A $119m, 10-megawatt supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) facility has been launched by Gas Technology Institute (GTI), Southwest Research Institute (SwRI®), GE Global Research (GE).

The Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP) pilot plant, known as STEP Demo, will demonstrate the next generation of higher-efficiency, lower-cost electric power technology.

Under this $119 million Department of Energy (DOE) public/private partnership, GTI, SwRI and GE will design, build, and operate a facility to be located at the SwRI campus in San Antonio, Texas, to develop technologies that will supply the next generation of higher efficiency, lower cost electric power.

The STEP Demo is not only innovative, but also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

“GTI is pleased to lead advancement of this transformational technology for clean power generation,” said David Carroll, President and CEO of GTI.

“The STEP Demo will demonstrate a fully integrated power plant to generate electricity with dramatically improved efficiencies, economics, and environmental performance.

“We are excited to bring together key government and industry partners, leveraging our collective skills and expertise in this important project to benefit consumers, industry, and the nation.”

About 60% of all power in North America comes from the burning of fossil fuel, with many power plants operating at 35% efficiency or less.

“We’re reaching a milestone in the future of power plant technology, thanks to the vision, technical expertise and determination of GTI, Southwest Research Institute, and GE Global Research,” said US Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy Steven Winberg.

“Their efforts will help lay the groundwork for even wider deployment of supercritical CO2 power cycles – and that means a smaller footprint, higher efficiency, reduced water usage, lower CO2 emissions, and less expensive power generation.

“With this pilot plant, the technology is moving from the lab to the field. This project will provide important data on the potential challenges of operating the technology on a larger scale.”

Step Demo is designed to address these challenges with efficiency increases approaching 10%. GTI, SwRI, and GE are leaders in sCO2 power cycles and have conducted more than two dozen related US Department of Energy projects.

“The STEP pilot plant is the home of a truly innovative technology developed in Texas that is about to change the way we think about power generation,” said SwRI President Adam Hamilton.

“This new facility’s ability to generate power in a way that is more efficient, cost-effective and less harmful to the environment is remarkable. This project has the potential to revolutionize the industry as we know it.”

sCO2 is carbon dioxide held above a critical temperature and pressure, which causes it to act like a gas while having the density of a liquid. It’s also nontoxic and nonflammable, and its supercritical state makes sCO2 a highly efficient fluid to generate power because small changes in temperature or pressure cause significant shifts in its density. Current power plants use water as a thermal medium in power cycles. Replacing it with sCO2 increases efficiency by as much as 10 percent.

Todd Wetzel, Power Business Program Manager at GE Global Research. “We are excited to partner with SWRI, GTI and the DOE to accelerate development of this disruptive energy technology and explore the various ways that we can use supercritical CO2 to more efficiently generate power.”