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Rolls-Royce and Japanese Materials Institute Partner to Develop Superalloys for Turbines, Targeting Greater Fuel Efficiency, Lower CO2

Rolls-Royce has entered a multi-year partnership with Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) to develop new high-temperature superalloys for use in gas turbine engines. The new Rolls-Royce Center of Excellence for Aerospace Materials will be based at NIMS’ Sengen site in Tsukuba, north of Tokyo.

Both competitive and environmental benefits result from increasing the temperature capabilities of materials operating in the hottest parts of a gas turbine to improve fuel efficiency, which in turn reduces the emissions of carbon dioxide.

Relatively small rises in temperature capability can bring quite large gains in fuel efficiency, so today’s agreement—which will see Rolls-Royce invest funds annually over an initial five-year period—represents a step toward achieving environmental benefits and specific targets for airplane engines’ CO2 emissions.

Certain technical properties have already been targeted as part of the agreement, which will involve seeking materials with significantly improved fatigue and creep capabilities at higher temperatures.

Materials can be a discriminator in our industry, so this is a vital programme for us. NIMS has an impressive record in developing high-class single-crystal superalloys; they led the way with earlier generation materials, and we look forward to working with them on sixth-generation nickel-based alloys, and in investigating radically new alloys that may offer the potential for step-change temperature capability.

—Ric Parker, Rolls-Royce Director of Research and Technology

It is the first scientific research program the company has directly funded in Japan, although Rolls-Royce has significant and long-standing links with Japan in terms of product development, supply arrangements, as a market for products in the company’s aerospace, marine and energy sectors, and as a participant in previous JAXA research programs.

Rolls-Royce has worked with NIMS for around 15 years, during which time they also collaborated with existing Rolls-Royce University Technology Centers (UTCs). This is expected to continue during future work programs—with Cambridge University, experienced in the physics of blade alloys, Birmingham University, which studies the castability of materials, and Cranfield University that focuses on coatings developments.



allen zheng

It is all about the thermodynamics of heat engines. One thing though, the hign temperatures, while may just be half of melting temperatures, induce creep on hot load bearing parts. These problems will complicate the development of next generation heat engines for electrical power as they burn ever hotter. Burning pure Oxygen+fuel is hell on earth. However, combined cycle (gas+steam turbine) with high temp electrolysis plants may prove to be a way around this with 60%+ efficiency vs >40% industry average. All told, US electrical demand will rise 50% in the coming decades. It would be nice if it were met by new technology and efficiency instead of more fuel burned.

Rafael Seidl

Allen -

you're right about the creep issues. Rolls Royce produces aircraft jet engines as well as stationary gas turbines. Better materials permitting higher thermodynamic efficiency not only save fuel directly but also help reduce the size and weight of the engines, because they can rev higher.

Pure oxygen combustion is rarely used for new designs these days. It is usually cheaper to combust with air and clean up the NOx using an SCR system (ammonia injection) than it is to produce the pure oxygen in the first place. Turbine size is a secondary consideration for stationary applications.

Producing hydrogen + oxygen using the electricity produced by the genset running off this gas would be a perpetual motion machine. Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant.

Gas turbines for electricity production will continue to run either on natural gas or on synthesis gas (H2 + CO), typically produced from coal but potentially from biomass.

allen zheng

No, the high temp. electrolysis or combined electric and thermal electrolysis is for utilizing the last of the waste heat. Solar energy and themoelectric elements may provide for electricity for operation of the process, if not main generator itself.
_The heat might be otherwise used for hot water or steam if a customer could be found nearby. Examples would be a sewage treatment plant, or a paper plant. Also, the energy is stripped off in the form of electrical power, which is then spent/wasted as work/heat. Therefore, it is not a perpeptual motion machine.


Rafael - "Pure oxygen combustion is rarely used for new designs these days. It is usually cheaper to combust with air and clean up the NOx using an SCR system (ammonia injection) than it is to produce the pure oxygen in the first place."

True however plans for 'clean' coal involve burning coal in oxygen to increase that ability to extract CO2 for sequestration.

"attenfall's technology modifies a conventional coal plant, by burning the fuel in pure oxygen instead of air (which is mostly nitrogen). Conventional coal plants generate a flu-gas mixture of mostly nitrogen with some carbon dioxide and water; capturing the carbon dioxide is expensive because it takes a lot of energy to separate the carbon dioxide gas from the nitrogen gas. In oxyfuels technology, the flu gas is mostly carbon dioxide and water, the latter being easily condensed and removed -- yielding pure carbon dioxide, which can be collected."

Roger Pham

These new "single-crystal superalloys" would more likely be used in smaller gas turbines such as for business jets or helicopters or fighter jets trying to get more range or payload out of them. Another potential application would be a distributed generation system for both heat and electricity generation in large buildings, involving perhaps 100-1000kw gas turbine, which, for now, has been much less efficient than jumbo-size gas turbines. However, small gas turbines' efficiency also suffers from the low Reynolds number that the tiny compressor blades and turbine blades are working under, so, even if the combustion temperature is raised, the efficiency for smaller gas turbines can never match that of a huge power-generating gas turbines. For localized distributed generation, high-temp solid oxide fuel cells would be a lot more efficient than smaller gas turbine (50% efficiency vs 30% efficiency) and can use methane as well as hydrogen. These fuelcells run so hot that a steam Rankine bottoming-cycle heat engine can also be used to extract further energy out of the fuel, and a good steam turbine or piston expander can extract another 30-40% energy out of the waste heat of the fuel cell, so you'll get a whopping 70% efficiency from your fuel's heating value, AND the waste heat from your steam turbine condenser can further be used to heat your building and your hot water. Talking about nearly 100% efficiency energy ulilization from methane or hydrogen here. Or, on a nice sunny day, you'll get your electricity directly from solar collector and divert any excess solar energy to the production of hydrogen to be used later on your fuelcell/steam turbine when the sun goes down.
Large power-generating gas turbines or jumbo jet turbines already have air-cooled hollow turbine blades so would be less likely to benefit from these superduper alloys.


There are wery interesting developments of coal combustion/gasification in fluidized bed combustion (recirculated, pressurized, etc.) using pure oxygen. Coal of extremely high ash content could be used, flue gases are very clean (except for sulfur oxides and volatile metals, of course), and the waste is ecologically clean slug ready to use as cement conditioner with almost zero heavy metals content, and surprisingly significant amount of melted iron alloy. As I know, developments were shelved because there are plenty of cheap high-quality coal, and flue gases and ashes could be dealt with quite effectively by conventional methods. But it is good to know that there are back-up alternatives.


Are there any current or concept vehicles using biogas/hydrogen turbines to power/charge Electric Hybrid batteries ?

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