The 3.5-megawatt turbine was donated to Colorado State University by San Diego-based Solar Turbines and will support hydrogen combustion research at the CSU Energy Institute.
Photos by Allison Vitt.
Colorado State University’s Energy Institute is revving up its hydrogen and natural gas research capabilities with the recent arrival of an industrial turbine generator slated to be installed at the Powerhouse Energy Campus. The acquisition positions CSU among just a handful of academic institutions across the U.S. that have similar engines for conducting large-scale research and testing.
San Diego-based manufacturer Solar Turbines donated the turbine, which will be stationed in the Powerhouse’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. Solar Turbines is a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of diesel and natural gas engines.
The turbine’s arrival at the Powerhouse this past spring marked the beginning of its new life in higher education research.
Capable of producing 4,700 horsepower and 3.5 megawatts of electricity, the massive turbine will dwarf the existing research engines at CSU – and at nearly any other academic institution – by a long shot: In just one hour of runtime, the generator could produce enough energy to power the average U.S. household for more than three months.
“We have a track record of working with Caterpillar on large-scale energy solutions over several decades, and now this collaboration with Solar Turbines and the equipment they’ve provided will allow us to expand our work on clean turbine technology even further,” said Bryan Willson, Executive Director of the CSU Energy Institute.
The Energy Institute’s 30-year history partnering with Caterpillar on engine research projects has resulted in numerous applied solutions for improving engines and decreasing emissions across industries, he said.
“This new turbine will provide truly unparalleled access for faculty and students to advance their research on these critical greenhouse gas emission reduction technologies and develop solutions around combined hydrogen and natural gas power generation,” Willson said. “It will be an incredible addition to the facility and our research capabilities.”
The turbine being delivered to the Powerhouse Energy Campus on April 4, 2022.
Hydrogen combustion research
Bret Windom, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is leading CSU’s team of researchers developing kinetic models of hydrogen combustion. This work is part of a larger four-year, $4.5 million U.S. Department of Energy project led by Solar Turbines to develop a retrofittable dry, low-emissions gas turbine combustion system that can run on 100% hydrogen as well as blends of hydrogen and natural gas. Researchers from University of California-Irvine, Energy Research Consultants, Ltd., and the Southwest Research Institute are also contributors to the project.
“We’re currently in phase one of this project, where we’re developing combustion models and supporting computer-aided engineering of the combustor design,” Windom said.
In collaboration with Solar Turbines, Windom’s team will also be studying the turbine’s potential to run on varying fuel blends of natural gas and hydrogen and what, if any, modifications need to be made to the equipment to account for the enhanced reactivity of hydrogen and its unique combustion behaviors. This research could play a key role in advancing hydrogen-powered turbine technology, work that could have scalable impacts on decarbonization in the industrial and power generation sectors, he said.
“We have a track record of taking solutions from the laboratory and getting them into the field at-scale, and the addition of the turbine in our lab facility is going to allow us to do that now,” Windom said.
For CSU student Miguel Valles Castro, the addition of the turbine will bring more than just new equipment into the lab; it will broaden opportunities for students to develop and apply their research skills in a real-world setting. Valles Castro is a mechanical engineering doctoral student, graduate research assistant and Cogen Renewable Energy Fellow working with Windom on internal combustion engine modeling.
“The Energy Institute at CSU has many years of experience in internal combustion engines and other renewable energy devices to reduce emissions,” Valles Castro said. “The arrival of the turbine is exciting because it expands our areas of expertise.”