High-Fiber Diet: You’ll Never Guess What This Gas Engine Eats

April 1, 2014

Jenbacher engines generate energy for power plants around the world and often work with technology that enables them to turn waste products like sewage sludge and whisky mash into power. A global fleet of omnivorous power plants powered by a breed of advanced gas engines is already feasting on biogas produced from cheese whey, whisky mash and even discarded school lunches. Now Bulgaria is expanding the menu to synthetic gas, or syngas, made from straw and wood chips.

A new 5-megawatt power plant will burn the syngas in three Jenbacher gas engines that can generate enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. They will help the European Union member hit a target of producing 16 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The plant will produce the syngas on site. The process, called integrated biomass gasification, is much more efficient than burning the original fuel directly. GE, which makes the Jenbachers, estimates that the power plant can reach nearly 70 percent combined heat and power efficiency. (The most efficient coal-fired power plants hit 50 percent.)

EQTEC Iberia, the company behind the gasification technology, has produced syngas from almond and coconut shells, olive pits and pulp, and even grape pomace. (Systems for gasifying chicken litter, old tires and sewage sludge are in development.)

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There are hundreds of Jenbacher gas engines working around the world. The engine sits at the core of GE’s new Distributed Power business, which the company launched in February.

The business unit brings together GE’s power generation technology like the Jenbacher and Waukesha gas engines, and also the so-called “aeroderivatives,” a family of nimble gas turbines built around GE’s jet engines.

Jenbachers already supply power to remote towns and villages, help cities integrate renewable energy into the grid, and also serve as a community anchor in a time of crisis.

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For example, when Typhoon Haiyan struck central Philippines last November, one structure that survived the storm’s 150-mph winds in Bogo City was a Jenbacher. It became a place where locals came to recharge their phones, access the Internet, and get updates about their families.

On the other side of the globe, in Germany, a group of Jenbachers is helping the Bavarian town of Rosenheim incorporate solar and wind power into the grid.

“This is why distributed power is so attractive,” says Scott Nolen, field application and technical solutions executive for Distributed Power at GE Power & Water. “You have the capability to supply the engines all over the place where people need heat and power and get maximum efficiency out of every precious hydrocarbon molecule you have to burn.”