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Erosion-resistant nanocoating for turbine blades saves fuel, lowers costs

The commercialization of an advanced, erosion-resistant nanocoating developed with assistance from the US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) promises to benefit both the nation’s transportation and energy sectors. The coating, developed by MDS Coating Technologies Corporation (MCT), and tested by researchers at NETL, protects the compressor blades of commercial aviation and industrial gas-turbine engines from erosion—saving fuel, cutting carbon emissions, reducing operational costs, and extending part life.

Despite their force and power, the compressor blades of a gas turbine are surprisingly delicate. Pollutants, sand, and even water droplets can erode a blade and reduce turbine efficiency. Coating the blades with a strong, lightweight protective barrier helps prevent this erosion. Using nanotechnology, engineers can apply multiple layers of material to a compressor blade to provide a cost-effective, impenetrable coating.

Diagram of gas turbine engine and examples of erosion and corrosion. Source: MCT. Click to enlarge.

MCT coatings, applied by a proprietary process using Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD), are extremely thin, do not impact weight or dimension and provide protection for particle erosion, fluid erosion and corrosion.

Researchers in NETL’s Office of Research and Development received funding to evaluate and help optimize the performance of MCT’s nanocoatings under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) “Nanomanufacturing for Energy Efficiency” research lab call.

The NETL project was one of 20 selected for funding in late 2008. The purpose of the lab call, which was open to any of the Energy Department’s 17 national laboratories, was to fund development of nanotechnologies to reduce energy and carbon intensity in manufacturing applications. EERE especially sought “quick win” projects with a realistic path to commercialization in 3–5 years.

MCT is teaming with Delta Air Lines (Atlanta, Ga.) to use the coating technology on several engine types operated by Delta, with first fleet incorporation scheduled for this year. The coating allows aircraft engines to better retain engine performance and is conservatively expected to reduce fuel consumption by an average of 0.5% during typical engine tours, before induction for scheduled maintenance.

Considering that US commercial aviation is projected to consume an average of approximately 19 billion gallons of fuel a year from 2013 through 2022, US commercial aviation could realize annual fuel savings approaching 100 million gallons and cost savings greater than $300 million per year at today’s jet fuel prices. Additional markets include US commercial freight carriers and the US Department of Defense aviation fleet, which consumed more than $10 billion of fuel in 2011.

In the energy sector, MCT has supplied Calpine Corporation with coated rotor blades for a field trial for one of Calpine’s industrial gas turbines at a power plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. In April 2012, installation was completed for a 1-year field trial to evaluate the ability of the nanocoated blades to protect against fluid erosion during inlet fogging operations.

A major benefit of introducing inlet fogging for industrial gas turbine engines is power augmentation without consuming additional fuel, but adverse leading-edge fluid erosion on the large, expensive rotor blades could result in decreased engine efficiency, costly blade repair, and engine maintenance. The MCT nanocoating could solve these problems. A successful field trial positions the coating for technology transfer to US power plant operators.


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