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Humidification tower for humid air gas turbine cycles: Experimental analysis

A. Traverso
DIMSET (TPG), University of Genoa, Via Montallegro 1, 16145 Genoa, Italy
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 9 November 2008
Accepted 13 July 2009
Available online 13 August 2009
Humidification tower
Experimental analysis
a b s t r a c t
In the HAT (humid air turbine) cycle, the humidification of compressed air can be provided by a pres-
surised saturator (i.e. humidification tower or saturation tower), this solution being known to offer
several attractive features. This work is focused on an experimental study of a pressurised humidification
tower, with structured packing. After a description of the test rig employed to carry out the measuring
campaign, the results relating to the thermodynamic process are presented and discussed. The experi-
mental campaign was carried out over 162 working points, covering a relatively wide range of possible
operating conditions.
It is shown that the saturator behaviour, in terms of air outlet humidity and temperature, is primarily
driven by, in decreasing order of relevance, the inlet water temperature, the inlet water over inlet dry air
mass flow ratio and the inlet air temperature.
The exit relative humidity is consistently over 100%, which may be explained partially by measure-
ment accuracy and droplet entrainment, and partially by the non-ideal behaviour of air–steam mixtures
close to saturation.
Experimental results have been successfully correlated using a set of new non-dimensional groups:
such a correlation is able to capture the air outlet temperature with a standard deviation s ¼2.8 K.
Ó 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Land-based simple-cycle gas turbines are well-known for their
compactness, flexibility and rapidity of installation, despite the fact
that they are affected by relatively poor efficiencies due to the high
exhaust temperatures. The development of combined cycles solved
this problem, but these cycles require a bulky and expensive steam
plant, which makes them not directly suitable for distributed
power generation. On the other hand, mixed gas–steam cycles are
able to overcome these problems, showing good performance and
competitive costs also at sizes well below 50 MW: so far, the most
successful ‘‘mixed’’ plants on the market have been the Cheng cycle
[1] and GE STIG (General Electric STeam Injected Gas turbine) cycle
[2]. Nevertheless, there are several ways of introducing steam into
a mixed cycle between the compressor and the expander: the HAT
(humid air turbine) cycle is surely one of the best-known config-
urations [3], but new options are currently under development,
such as the VAST (Value Added Steam Technologies) cycle [4].
Regarding the HAT cycle, several University and Industry studies
from all over the world have shown its remarkable potential in
terms of performance and reduced cost of electricity for small and
mid-size power generation plants: representative analyses from
the authors are reported in [5–8], while other recent theoretical
studies have been presented in [9,10]. The main advantage of the
HAT cycle is the saturator itself (i.e. humidification tower or satu-
ration tower), because it provides the possibility of having mass
and heat exchanges at lowtemperature and allows the evaporation
of water below boiling point, reducing the entropic losses and
giving wide flexibility in humid air production. In addition, the
pressurised humidification tower is comparatively cheap and easy
to build, which makes the HAT cycle promising. However, the
technology of pressurised saturators used in power generation is
still at an early stage of development.
From the experimental point of view, the HAT cycle or parts of it
(i.e. the saturation tower) have been demonstrated and tested in
only a few laboratories around the world.
Historically, the first demonstration of the entire humid air cycle
was successfully performed by Lund University [11], supported by
its industrial partner Alstom Power Generation Ltd. They ran an
actual HAT cycle using the existing microturbine VT600, capable of
600 kW and 22% efficiency in simple cycle. The saturator was
constituted by a pressurised humidification tower with structured
internal packing. Based on measurements on the pilot plant, it was
demonstrated that the HAT cycle could enhance efficiency by up to
35%, which is a remarkable increase even compared with the effi-
ciencyof thedry recuperatedcycle configuration, estimatedat about
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ39 010 353 2455; fax: þ39 010 353 2566.
E-mail address:
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j ournal homepage: www. el sevi er. com/ l ocat e/ energy
0360-5442/$ – see front matter Ó 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Energy 35 (2010) 894–901
26%. Moreover, full water recovery for plant water supply was
demonstrated through a surface flue gas condenser. Recently, Lund
researchers are exploring newopportunities for the HAT cycle [12].
Another interesting Swedish experiment was carried out by
Prof. Westermark [13]. He investigated an innovative solution for
humidifying the compressed air and recovering heat from the
turbine exhausts all in one single device. Such a three-fluid satu-
rator was actually built and tested, showing good agreement with
theoretical predictions. Alternative HAT cycle configurations were
also studied in [14].
Recently, a Chinese research group has built a saturator test rig
with no internal packing: in such a case the contact area between
air and water is provided by water droplets, which are injected at
the top of the tower and collected at the bottom. First results are
reported in [15].
Finally, an almost unique industrial experiment is being carried
out by Hitachi Ltd., as reported in [16]. They are building an inno-
vative configuration of HATcycle, where water is injected upstream
of the compressor (wet compression) as well as being introduced
upstream of the recuperator by means of a packing-less saturation
tower (conceptually the tower is similar to the previous case). The
first HAT commercial package is expected to be available soon.
The first and last test rigs are mainly focused on the integration
of the saturator with turbomachinery, thus introducing several
constraints in the possible operational points of the saturation
tower itself. The second and third rigs, however, are flexible
enough to test the saturator behaviour in a very wide range of
operating conditions, which is a necessary step for developing
suitable simulation tools and accurate design procedures. In this
respect, no dedicated test facility has been presented so far
regarding saturation towers with structured internal packing. This
was the main motivation for building, at the TPG laboratories of
University of Genoa, a modular test rig for experimentally evalu-
ating the behaviour of a saturation tower with structured internal
This paper outlines the test rig layout and discusses the results
obtained in a significantly wide operational range of such a satu-
rator. Finally, a first attempt to correlate the experimental data is
presented: the correlation developed is helpful for characterising
the off-design behaviour of saturators, and may be employed for
off-design HAT cycle calculations in future work.
2. Test rig description
The purpose of the so called ‘‘MOSAT (MOdular SATurator)
project’’ is to provide a test rig able to collect a wide range of
experimental data. The plant was built using off-the-shelf compo-
nents, except for the saturation tower modular vessel. Fig. 1 illus-
trates the rig and shows the control panel for the associated control
and data acquisition system.
2.1. Saturation tower
The core of the rig is constituted by the saturation tower.
Structured internal packing is used because it is attractive for
power generation plants due to the relatively small pressure drop
along the saturator height (which applies to the air in a gas turbine
cycle moving from the compressor to the expander). Moreover, in
this way the internal geometry, which is relevant to the design
phase of the tower and to the validation of simulation models, is
precisely known.
The tower is composed of four flanged pipes, a top and a bottom
Within each pipe two packing modules may be piled in series,
thus providing the ‘‘effective’’ heat and mass transfer surface
between air and water.
The possibility of varying the number of internal packing
modules led to the name MOSAT. The packing modules employed
are structured packages by Sulzer Ltd, with an effective contact area
of 500 m
. The saturation tower is constituted by a series of
maximum 8 packing modules, each of 200 mm length and 80 mm
diameter. In the present work the full set of 8 modules were used.
The tower structure also allows different packing modules to be
used, such as those by Montz GmbH, but they were not employed
for the tests presented here. Every pipe is equipped with thermo-
couples and pressure transducers at the upper end: in fact, that is
specific heat at constant pressure [kJ/kg K]
D inner diameter of saturator [¼0.08 m]
G inlet dry air/gas flow [kg
h enthalpy per unit mass [kJ/kg]
enthalpy per unit mass of dry air/gas [kJ/kg
L inlet water flow [kg
L/G inlet water mass flow over inlet dry air/gas
mass flow ratio [kg
M mass flow [kg/s]
N number of measurements
ng non-dimensional group of properties
P pressure [bar]
T temperature [K]
non-dimensional outlet air temperature
inlet air/gas adiabatic saturation temperature [K]
u effective air/gas velocity [m/s]
Y absolute humidity [kg
Greek symbols
water triple point vaporization enthalpy (between
quality 0 and 1) [¼2501 kJ/kg
non-dimensional temperature difference
equivalent diameter of inner channels of structured
packing [¼0.017 m]
m dynamic viscosity [Pa s]
n void fraction of structured packing [¼0.97]
r density [kg/m
s standard deviation of outlet air/gas temperature [K]
w average angle of inner channels of structured packing
[¼0.56 rad]
c calculated
G,g dry air/gas
in saturator inlet
m measured
out saturator outlet
tri water triple point
V steam
W,w water
1 air inlet into saturator
2 air outlet from saturator
3 water inlet into saturator
4 water outlet from saturator
A. Traverso / Energy 35 (2010) 894–901 895
the location where some space is available for measurements at
intermediate sections of the saturator.
Concerning the temperatures, at each section there are two
thermocouples with special upper ‘‘umbrella’’ or lower ‘‘cup’’ to
allow the measurement of the descending water and the ascending
air, with minimal mutual interference. In this way it is possible to
characterise the temperature trend of the two fluids along the
tower axis.
No droplet separator is currently installed at the top: never-
theless limited droplet entrainment is expected to occur because
the water injector simply pours the water onto internal packing
modules at the top of the tower, without generating a spray of
droplets. This was suggested by the packing suppliers due to the
relatively small internal diameter of the saturator.
The diameter has to minimize the pressure drop along the tower
and the droplet dragging. Basing on the previous sizing experiences
[17], the GPDC (Generalised Pressure Drop Correlation) was used. In
our case, the GPDC led to a diameter of about 0.05 m, but a diameter
of 0.08 m was chosen in order to allow testing of higher air flow
rates in the future.
2.2. Air and water supply lines
In order to feed the saturation tower with air and water at the
desired conditions, two separate supply lines have been installed
(see control panel of Fig. 1).
The air supply line is composed by a compressor, a reservoir to
keep as constant as possible the pressure, a drying system to
provide almost 0% humidity air, a heater and a mass flowmeter. The
air flow is limited by the compressor itself, which can provide
maximum 10 g/s continuously. The air mass flow is directly
controlled by the air flow meter, which receives in input the set
point of mass flow and regulates its internal valve to get to the
target. The heater is a 4.5 kW Watlow electrical heater equipped
with the DIN-a-MITEÒ control.
The water supply line is provided with a feeding pump, a recir-
culation pump, a heater and a mass flowmeter. The two centrifugal
pumps are moved by two electrical motors of 0.75 kWand 0.33 kW
power, respectively. The recirculation pump is always working, and
it generates the desired water flow injected at the top of the tower,
while the feeding pump is switched on and off by the water level
meter at the tower bottom. Both pumps are regulated by means of
a recirculation circuit from downstream to upstream each pump:
each recirculation circuit can be manually controlled by a regu-
lating valve. The water flow meters are constituted by two
mechanical reed-effect devices that use two oval wheels each. Such
wheels have special needs concerning the working temperature
and purity of incoming water, therefore a filter and a cooler had to
be installed upstream. The employed heater is another Watlow
circulation electrical unit, with a power of 7.5 kW.
Finally, after the air is humidified into the saturation tower, the
outlet humid air passes through a back-pressure regulation valve,
which is used to keep constant pressure inside the saturator. Again,
because of temperature limitations, a cooler and water separator
had to be employed upstream.
2.3. Accuracy of measurement equipment
2.3.1. Temperature and pressure
All thermocouples installed to monitor the tower body and to
control the inlet temperatures are ‘‘K’’ type class 1. Such thermo-
couples provide an accuracy of Æ1.5

C over the range

For construction reasons, the inlet air temperature is measured
as close as possible to the saturator body, nevertheless a few cen-
timetres gap between the point of measure and the saturator
remained, thus leading to an error in the inlet temperature. Such an
error was estimated as being less than 2

C, thus it was considered
All absolute pressure and differential pressure transducers are
based on a piezoresistive sensor which allows a good standard of
accuracy (Æ2% from0 to 50

C and Æ4% fromÀ20 to 80

C) in a wide
range of operating conditions.
2.4. Outlet air humidity measurement
One of the most complex problems of saturation towers is the
accurate measurement of humidity of the air at the tower outlet. In
fact, the difference in water mass flow between inlet and outlet
may be small enough to severely affect the precision of the
Fig. 1. Test rig and related control panel (Labview 7.1 software).
A. Traverso / Energy 35 (2010) 894–901 896
resulting consumption (each water flowmeter comes with an error
of Æ1%, thus the error in water consumption may be in excess of
Æ30%, depending on the operating conditions). According to the
procedure employed in [11], it was decided not to use the on-line
water flow measurements, but to estimate water consumption by
averaging over a certain period of time the feed water which had to
be supplied to the systemin order to restore the level to the bottom
of the tower. In fact, the approach consists in estimating the time
that a known amount of water takes to get out of the saturator with
the humid air, while the operating regime of the saturator remains
unchanged. This system provides a value that is a mean over a time
period, but it guarantees high accuracy. The on-line water flow
measurements were employed to only to estimate the L/G ratio, i.e.
the ratio between the water mass flow and dry air mass flow at
saturator inlets (top and bottom, respectively), which is an impor-
tant operating parameter for the saturator.
Since the outlet humidity was measured by calculating the time
for the saturator to consume a certain amount of water, the
resulting precision was relatively high, being about Æ0.5%.
3. Experimental results
The measuring campaign was aimed at obtaining a database as
wide as possible of saturator performance, within the capabilities
of the test rig itself.
The pressure levels were 3, 4 and 5 bar absolute, a pressure of
4 bar being the most likely to be used in an mHAT (humid air
microturbine) cycle [5]. As regards the inlet air and water flows,
tests were carried out at 5, 7.5 and 10 g/s for both: as explained
before, the inlet air can be considered at 0% humidity. The air
temperatures were 100, 200 and 300

C, while the inlet water
temperatures were set to 2/3 and 3/3 of the water saturation
temperature for each working pressure, decreased of about 15

Since the experimental matrix consisted of all the possible
combinations of the previous variables, a single pressure set of data
is made of 3(L) Â3(G) Â3(TG) Â2(TW) ¼54 tests (overall:
54 Â3 ¼162 tests). Fig. 2 shows the air outlet temperature at each
test absolute pressure level. The parameters are the inlet water flow
and the inlet temperatures of water and air. The diagram reports
that, as expected, the inlet water temperature is one of the most
important parameters in the saturation process, driving the outlet
air temperature. In fact, two groups of curves are visible, relating to
the two inlet water temperatures.
An increase in inlet air temperature leads to different effects in
outlet temperature and, as a consequence, absolute humidity: with
regard to the points with highest water mass flow (last three
curves), in the 3 bar cases the two temperatures show the same
trend, while in the 5 bar cases it is evident that an increase in inlet
air temperature lowers the air outlet temperature (and humidity).
The 4 bar data points represent an intermediate case. This behav-
iour is likely to be due to the increase in warm outlet water
temperature, which increases its influence in the enthalpy balance.
In fact, comparing the 3 bar and 5 bar cases, the latter show
a significant higher T
due to both a higher air adiabatic
saturation temperature and a higher convective heat transfer
coefficient with inlet air. This larger water enthalpy ‘‘outlet’’ is
counter-balanced by a lower temperature in air outlet.
Outlet temperature tends generally to increase with L/G ratio,
which is correct, as an increasing L/G ratio usually brings the outlet
air temperature to approach the inlet water temperature (higher).
However, the third curve in the 3 bar tests (but also for 4 and 5 bar)
is the only one showing a descending slope. Such points are those
with the smallest absolute water mass flow. This can be explained
again with reference to the enthalpy balance: as far as the air flow
decreases, the incidence of outlet water enthalpy increases, thus
causing such a decrease in outlet air temperature.
Overall, it may be stated that the influence of inlet air temper-
ature is lowin comparison to that of inlet water temperature and L/
G ratio. This qualitative conclusion will be quantitatively demon-
strated in the correlation of experimental data.
Fig. 3 shows the air and the water temperature trends along the
saturation tower. The non-dimensional saturator height is to be
considered from the bottom to the top (1 ¼100% total length). First
of all it is possible to observe the very rapid air inlet temperature
decrease, immediately after the entrance into the saturator
column. On the one hand, this fact confirms the low influence of
this temperature, due to the good mass and heat exchange effi-
ciency between air and water in the structured package, while, on
the other hand, it demonstrates that the present saturation
column is actually highly oversized for the saturation process
Finally, the most controversial point of this experimental
analysis is concerned with the outlet air humidity. Previous
experiments [11] and theoretical works [18] have shown that there
is an apparent sovra-saturation (i.e. relative humidity higher than
100%) of the outgoing humid air which cannot be simply explained
by droplet entrainment or measurement error, but it may be part of
the non-ideal behaviour of water–air mixture.
In particular, the experience at the University of Lund has
shown an apparent exit relative humidity of 104% (result from
one single operational point of the saturator). In our case, the
‘‘ideal’’ relative humidity of outlet air was expected to be 100% in
all operating conditions, due to the very high packing surface
available. The measured relative humidity of outlet air is shown
in Fig. 4. The twelve points below 100% humidity are those
identifying the tests at the lower water flow and L/G values, but
most of the points present an ‘‘ideal’’ relative humidity which is
greater than 100%: the arithmetical average relative humidity of
all data points is about 110%. The attempt of correcting the ideal
model with the Hyland and Wexler model for humid air [19] has
shown marginal improvement (only 1–2 percentage points
average decrease in sovra-saturation), thus it has not been
considered for Fig. 1. The conclusion is that such a sovra-satu-
ration behaviour may be due to at least three causes: first, the
non-ideal behaviour of air–steam mixture and possible non-
stable condition at saturator exit; second, the entrainment of
small droplets at saturator exit (not detectable with present
equipment); third, the precision of measurement of water
consumption. Furthermore, increasing the size and mass flows of
the test rig may be an alternative way to reduce experimental
uncertainties. However, further investigations will be required in
forthcoming experimental activities.
Nonetheless, it is believed that the air outlet humidity does not
significantly affect the attempt at correlating experimental data
(next section) which is aimed at creating a generalised relation-
ship for describing off-design saturator behaviour in terms of
temperatures, mass flows and pressures. Thus, the error in air
outlet humidity may be only reflected by an error in outlet air
temperature, which is, however, accurately captured by
4. Correlation of data
A general and systematic approach is undertaken starting from
non-dimensional analysis theory to correlate the experimental data
Once the tower geometry has been defined, in order to correlate
the results of different off-design operating conditions, a general
functional relation such as (1) can be written.
A. Traverso / Energy 35 (2010) 894–901 897
Fig. 2. Outlet air temperature vs L/G ratio, at different water and air inlet temperatures and mass flows.
A. Traverso / Energy 35 (2010) 894–901 898
; M
; M
; M
; T
; T
; T
; P; Y
; Y
Þ ¼ 0 (1)
The number of the independent variables can be defined
considering that:
z0 in every test condition considered, in fact the
employed air is compressed, cooled and dried;
can be derived from the air/gas mass balance
can be derived from the water mass balance
can be derived from the overall energy balance of the
in every test the outlet air can be assumed to be saturated,
therefore Y
is directly dependent on T
and P, thus P can
be eliminated;
Consequently it is possible to simplify equation (1) into (2).
; GhM
; T
; T
; T
; Y
Þ ¼ 0 (2)
Fromthe dimensional analysis of the six variables in (2), it is easy to
demonstrate that only two dimensions are linearly independent:
these are ‘‘kg/s’’ and ‘‘K’’. Therefore, based on dimensional analysis
theory, it is possible to identify 4 (¼6 À2) non-dimensional groups
‘‘ng’’ and the general relationship among them (3). Such a rela-
tionship may be expressed as in (4).
; ng
; ng
; ng
Þ ¼ 0 (3)
¼ k$ng
Parameters k, a, b and c have to be calculated by minimisation of the
mean square error.
Based on the main equations which control the saturator
physical behaviour and on the experimental data obtained fromthe
MOSAT test rig, the non-dimensional groups are chosen as follows.
The unknown term of the correlation has to contain the outlet
flow temperature, for practise use of the correlation. In fact,
knowing the inlet conditions for the water and air flows, and
obtaining the outlet air temperature from the correlation, all the
others outlet flow properties can be evaluated by usual balance
equations. This first non-dimensional group is defined in (5), where
is directly linked to T
The second non-dimensional group can be identified with the
flow ratio L/G, which is already known to be a relevant parameter
from atmospheric cooling tower theory [20]. Following the
approach presented in [21], the ‘‘mass flow non-dimensional
group’’ M
can be defined as in (6).
The third term has to take into account the influence of inlet
water and inlet air temperatures. Such a term can be written as in
(7). Nevertheless, this equation does not take into account any
effect of the pressure. Thus, also the water boiling temperature has
been added into the final ‘‘temperature non-dimensional group’’ T
shown in (8).
The fourth and last non-dimensional group of equation (4) is
identified with the Reynolds number of inlet air, which is defined in
(9). The related effective inlet velocity is defined in (10)
$n$sin w$p$D
With the previously defined non-dimensional groups, by eval-
uating the unknown coefficients in (4) with minimisation of mean
square error, the correlation (11) for all 162 data points can be
obtained. The related standard deviation is s ¼2.8 K (s ¼2.862 K).
¼ 4:5259 Â M
One of the best ways to identify ‘‘rough’’ data points is to check
the measured outlet relative humidity. The exit measured relative
humidity is compared to the average value of 110% for all the data
points: differences larger than 10% have been considered as the
Fig. 3. Temperature trends along non-dimensional saturation height of water and air
for test no. 43. Operating conditions are P ¼3 bar absolute, M
¼7.5 g/s, M
¼5 g/s,

C, T

Fig. 4. Relative humidity at saturation tower air outlet (top) for all 162 tests.
A. Traverso / Energy 35 (2010) 894–901 899
maximum acceptable threshold. Despite the fact that this criterion
may be questionable, it is founded on the belief that, due to the very
large available surface for heat and mass transfer in the test rig, the
exit air should be always in saturated conditions. Thus, if a ‘‘real’’
relative humidity has to be around 110%, there cannot be significant
departure from that value.
By applying the correlation approach to the data points filtered
in such a way, the correlation comes as in (12).
¼ 4:8198 Â M
This final correlation presents a standard deviation s ¼2.832 K,
which is basically the same as the previous non-filtered
In Fig. 5 it is possible to appreciate how about the 80% of the
experimental points has a precision of Æ3 K, while in Fig. 6 the
comparison between the non-dimensional outlet air temperature
group evaluated with the correlation and the one with the
measured properties is shown: distance of each point from the
central line is proportional to the correlation error.
The correlations illustrated represent a generalised form of
the behaviour of outlet air temperature of a saturator in off-
design conditions. Despite the fact that these correlations have
been obtained for only one type of geometry, they represent
a first attempt to represent the saturator behaviour with a single
generalised equation. This is expected to be useful for steady-
state predictions of saturator behaviour under different oper-
ating conditions. Nevertheless, further work needs to be
undertaken in order to improve the correlation validity over
a range of different saturator geometries, which have not been
analysed in this work. From a general perspective of the HAT
cycle, though beyond the scope of this paper, the error on outlet
air temperature associated to the correlation is supposed to be
acceptable for the assessment of the overall cycle performance.
5. Conclusions
The following conclusions may be drawn from this work:
a new rig for testing saturators to be used in mHAT was built
and operated. The test rig allows carrying out experimental
campaigns in a large range of operating conditions;
the test rig was employed to fully characterise the behaviour of
structured internal packing saturators. A matrix of 162 oper-
ating points was defined in order to cover a range of pressures
(3–5 bar absolute), L/G ratio (0.5–2) and inlet air temperatures

outlet air relative humidity still represents a controversial point
for saturators, because, as shown also by other scientists, it can
well exceed the threshold of 100%, calculated according to the
ideal gas approach. The present work showed an arithmetical
average relative humidity of all data points of about 110%
data points for correlation have been filtered using a criterion
based on outlet relative humidity, as the exit air should be
always considered saturated;
data points have been correlated using a generalised non-
dimensional correlation for representing the off-design
behaviour of structured packing saturators;
the correlations obtained allow the evaluation of the outlet air
temperature from the inlet flow properties and the operating
pressure: this can be useful for predicting the off-design
behaviour of structured packing saturators.
The authors wish to thank Simone Franchina, Joao Parente and
Alessio Pedemonte for the invaluable contribution to the design
and operation of the MOSAT test rig. The authors also acknowledge
Fig. 5. Error of correlated outlet air temperature against experimental measurement:
frequency distribution(left) andcumulative probabilitycurve (right) for correlation(12).
Fig. 6. DT
correlated(Y-axis) against DT
measured(X-axis) for the correlation(12).
A. Traverso / Energy 35 (2010) 894–901 900
Sulzer Ltd and Montz GmbH, the two companies which provided
the packing modules, for supporting research at the University.
This work has been partially financed by contracts FISR 2002
and MATT 2006.
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