Supercritical Fluids and Their Applications in Power Generation

Supercritical Fluids and Their Applications in Power Generation

Huijuan Chen, Ricardo Vasquez Padilla, Saeb Besarati
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5796-9.ch016
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Supercritical fluids have been studied and used as the working fluids in power generation system for both high- and low-grade heat conversions. Low-grade heat sources, typically defined as below 300 ºC, are abundantly available as industrial waste heat, solar thermal, and geothermal, to name a few. However, they are under-exploited for power conversion because of the low conversion efficiency. Technologies that allow the efficient conversion of low-grade heat into mechanical or electrical power are very important to develop. First part of this chapter investigates the potential of supercritical Rankine cycles in the conversion of low-grade heat to power, while the second part discusses supercritical fluids used in higher grade heat conversion system. The selection of supercritical working fluids for a supercritical Rankine cycle is of key importance. This chapter discusses supercritical fluids fundamentals, selection of supercritical working fluids for different heat sources, and the current research, development, and commercial status of supercritical power generation systems.
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In a supercritical thermodynamic power cycle, the working fluid is compressed to its supercritical pressure and heated to supercritical state directly, bypassing the two-phase vaporization that a conventional Rankine cycle would have. Professor Martyn Poliakoff from University of Nottingham demonstrated the instant transformation of CO2 from liquid to its supercritical state very clearly in a video(“Supercritical fluids - YouTube,” n.d.).

For low-grade heat conversion, various thermodynamic cycles such as the organic Rankine cycle, supercritical Rankine cycle, Kalina cycle, Goswami cycle, and trilateral flash cycle have been proposed and studied. Although there are broad claims of 15–50% more power output for the same heat input for Kalina cycles relative to organic Rankine cycles, data from actual cycles in operation and simulations under identical conditions of ambient temperature and cooling systems showed that the difference in performance is only 3% in favor of Kalina cycle(DiPippo, 2004). However, the organic Rankine cycle is much less complex and need less maintenance. The focus of this chapter regarding low-grade heat conversion is a derivative of organic Rankine cycle, which is supercritical Rankine cycle. Supercritical Rankine cycle has been reported to generally have higher efficiency than an organic Rankine cycle, especially when the heat source is sensible heat (Chen et al., 2011).

A conceptual configuration and a P–h diagram of a supercritical Rankine cycle are shown in Figure 1 a and b. In this conceptual configuration, the working fluid is pumped above its critical pressure (a->b), and then heated isobarically from liquid directly to supercritical vapor (b->c); the supercritical vapor is expanded in the turbine to extract mechanical work (c->d); after expansion, the fluid is condensed in the condenser by dissipating heat to a heat sink (d->a); the condensed liquid is then pumped to the high pressure again, which completes the cycle. The major difference between a subcritical and a supercritical Rankine cycle lies in the heating process of the working fluid as seen in Figure 2. In a supercritical Rankine cycle, the working fluid is heated directly from the liquid state into the supercritical state, bypassing the two-phase region (b->c in Figure 2). By bypassing the isothermal boiling process, the supercritical Rankine cycle allows the working fluid to have a better thermal match with the heat source, resulting in less exergy loss. Furthermore, by avoiding the boiling process, the configuration of the heating system is potentially simplified. Figure 1 shows the configuration and process of a CO2 supercritical Rankine cycle in a T–s diagram.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Concentrated Solar Power: It is a system that generates power by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight, or solar thermal energy, onto a small area. Electricity is generated when the concentrated light is converted into heat to drive a power cycle.

Supercritical Rankine Cycle: A supercritical Rankine cycle is a thermodynamic process where heat is transferred to a fluid at a pressure above its critical point and the fluid is transformed into supercritical phase before being expanded in a turbine that generates power. The spent vapor is condensed to liquid and recycled back through the cycle.

Exergy: In thermodynamics, the exergy of a system is the maximum useful work possible during a process that brings the system into equilibrium with a heat reservoir. In contrast to energy, exergy accounts for the irreversibility of a process due to increase in entropy.

Zeotropic Mixture: A zeotropic mixture is a mixture of fluids that do not have the same vapor phase and liquid phase composition at any point of the vapor–liquid equilibrium state and because of that, a zeotropic mixture does not have a critical point that a pure fluid has, instead, it has a “critical line”.

Recuperator: It is a special purpose counter-flow energy.

Brayton Cycle: It is a thermodynamic cycle that describes the workings of a constant pressure heat engine. Modern gas turbine engines and airbreathing jet engines follow the Brayton cycle to generate electricity.

Supercritical Fluid: A supercritical fluid is a fluid at a temperature and pressure above its critical point, where distinct liquid and gas phases do not exist.

Solar Receiver: A solar receiver collects heat by absorbing sunlight. This device is used in capturing solar radiation.

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