Heavy duty gas turbines are very flexible combustion tools that accommodate a wide variety of gaseous and liquid fuels ranging from natural gas to heavy oils, including syngas, LPG, petrochemical streams (propene, butane…), hydrogen-rich refinery by-products; naphtha; ethanol, biodiesel, aromatic gasoline and gasoil, etc. The contemporaneous quest for an increasing panel of primary energies leads manufacturers and operators to explore an ever larger segment of unconventional power generation fuels. In this moving context, there is a need to fully characterize the combustion features of these novel fuels in the specific pressure, temperature and equivalence ratio conditions of gas turbine combustors using e.g. methane as reference molecule and to cover the safety aspects of their utilization.
A numerical investigation of the combustion of a representative cluster of alternative fuels has been performed in the gas phase, namely two natural gas fuels of different compositions, including some ethane, a process gas with a high content of butene, oxygenated compounds including methanol, ethanol, and DME (dimethyl ether). Sub-mechanisms have specifically been developed to include the reactions of C4 species. Major combustion parameters, such as auto-ignition temperature (AIT), ignition delay times (AID), laminar burning velocities of premixed flames, adiabatic flame temperatures, and CO and NOx emissions have then been investigated. Finally, the data have been compared with those calculated for methane flames.
These simulations show that the behaviors of alternative fuels markedly differ from that of conventional ones. Especially, DME and the process gases appear to be highly reactive with significant impacts on the auto-ignition temperature and flame speed data, which justifies burner design studies within premixed combustion schemes and proper safety considerations. The behaviors of alcohols (especially methanol) display some commonalities with those of conventional fuels. In contrast, DME and process gas fuels develop substantially different flame temperature and NOx generation rates than methane. Resorting to lean premix conditions is likely to achieve lower NOx emission performances. This review of gas turbine fuels shows for instance that the use of methanol as a gas turbine fuel is possible with very limited combustor modifications.