Energy utilization from low-grade fuels of either fossil or renewable origin, or from medium-temperature heat sources such as solar, industrial waste heat, or small nuclear reactors, for small-scale power generation via steam cycles, can be reasonably enhanced by a simple technology shift. This study evaluates the technical feasibility of a compact power generation package comprising a steam turbine directly coupled to a high-speed alternator delivering around 8–12 MW of electrical power. Commercial or research-phase high-speed electrical generators at MW-scale are reviewed, and a basic thermodynamic design and flow-path analysis of a steam turbine able to drive such a generator is attempted.

High-speed direct drives are winning new grounds due to their abilities to be speed-controlled and to avoid the gearbox otherwise typical for small system drivetrains. These two features may offer a reasonable advantage to conventional drives in terms of higher reliability and better economy.

High-speed alternators with related power electronics are nowadays becoming increasingly available for the MW-size market. A generic 8 to 12 MW synchronous alternator running respectively at 15,000 to 10,000 rpm, have been used as a reference for evaluating the fundamental design of a directly coupled steam turbine prime mover.

The moderate steam parameter concept suits well for converting mid-temperature thermal energy into electrical power with the help of low-tech steam cycles, allowing for distributed electricity production at reasonable costs and efficiency. Steam superheat temperatures below 350°C (660°F) at pressures of maximum 20 bar would keep the steam volumetric flow sufficiently high in order to restrain the turbine losses typical for small-scale turbines, while helping also with simpler certification and safety procedures and using primarily established technology and standard components. The proposed steam turbines designs and their characteristics thereof have been evaluated by computer simulations using the in-house code ProSteam and its sub-procedures AXIAL and VaxCalc, by courtesy of Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery and its steam turbine division located in Finspong, Sweden.

The first results from this study show that high-speed steam turbines of the proposed size and type are possible to design and manufacture based on conventional components, and can be expected to deliver a very satisfactory performance at variable power output.

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