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Using low-carbon, flexible fuels in microturbines to reduce fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions and electricity costs

Climate change, higher efficiency, and energy security have shifted the research focus for engines that convert fuel to useful work (known as prime movers) toward alternative fuels such as synthesis gas, landfill gas, digester gas, and other low-British thermal unit (BTU) fuels also known as Opportunity Fuels.

Combined heat and power (CHP) systems are used to reduce fossil fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions while taking advantage of the ultra-low emissions levels these fuels afford. The use of low-carbon, flexible fuels in a clean, efficient, and cost-effective microturbine potentially offers significant reductions in fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions, and electricity costs.

With rising fertilizer and natural gas prices, farmers are under considerable pressure to improve efficiency and reduce energy costs. Due to available biomass resource and the value of displaced electricity, a CHP system integrated with a gasifier could become an economically attractive investment for many farmers. With 2.1 million farms in the United States, agriculture represents a significant potential market for a microturbine CHP system with an integrated biomass gasifier.

Argonne researchers use a fully instrumented Capstone C65 unit for microturbine CHP research in the lab’s Distributed Energy Research Center (DERC). The DERC incorporates state-of-the-art equipment (Horiba 7100 and 6000FT Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR)) to characterize emissions. In addition, a unique gas burner system allows simulation and customization of various gaseous fuels ideally suited for work on opportunity fuels.