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The History of the Gas Turbine

21/10/2019

Gas turbines are an efficient and reliable way of powering a whole range of things, including: 
 
  • Electrical generators (small generators through to large scale power plants)
  • Gas compressors
  • Aeroplanes
  • Helicopters
  • Ships
  • Tanks
In one form or another, they have been used for thousands of years and you have certainly benefited from their invention, whether knowingly or not.
 
The history of gas turbine

What is a gas turbine?

A gas turbine is a simple yet effective way of generating energy. It has three main parts:
  • The compressor
  • The combustion area
  • The turbine

How it works?

Air is forced through the cone-shaped compressor, causing it to rise in pressure before it enters the combustion area. At this point, the pressurised air is mixed with atomised fuel, which is lit and combusts. Hot gases from this reaction then rush through the turbine at high speed, rotating its blades. 
 
The turbine is initially used to drive the compressor, drawing in more air and continuing the process. The part engineers are likely to be more interested in however, is that the ‘waste’ energy can be used in a variety of ways. For example, it can be directly used to produce thrust in a turbojet engine or connect to a fan, propeller or electrical generator as need dictates.  

When was the gas turbine invented?

Credit for the invention of the very first gas turbine is generally given to Hero in the first century BC. His aeolpile was made of a metal sphere with pipes protruding from it, atop a boiler housed in a hollow axle. When pressurised steam from the boiler rose through the sphere and out of the pipes it caused the sphere to spin.  
 
It seems that this first gas turbine had no practical purpose. However, it is an excellent demonstration of the theory which is at the centre of all modern gas turbines.   
 
Around 1500 years later, Leonardo da Vinci sketched a smoke jack which also employs the same principals as modern day gas turbines. In this invention, as smoke rose up the chimney it would turn the blades of a horizontal turbine. A sequence of wheels and a chain would then turn, ultimately turning a spit to cook meat. 
 
It was not until 1791 however, that a patent was awarded for the first true gas turbine. John Barber, an English inventor, designed a turbine to power a horseless carriage, which includes many of the same principles used in modern turbines.
 
Modern gas turbines
Throughout history there have been many incarnations of the gas turbine but from the 1930s onwards they were being used in ways that are familiar to us today:
 
  • In 1932 the world saw gas turbine technology used to create the first Velox plant in France. In this case, the primary function of the gas turbine was to generate electricity.
  • Gas turbines play a big role in modern aviation and the world’s first jet propelled aircraft was the Heinkel He 178, which took its debut flight in 1939.
Since these early advancements, gas turbines have been improved in various ways including: better materials allowing for higher temperatures; Computational Fluid Dynamics boosting performance; and a focus on decreasing emissions. 
 
The technology behind gas turbines has been around for millennia, evolving over time. Excitingly, we continue to see designs updated and honed, creating better, more efficient systems to suit our modern needs. 

Contact us

If you use a gas turbine, contact us today to talk about how we can help you run more efficient, cost effective equipment with our range of specialised cleaning products. Our friendly team are on hand to discuss your specific needs.    
 
 
References
https://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/J/jet_engine.html
https://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/edn-moments/4394772/1st-jet-aircraft-takes-flight--August-27--1939
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_turbine#cite_note-2
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barber_(engineer)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roasting_jack

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