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DAVID FLIN gets under the bonnet of steam turbines, from their beginnings
to their future

he first steam turbine was created casing and one set of rotating blades is energy from the steam flow and convert it
in the 1st century by Hero of connected to the shaft. The sets intermesh into shaft rotation. In impulse turbines,
Alexandria. The steam engine was with certain minimum clearances, with the steam expansion only happens at nozzles.
used to open temple doors. size and configuration of sets varying to
Things have moved on in the 2,000 years efficiently exploit the expansion of steam at Reaction turbines
since then. Charles Parsons developed the each stage. In a reaction turbine, the moving rotor
first modern steam turbine in 1884, which To maximise turbine efficiency, the steam blades are arranged to form convergent
was connected to a dynamo to generate is expanded in a number of stages. Work is nozzles. This type of turbine makes use of
7.5kW of electricity. But what designs of generated from each steam expansion and the reaction force produced as the steam
steam turbine have withstood the test of pressure drop. These stages are accelerates through the nozzles formed by
time and are currently in use? characterised by how the energy is the rotor. Steam is directed onto the rotor
Steam turbines come in a wide range of extracted from them and are known as by the fixed blades of the stator. The steam
sizes, from 0.75kW (used as mechanical either impulse or reaction turbines. Most leaves the stator as a jet that fills the entire
drives for pumps and other shaft-driven modern steam turbines are a combination circumference of the rotor. The steam then
equipment) to massive 1,500MW units. A of the reaction and impulse blading stages. changes direction and increases its speed
turbine may be classified with several Typically, higher pressure sections are relative to the speed of the blades. A
descriptors. For example, an impulse impulse type and lower pressure stages are pressure drop occurs across both the
steam turbine may be a non-condensing reaction type. stator and the rotor, with steam
unit with two stages of reversing elements, accelerating through the stator and
cross-compounded with a low-pressure Impulse turbine decelerating through the rotor, with no net
reaction turbine. In an impulse turbine, the fixed blades (or change in steam velocity across the
Confused? Hopefully, this article will nozzles) orient the steam flow into high
explain the terminology used. speed jets, which the moving rotor blades
convert into shaft rotation. As the steam PICTURE CAPTION Industrial steam turbines can
Principles of design flows through the fixed blade, it loses be used for various purposes: industrial power
An ideal steam turbine is an isentropic thermal energy and gains kinetic energy, plants, (captive power plants in the chemical,
process, in which the entropy of the steam giving it a high velocity as the steam petrochemical, sugar and textile industry, in pulp
entering the turbine is equal to the entropy pressure falls. This high steam velocity and paper mills, steel works and mines); for
of the steam leaving it. This ideal doesn’t impacts the moving blades, inducing cogeneration and district heating plants; for waste-
exist, and typical isentropic efficiencies rotation. The steam leaving the moving to-energy applications such as waste incineration
range from 20-95%, depending on the blades retains a large portion of the velocity facilities; biomass power plants; for combined-cycle
application of the turbine. it had on entering the moving blades. The applications or in petrochemical plants and
The interior of a turbine comprises next stage of fixed blades then redirects refineries. Shown is the SST-300 industrial steam
several rows of blades. One set of the high velocity steam jet, enabling the turbine with a capacity of 50MW at Nuremberg
stationary blades is connected to the next row of moving blades to extract more plant, Germany SIEMENS


2008 issue one 65


combined stage, but with a decrease in ILLUSTRATION Comparison of impulse and reaction blading arrangements
both pressure and temperature, reflecting
the work performed in driving the rotor. Impulse turbine Reaction turbine
Reaction turbines create large amounts
of axial thrust, and so require the use of
Moving buckets
thrust bearings. Rotor
Fixed nozzle Rotating nozzle
Types of steam turbine:
Moving buckets
• condensing; Rotating nozzle
• non-condensing; Rotor
Fixed nozzle
• reheat;
• extraction;
• induction.

Condensing turbines Rotation

These turbines exhaust steam in a partially
condensed state, typically of a quality near
90%, and at a pressure well below
atmospheric to a condenser. These
turbines are the mainstay of the power Steam pressure
generation industry, particularly in large
utility central plants.
Steam velocity
The moisture in the last turbine stages
require more expensive materials,
otherwise erosion of the blades becomes a
major problem.
Condensing turbines are used for all Extraction turbines elements. These reversing blades are
coal-fired, oil- and gas-fired steam electric Extraction turbines are common in mounted on the same shaft as the forward
plants, all nuclear power plants, and all applications such as papermaking that elements. Normally, the reversing blades
combined cycle plants. require steam at a certain pressure and share the same condenser. During
temperature. In an extraction turbine, some reversing operations, the forward blade
Non-condensing steam turbines of the steam is taken from a point of the elements are spinning backwards in hot
Non-condensing or backpressure steam turbine having the desired temperature and steam. This incurs a large efficiency loss
turbines are most widely used for process pressure, and used for industrial process known as windage loss. This steam is
steam applications. The exhaust pressure needs or sent to boiler feedwater heaters. relatively stagnant and the forward blades
is controlled by a regulating valve to suit the Extraction flows may be controlled with a may overheat during extended operation.
needs of the process steam pressure. valve, or left uncontrolled. A one-way valve
These are commonly found at facilities is almost always located on the extraction Induction turbines
where large amounts of low pressure piping. In the event of an emergency Induction turbines introduce low pressure
process steam are available. turbine shutdown, pressure from the steam at an intermediate stage to produce
extraction line could supply enough energy additional power.
Reheat turbines to overspeed the turbine if there is a loss of
Reheat turbines are used almost load on the machine. The check valve Casing and shaft arrangements
exclusively in electric power plants. In a prevents this from occurring. Some of the more common casing and
reheat turbine, steam flow exits from a high shaft arrangements include: single casing,
pressure section of the turbine and is Reversing turbines tandem compound and cross compound
returned to the boiler, where it is further Reversing turbines are equipped with one turbines.
superheated. The steam then goes back or more stages of blades that are faced in Single casing is the most basic
into an intermediate pressure section of the the opposite direction of the main blading. arrangement where a single casing and
turbine and continues its expansion. A valving arrangement allows for the main shaft are coupled to a load.
Virtually all reheat turbines are also classed steam line to be closed to the forward Tandem compounding is used where
as condensing turbines. blades and opened to the reversing blade two or more casings are directly coupled


bowing. After first rotating the turbine by

the turning gear, allowing time for the rotor
to assume a straight plane, then the turning
gear is disengaged and steam is admitted
to the turbine. For most utility and industrial
steam turbines, a starting and loading chart
is included in the unit instruction manual.
The starting and loading chart is used
to guide turbine operators in loading their
units in such a way as to minimise
the rotor and shell thermal stresses,
and to also minimise the chances
of the rotor heating faster
than the shell, creating a rotor
long condition.
Problems with turbines are
rare and the maintenance
requirements are relatively small.
Any imbalance of the rotor can lead
to vibration, which, in extreme cases can
lead to a blade coming off the rotor and
punching through the casing.
It is also essential to ensure that the
turbine be turned with dry steam. If water
gets into the steam and is blasted onto the
blades (described as moisture carryover),
together to drive a single load on one shaft. and specially designed centrifuges remove then rapid impingement and erosion of the
A cross compounded turbine arrang- any water from the oil. blades can occur, possibly leading to
ement features two or more shafts driving imbalance and catastrophic failure. In
two or more loads that may operate at Shaft seals addition, water entering the steam stream
different speeds. Gearboxes have also The shaft seal on a turbine rotor consist of will probably result in the destruction of the
been developed to input the multiple shafts a series of ridges and grooves around the thrust bearing for the turbine shaft. To
of the cross compound arrangements and rotor and the rotor housing. These present prevent this, along with controls and baffles
output a single shaft. a long, tortuous path for any steam leaking in the boilers to ensure high quality steam,
through the seal. The seal therefore does condensate drains are installed in the
Bearings and lubrication not prevent the steam from leaking, but steam piping leading to the turbine.
Two types of bearings are used to support merely reduces the leakage to a minimum.
and locate the rotors of steam turbines. The leaking steam is collected and Speed regulation
Journal bearings are used to support the returned to a low pressure part of the Controlling the speed of a turbine is
weight of the turbine rotors. A journal steam circuit. essential, as turbines need to be run up
bearing consists of two half cylinders that slowly to prevent damage. In addition, the
enclose the shaft and are internally lined Operation and maintenance generation of electricity requires precise
with Babbit, a metal alloy usually consisting When warming up a steam turbine for use, speed control in order that the electricity is
of tin, copper and antimony. the main steam stop valves after the boiler of a usable quality. This speed regulation is
Thrust bearings axially locate the turbine have a bypass line to allow superheated usually achieved by use of a governor.
rotors and absorb longitudinal force. A steam to slowly bypass the valve and Uncontrolled acceleration of the turbine
thrust bearing is made up of a series of proceed to heat up the lines in the system rotor can lead to an overspeed trip,
Babbit-lined pads that run against a along with the steam turbine. In addition, a effected by the nozzle valves controlling
locating disc attached to the turbine rotor. turning gear is engaged when there is no the flow of steam to the turbine to close.
High pressure oil is injected into the steam to the turbine to slowly rotate the Were this not to happen, the turbine
bearings to provide lubrication. The oil is turbine to ensure that there is even heating may continue to accelerate until it
carefully filtered to remove solid particles, to prevent uneven expansion and rotor breaks apart. ep

PICTURE CAPTION 3D drawing of an SST-600 industrial steam turbine with a capacity of up to 100MW

2008 issue one 67