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Innovative Microturbine Technology For Delocalised, Off-Grid Electricity Generation

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Coin-sized microturbine powers smart gas grid solutions

If the EU’s gas grid is to get smarter, it needs to update its networks, communications, metering/monitoring and control devices. AirWatt offers reliable power for off-grid remote solutions.

Industrial Technologies

The gas industry currently faces the challenge of how to monitor and manage, in real-time, pipeline performance. The emergence of the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIoT), combining wireless communication and networking technologies with sensors, is changing the industry, offering increased safety, automation, and operational efficiency. One of the consequences of evermore-sophisticated solutions, is a growing energy demand to power remote installations, which are increasingly off-grid when the grid power is insufficient or not available. This is especially the case for pipelines in harsh environments and in less developed countries. The AirWatt project developed a solution based on a patented, miniaturised, integrated turbine and electrical generator developed by Advanced Microturbines and designed to be introduced into the gas supply pipelines. AirWatt started by optimizing a 30 W microturbine and then upscaled it to a model capable of producing up to 150 W, almost twice the power expected. The solution is now market ready. Tapping the pneumatic energy of pressurised pipeline gas The key to AirWatt’s innovation which allows the gas industry to monitor performance and quickly identify problems, such as gas leakage, is twofold. Firstly, it takes advantage of existing pressure drops and gas flow in the system to generate electricity used to power ancillary equipment for the maintenance, monitoring and operation of the pipeline systems. The RTU (remote terminal units) developed by project partner FAST, is one such device. Secondly, the integration of turbine and generator into a single unit which, by eliminating several components, enables the miniaturisation of the microturbine. As project coordinator Dr Emanuele Guglielmino, further explains, “The largest pipelines for bulk gas transportation operate with a pressure from 50 to 200 bar. For urban distribution it is reduced to 4 to 5 bar and for domestic supply is just 20 millibar. AirWatt exploits these pressure drops in the distribution pipelines to drive gas through the microturbine, generating electricity. In effect we harvest available energy for free, with no emissions or burning of fuel.” Inside its own housing, the microturbine, is mounted alongside the pipeline next to these pressure drops. So as not to effect the operation of the pipeline, only a small amount of the gas flow is bled off at high pressure and passed through the microturbine, then returned to the pipeline at lower pressure. Once integrated with the pipeline, the microturbine operates continuously. On-site field testing with the 20 units already deployed has verified AirWatt’s ability to monitor and control the network. Smart gas grids for people, planet and profit According to the European Commission’s Energy Roadmap 2050, substituting coal (and oil) with gas, using existing technologies, could help reduce emissions until at least 2030-2035. AirWatt’s contributes to these lowered carbon ambitions by reducing impaired performance, due to leaks for example. As well as offering energy savings, the technology reduces repair and maintenance costs, extending the life of infrastructure, while limiting customer complaints. “Being compact and capable of installation with minimal modifications to existing infrastructure, AirWatt upgrades existing pipelines, as well as new installations, to the latest monitoring and control specifications,” says Guglielmino. AirWatt has been fully tested and certified for operations in natural gas environments CE marking according to the ATEX Directive. With the product now market ready, the team is working towards commercialisation for gas pipeline or installation operators, within and without Europe.

Keywords

AirWatt, gas, pipeline, internet of things, grid, monitoring, maintenance, microturbine, electricity, carbon, energy

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24 January 2023