Testing Turbines to Save Energy

penn-state-logoPenn State University

By Krista Weidner

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But a little knowledge can also be comforting. For anyone who has sat on a jet airplane at takeoff, tense and sweaty-palmed, wondering how in the world this gigantic assemblage will manage to climb into the sky and stay up, here is a little knowledge: That plane is propelled by a gas turbine engine, which is ideal for jet aircraft because of its excellent power-to-weight ratio — it’s a relatively small turbine engine that produces a lot of power for its light weight.

Gas turbine engines, lesser known than their steam, water, and wind counterparts, are found primarily in jet aircraft and in electric power plants. They are well suited for these uses because they operate best under a long-term, consistent load, rather than a fluctuating load, like that experienced by an automobile engine. Because gas turbines spin at high speeds and at temperatures well over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, they generate large amounts of power. In fact, gas turbines produce 15 percent of all energy used in the U.S. for air transportation and electricity generation.

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