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Collaborative Research Leads to Advanced Model for SCO2 Power Generation

Southwest Research Institute and The University of Texas at San Antonio are partnering to obtain data for a computational model for supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) energy generation. The research, guided by Jacob Delimont of SwRI’s Mechanical Engineering Division and Christopher Combs of UTSA’s College of Engineering, is aided by a $125,000 grant from the Connecting through Research Partnerships (Connect) Program.

sCO2 is carbon dioxide held above a critical pressure and temperature, which causes it to behave like a gas while possessing the density of a liquid. It is also non-hazardous and nonflammable, and its supercritical state makes sCO2 a very efficient fluid to produce power because minute variations in pressure or temperature cause major shifts in its density. Usually, existing power plants use water as a thermal medium in power cycles. Replacing water with sCO2 boosts efficiency by approximately 10%.

Owing to the efficiency of sCO2 as a thermal source, power plant turbomachinery can be one-tenth the size of conventional power plant parts, providing the potential to decrease the environmental footprint as well as the cost of constructing any new facilities.

Delimont and Combs plan to examine a direct-fired sCO2 cycle, which involves incorporating oxygen and fuel directly into the CO2 stream, causing it to combust, discharge heat, and form sCO2.This new type of power cycle allows for lower greenhouse gas emissions and higher efficiency.

This power cycle allows for the capture of 100 percent of the CO2 emissions that would otherwise end up in our atmosphere. The captured CO2 has many potential uses, including several applications in the oil and gas industry and even the carbonation in everyday soft drinks.

Jacob Delimont, Researcher, Mechanical Engineering Division, SwRI

The challenge facing the team is that direct-fired sCO2 power generation is such a new technology that only limited information is available about the combustion process. To achieve their goal, Delimont and Combs will work together on gathering data to confirm the accuracy of a computational model for a sCO2 combustor.

“The data for the model doesn’t exist, so first we’re going to acquire it,” Delimont said.

To envisage the burning of the sCO2 fuel, UTSA will supply laser systems and optical lenses as well as Combs’ expertise in the optical methods needed to envisage the flame in the direct-fire combustor.

Once we can visualize the combustion process, we can use computational models to design the necessary combustion equipment to make this power generation process a reality.

Jacob Delimont, Researcher, Mechanical Engineering Division, SwRI

The Connecting through Research Partnerships Program supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise at UTSA and the Executive Office at SwRI, is a grant opportunity provided to improve greater scientific partnership between the two institutions and to expand both UTSA’s and SwRI’s research-funding base with cross-campus joint programs.


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