Steam Engine - Efficiency

Efficiency

Main article: Thermal efficiency
See also: Engine efficiency#Steam engine

The efficiency of an engine can be calculated by dividing the energy output of mechanical work that the engine produces by the energy input to the engine by the burning fuel.

The historical measure of a steam engine's energy efficiency was its "duty". The concept of duty was first introduced by Watt in order to illustrate how much more efficient his engines were over the earlier Newcomen designs. Duty is the number of foot-pounds of work delivered by burning one bushel (94 pounds) of coal. The best examples of Newcomen designs had a duty of about 7 million, but most were closer to 5 million. Watt's original low-pressure designs were able to deliver duty as high as 25 million, but averaged about 17. This was a three-fold improvement over the average Newcomen design. Early Watt engines equipped with high-pressure steam improved this to 65 million.

No heat engine can be more efficient than the Carnot cycle, in which heat is moved from a high temperature reservoir to one at a low temperature, and the efficiency depends on the temperature difference. For the greatest efficiency, steam engines should be operated at the highest steam temperature possible (superheated steam), and release the waste heat at the lowest temperature possible.

The efficiency of a Rankine cycle is usually limited by the working fluid. Without the pressure reaching super critical levels for the working fluid, the temperature range the cycle can operate over is quite small; in steam turbines, turbine entry temperatures are typically 565°C (the creep limit of stainless steel) and condenser temperatures are around 30°C. This gives a theoretical Carnot efficiency of about 63% compared with an actual efficiency of 42% for a modern coal-fired power station. This low turbine entry temperature (compared with a gas turbine) is why the Rankine cycle is often used as a bottoming cycle in combined-cycle gas turbine power stations.

One of the principal advantages the Rankine cycle holds over others is that during the compression stage relatively little work is required to drive the pump, the working fluid being in its liquid phase at this point. By condensing the fluid, the work required by the pump consumes only 1% to 3% of the turbine power and contributes to a much higher efficiency for a real cycle. The benefit of this is lost somewhat due to the lower heat addition temperature. Gas turbines, for instance, have turbine entry temperatures approaching 1500°C. Nonetheless, the efficiencies of actual large steam cycles and large modern gas turbines are fairly well matched.

In practice, a steam engine exhausting the steam to atmosphere will typically have an efficiency (including the boiler) in the range of 1-10%, but with the addition of a condenser and multiple expansion, it may be greatly improved to 25% or better.

A modern large electrical power station (producing several hundred megawatts of electrical output) with steam reheat, economizer etc. will achieve efficiency in the mid 40% range, with the most efficient units approaching 50% thermal efficiency.

It is also possible to capture the waste heat using cogeneration in which the waste heat is used for heating a lower boiling point working fluid or as a heat source for district heating via saturated low pressure steam. By this means it is possible to use as much as 85-90% of the input energy.

Read more about this topic:  Steam Engine

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Famous quotes containing the word efficiency:

    Nothing comes to pass in nature, which can be set down to a flaw therein; for nature is always the same and everywhere one and the same in her efficiency and power of action; that is, nature’s laws and ordinances whereby all things come to pass and change from one form to another, are everywhere and always; so that there should be one and the same method of understanding the nature of all things whatsoever, namely, through nature’s universal laws and rules.
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