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This Flightless Jet Engine Will Keep a 900-Year-Old Eastern European City Warm

The picturesque Romanian city of Oradea dates back at least 900 years. Some locals joke their heating system is just as old.

Large portions of the city, which sits near Romania’s western border with Hungary, have relied on a district heating plant that opened in 1966, one year after Nicolae Ceaucescu consolidated power. The plant has been mostly fueled by low quality brown coal and oil. (Only recently it also started using cleaner-burning natural gas.)

The pipes of the city’s heat distribution network are feeling their age, too. They leak more than a quarter of the thermal energy that flows through them before it reaches customers, almost four times the norm.

But Oradea’s power sector is now moving into the jet age. The city will start using a new gas-fired turbine based on technologies originally developed for jet engines to produce lower-emissions heat and electricity for more than a quarter of its residents, or 140,000 people.

The combined electricity generation and heating unit will have a sky-high efficiency of 92 percent at the output from the power plant. This is the first installation of such jet engine-based power plant in Romania.

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Top and above: The technologies at the heart of Oradea’s new power plant will come from GE Aviation’s CF6 jet engines, the same engines that power Air Force One. Image credit: GE Aviation

In a nod to the technology’s aviation history, GE calls the machines “aeroderivatives.” They are using the compressor, combustor and turbine from the CF6 jet engine to generate power. (The CF6 powers many Boeing 747 passenger jets, including Air Force One). The earthbound version of the engine spins a shaft attached to the generator to produce electricity.

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The compressor of an “aeroderivative” power plant. Image credit: GE Distributed Power

Many cities and businesses around the world are using aeroderivatives to efficiently generate reliable heat and power. For example, in October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the U.S. and knocked out power to 2.6 million people, several aeroderivatives rode out the storm.

One such co-generation plant at Princeton University used the technology to keep the campus lit and warm, while the surrounding town went dark.

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This earthbound version of the CF6 engine, which GE calls the LM6000-PF SPRINT gas turbine for power applications, will produce heat and more than 45 megawatts of electricity for Oradea. The city partnened on the the project with the Italian power developer STC SpA. Image credit: GE Distributed Power

In 2012, MIT’s Technology Review selected aeroderivatives as a “key innovation” for “building flexible and efficient natural gas power plants,” and the technology is at the core of GE’s Distributed Power business. There is also a mobile version of the technology that can be quickly deployed anywhere and moved around on a plane and a trailer.

The company says some 2,100 GE aeroderivative gas turbines are generating electricity and keeping people warm in 73 countries, from Sakhalin Island to South Africa.

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