Penn State University recently announced it has received a $1.75 million gift from United Technologies Corp. (UTC) to help build the most advanced turbine testing facility in the U.S. Officials from UTC’s Pratt & Whitney division presented a $500,000 check to Penn State President Graham Spanier on September 23 as the second installment of the promised $1.75 million for the facility.

The laboratory, which also is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), will allow a level of testing not available anywhere else, according to Karen Thole, professor and head of mechanical and nuclear engineering. She explained that rotating and stationary airfoil components in gas turbine engines have gaps at the interfaces. Significant losses in turbine efficiencies occur for both aircraft and power generation turbines because of the leakages from these gaps, which translates to a need for more fuel. Through this research, she said, there is the potential to reduce crude oil savings of about 25 million barrels per year and an associated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 10 million metric tons per year.

The problem, Thole said, is that current facilities don't have the ability to evaluate new designs to reduce these gap leakage flows. “Current rigs can’t get the rotational speeds and air-flow speeds that engineers need to evaluate the leakage effects,” she said.

The new facility, to be housed at Cato Park near the University Park campus, will give researches the opportunity to simulate and test a whole new generation of gas turbine engines that will be more fuel efficient than today’s models.

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