GE opens Technology Centre

2 min read

The spirit of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité was alive and well at the launch of GE Energy’s new Technology Centre in Belfort, France, on Tuesday 23 June.

The $25m (£15m) facility will house 400 engineers and act as GE’s European headquarters, with two manufacturing centres assembling gas turbines with a capacity ranging from 40 - 440MW, and a technology facility. The latter will benefit from the French government’s R&D tax credit, which returns 30-60 per cent of a company’s investment.

Jean-Benoit Albertine, the prefect of Belfort Territory, said: ‘The site promotes competitiveness à la Française, and this research tax credit has renewed US interest in French activities.’

Seventy researchers at the facility will look into continuing improvements to gas turbine technologies, including new combustion systems for burning a range of fuels, improvements to existing product yields, emission and noise reduction. These will help address the challenge of the recent economic downturn, which has drastically affected energy demand. In Spain, overall electricity demand during the last quarter was down 18 per cent over the same quarter last year, and in Germany demand was down 12 per cent.

GE believes the ability to work with a range of fuels is important for future energy solutions, but the fuel of choice will vary according to country.

Emmanuel Kerrand, head of the product engineering department, explained: ‘In the Middle East, they are using more heavy fuel, and we need to work on the chemistry to find the best way to burn these difficult fuels in our gas turbines. China has a lot of syngas from production processes we could use, but it’s dangerous.

‘Hydrogen will be the future, probably extracted, but it presents a number of challenges over natural gas. The main difficulty is flame stability and to address this you need to dilute the hydrogen and find the best compromise.’

GE’s gas turbines currently achieve an efficiency of 54 per cent when used for power alone. The company has set an ambitious goal of reaching an efficiency of 65 per cent, and Kerrand believes this could be achieved in five years and no more than 10. ‘To increase performance, you need to look at every single step from the conception, design to the final product,’ said Kerrand.

With EU policy consistently supporting wind and nuclear energy, is there still a growing business for gas turbines? Kerrand believes there is. ‘Why? If you take nuclear, it takes 10 years to even get a permit,’ he said. ‘Before the crisis, everyone thought energy would keep growing. Now we are seeing more conservative usage but there will still be a demand in the power range we supply.’

Berenice Baker