This paper deals with the investigation in the technical and economic feasibility of a low-pressure steam cycle for the waste heat utilization of a combined heat and power (CHP) plant. The proposed steam cycle uses a pressure level below atmospheric pressure which allows to use the heat from the motor’s coolant for evaporation. The cycle is designed to increase the maximum electrical efficiency of a gas fired reciprocating engine and to increase operational flexibility for varying heat demand. Since organic Rankine cycle (ORC) plants are already being successfully used for waste heat recovery, advantages of the low-pressure steam Rankine cycle (SRC) over an ORC are highlighted.
Many ORC fluids are toxic or flammable and thus have an increased risk potential compared to water. An additional advantage of water compared to ORC fluids is the possibility of superheating above 500 °C.
The technical feasibility of the proposed cycle is studied by the detailed design of the individual system components such as turbine, heat exchangers and auxiliary parts. This includes the detailed thermodynamic design of the full cycle for the calculation of plant efficiencies.
As a basis for future experimental investigations, a cogeneration plant with an electrical output of 50 kWel was selected as a heat source for the steam cycle. The design geometries of the turbine and the heat exchanger are presented along with efficiency and cost predictions. A subsonic radial turbine with a rotational speed of 155,000 rpm was selected. The maximum turbine output is about 7.5 kW. The use of a flash evaporator is investigated to reduce the size and the costs for the evaporator.
The suggested steam cycle helps to increase the electrical efficiency of the CHP plant by 4.5% points from an original 36.5% to 41.0%. The steam cycle itself has an electrical efficiency of approximately 9%. Additionally, the condensation temperature in this steam cycle is high enough to be extracted as useful heat output to generate domestic water with a temperature of 50°C.