Small (10–100 kW) and micro (0.5–10 kW) Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) power systems are nowadays considered for local and domestic power generation. Especially interesting are micropower applications for heat recovery from dispersed low potential (85–150 °C) waste and renewable heat sources. Designing and implementing an ORC system dedicated to energy recovery from such a source is difficult. A proper working fluid must be selected together with a suitable expander. Volumetric machines can be adopted as a turbine alternative in small-capacity applications under development, like, e.g., domestic cogeneration. Scroll and screw expanders are a common choice. However, scroll and screw expanders are complicated and expensive. Vane expanders are mechanically simple, commercially available and cheap. This paper documents a study providing the preliminary analysis of the possibility of employing vane-expanders in mini-ORC systems. The main objective of this research was therefore a comprehensive analysis of the use of a vane expander for continuous operation with a low-boiling working fluid. A test-stand was designed and set up starting from system models based on thermodynamic analysis. Then, a series of experiments was performed using the test-stand. Results of these experiments are presented here, together with a model of multivane expanders and a thermodynamic-based method to select the working fluid. The analysis presented in this paper indicates that multivane expanders are a cheap and mechanically simple alternative to other expansion devices proposed for small-capacity ORC systems.

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