Archive for November 14th, 2013

Enthalpy and Steam Turbines

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

      Last time we learned how the formation of condensate within a power plant’s turbine results in a vacuum being created.   This vacuum plays a key role in increasing steam turbine efficiency because it affects a property known as enthalpy, a term used to denote total heat energy contained within a substance.   For the purposes of our discussion, that would be the heat energy contained within steam which flows through the turbine in a power plant.

      The term enthalpy was first introduced by scientists within the context of the science of thermodynamics sometime in the early 20th Century.   As discussed in a previous blog article, thermodynamics is the science that deals with heat and work present within processes.   Enthalpy is a key factor in thermodynamics, and is commonly represented in engineering calculations by the letter h and denoted as,

h = u + Pv

where u is the internal energy of a substance, let’s say steam; P is the pressure acting upon a specific volume, v, of the steam; and P and v are multiplied together.   Pressure is force per unit area and is measured in psi, pounds per square inch.   For the purposes of our discussion, it’s the amount of pressure that steam places on pipes containing it.

      Looking at the equation above, simple math tells us that if we increase the pressure, P, the result will be an increase in enthalpy h.   If we decrease P, the result will be a decrease in h.   Now, let’s see why this property is important with regard to the operation of a steam turbine.

      When it comes to steam turbines, thermodynamics tells us that the amount of work they perform is proportional to the difference between the enthalpy of the steam entering the turbine and the enthalpy of the steam at the turbine’s exhaust.   What is meant by work is the act of driving the electrical generator, which in turn provides electric power.  In other words, the work leads to a useful outcome.   This relationship is represented by the following equation,

W = h1h2

      In terms of the illustration below, W stands for work, or potential for useful outcome of the turbine/generator process in the form of electricity, h1 is the enthalpy of the steam entering the inlet of the turbine from the superheater, and h2 is the enthalpy of the steam leaving at the turbine exhaust.

Power plant engineering expert witness

      We’ll discuss the importance of enthalpy in more detail next week, when we’ll apply the concept to the work output of a steam turbine.

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