Public-Private Partnership Advances Gas Turbine Materials Technology
By Victoria Chilinski (CLAS ’16) and Maurice Gell, Ph.D.
Drs. Maurice Gell and Eric Jordan have developed a new process for making ceramic thermal barrier coatings (TBCs) that are used extensively in gas turbine engines. This Solution Precursor Plasma Spray (SPPS) process allows the deposition of higher temperature, lower thermal conductivity TBCs that will provide significant fuel savings for aircraft and land-based gas turbines.
This technology captured the interest of HiFunda LLC, a Salt Lake City small business, in 2011. As a result, HiFunda LLC and UConn have teamed on two U.S. Department of Energy Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) projects. The latest is a newly-begun Phase II award totaling $1 million, of which UConn receives $387,000 as the sub-contractor. The program, entitled “Ultra-High Temperature Thermal Barrier Coatings,” utilizes the SPPS process to deposit highly durable TBCs made from yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG), a high-temperature, low thermal conductivity ceramic that cannot be deposited with adequate durability using commercial TBC processes. The SPPS process uniquely provides YAG TBCs with a strain-tolerant microstructure that provides excellent durability in thermal cycle tests.
DOE is committed to increasing the energy efficiency of turbines through the use of thermal barrier coatings, which are highly advanced material systems that are applied to insulate the metallic components of machines operating at high temperatures. For these turbines to become more efficient, however, they must operate at a temperate above current thermal barrier coatings’ limit of 1200°C. Higher temperature thermal barrier coatings would permit engines to operate more efficiently at higher temperatures, thus saving fuel and reducing greenhouse emissions. Alternatively, the thermal barrier coatings can be used at the same turbine temperatures and provide improved turbine component durability.
HiFunda has established a Thermal Spray Facility within the technology incubator at UConn’s Depot campus, moved a senior researcher to UConn, and is providing funds for capital equipment and supplies. The company’s intention is to license this UConn-patented technology and to establish a new company at UConn to further develop and market the SPPS technology.
Initial results from the earlier Phase I HiFunda LLC/UConn DOE collaboration on this same technology were very promising. As a result, five U.S companies, including Pratt & Whitney, Praxair, Progressive Surface, Siemens Energy and Solar Turbines have become industrial partners to the Phase II program and will provide more than $250,000 of cost share funds. These companies will evaluate the SPPS YAG TBCs in specimen, rig, and engine tests and will evaluate the economics of the process in production facilities.
STTR is a highly competitive federal program coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which grants research and development funds to non-profit research institutions that partner with small businesses. The program combines the strengths of both non-profit research and small business’s innovation by introducing entrepreneurial skills to high-tech research efforts.