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The basic operation of the gas turbine is similar to that of the steam power plant except that air is used instead of water. Fresh atmospheric air flows through a compressor that brings it to higher pressure. Energy is then added by spraying fuel into the air and igniting it so the combustion generates a high-temperature flow. This high-temperature high-pressure gas enters a turbine, where it expands down to the exhaust pressure, producing a shaft work output in the process. The turbine shaft work is used to drive the compressor and other devices such as an electric generator that may be coupled to the shaft. The energy that is not used for shaft work comes out in the exhaust gases, so these have either a high temperature or a high velocity. The purpose of the gas turbine determines the design so that the most desirable energy form is maximized. Gas turbines are used to power aircraft, trains, ships, electrical generators, or even tanks.
Gases passing through an ideal gas turbine undergo three thermodynamic processes. These are isentropic compression, isobaric (constant pressure) combustion and isentropic expansion. Together, these make up the Brayton cycle.
In a practical gas turbine, gases are first accelerated in either a centrifugal or axial compressor. These gases are then slowed using a diverging nozzle known as a diffuser; these processes increase the pressure and temperature of the flow. In an ideal system, this is isentropic. However, in practice, energy is lost to heat, due to friction and turbulence. Gases then pass from the diffuser to a combustion chamber, or similar device, where heat is added. In an ideal system, this occurs at constant pressure (isobaric heat addition). As there is no change in pressure the specific volume of the gases increases. In practical situations this process is usually accompanied by a slight loss in pressure, due to friction. Finally, this larger volume of gases is expanded and accelerated by nozzle guide vanes before energy is extracted by a turbine. In an ideal system, these gases are expanded isentropically and leave the turbine at their original pressure. In practice this process is not isentropic as energy is once again lost to friction and turbulence.
If the device has been designed to power a shaft as with an industrial generator or a turboprop, the exit pressure will be as close to the entry pressure as possible. In practice it is necessary that some pressure remains at the outlet in order to fully expel the exhaust gases. In the case of a jet engine only enough pressure and energy is extracted from the flow to drive the compressor and other components. The remaining high pressure gases are accelerated to provide a jet that can, for example, be used to propel an aircraft.
As with all cyclic heat engines, higher combustion temperatures can allow for greater efficiencies. However, temperatures are limited by ability of the steel, nickel, ceramic, or other materials that make up the engine to withstand high temperatures and stresses. To combat this many turbines feature complex blade cooling systems.
As a general rule, the smaller the engine, the higher the rotation rate of the shaft(s) must be to maintain tip speed. Blade-tip speed determines the maximum pressure ratios that can be obtained by the turbine and the compressor. This, in turn, limits the maximum power and efficiency that can be obtained by the engine. In order for tip speed to remain constant, if the diameter of a rotor is reduced by half, the rotational speed must double. For example, large jet engines operate around 10,000 rpm, while micro turbines spin as fast as 500,000 rpm.
Mechanically, gas turbines can be considerably less complex than internal combustion piston engines. Simple turbines might have one moving part: the shaft/compressor/turbine/alternative-rotor assembly (see image above), not counting the fuel system. However, the required precision manufacturing for components and temperature resistant alloys necessary for high efficiency often make the construction of a simple turbine more complicated than piston engines.
More sophisticated turbines (such as those found in modern jet engines) may have multiple shafts (spools), hundreds of turbine blades, movable stator blades, and a vast system of complex piping, combustors and heat exchangers.
Thrust bearings and journal bearings are a critical part of design. Traditionally, they have been hydrodynamic oil bearings, or oil-cooled ball bearings. These bearings are being surpassed by foil bearings, which have been successfully used in micro turbines and auxiliary power units.
Airbreathing jet engines are gas turbines optimized to produce thrust from the exhaust gases, or from ducted fans connected to the gas turbines. Jet engines that produce thrust from the direct impulse of exhaust gases are often called turbojets, whereas those that generate thrust with the addition of a ducted fan are often called turbofans or (rarely) fan-jets.
A turboprop engine is a type of turbine engine which drives an external aircraft propeller using a reduction gear. Turboprop engines are generally used on small subsonic aircraft, but some large military and civil aircraft, such as the Airbus A400M, Lockheed L-188 Electra and Tupolev Tu-95, have also used turboprop power.
Aeroderivatives are also used in electrical power generation due to their ability to be shut down, and handle load changes more quickly than industrial machines. They are also used in the marine industry to reduce weight. The General Electric LM2500, General Electric LM6000, Rolls-Royce RB211 and Rolls-Royce Avon are common models of this type of machine.
Increasing numbers of gas turbines are being used or even constructed by amateurs.
In its most straightforward form, these are commercial turbines acquired through military surplus or scrapyard sales, then operated for display as part of the hobby of engine collecting. In its most extreme form, amateurs have even rebuilt engines beyond professional repair and then used them to compete for the Land Speed Record.
The simplest form of self-constructed gas turbine employs an automotive turbocharger as the core component. A combustion chamber is fabricated and plumbed between the compressor and turbine sections.
More sophisticated turbojets are also built, where their thrust and light weight are sufficient to power large model aircraft. The Schreckling design constructs the entire engine from raw materials, including the fabrication of a centrifugal compressor wheel from plywood, epoxy and wrapped carbon fibre strands.
Several small companies now manufacture small turbines and parts for the amateur. Most turbojet-powered model aircraft are now using these commercial and semi-commercial microturbines, rather than a Schreckling-like home-build.
Industrial gas turbines differ from aeronautical designs in that the frames, bearings, and blading are of heavier construction. They are also much more closely integrated with the devices they power—electric generator—and the secondary-energy equipment that is used to recover residual energy (largely heat).
They range in size from man-portable mobile plants to enormous, complex systems weighing more than a hundred tonnes housed in block-sized buildings. When the turbine is used solely for shaft power, its thermal efficiency is around the 30% mark. This may cause a problem in which it is cheaper to buy electricity than to burn fuel. Therefore many engines are used in CHP (Combined Heat and Power) configurations that can be small enough to be integrated into portable container configurations.
Gas turbines can be particularly efficient—up to at least 60%—when waste heat from the turbine is recovered by a heat recovery steam generator to power a conventional steam turbine in a combined cycle configuration. They can also be run in a cogeneration configuration: the exhaust is used for space or water heating, or drives an absorption chiller for cooling the inlet air and increase the power output, technology know as Turbine Inlet Air Cooling.
Another significant advantage is their ability to be turned on and off within minutes, supplying power during peak, or unscheduled, demand. Since single cycle (gas turbine only) power plants are less efficient than combined cycle plants, they are usually used as peaking power plants, which operate anywhere from several hours per day to a few dozen hours per year—depending on the electricity demand and the generating capacity of the region. In areas with a shortage of base-load and load following power plant capacity or with low fuel costs, a gas turbine powerplant may regularly operate most hours of the day. A large single-cycle gas turbine typically produces 100 to 400 megawatts of electric power and has 35–40% thermal efficiency.
Industrial gas turbines that are used solely for mechanical drive or used in collaboration with a recovery steam generator differ from power generating sets in that they are often smaller and feature a "twin" shaft design as opposed to a single shaft. The power range varies from 1 megawatt up to 50 megawatts. These engines are connected via a gearbox to either a pump or compressor assembly, the majority of installations are used within the oil and gas industries. Mechanical drive applications provide a more efficient combustion raising around 2%.
Oil and Gas platforms require these engines to drive compressors to inject gas into the wells to force oil up via another bore, they're also often used to provide power for the platform. These platforms don't need to use the engine in collaboration with a CHP system due to getting the gas at an extremely reduced cost (often free from burn off gas). The same companies use pump sets to drive the fluids to land and across pipelines in various intervals.
One modern development seeks to improve efficiency in another way, by separating the compressor and the turbine with a compressed air store. In a conventional turbine, up to half the generated power is used driving the compressor. In a compressed air energy storage configuration, power, perhaps from a wind farm or bought on the open market at a time of low demand and low price, is used to drive the compressor, and the compressed air released to operate the turbine when required.
Turboshaft engines are often used to drive compression trains (for example in gas pumping stations or natural gas liquefaction plants) and are used to power almost all modern helicopters. The primary shaft bears the compressor and the high speed turbine (often referred to as the Gas Generator), while a second shaft bears the low-speed turbine (a power turbine or free-wheeling turbine on helicopters, especially, because the gas generator turbine spins separately from the power turbine). In effect the separation of the gas generator, by a fluid coupling (the hot energy-rich combustion gases), from the power turbine is analogous to an automotive transmission's fluid coupling. This arrangement is used to increase power-output flexibility with associated highly-reliable control mechanisms.
In 1963, Jan Mowill initiated the development at Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk in Norway. Various successors have made good progress in the refinement of this mechanism. Owing to a configuration that keeps heat away from certain bearings the durability of the machine is improved while the radial turbine is well matched in speed requirement.
Also known as miniature gas turbines or micro-jets.
With this in mind the pioneer of modern Micro-Jets, Kurt Schreckling, produced one of the world's first Micro-Turbines, the FD3/67. This engine can produce up to 22 newtons of thrust, and can be built by most mechanically minded people with basic engineering tools, such as a metal lathe.
Also known as:
Microturbines are touted to become widespread in distributed power and combined heat and power applications. They are one of the most promising technologies for powering hybrid electric vehicles. They range from hand held units producing less than a kilowatt, to commercial sized systems that produce tens or hundreds of kilowatts. Basic principles of microturbine are based on micro combustion.[further explanation needed]
Part of their claimed success is said to be due to advances in electronics, which allows unattended operation and interfacing with the commercial power grid. Electronic power switching technology eliminates the need for the generator to be synchronized with the power grid. This allows the generator to be integrated with the turbine shaft, and to double as the starter motor.
Microturbine systems have many claimed advantages over reciprocating engine generators, such as higher power-to-weight ratio, low emissions and few, or just one, moving part. Advantages are that microturbines may be designed with foil bearings and air-cooling operating without lubricating oil, coolants or other hazardous materials. Nevertheless reciprocating engines overall are still cheaper when all factors are considered.[original research?] Microturbines also have a further advantage of having the majority of the waste heat contained in the relatively high temperature exhaust making it simpler to capture, whereas the waste heat of reciprocating engines is split between its exhaust and cooling system.
However, reciprocating engine generators are quicker to respond to changes in output power requirement and are usually slightly more efficient, although the efficiency of microturbines is increasing. Microturbines also lose more efficiency at low power levels than reciprocating engines.
Reciprocating engines typically use simple motor oil (journal) bearings. Full-size gas turbines often use ball bearings. The 1000°C temperatures and high speeds of microturbines make oil lubrication and ball bearings impractical; they require air bearings or possibly magnetic bearings.
When used in extended range electric vehicles the static efficiency drawback is irrelevant, since the gas turbine can be run at or near maximum power, driving an alternator to produce electricity either for the wheel motors, or for the batteries, as appropriate to speed and battery state. The batteries act as a "buffer" (energy storage) in delivering the required amount of power to the wheel motors, rendering throttle response of the gas turbine completely irrelevant.
There is, moreover, no need for a significant or variable-speed gearbox; turning an alternator at comparatively high speeds allows for a smaller and lighter alternator than would otherwise be the case. The superior power-to-weight ratio of the gas turbine and its fixed speed gearbox, allows for a much lighter prime mover than those in such hybrids as the Toyota Prius (which utilised a 1.8 litre petrol engine) or the Chevrolet Volt (which utilises a 1.4 litre petrol engine). This in turn allows a heavier weight of batteries to be carried, which allows for a longer electric-only range. Alternatively, the vehicle can use heavier types of batteries such as lead acid batteries (which are cheaper to buy) or safer types of batteries such as Lithium-Iron-Phosphate.
When gas turbines are used in extended-range electric vehicles, like those planned by Land-Rover/Range-Rover in conjunction with Bladon, or by Jaguar also in partnership with Bladon, the very poor throttling response (their high moment of rotational inertia) does not matter, because the gas turbine, which may be spinning at 100,000 rpm, is not directly, mechanically connected to the wheels. It was this poor throttling response that so bedevilled the 1960 Rover gas turbine-powered prototype motor car, which did not have the advantage of an intermediate electric drive train.[further explanation needed]
Gas turbines accept most commercial fuels, such as petrol, natural gas, propane, diesel, and kerosene as well as renewable fuels such as E85, biodiesel and biogas. However, when running on kerosene or diesel, starting sometimes requires the assistance of a more volatile product such as propane gas - although the new kero-start technology can allow even microturbines fuelled on kerosene to start without propane.
Microturbine designs usually consist of a single stage radial compressor, a single stage radial turbine and a recuperator. Recuperators are difficult to design and manufacture because they operate under high pressure and temperature differentials. Exhaust heat can be used for water heating, space heating, drying processes or absorption chillers, which create cold for air conditioning from heat energy instead of electric energy.
Typical microturbine efficiencies are 25 to 35%. When in a combined heat and power cogeneration system, efficiencies of greater than 80% are commonly achieved.
MIT started its millimeter size turbine engine project in the middle of the 1990s when Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Alan H. Epstein considered the possibility of creating a personal turbine which will be able to meet all the demands of a modern person's electrical needs, just as a large turbine can meet the electricity demands of a small city.
Problems have occurred with heat dissipation and high-speed bearings in these new microturbines. Moreover, their expected efficiency is a very low 5-6%. According to Professor Epstein, current commercial Li-ion rechargeable batteries deliver about 120-150 W·h/kg. MIT's millimeter size turbine will deliver 500-700 W·h/kg in the near term, rising to 1200-1500 W∙h/kg in the longer term.
A similar microturbine built at in Belgium has a rotor diameter of 20 mm and is expected to produce about 1000 W.
Most gas turbines are internal combustion engines but it is also possible to manufacture an external combustion gas turbine which is, effectively, a turbine version of a hot air engine. Those systems are usually indicated as EFGT (Externally Fired Gas Turbine) or IFGT (Indirectly Fired Gas Turbine).
External combustion has been used for the purpose of using pulverized coal or finely ground biomass (such as sawdust) as a fuel. In the indirect system, a heat exchanger is used and only clean air with no combustion products travels through the power turbine. The thermal efficiency is lower in the indirect type of external combustion; however, the turbine blades are not subjected to combustion products and much lower quality (and therefore cheaper) fuels are able to be used.
When external combustion is used, it is possible to use exhaust air from the turbine as the primary combustion air. This effectively reduces global heat losses, although heat losses associated with the combustion exhaust remain inevitable.
A key advantage of jets and turboprops for aeroplane propulsion - their superior performance at high altitude compared to piston engines, particularly naturally aspirated ones - is irrelevant in most automobile applications. Their power-to-weight advantage, though less critical than for aircraft, is still important.
Gas turbines offer a high-powered engine in a very small and light package. However, they are not as responsive and efficient as small piston engines over the wide range of RPMs and powers needed in vehicle applications. In series hybrid vehicles, as the driving electric motors are mechanically detached from the electricity generating engine, the responsiveness, poor performance at low speed and low efficiency at low output problems are much less important. The turbine can be run at optimum speed for its power output, and batteries and ultracapacitors can supply power as needed, with the engine cycled on and off to run it only at high efficiency. The emergence of the continuously variable transmission may also alleviate the responsiveness problem.
Turbines have historically been more expensive to produce than piston engines, though this is partly because piston engines have been mass-produced in huge quantities for decades, while small gas turbine engines are rarities; however, turbines are mass-produced in the closely related form of the turbocharger.
The turbocharger is basically a compact and simple free shaft radial gas turbine which is driven by the piston engine's exhaust gas. The centripetal turbine wheel drives a centrifugal compressor wheel through a common rotating shaft. This wheel supercharges the engine air intake to a degree that can be controlled by means of a wastegate or by dynamically modifying the turbine housing's geometry (as in a VGT turbocharger). It mainly serves as a power recovery device which converts a great deal of otherwise wasted thermal and kinetic energy into engine boost.
Turbo-compound engines (actually employed on some trucks) are fitted with blow down turbines which are similar in design and appearance to a turbocharger except for the turbine shaft being mechanically or hydraulically connected to the engine's crankshaft instead of to a centrifugal compressor, thus providing additional power instead of boost. While the turbocharger is a pressure turbine, a power recovery turbine is a velocity one.
A number of experiments have been conducted with gas turbine powered automobiles, the largest by Chrysler. More recently, there has been some interest in the use of turbine engines for hybrid electric cars. For instance, a consortium led by micro gas turbine company Bladon Jets has secured investment from the Technology Strategy Board to develop an Ultra Lightweight Range Extender (ULRE) for next generation electric vehicles. The objective of the consortium, which includes luxury car maker Jaguar Land Rover and leading electrical machine company SR Drives, is to produce the world’s first commercially viable - and environmentally friendly - gas turbine generator designed specifically for automotive applications.
The common turbocharger for gas or diesel engines is also a turbine derivative.
The first serious investigation of using a gas turbine in cars was in 1946 when two engineers, Robert Kafka and Robert Engerstein of Carney Associates, a New York engineering firm, came up with the concept where a unique compact turbine engine design would provide power for a rear wheel drive car. After an article appeared in Popular Science, there was no further work, beyond the paper stage.
In 1950, designer F.R. Bell and Chief Engineer Maurice Wilks from British car manufacturers Rover unveiled the first car powered with a gas turbine engine. The two-seater JET1 had the engine positioned behind the seats, air intake grilles on either side of the car, and exhaust outlets on the top of the tail. During tests, the car reached top speeds of 140 km/h (87 mph), at a turbine speed of 50,000 rpm. The car ran on petrol, paraffin (kerosene) or diesel oil, but fuel consumption problems proved insurmountable for a production car. It is on display at the London Science Museum.
The first turbine powered car built in the US was the GM Firebird I which began evaluations in 1953. While the photos of the Firebird I would indicate that the jet turbine's thrust propelled the car like an aircraft, the turbine in fact drove the rear wheels. The Firebird 1 was never meant as a serious commercial passenger car and was solely built for testing & evaluation and public relation purposes.
Starting in 1954 with a modified Plymouth, the American car manufacturer Chrysler demonstrated several prototype gas turbine-powered cars from the early 1950s through the early 1980s. Chrysler built fifty Chrysler Turbine Cars in 1963 and conducted the only consumer trial of gas turbine-powered cars. Each of their turbines employed a unique rotating recuperator, referred to as a regenerator, that significantly increased efficiency.
In 1954 FIAT unveiled a concept car with a turbine engine called Fiat Turbina. This vehicle looking like an aircraft with wheels, used a unique combination of both jet thrust and the engine driving the wheels. Speeds of 280 km/h (175 mph) were claimed.
Toyota demonstrated several gas turbine powered concept cars such as the Century gas turbine hybrid in 1975, the Sports 800 Gas Turbine Hybrid in 1979 and the GTV in 1985. No production vehicles were made. The GT24 engine was exhibited in 1977 without a vehicle.
The fictional Batmobile is often said to be powered by a gas turbine or a jet engine. The 1960s television show vehicle was said to be powered by a turbine engine, with a parachute braking system. For the 1989 Batman film, the production department built a working turbine vehicle for the Batmobile prop. Its fuel capacity, however, was reportedly only enough for 15 seconds of use at a time.
In 1993 General Motors introduced the first commercial gas turbine powered hybrid vehicle—as a limited production run of the EV-1 series hybrid. A Williams International 40 kW turbine drove an alternator which powered the battery-electric powertrain. The turbine design included a recuperator. Later on in 2006 GM went into the EcoJet concept car project with Jay Leno.
At the 2010 Paris Motor Show Jaguar demonstrated its Jaguar C-X75 concept car. This electrically powered supercar has a top speed of 204 mph (328 km/h) and can go from 0 to 62 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in 3.4 seconds. It uses Lithium-ion batteries to power 4 electric motors which combine to produce some 780 bhp. It will do around 100 miles on a single charge of the batteries but in addition it uses a pair of Bladon Micro Gas Turbines to re-charge the batteries extending the range to some 560 miles.
The first race car (in concept only) fitted with a turbine was in 1955 by a US Air Force group as a hobby project with a turbine loaned them by Boeing and a race car owned by Firestone Tire & Rubber company. The first race car fitted with a turbine for the goal of actual racing was by Rover and the BRM Formula One team joined forces to produce the Rover-BRM, a gas turbine powered coupe, which entered the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther. It averaged 107.8 mph (173.5 km/h) and had a top speed of 142 mph (229 km/h). American Ray Heppenstall joined Howmet Corporation and McKee Engineering together to develop their own gas turbine sports car in 1968, the Howmet TX, which ran several American and European events, including two wins, and also participated in the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cars used Continental gas turbines, which eventually set six FIA land speed records for turbine-powered cars.
For open wheel racing, 1967's revolutionary STP-Paxton Turbocar fielded by racing and entrepreneurial legend Andy Granatelli and driven by Parnelli Jones nearly won the Indianapolis 500; the Pratt & Whitney ST6B-62 powered turbine car was almost a lap ahead of the second place car when a gearbox bearing failed just three laps from the finish line. The next year the STP Lotus 56 turbine car won the Indianapolis 500 pole position even though new rules restricted the air intake dramatically. In 1971 Lotus principal Colin Chapman introduced the Lotus 56B F1 car, powered by a Pratt & Whitney STN 6/76 gas turbine. Chapman had a reputation of building radical championship-winning cars, but had to abandon the project because there were too many problems with turbo lag.
The arrival of the Capstone Microturbine has led to several hybrid bus designs, starting with HEV-1 by AVS of Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1999, and closely followed by Ebus and ISE Research in California, and DesignLine Corporation in New Zealand (and later the United States). AVS turbine hybrids were plagued with reliability and quality control problems, resulting in liquidation of AVS in 2003. The most successful design by Designline is now operated in 5 cities in 6 countries, with over 30 buses in operation worldwide, and order for several hundred being delivered to Baltimore, and NYC.
The MTT Turbine SUPERBIKE appeared in 2000 (hence the designation of Y2K Superbike by MTT) and is the first production motorcycle powered by a turbine engine - specifically, a Rolls-Royce Allison model 250 turboshaft engine, producing about 283 kW (380 bhp). Speed-tested to 365 km/h or 227 mph (according to some stories, the testing team ran out of road during the test), it holds the Guinness World Records for most powerful production motorcycle and most expensive production motorcycle, with a price tag of US$185,000.
The German Army's development division, the Heereswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Board), studied a number of gas turbine engines for use in tanks starting in mid-1944. The first gas turbine engines used for armoured fighting vehicle GT 101 was installed in the Panther tank. The second use of a gas turbine in an armoured fighting vehicle was in 1954 when a unit, PU2979, specifically developed for tanks by C. A. Parsons & Co., was installed and trialled in a British Conqueror tank. The Stridsvagn 103 was developed in the 1950s and was the first mass-produced main battle tank to use a turbine engine. Since then, gas turbine engines have been used as APUs in some tanks and as main powerplants in Soviet/Russian T-80s and U.S. M1 Abrams tanks, among others. They are lighter and smaller than diesels at the same sustained power output but the models installed to date are less fuel efficient than the equivalent diesel, especially at idle, requiring more fuel to achieve the same combat range. Successive models of M1 have addressed this problem with battery packs or secondary generators to power the tank's systems while stationary, saving fuel by reducing the need to idle the main turbine. T-80s can mount three large external fuel drums to extend their range. Russia has stopped production of the T-80 in favour of the diesel-powered T-90 (based on the T-72), while Ukraine has developed the diesel-powered T-80UD and T-84 with nearly the power of the gas-turbine tank. The French Leclerc MBT's diesel powerplant features the "Hyperbar" hybrid supercharging system, where the engine's turbocharger is completely replaced with a small gas turbine which also works as an assisted diesel exhaust turbocharger, enabling engine RPM-independent boost level control and a higher peak boost pressure to be reached (than with ordinary turbochargers). This system allows a smaller displacement and lighter engine to be used as the tank's powerplant and effectively removes turbo lag. This special gas turbine/turbocharger can also work independently from the main engine as an ordinary APU.
A turbine is theoretically more reliable and easier to maintain than a piston engine, since it has a simpler construction with fewer moving parts but in practice turbine parts experience a higher wear rate due to their higher working speeds. The turbine blades are highly sensitive to dust and fine sand, so that in desert operations air filters have to be fitted and changed several times daily. An improperly fitted filter, or a bullet or shell fragment that punctures the filter, can damage the engine. Piston engines (especially if turbocharged) also need well-maintained filters, but they are more resilient if the filter does fail.
Like most modern diesel engines used in tanks, gas turbines are usually multi-fuel engines.
Gas turbines are used in many naval vessels, where they are valued for their high power-to-weight ratio and their ships' resulting acceleration and ability to get underway quickly.
The first gas-turbine-powered naval vessel was the Royal Navy's Motor Gun Boat MGB 2009 (formerly MGB 509) converted in 1947. Metropolitan-Vickers fitted their F2/3 jet engine with a power turbine. The Steam Gun Boat Grey Goose was converted to Rolls-Royce gas turbines in 1952 and operated as such from 1953. The Bold class Fast Patrol Boats Bold Pioneer and Bold Pathfinder built in 1953 were the first ships created specifically for gas turbine propulsion.
The first large scale, partially gas-turbine powered ships were the Royal Navy's Type 81 (Tribal class) frigates with combined steam and gas powerplants. The first, HMS Ashanti was commissioned in 1961.
The Danish Navy had 6 Søløven class torpedo boats (the export version of the British Brave class fast patrol boat) in service from 1965 to 1990, which had 3 Bristol Proteus (later RR Proteus) Marine Gas Turbines rated at 9,510 kW (12,750 shp) combined, plus two General Motors Diesel engines, rated at 340 kW (460 shp), for better fuel economy at slower speeds. And they also produced 10 Willemoes Class Torpedo / Guided Missile boats (in service from 1974 to 2000) which had 3 Rolls Royce Marine Proteus Gas Turbines also rated at 9,510 kW (12,750 shp), same as the Søløven class boats, and 2 General Motors Diesel Engines, rated at 600 kW (800 shp), also for improved fuel economy at slow speeds.
The Swedish Navy produced 6 Spica-class torpedo boats between 1966 and 1967 powered by 3 Bristol Siddeley Proteus 1282 turbines, each delivering 3,210 kW (4,300 shp). They were later joined by 12 upgraded Norrköping class ships, still with the same engines. With their aft torpedo tubes replaced by antishipping missiles they served as missile boats until the last was retired in 2005.
The Finnish Navy commissioned two Turunmaa class corvettes, Turunmaa and Karjala, in 1968. They were equipped with one 16,410 kW (22,000 shp) Rolls-Royce Olympus TMB3 gas turbine and three Wärtsilä marine diesels for slower speeds. They were the fastest vessels in the Finnish Navy; they regularly achieved speeds of 35 knots, and 37.3 knots during sea trials. The Turunmaas were paid off in 2002. Karjala is today a museum ship in Turku, and Turunmaa serves as a floating machine shop and training ship for Satakunta Polytechnical College.
The next series of major naval vessels were the four Canadian Iroquois class helicopter carrying destroyers first commissioned in 1972. They used 2 ft-4 main propulsion engines, 2 ft-12 cruise engines and 3 Solar Saturn 750 kW generators.
The first U.S. gas-turbine powered ship was the U.S. Coast Guard's Point Thatcher, a cutter commissioned in 1961 that was powered by two 750 kW (1,000 shp) turbines utilizing controllable pitch propellers. The larger Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutters, was the first class of larger cutters to utilize gas turbines, the first of which (USCGC Hamilton) was commissioned in 1967. Since then, they have powered the U.S. Navy's Perry-class frigates, Spruance-class and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers. USS Makin Island, a modified Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, is to be the Navy's first amphibious assault ship powered by gas turbines. The marine gas turbine operates in a more corrosive atmosphere due to presence of sea salt in air and fuel and use of cheaper fuels.
Up to the late 1940s much of the progress on marine gas turbines all over the world took place in design offices and engine builder's workshops and development work was led by the British Royal Navy and other Navies. While interest in the gas turbine for marine purposes, both naval and mercantile, continued to increase, the lack of availability of the results of operating experience on early gas turbine projects limited the number of new ventures on seagoing commercial vessels being embarked upon. In 1951, the Diesel-electric oil tanker Auris, 12,290 Deadweight tonnage (DWT) was used to obtain operating experience with a main propulsion gas turbine under service conditions at sea and so became the first ocean-going merchant ship to be powered by a gas turbine. Built by Hawthorn Leslie at Hebburn-on-Tyne, UK, in accordance with plans and specifications drawn up by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company and launched on the UK's Princess Elizabeth's 21st birthday in 1947, the ship was designed with an engine room layout that would allow for the experimental use of heavy fuel in one of its high-speed engines, as well as the future substitution of one of its diesel engines by a gas turbine. The Auris operated commercially as a tanker for three-and-a-half years with a diesel-electric propulsion unit as originally commissioned, but in 1951 one of its four 824 kW (1,105 bhp) diesel engines – which were known as "Faith", "Hope", "Charity" and "Prudence" - was replaced by the world’s first marine gas turbine engine, a 890 kW (1,200 bhp) open-cycle gas turbo-alternator built by British Thomson-Houston Company in Rugby. Following successful sea trials off the Northumbrian coast, the Auris set sail from Hebburn-on-Tyne in October 1951 bound for Port Arthur in the US and then Curacao in the southern Caribbean returning to Avonmouth after 44 days at sea, successfully completing her historic trans-Atlantic crossing. During this time at sea the gas turbine burnt diesel fuel and operated without an involuntary stop or mechanical difficulty of any kind. She subsequently visited Swansea, Hull, Rotterdam, Oslo and Southampton covering a total of 13,211 nautical miles. The Auris then had all of its power plants replaced with a 3,910 kW (5,250 shp) directly coupled gas turbine to become the first civilian ship to operate solely on gas turbine power.
Despite the success of this early experimental voyage the gas turbine was not to replace the diesel engine as the propulsion plant for large merchant ships. At constant cruising speeds the diesel engine simply had no peer in the vital area of fuel economy. The gas turbine did have more success in Royal Navy ships and the other naval fleets of the world where sudden and rapid changes of speed are required by warships in action.
The United States Maritime Commission were looking for options to update WWII Liberty ships and heavy duty gas turbines were one of those selected. In 1956 the John Sergeant was lengthened and equipped with a General Electric 4,900 kW (6,600 shp) HD gas turbine, reduction gearing and a variable pitch propeller. It operated for 9,700 hours using residual fuel for 7,000 hours. The success of this trial opened the way for more development by GE on the use of HD gas turbines for marine use with heavy fuels. The John Sergeant was scrapped in 1972 at Portsmouth PA.
Between 1970 and 1982, Seatrain Container Lines operated a scheduled container service across the North Atlantic with four container ships of 26,000 tonnes DWT. Those ships were powered by twin Pratt & Whitney gas turbines of the FT 4 series. The four ships in the class were named "Euroliner", "Eurofreighter", "Asialiner" and "Asiafreighter". They operated a transatlantic container service between ports on the eastern seaboard of the United States and ports in north west Europe. Following the dramatic Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) price increases of the mid-1970s, operations were constrained by rising fuel costs. Some modification of the engine systems on those ships was undertaken to permit the burning of a lower grade of fuel (i.e., marine diesel). The modifications were partially successful. It was proved that particular fuel could be used in a marine gas turbine but, savings made were less than anticipated due to increased maintenance requirements. After 1982 the ships were sold, then re-engined with more economical diesel engines. Because the new engines were much larger, there was a consequential loss of some cargo space.
The first passenger ferry to use a gas turbine was the GTS Finnjet, built in 1977 and powered by two Pratt & Whitney FT 4C-1 DLF turbines, generating 55,000 kW (74,000 shp) and propelling the ship to a speed of 31 knots. However, the Finnjet also illustrated the shortcomings of gas turbine propulsion in commercial craft, as high fuel prices made operating her unprofitable. After four years of service additional diesel engines were installed on the ship to reduce running costs during the off-season. The Finnjet was also the first ship with a Combined diesel-electric and gas propulsion. Another example of commercial usage of gas turbines in a passenger ship is Stena Line's HSS class fastcraft ferries. HSS 1500-class Stena Explorer, Stena Voyager and Stena Discovery vessels use combined gas and gas setups of twin GE LM2500 plus GE LM1600 power for a total of 68,000 kW (91,000 shp). The slightly smaller HSS 900-class Stena Carisma, uses twin ABB–STAL GT35 turbines rated at 34,000 kW (46,000 shp) gross. The Stena Discovery was withdrawn from service in 2007, another victim of too high fuel costs.
In July 2000 the Millennium became the first cruise ship to be propelled by gas turbines, in a Combined Gas and Steam Turbine configuration. The liner RMS Queen Mary 2 uses a Combined Diesel and Gas Turbine configuration.
Gas turbine technology has steadily advanced since its inception and continues to evolve. Development is actively producing both smaller gas turbines and more powerful and efficient engines. Aiding in these advances are computer based design (specifically CFD and finite element analysis) and the development of advanced materials: Base materials with superior high temperature strength (e.g., single-crystal superalloys that exhibit yield strength anomaly) or thermal barrier coatings that protect the structural material from ever higher temperatures. These advances allow higher compression ratios and turbine inlet temperatures, more efficient combustion and better cooling of engine parts.
The simple-cycle efficiencies of early gas turbines were practically doubled by incorporating inter-cooling, regeneration (or recuperation), and reheating. These improvements, of course, come at the expense of increased initial and operation costs, and they cannot be justified unless the decrease in fuel costs offsets the increase in other costs. The relatively low fuel prices, the general desire in the industry to minimize installation costs, and the tremendous increase in the simple-cycle efficiency to about 40 percent left little desire for opting for these modifications.
On the emissions side, the challenge is to increase turbine inlet temperatures while at the same time reducing peak flame temperature in order to achieve lower NOx emissions and meet the latest emission regulations. In May 2011, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries achieved a turbine inlet temperature of 1,600 °C on a 320 megawatt gas turbine, and 460 MW in gas turbine combined-cycle power generation applications in which gross thermal efficiency exceeds 60%.
Compliant foil bearings were commercially introduced to gas turbines in the 1990s. These can withstand over a hundred thousand start/stop cycles and have eliminated the need for an oil system. The application of microelectronics and power switching technology have enabled the development of commercially viable electricity generation by micro turbines for distribution and vehicle propulsion.
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