Research could help improve performance of gas turbines

Research sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has led to a new licensing agreement between Mikro Systems and Siemens Energy that is expected to improve the performance of gas turbines.

Gas turbines consist sequentially of compressor, combustor and turbine sections.

Incoming air is compressed to a high-pressure state in the compressor section and heated to high temperature via the combustion of fuel in the combustor section. The high-temperature, high-pressure gas is then expanded through a series of rotor-mounted airfoils in the turbine section, converting the gas’s energy into mechanical work.

Improved airfoils — the focus of Mikro Systems’ FE-funded research — can tolerate higher gas temperatures and/or use less cooling, resulting in improved energy efficiency.

Mikro Systems received a Small Business Innovation Research grant to apply its patented Tomo-Lithographic Molding (TOMO) technology to gas turbine airfoils.

TOMO is a manufacturing platform that enables the rapid development and production of high-performance products made from metals, ceramics, polymers and composite material systems. Applied to gas turbines, it is said to enable more sophisticated airfoil designs with improved cooling characteristics, which leads to higher operating temperatures and improved efficiency.

In addition to enabling designs that were previously impossible to manufacture, the technology will reportedly reduce the time to market for future design enhancements through reduced tooling costs, reduced production lead times and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Under the licensing agreement, Siemens Energy and Mikro Systems will work together to validate and certify the TOMO technology for use in the commercial production of stationary and moving airfoil components.

This will include production trials and application-specific component testing.

Mikro Systems’ strategy is to apply the technology to a wide range of gas turbine applications, including commercial and military aviation engines, and next-generation turbines for use in integrated gasification combined cycle and natural gas combined cycle power plants.