GE engineers have developed a turbine that is no bigger than the size of an average desk yet can produce enough power for an average town.

Designed by GE Global Research, the turbine uses superheated carbon dioxide and could be a breakthrough technology in terms of cleaner, more efficient power generation into the future.

Doug Hofer, lead engineer on the project, said, “The world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power. The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both.”
Model of GE Research micro turbine
MIT Tech Review reports the turbine is driven by ‘supercritical carbon dioxide’, which is kept under high pressure at temperatures of 700˚C. Under these conditions, the CO2 enters a physical state between a gas and liquid, enabling the turbine to harness its energy for super-efficient power generation, with turbines transferring 50 per cent of the heat into power.

Waste heat produced from other power generation methods, such as nuclear power stations or solar could be used to generate molten salt to heat carbon dioxide gas to a supercriticial liquid for the new turbines – which may be much quicker than heating water for steam.

The design of the turbine would enable up to 10 MW of energy to be produced, but it could be scaled up to 500 MW, enough to power a city. It could also help energy firms take waste gas and repurpose it for efficient and cleaner energy production.

GE confirmed the power cycle is a closed loop which circulates the CO2 continuously around the cycle, and that there are no waste products from the system when used with solar energy.

The team is reportedly working with US government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the US Department of Energy.

The technology is still in its early phase, but researchers hope to put the turbine through its paces later this year, with a view to industrial scale roll-out.

‘With energy demand expected to rise by 50 percent over the next two decades, we can’t afford to wait for new, cleaner energy solutions to power the planet,’ explained Hofer. ‘We have to innovate now and make energy generation as efficient as possible.”