Steampowered - Steam Cycle

Steam Cycle

Main article: Rankine cycle See also: Thermodynamics and Heat transfer

The Rankine cycle is the fundamental thermodynamic underpinning of the steam engine. The cycle is a mathematical model that describes the flow of the steam, water and heat in an engine. The heat is supplied externally to a closed loop with some of the heat added being converted to work and the waste heat being removed in a condenser. The cycle is used to model machines that generate about 90% of all electric power used throughout the world, including virtually all solar, biomass, coal and nuclear power plants. It is named after William John Macquorn Rankine, a Scottish polymath.

The Rankine cycle is sometimes referred to as a practical Carnot cycle because, when an efficient turbine is used, the TS diagram begins to resemble the Carnot cycle. The main difference is that heat addition (in the boiler) and rejection (in the condenser) are isobaric (constant pressure) processes in the Rankine cycle and isothermal (constant temperature) processes in the theoretical Carnot cycle. In this cycle a pump is used to pressurize the working fluid which is received from the condenser as a liquid not as a gas. Pumping the working fluid in liquid form during the cycle requires a small fraction of the energy to transport it compared to the energy needed to compress the working fluid in gaseous form in a compressor (as in the Carnot cycle). The cycle of a reciprocating steam engine differs from that of turbines because of condensation and re-evaporation occurring in the cylinder or in the steam inlet passages.

The working fluid in a Rankine cycle follows a closed loop and is reused constantly. Normally water is the fluid of choice due to its favourable properties, such as non-toxic and unreactive chemistry, abundance, low cost, and its thermodynamic properties. Mercury is the working fluid in the mercury vapor turbine. Low boiling hydrocarbons can be used in a binary cycle.

The steam engine contributed much to the development of thermodynamic theory; however, the only applications of scientific theory that influenced the steam engine were the original concepts of harnessing the power of steam and atmospheric pressure and knowledge of properties of heat and steam. The experimental measurements made by Watt on a model steam engine led to the development of the separate condenser. Watt independently discovered latent heat, which was confirmed by the original discoverer Joseph Black, who also advised Watt on experimental procedures. Watt was also aware of the change in the boiling point of water with pressure. Otherwise, the improvements to the engine itself were more mechanical in nature. The thermodynamic concepts of the Rankine cycle did give engineers the understanding needed to calculate efficiency which aided the development of modern high pressure and temperature boilers and the steam turbine.

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