Penn State, Pratt & Whitney inaugurate most advanced turbine testing lab in U.S.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State and Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. company, officially unveiled the Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START) facility, the country’s most advanced turbine testing laboratory, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony March 19 at Cato Park.

The new facility is supported by Pratt & Whitney, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory and Penn State.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson; David Wormley, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering; Karen Thole, head of mechanical and nuclear engineering; and Al Brockett, Pratt & Whitney’s vice president of engineering module centers, attended the event.

“By collaborating with best-in-class research partners such as Penn State, we improve our products and advance the aviation industry while developing the next generation of engineers, scientists and researchers,” said Brockett. “We are proud to strengthen our partnership with Penn State. The University has been a Pratt & Whitney-sponsored Center of Excellence since 2008.”

At the laboratory, researchers will simulate and test a new generation of High Pressure Turbine (HPT) systems that will be more fuel efficient than today’s models. The lab will evaluate leakage and gas-path flows along with new cooling technologies for next generation gas turbine engine designs, such as those used for aircraft and power generation, to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

Thole said that gas turbine engines have rotating and stationary airfoil components that contain gaps at the interfaces in which flow sealing is difficult. At these interfaces, she explained, flow may leak into or out of the gaps and ultimately reduce turbine efficiency. Because hot combustion gases passing through the turbine can melt the airfoils, it is critical to keep the components cool and ensure the seals do not allow hot gases to pass into the gaps. As turbine efficiencies go up, the need for fuel decreases.

Thole said improving the seal designs to reduce the leakages could mean savings of 25 million barrels of crude oil a year and reduce green house gas emissions by 10 million metric tons per year.

But, Thole said, existing experimental facilities do not have the ability to evaluate new sealing designs to curb these gap leakage flows. “Current rigs are not able to simulate the rotational speeds and air-flow speeds that engineers need to simulate the complex flows that result in gap leakages between airfoil stages in operating turbines.”

The START lab, which will be fully operational in January 2014, will give researchers the opportunity to simulate and test the next generation of fuel-efficient gas turbine engines while also educating the next generation of turbine engineers.

It includes a continuously flowing turbine that will operate at realistic engine conditions that have not been possible in any laboratory in the United States.

Since 1990, Pratt & Whitney and UTC have sponsored more than $14.5 million in research across the University, including projects at the Applied Research Laboratory, Materials Research Institute, architectural engineering department, aerospace engineering department, industrial and manufacturing engineering department, and mechanical and nuclear engineering department.

Contacts: 

Karen Thole

Work Phone: 
814-865-2519

Head of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

Last Updated December 08, 2014