and coordinating projects.

Bjàƒ¶rkqvist says the ETN plays a key role in promoting co-operative efforts to achieve R&D advances
Bjàƒ¶rkqvist says the ETN plays a key role in promoting co-operative efforts to achieve R&D advances

PEi: How does ETN serve the European gas turbine industry and the users of the technology, in particular power generators and utilities?

CB: Users are very much at the forefront of ETN’s activities and one of the key functions of the association is to act as a platform where users can bring ideas, initiate projects and solve common problems and technical issues their organisations are faced with. With its diverse membership, ETN is well positioned to address these issues. Furthermore, being based in Brussels, at the heart of the European decision-making process, we have strong links with the EU institutions and can influence the political agenda on energy and research policy, as well as research and technology development (RTD) programmes.

PEi: What impact, if any, has the current Eurozone economic crisis had on the gas turbine industry?

CB: In Europe there has been a slowdown in growth and a temporary decrease in investment in equipment. However, the gas turbine industry has not been affected deeply by the financial crisis due to its international nature. The gas turbine market on a global scale has been quite strong, stable and resilient to the economic slowdown, although the cogeneration sector has certainly suffered to some extent as a result of lack of demand from the industrial sector. Another impact that we see is that investments in combined-cycle power plants are currently favoured over investments in other power plants as a result of the lower capital investment costs, shorter construction times and lower risks.

PEi: All the indications are that the EU is heading towards setting a binding energy efficiency target. How can ETN help power generator and utilities remain competitive while still meeting any such target?

CB: ETN can play an important role for power generators and utilities by initiating increased co-operative efforts that can bring the required technical R&D advancements quicker to the market. Cycle efficiency is one of the key technology issues that ETN addresses in its technical committees, but also of importance are operational flexibility, reliability and availability, which must also be taken into account. Within ETN we therefore also focus on materials degradation, condition monitoring, instrumentation and control, as well as asset management. By working together on the technology challenges and innovative solutions in the above areas, we will increase the chances of meeting the efficiency targets and at a lower cost, which would increase competitiveness at the same time.

PEi: Last year was significant for the gas turbine industry, with several OEMs demonstrating efficiency in combined-cycle topping 60 per cent. How fuel efficient can gas turbines become? Is the next industry milestone a 70 per cent efficient machine?

CB: At present, we believe a more realistic target would be the development of a combined-cycle with 65 per cent efficiency. However, with the increasing share of variable renewable energy sources (RES) in the grid, a key focus of R&D should now be on achieving high levels of efficiency in machines running flexibly to accommodate part load operation and quick start-ups and shutdowns. We also believe that ” in order to maintain grid stability ” reliability and availability should not be compromised while looking at further increasing efficiency.

An overview of the H2-IGCC project, aimed at providing and demonstrating technical solutions to enable the use of state-of-the-art, highly efficient, reliable gas turbines in the next generation of IGCC plants
An overview of the H2-IGCC project, aimed at providing and demonstrating technical solutions to enable the use of state-of-the-art, highly efficient, reliable gas turbines in the next generation of IGCC plants

PEi: Does ETN share the commonly held view that the exploitation of Europe’s shale gas reserves will be a game-changer for the region’s energy landscape, and in particular its power generation mix?

CB: We do not envisage a shale gas revolution on a par with that in the US. In Europe, we face a different set of circumstances including political uncertainties and environmental risks to be mitigated before it is hailed as a ‘game-changer’. Europe has different geological formations (shale gas exists at much greater depths in the bedrock than in the US) and the population density in Europe is much higher than that of the US. We realise that shale gas exploitation must be demonstrated as being safe prior to achieving widespread public acceptance. Nevertheless, we do see great potential in shale gas exploitation and we believe it can have some impact on Europe’s energy landscape by 2020. What we also see is that the significant use of shale gas in the US will make more LNG [liquefied natural gas] available for the rest of the world, which will have a lowering effect on price and make natural gas more attractive for power generation.

PEi: What are the other major factors driving advances in gas turbine technology?

CB: ETN believes that currently natural gas interchangeability and the intermittency of variable RES are the main driving forces of technology development. ETN has published two position papers outlining these issues. Varying natural gas quality is increasingly an issue in Europe because of rising imports by pipeline and of LNG, as well as growing cross-border trading. In 2009, ETN raised this issue with the European Commission, which has been looking at possible co-ordination at EU level. In addition, the increasing share of intermittent RES also poses new challenges for the industry. ETN published another position paper on the technological impact of incorporating large volumes of variable renewable energy into the electricity grid, examining the problems that will spring from this, as well as possible solutions. European and global emissions regulation will also play an important role in the longer term.

PEi: In the ETN’s opinion, is there sufficient investment being made into gas turbine research and development in Europe? If not, what is preventing this investment and how should this be addressed?

CB: ETN published the above-mentioned two position papers because we believe that there is currently a significant under-investment in gas turbine RTD in Europe, especially in view of the new requirements of flexible operation together with high efficiency and low emissions. Therefore higher levels of investment in research and demonstration are required to ensure higher efficiency, lower emissions and reliable, more flexible operation. ETN is also contributing to a joint initiative with other European associations representing advanced fossil fuel power generation, by publishing a new general position paper calling for the inclusion of reliable, flexible and efficient fossil fuels in the EU’s new R&D funding framework, the Horizon 2020.

PEi: ETN clearly plays an important role in advancing gas turbine technology. One particularly interesting initiative is the H2-IGCC project. What is the project about and what are its main objectives?

CB: H2-IGCC is a major research project costing €17.8 million ($23.3 million), where ETN is the co-ordinator, which is co-funded by the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development. The project aims to advance the ‘technology-readiness’ of all aspects when burning hydrogen-rich syngas in gas turbines, including developing combustion processes, materials, turbomachinery and optimising the whole plant. The overall objective of the project is to provide and demonstrate technical solutions for the use of state-of-the-art, highly efficient and reliable gas turbines in the next generation of integrated gasification combined-cycle plants.

PEi: What major advances in gas turbine technology does ETN expect to see in the next 10″15 years?

CB: Over the next 10″15 years, we believe you can expect to see more flexible operability in gas turbines with higher efficiency and lower emissions at part load. We also envisage adapting the technology to increase fuel flexibility, without adversely impacting the reliability or emissions of the gas turbine. Hybridisation of concentrated solar power (CSP) with gas turbines is also a new development route that will be explored and demonstrated in different projects within this timeframe.

The 6th International Gas Turbine Conference

ETN will host The Future of Gas Turbine Technology (IGFC-12) conference in Belgium, Belgium, on 17″18 October 2012. The biennial event will examine the future of gas turbine technology from the perspective of users, researchers, investors and politicians.

A special focus will be placed on: the role gas turbines might play in a future international power scenario with far more intermittent renewable and far less nuclear capacity, as well as soaring demand from emerging economies; current and future technology trends; and stakeholders’ views on the technology developments needed for efficient, flexible, reliable and environmentally sound gas turbine operation.

IGFC-12 is aimed at raising awareness of gas turbine technology development needs, and providing an opportunity for its attendees to meet and exchange ideas with policymakers and gas turbine specialists from the whole value chain from Europe, US and Asia.

ETN intends that the conference will enhance international co-operation and promote the demonstration and implementation of innovative technologies for more efficient and environment-friendly gas turbines.

The keynote sessions will be devoted to the contribution of gas turbine technology development to climate change mitigation, emissions reduction, energy efficiency and to the flexible, integrated operation of electricity grids. Energy policies and initiatives for GT technology development in Europe and globally will be presented, followed by a panel discussion with distinguished experts and high-level policymakers.

In parallel technical sessions, the conference will address critical R&D activities necessary for advancing gas turbine technology, from both operational and environmental perspectives. Recent technology advances and new, innovative solutions will be explored. The technical sessions will feature a mix of research initiatives and reports of real case applications, with the aim of giving a balanced view of the future needs for research in gas turbine applications.

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