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Graphene Films for Improving Power Plants


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Even some of the most advanced power plants in the world still rely on transferring heat with steam to produce power, like old steam engines. By finding ways to better improve this heat transfer, the efficiency of power plants can be improved, potentially to very significant effect. Now researchers at MIT have found a way to increase heat transfer by a factor of four, by applying graphene to condensers.

The heat from many power plants, whether they are coal, oil, or natural gas fired, or even nuclear, is used to generate steam for turning turbines, which then create electricity. After spinning the turbines, the steam will enter condensers to convert it back into water, and restart the process. By improving the speed at which the steam condenses into water, the efficiency of the power plant itself can be improved. To that end, many have been investigating ways to apply superhydrophobic materials to the condensers, so that once droplets form on them, the droplets fall off sooner, making room for more. Typically these are polymer coatings, which can completely fail in just hours, so the MIT researchers decided to try out graphene, which does have some hydrophobic properties. The result was a four-fold increase in heat transfer in the condenser for two full weeks, without any degradation.

With further development, the researchers feel they could reach 5 to 7 times improved heat transfer. Even at just four times better transfer, a power plant's efficiency could increase by 2-3%, which may not seem like much, but could still amount to millions of dollars, per plant, per year.

Source: MIT

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