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by Dr. Ake Almgren


Microturbines are an innovative and environmentally friendly alternative power solution for applications from resource recovery to hybrid electric vehicles. In this article, a developer of microturbine systems describes how microturbines are quietly proving to be a serious competitor to traditional forms of power generation.


Distributed generation, a concept first promoted by Thomas Edison in the 19th century, is rewiring the way facility opera- tors and environmental managers think about how electric power can be produced and distributed. For decades, energy users have waited for the promise of fuel cells, solar panels, and wind turbines to translate into reliable and economically viable sources of power. That wait continues. But with clean, safe, reliable, and cost-effective applications, microturbines are quietly delivering on those promises and proving to be a supplement to traditional forms of power generation.

Moving away from 100% dependence on the utility power grid to having an onsite microturbine power supplement is, admittedly, a paradigm shift. But for progressive environmen- tal managers worldwide, microturbines are quickly becoming an energy management solution that saves money, resources, and the environment in one compact and scalable package— be it stationary or mobile, remote or interconnected with the utility grid.


Microturbine technology is based on the design heritage of jet engine technology and large power turbines that span a width of a dozen feet or more. A major advantage of microturbine technology is that it is properly scaled for small installations, able to serve power needs ranging from a few kilowatts to a

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few megawatts, and that it meets those needs with low-pollut- ant emissions, regardless of the fuel used. Whether operated with natural gas, propane, diesel, kerosene, JP8 military fuel, oilfield “flare” gas, or biogases from landfills, microturbines typically emit low levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions without the need for post-combustion catalysts or other tem- peramental exhaust cleanup devices. Microturbines are even changing the way people perceive fuel. Think diesel is dirty? So did the California Air Resources Board (CARB)1 before it tested a microturbine fueled by diesel. CARB certified that the NOx emissions per brake-horsepower-hour of a diesel-fueled microturbine were half those of the cleanest, certified natural gas-fueled engine (see Figure 1).2 Furthermore, CARB noted that particulate emissions were almost undetectable—essen- tially the same as those of a natural gas engine—straight out of the combustion chamber, without any particulate trap. When using natural gas or renewable biogases as a fuel source, microturbine emissions are lower still.

Capstone Turbine Corporation ( has developed microturbine systems since 1988. To date, the com- pany has shipped more than 2400 units worldwide. Incor- porating patented design features, such as air bearings and advanced digital power electronics, Capstone MicroTurbines have just one moving part and do not require the use of oil, lubricants, or coolants (see Figure 2). With a low-NOx combustion system, these scaleable, state-of-the-art onsite

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