Promoting gas turbine innovation -

Promoting gas turbine innovation

22 Jul 2020

Interview with Mauro Moretto and Mirko Bothien of Ansaldo Energia

Climate change is one of the most difficult yet most important socio-economic and technical challenges facing us in the coming decade. Increased public awareness has created expectations of a fast reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time the reality is that today’s energy systems are highly reliant on fossil fuels.

If we look at the main dynamics in the evolving energy landscape, it is clear that we collectively need to take responsibility and together drive change. We need “a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change”, as per a recent call by the Executive Director of the IEA. Only a concerted effort will be successful in achieving decarbonized power generation by 2050.

Being part of the solution is a great motivation for Ansaldo Energia. In this complex situation, we look for opportunities to make an important contribution.

Decarbonization is imperative, and storage and digital technologies will further accelerate renewable use in a form that will include a higher share of decentralized systems. The EU is set to lead this global process by pushing for a climate neutral economy by 2050.

As energy systems strive to achieve function and stability, we can recognise the following as key areas for the future: flexible decarbonized resources, hybrid systems with integrated storage technologies, decentralized digitally integrated energy microgrids, and intense deployment of digital technologies for asset exploitation.

Our goal at Ansaldo Energia is to make gas turbines an integral part of the future energy mix. We see a strong trend towards extending the fuel flexibility of gas turbines to incorporate green fuels, particularly hydrogen and ammonia. Indeed, in 2019, the EU Turbines Association pledged to meet customer demands for gas turbines operating 100% on hydrogen - both for new engines and retrofits - by 2030.

The trend has been fuelled by the rapid increase in volatile renewable energy (VRE) and the coal phase-out. A VRE share above 50% requires mid- to long-term energy storage due to longer periods of deficit and surplus energy. Hence, in future it will be crucial to deliver flexible and dispatchable power for load levelling. This is where Power-to-X-to-Power schemes come into play, with green hydrogen the best candidate for the energy vector “X” to be used in gas turbines.

The European Investment Bank is also considering a proposal to finance only projects with a maximum 250g/kWhe CO2 from 2021 onwards. This would exclude any coal power plants, and even natural gas fired combined cycle power plants only meet the criteria if they feature 80% CC efficiency.

Ansaldo Energia’s sequential combustion engines achieve 250g/kWhe for 50% vol. hydrogen in natural gas. Our flagship model, the GT36, is today commercially offered with this value – NOx compliant and without dilution – while the GT26 will be ready for this shortly (currently 45%).

Our challenge is to continue developing this work for our entire engine portfolio including retrofits and offer flexibility in terms of engine size. Our sequential combustion technology already leads the field in low NOx, high hydrogen.

We are also pushing forward with hybrid power generation plants. Our development programme is working to identify the most promising hybrid plant configurations, and we have launched a dedicated line of digital plant control systems for better integration of generation, storage assets and real-time interaction with the grids.

Certification bodies like RINA are set to play a key role in this energy transition, particularly in setting up schemes to assess CO2 emissions per kWhe by power plants. This will be required in cases of financing limitations such as those discussed by the European Investment Bank. Power plants would receive a corresponding certificate, and this CO2 footprint should include a lifetime verification, taking into account transport, fuel generation and potential storage aspects.

The development and application of innovative new materials is also a strategic area in which certification bodies can play a significant part.

RINA also has an excellent track record in obtaining funding for future energy supply projects, such as, for example, those taking part in the framework of EU Horizon2020 projects.

Our task going forward is to enable Ansaldo Energia’s teams to develop the technologies which will enable gas turbines to play an integral role in the future energy market.

This task will also include building and fostering strong collaborations with the private sector, as shown by our recent collaboration with Equinor, as well as convincing government and funding bodies of the importance of gas turbine participation in tomorrow’s market.