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Argonne’s DERC: Powering Alternative Energy Solutions

When Argonne researchers recently fired up a new 470-horsepower, six-cylinder Cummins engine, it was the largest to ever run in one of the laboratory’s engine test cells.

They are using this powerful engine to investigate ways to increase engine efficiency and reduce harmful emissions. This may sound like a transportation project, but it’s actually a stationary, natural gas-powered engine used for on-site electricity generation.

DERC research team
Running the large Cummins QSK19G engine was a major milestone for the DERC team, which includes Sreenath Gupta (front to back), Bipin Bihari, Richard Lill, Munidhar Biruduganti and Jason Bromberek.

"Engines for transportation purposes are designed for high specific power and reasonable durability. Whereas the engines designed for stationary power generation tend to be large behemoths that can operate for up to 40 years," said Sreenath Gupta, a mechanical engineer at Argonne. “These larger size engines also have higher fuel conversion efficiency.”

The six-cylinder, reciprocating engine is just one of many types of distributed energy systems, which include microturbines and other small-scale devices designed to provide electricity, and sometimes thermal energy as well, in locations close to consumers.

For industrial sites, hospitals, and other facilities with large energy requirements, distributed energy systems offer a promising alternative to relying solely on power from the grid (where the sources are mostly large centralized coal and nuclear power plants). The clean, efficient and reliable energy provided by distributed generation comes with many benefits including improved energy security, reduced transmission losses, grid decongestion and improved disaster resiliency.

With the recent addition of the Cummins engine, Gupta and his colleagues in Argonne’s Distributed Energy Research Center (DERC) have a new tool to further their exploration of novel distributed power generation technologies.

"The Cummins engine offers a fully flexible system with varying engine operational parameters that enable us to test new combustion schemes and devices,” Gupta said.

For example, DERC researchers will soon be expanding their promising laser ignition technology from a single-cylinder engine to the six-cylinder engine to demonstrate and optimize its performance on a larger scale.

DERC microturbine
Bromberek (left) and Biruduganti prepare the 65 kW Capstone microturbine to run on syngas produced from biomass.

In another effort aimed at improving distributed energy options, DERC researchers are partnering with Packer Engineering and Capstone Turbine Corporation to develop a Flexible Fuel Turbine System that transforms yard waste into electricity.

A biomass gasifier will be used to convert the yard waste into a synthesis gas, which will then be fed into a 65 kW Capstone microturbine to generate power.

"A system like this could be ideal for a farmer,” said Munidhar Biruduganti, a principal engine research engineer at the DERC. “They put in all of the biomass from their farms and out comes electricity.”

The fully instrumented microturbine marks the first time that Argonne has commissioned a test cell for such a device.

The microturbine and the Cummins engine are just a few of the recent additions to the DERC. Argonne has also recently upgraded the facility with a 470 kW AC dynamometer and cutting-edge emissions measurement systems.

The new and improved facility is home to many other research efforts as well. Engineers are using the DERC to investigate nitrogen enrichment as a means of reducing emissions and to explore combustion diagnostics for a better understanding of the conditions that result in successful ignition.

Since its establishment as a user facility in 2005, the DERC has quickly become one of the nation’s premier destinations for distributed energy R&D. Argonne is just one of two national laboratories conducting stationary engine research and is in close proximity to the three major U.S. stationary engine manufacturers (Caterpillar, Cummins and Waukesha Engine Division).

Argonne’s work in this area is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reciprocating Engine Systems (ARES) program, which is sponsored by the Industrial Technologies Program under the direction of Dr. Robert Gemmer.

February 2011

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