Clean energy is kind of a big deal. After all, nobody wants to be stuck in a small space with a running car for very long. So what could we do with a compact turbine that can generate enough electricity to power 10,000 homes? This diminutive dynamo, developed at GE Global Research, works using the power of carbon dioxide that is heated to such a high temperature, in this case up to 700°C, it becomes what is known as a supercritical fluid. In English, that means it can function as both a liquid and a solid, where it can effuse through solids like a gas, but still dissolve materials like a liquid. What that does, is create an environment inside the turbine that is highly efficient. Instead of using steam to spin, the much denser fluid passes through the turbine, where it is then cooled, depressurized and then cycled through again and again, turning the turbine.
Even though the product is early in the development process, 3D printing has been critical for study and iteration in the development process. While the final device will be made of a high-strength metal, it wouldn’t have been possible to progress this quickly without the ability to quickly produce, test and make changes to the prototypes. The mini rotors developer Doug Hofer stated that “This compact machine will allow us to do amazing things. The world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power. The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both. With energy demand expected to rise by 50 percent over the next two decades, we can’t afford to wait for new, cleaner energy solutions to power the planet. We have to innovate now and make energy generation as efficient as possible. Programs like those we are working on with the US Department of Energy are helping us get there.”