Technical characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of ORC technology

As described above, an organic medium is used as working medium, which can be evaporated at very low pressures and temperatures. By using a variety of fluids with correspondingly different characteristics, the process can be adapted optimally to the respective application. This guarantees the greatest possible efficiency of the ORC system at all times.

Another striking feature of ORC modules is their compact design. All components, such as the evaporator, turbine, regenerator and condenser are usually installed tightly in a case (or on a steel frame). Therefore, the thermal energy required for the evaporation of the working medium is normally transported to the ORC module via an intermediate cycle. Thermal oils are usually used as heat transfer medium in this intermediate cycle. Alternatively, compressed water is used to transport heat from the exhaust heat source to the Organic Rankine Cycle.

In regard of energy generation, the ORC competes with the conventional highly-developed technology of steam turbines. However, the Organic Rankine Cycle has several advantages that make ORC technology an interesting proposition for a number of applications.

  1. Temperature levels of 90°C to 800°C can be utilised for the conversion into electricity.
  2. As the expansion takes place virtually fluid-free, the turbine is not affected by any signs of erosion and corrosion.
  3. ORC systems display excellent partial load behaviour. In individual cases, a working status can be achieved with 10% of the rated load.
  4. The operation of the system is fully automated and unsupervised. The ORC module does not contain any pressure elements according to the Technical Rules for Steam Boilers [Technische Regeln für Dampfkessel, TRD], for which supervision would be necessary.
  5. In contrast to steam turbines, the start-up and shut-down is relatively simple and user-friendly.
  6. With generated electric powers below 2 MWel, ORC systems often prove to be more economical than conventional steam turbines.

Still, the advantages described above are pitted against several disadvantages.

  1. When thermal oil is used as heat transfer medium, corrosion may develop on the heat exchanger.
  2. At high electric powers (> 2 MWel), the system technology is relatively cost-intensive.

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