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Publication Title | Economic Implementation of the Organic Rankine Cycle in Industry

Organic Rankine Cycle

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Economic Implementation of the Organic Rankine Cycle in Industry

Peter Arvay, Michael R. Muller, Vishana Ramdeen, Rutgers University Glenn Cunningham, Tennessee Tech University


An organic rankine cycle operates under the same principle as a steam rankine cycle, but with a lower operating temperature and pressure. These operating conditions are a result of substituting, into the closed loop system, a working fluid other than water. This allows a lower grade heat to act as a fuel for operation. The organic rankine cycle can be used in conjunction with a steam rankine cycle to recapture waste heat and improve overall system efficiency. A study was conducted in order to find feasible waste heat recovery applications and the industries which would benefit most from those applications.

This study shows calculations and quantitative results for theoretical organic rankine cycle operation. These calculations include energy generation of the system at variable waste heat temperatures. Additionally, economic cost calculations are supplied in order to demonstrate the simple payback period for various system sizes. Two potential applications are reviewed, demonstrating the need for year round operation. Furthermore, current technologies are evaluated to demonstrate the viability of organic rankine cycles in industries with reliable low- grade waste heat. Several examples of plug and play models are listed along with a variety of other models. Some of these plug and play models help emphasize the fact that implementation is not very complex and could easily be adopted.

Using numerical analysis, backed by several case studies, it is determined that an organic rankine cycle can be a useful and economical means of waste heat recovery.


Power systems using steam have been around since the advent of the steam engine, powering pumps to lower the water tables in coal mines. The cost of the working fluid was minimal and the performance was limited – many of the early steam engines had efficiencies on the order of 10%. Improvements happened quickly with the invention of the condenser and advances in the engineering of pressure vessels. High input and low output temperatures improved efficiency but created their own problems. Modern steam power systems have high temperatures more than 1000°F requiring combustion in most cases. Also, in order to lower the temperature to near ambient (~130°F), the pressure in the condenser needs to be lowered to a few tenths of an atmosphere. Therefore in addition to just having a condenser, operational protocols require its pressure to be lowered significantly which normally results in long startup times and increased costs.

More recently, especially in geothermal power applications, cycles and hardware similar to that used in steam power systems have been combined with a different working fluid to create a power system better suited for low temperature applications. The rarity of geothermal resources suitable for power has led to slow development of these technologies for everyday applications. However, a significant amount of research has been done on various working fluids for various temperature applications creating a valuable resource.

1-12 ©2011 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry

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