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The Texas Medical Center in Houston is the world’s largest healthcare complex. Doctors at the center, whose grounds are 1.5 times larger than New York’s Central Park, see 7 million patients per year and complete 350,000 surgeries. Its $15 billion operating budget is twice the size of Iowa’s state budget. “There’s no collection like this anywhere in the world,” says Dr. Robert C. Robbins, the TMC’s president.
But Houston isn’t the easiest place to run a huge hospital. Big power plant owners in Texas and community groups have been raising alarm about the possibility of regular rolling blackouts unless the state overhauls its power markets and adds capacity to the grid. The TMC needed a backup plan.
Few things blend reliability and heavy duty better than a jet engine. GE, which makes the world’s largest and most powerful jet engines, built a family of sturdy gas turbines derived from its aviation technology. They are called “aeroderivatives.”
A fleet of mobile aeroderivative turbines is powering a desert town in Algeria. Top image: Aeroderivatives and jet engines share the same pedigree.
Aeroderivates have proven their mettle many times, most recently during Hurricane Sandy. In October 2012, the storm killed several hundred people, ravaged entire communities and knocked out power to 2.6 million people on the East Coast. But a co-generation plant at Princeton University used the technology to keep the campus lit and warm, while the surrounding town went dark.
One of the flightless jet engines is now also helping the TMC. It provides the complex with electricity, heating and cooling. “We serve over 6,500 hospital beds,“ said Steve Swinson, president and CEO of Thermal Energy Corporation (TECO), which operates the TMC power plant. “If we don’t do what we do, they don’t do what they do.”
TECO is using GE’s LM6000 aeroderivative turbine at the TMC to generate 48 megawatts of power. The system also traps exhaust heat to generate steam for the TMC’s heating and air conditioning systems.
The power plant allows TECO to cut enough carbon dioxide emissions (more that 300,000 tons per year) to remove the equivalent of 53,000 cars off the road, compared to purchasing the heat and power directly off the grid.
GE engineers built turbine around the CF6 jet engine, which powers many large passenger planes, including Air Force One. The jet engine inside the machine spins a shaft attached to the generator to produce electricity.
Technology from the CF6 engine is generating power for the world’s largest hospital.
In 2012, MIT’s Technology Review recognized aeroderivatives as a “key innovation” for “building flexible and efficient natural gas power plants.” They also earned GE a spot on the magazine’s list of the world’ 50 most innovative companies.
Aeroderivatives are also the beating heart of GE’s new Distributed Power business. The company says that some 2,100 GE aeroderivative gas turbines are generating electricity and keeping people warm in 73 countries.