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Publication Title | Non-conventional working fluids for thermal power generation: A review

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PostDoc Journal Journal of Postdoctoral Research Vol. 2, No. 9, September 2014

Non-conventional working fluids for thermal power generation: A review

Maria E. Mondejar, Ph.D.*, Marcus Thern, Ph.D.

Department of Energy Sciences, Lund University, PO Box 118, SE-22100 Lund, Sweden Email:


New technology requirements derived from the exploitation of novel energy resources, and the needs for improvement of the energy efficiency of current power generation systems are pushing the industry towards the search of alternative working fluids. The great challenge for these non-conventional fluids is to provide satisfactory performances and fill the existing lack of media for some innovative energy applications. In this review a number of emerging working fluids for thermal power generation are presented. Also, a special emphasis is devoted to the discussion about new promising fluids, such as nanofluids or ionic liquids, that could be an important breakdown for power generation in the near future.

Keywords: thermal power generation, organic compounds, absorption cycles, ionic liquids, nanofluids.

1. Introduction

According to the Global Status Report on Renewables of 2013 (Mcginn et al., 2013), about 78.3% of today’s worldwide power generation capacity relies on the thermal power conversion from fossil and nuclear fuels. Of the remaining percentage, about 78% is represented by hydropower systems, 1.5% by geothermal energy and less than 1% by concentrating solar power (IEA, 2013). Although the fossil fuel reserves depletion and the global warming effect are proved facts, and governments are promoting policies and strategies for the use of alternative energy resources, the reality reflects inertia against the transition between energy resources. The main obstacles to the wide introduction of renewable and non-conventional energy systems into the current energy mix are the high electricity production costs and/or the lack of technology development.

The primary conversion technology for the production of electricity from different energy sources (i.e. fossil fuels, nuclear power, biomass,

geothermal, concentrating solar energy and ocean thermal energy) consists in the use of a heat engine, also called thermal power conversion. Examples of heat engines are the steam Rankine cycle, the Brayton cycle (or gas turbine) and the Stirling cycle. While today’s electricity production technologies are dominated by steam Rankine cycles and gas turbines, new advanced power cycles are emerging as efficiency boosters and conversion technologies for renewable energy sources. Although the performance of these thermal power conversion cycles is limited by the Carnot factor, the required technology is well-known and performances are still higher or comparable to those of other power generation technologies (e.g. solar photovoltaic).

The necessity of improving the efficiency of current thermal power technologies, exploiting new resources, and the increasing restrictions on currently used working fluids are pushing the market towards the search of new alternative media. Furthermore, latest research discoveries that reveal great thermophysical properties of new fluids, such as nanofluids or ionic liquids,

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