California: Microturbine Protects Environment, Creates Jobs

Project Overview
Positive Impact: The U.S. market potential for distributed generation using microturbines is significant; however, it remains mostly untapped for commercial and small industrial buildings. Developing new, cost-effective designs for this market can greatly reduce energy consumption and create jobs.
Locations: Chatsworth, CA; Oak Ridge, TN; Cleveland, OH
Partners: Capstone Turbine Corporation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and NASA’s Glenn Research Center.
EERE Investment:$5 million
Clean Energy Sector: Energy-saving homes, buildings, and manufacturingPDF

EERE has a long history of partnering with industry on research and development projects to develop microturbines for on-site, distributed power generation. Gas turbines offer numerous advantages: high power density, light weight design, clean emissions, fuel flexibility, low vibration, low maintenance, high reliability, and excellent durability. Microturbines can operate effectively across a wide range of fuels using existing infrastructure including natural gas, landfill gas, biogas generated from anaerobic digesters, and syngas. While many commercial, industrial, and government facilities are well suited for microturbines, existing design limitations must be overcome to unlock this substantial market potential.

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Advanced MicroTurbine System (AMTS) program with the goal of developing a high-efficiency microturbine in partnership with Capstone Turbine Corporation (Capstone). Upon its conclusion in 2008, the AMTS program successfully developed an air bearing design1 that Capstone incorporated into its products, particularly its 200-kWe, C200 model microturbine. The new air bearing helped Capstone raise the electrical efficiency of the C200 from a range of 17%–22% to 33%, contributing to sales revenue for the company of more than $83 million through 2012. Increased sales translate to more jobs manufacturing and installing microturbines, which then lower energy consumption and reduce harmful emissions.

EERE and Capstone are now building on the success of the AMTS program. In 2011, AMO and Capstone partnered on another R&D project to develop an even higher efficiency, 370 kWe microturbine that also reduces capital costs. Since C200 deployment at customer sites has demonstrated a net electric efficiency of 33%, the project team is confident it can achieve 42% net electrical efficiency for the 370-kWe design—85% in total combined heat and power (CHP) efficiency. Many components from current Capstone products, including the proven C200, will be used to accelerate development of the 370-kWe microturbine and ensure commercial success. As an intermediate step in the project, Capstone plans to improve aspects of the C200 that will increase its output and replace it with a new 250-kWe model. But the project’s ultimate goal of developing the C370 should result in energy savings of 44% compared to separate electric and thermal energy generation, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 59% and nitrogen oxide emissions 95%. With an expected payback period of 2.6 years,2 the 370-kWe design has the potential to make microturbines a viable distributed energy generation option for commercial, industrial and government facilities. Capstone plans to market the 370 kWe for sale as soon as possible after completing the project. Through its partnerships with Capstone, EERE is reducing energy consumption, generating environmental benefits, stimulating new markets for CHP technologies, and creating jobs.

The Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) partners with industry, small business, universities, and other stakeholders to identify and invest in emerging technologies with the potential to create high-quality domestic manufacturing jobs and enhance the global competitiveness of the United States.

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1Unlike contact-roller bearings, air bearings utilize a thin film of pressurized air to prevent contact between bearing surfaces, reducing friction, wear, and the need for lubricant handling.

2This payback period was calculated using an average electric price of $0.10 per kilowatt-hour and an average gas rate of $8.00 per MMBTU.