Berkeley Lab’s ultraclean combustion technology for electricity generation
An experimental gas turbine simulator equipped with an ultra-low-emissions combustion technology called LSI was tested successfully using pure hydrogen as a fuel—a milestone that indicates a potential to help eliminate millions of tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of NOx from power plants each year.
The LSI (low-swirl injector) technology, developed by Robert Cheng of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, won a 2007 R&D 100 award from R&D magazine as one of the year’s top 100 new technologies.
The LSI holds great promise for its near-zero emissions of nitrogen oxides, gases that are emitted during the combustion of fuels such as natural gas during the production of electricity. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, are greenhouse gases as well as components of smog.
The DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability initially funded the development of the LSI for use in industrial gas turbines for on-site electricity production. The purpose of this research was to develop a natural gas-burning turbine using the LSI’s ability to substantially reduce NOx emissions.
Cheng, Berkeley Lab colleague David Littlejohn, and Kenneth Smith and Wazeem Nazeer from Solar Turbines Inc. of San Diego adapted the low-swirl injector technology to a gas turbine that produces about seven megawatts of electricity.
“This is a kind of rocket science,” says Cheng, who notes that these turbines, which are being used to produce electricity by burning gaseous fuels, are similar in operating principle to turbines that propel jet airplanes.