Engineers at General Electric and the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) have designed, built and tested the world’s highest-temperature supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) turbine, boosting the prospect of greater CSP plant efficiency, SWRI said in a statement April 8.

The new high-temperature supercritical carbon dioxide turbine could achieve 50% thermal efficiency in CSP plants. (Image credit: SWRI)

The 10 MW turbine is the “size of a desk” and has yielded the highest power density for an industrial turbine, SWRI said.

“Most conventional CSP systems operate at a thermal efficiency of 35 to 40%. The newly designed turbine with the sCO2 power cycle can approach a 50% efficiency,” Jeffrey Moore, principal investigator for the project, said.

The turbine can withstand the tough operating conditions of Concentrated Solar Power plants and is scalable to as much as 450 MW, SWRI said.

“This will not only improve [CSP] plant efficiency but also improve the efficiency of fossil and nuclear power plants, as well as lower the cost of waste heat recovery and energy storage,” it said.

The researchers will incorporate a variation of the turbine into the Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP) 10 MW demonstration plant, a sCO2 pilot plant currently under construction at SwRI’s headquarters in San Antonio. The $119 million STEP program aims to demonstrate a fully-integrated sCO2 power plant can generate power at higher efficiency and lower cost and produce less carbon emissions, than conventional plants.