GE announced Monday that it set a new record with its HA gas turbine, and it has 3-D printing to thank. The record of 64 percent efficiency in a combined-cycle installation beats out the previous official record of 62.22 percent, set by GE in 2016.
While this might not seem like a huge jump in numbers, for gas turbine technology small increases mean big savings and increased power output. Turbine efficiency indicates how much of the energy produced by burning a given amount of natural gas is usable. GE Power estimates that a single percentage point increase can translate to millions in fuel savings for its customers annually.
One of the major factors in unlocking this additional efficiency was metal 3-D printing, which GE engineers used to create previously unachievable geometries in their turbine parts. The new design leads to better mixing of fuel and air prior to combustion. The company has also demonstrated its investment in 3-D printing as a manufacturing tool through its use of 3-D-printed nozzles in its jet turbines and the announcement of its newest metal 3-D printer (see also: “The 3-D Printer That Could Finally Change Manufacturing”).
In the U.S., natural gas has been on an upswing at the expense of coal. Coal’s usage in the U.S. has declined 30 percent in the last five years. Natural gas is cheap and plentiful, making it hard for the coal industry to compete (see “Trump’s Empty Promise to Coal Country”). As gas turbines like the HA, which can accept gas and liquid fuels, become more energy efficient, it could be yet another nail in coal’s coffin.