A proposed topping cycle inserts a free-piston internal-combustion engine between the compressor and the combustor of a combustion turbine. The topping cycle diverts air from the compressor to supercharge the free-piston engine. Because the free-piston engine uses gas bearings to support the piston and is built of high-temperature materials, the engine can increase the pressure and temperature of the gas, exhausting it to a small expander that produces power. The exhaust from the topping-cycle expander is at a pressure that can be re-introduced to the main turbine, allowing almost complete recovery of waste heat. A capacity increase exceeding 35% is possible, and overall cycle efficiency can approach 70% when incorporated into a state-of-the-art combined-cycle plant. The cost of per incremental kW of the topping cycle can be dramatically lower than that of the base turbine because of the high power density and simplicity of the engine. Building on decades of progress in combustion turbines systems, the new cycle promises high performance without the engineering risks of manufacturing a completely new cycle.

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