A breakthrough in power generation technology is on the horizon, and it’s happening in the heart of Texas. The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has joined forces with GTI Energy, GE Vernova (GE), and the US Department of Energy to develop a revolutionary system called the Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP). This innovative project aims to harness the potential of small turbines, the size of a regular office desk, to generate a substantial 10 megawatts (MW) of power.
Traditionally, power plants around the world rely on steam turbines, a technology that dates back to the 19th century. Despite their widespread use, steam turbines have seen limited technological advancements. However, STEP is poised to change the game by introducing a novel working fluid – supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2). Unlike water, sCO2 can be highly pressurized and heated to behave like a gas with the density of a liquid. This transformative feature enables sCO2-based turbines to be up to 10% more energy efficient than conventional ones.
The groundbreaking aspect of sCO2 technology is its ability to dramatically reduce the size of turbines. A compact, one-meter sCO2 turbine can perform the same tasks as a massive 20-meter steam turbine. This opens up the possibility of replacing the bulky bus-sized turbines that dominate power generation plants with more compact, desk-sized sCO2 turbines. Such a shift could revolutionize the energy landscape, making power generation more space-efficient and cost-effective.
The $155 million demo pilot plant in San Antonio, Texas, will generate 10 MW of power, enough to supply electricity to 10,000 households. What’s even more exciting is the potential to integrate sCO2 technology with concentrated solar power systems, significantly reducing costs and enhancing efficiency in the renewable energy sector.
The STEP project, which commenced in 2018, represents the world’s largest demonstration facility for sCO2 technology. Recent achievements include successfully operating the compressor with CO2 at supercritical fluid conditions, marking a significant milestone in the development of this revolutionary technology.
As SwRI President and CEO Adam Hamilton aptly puts it, “STEP will undoubtedly change the way we think about power generation.” The journey to smaller, more efficient, and eco-friendly turbines is underway, and it’s taking place in the Lone Star State. Texas is not just known for its vast landscapes; it’s also now at the forefront of cutting-edge energy innovation with the STEP project leading the way.