This article presents an overview of the world’s very first industrial gas turbine, which started operation in the Swiss city of Neuchâtel, in 1939. This 4-MWe machine is now on display in a special museum on the grounds of Alstom in Birr village. The museum is housed in an attractive glassed-in building, adjacent to the rotor plant. The gas turbine had originally been in operation for 63 years in a bombproof building, serving the city of Neuchâtel as a standby and peaking unit for electrical power. It was closed down in 2002 after damage to the generator occurred, and then was moved to Birr by Alstom for restoration. It was put on display in its new museum home in 2006. The Neuchâtel gas turbine looks surprisingly “modern.” The axial flow compressor, axial flow turbine, and electrical generator are inline, and directly coupled, and run at 3000 rpm to produce 4 MWe. It is roughly 3–5 times larger than the 7-MWe Solar Taurus gas turbines in the University of Connecticut cogen plant.
Last year in September, while in Switzerland, I went to see the very first industrial gas turbine which started operation in the Swiss city of Neuchâtel, in 1939. This 4 MWe machine is now on display in a special museum on the grounds of Alstom in Birr, a village not far from Zürich. Here I will give a short account of my visit to this ASME Mechanical Engineering Landmark⋆, for GGTN readers interested in gas turbine history and those who may want to see this impressive inaugural power plant themselves.
Reza Abhari, past chair of IGTI's Board of Directors, and professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) invited me to be an external examiner for the thesis work of one of his Ph.D students, Peter Schübach. Reza holds the same ETH professorship that was held by the famous turbomachinery pioneer, Aurel Stodola (1859–1942). Professor Stodola wrote one of the first definitive texts on steam turbines and gas turbines (1906) and figured prominently in the development and testing of the 1939 Neuchâtel power plant.
The ETH Zürich Campus is situated on the slopes of Zürichberg, a high hill above the old city, providing views of Lake Zürich and, way in the distance to the south, faint views of the Swiss Alps.The day after doctor-to-be Schübach successfully defended his thesis, I set off to the Alstom museum. Following directions given to me by IGTI member Dietrick Eckardt of Alstom, I took a 40 minute train ride from the Zürich train station to Brugg where I boarded a local bus for a short trip to the Alstom Rotor Factory in the village of Birr.
I was met by Alstom's Jürg Eugster who gave me a tour of the Rotor Factory and the museum. Alstom is the only gas turbine manufacturer that welds the entire gas turbine rotor together to form one piece and seeing the welding process performed on a 115 ton rotor is quite impressive.
The museum for the first industrial gas turbine is in an attractive glassed-in building, adjacent to the rotor plant. The gas turbine had originally been in operation for 63 years in a bombproof building, serving the city of Neuchâtel as a standby and peaking unit for electrical power. It was closed down in 2002 after damage to the generator occurred, and then was moved to Birr by Alstom for restoration. It was put on display in its new museum home in 2006.
According to IGTI's founder, R. Tom Sawyer, official testing of the world's first operational industrial gas turbine began on July 7, 1939, just over 70 years ago. In his 1945 textbook, The Modern Gas Turbine, Sawyer reviewed the test program carried out under the personal supervision of Professor Stodola (then 80 years of age) at the Baden works of the Brown Boveri Company (now Alstom).
Burning fuel oil, this very first industrial gas turbine powered an electrical generator with a peak output of 4 MWe. Professor Stodola reported that the plant had an overall thermal efficiency of 17.38% (compared to today's simple cycle gas turbines which can be in the 30 – 40% range).
The Neuchâtel gas turbine looks surprisingly “modern”. The axial flow compressor, axial flow turbine and electrical generator are inline, and directly coupled, and ran at 3000 rpm to produce 4 MWe. It is roughly 3-5 times larger than the 7 MWe Solar Taurus gas turbines in our University of Connecticut cogen plant.
The stator vanes in both the compressor and the turbine are cantilevered from the case. I noted that the pressure gauges all read in kg/cm2. As Sawyer writes in his 1945 textbook, the unit does not have a recuperator (heat exchanger) since it was designed for emergency power, where fuel consumption would be of secondary importance.
The compressor air exits into a double inlet volute and then into an overhead combustor. The very large overhead combustor is parallel to the machine's axis of rotation, with combusted flow exiting down into the turbine. I would guess the large size and long length of the combustor was necessary to evaporate fuel droplets, given the early state of liquid fuel combustion technology in 1939. (One can remember that both Whittle and von Ohain had to combust hydrogen gas in their 1930's independent invention and development of the first jet engines, before they solved liquid fuel combustion problems.)
See “First Industrial Gas Turbine...” p.11, GGTN, August 2007.