What Are Steam Turbines and How do They Work

The steam turbine is a type of heat engine, capable of harnessing thermal energy from pressurized steam in order to drive an output shaft. Through the process of generating rotary motion, steam turbines are quite efficient in operating electrical generators for power production, so much so that they account for nearly 85% of all electricity generation in the United States. With their grand importance to the production of electricity, having an understanding of the working principle and functions of a steam turbine can be very useful.

Somewhat comparable to a wind or water turbine, the steam turbine features spinning blades that revolve when a fluid is directed into them. Due to the compact construction of such assemblies, steam is forced through blades at rapid speeds so that such components are driven. With the great amount of force created by the rotary motion of the assembly, steam turbines then rapidly turn electrical generators with their rotors in order to efficiently produce power through the generator’s magnetic field. As steam is forced through multiple stages of expansion, the steam turbine boasts high thermodynamic efficiency.

The steam engine is a classic example of such processes, relying on the burning of coal to create the steam necessary to drive assemblies. As coal burns within a furnace and heat is released, water within the assembly will be boiled at immense temperatures to create high-pressure steam. The produced steam is then routed through a pipe, reaching a cylinder where it will begin to expand and cool down. With expansion and loss of temperature, the steam will lose pressure as the fitting piston within the cylinder is driven. With this method of operation, the steam serves more as a medium for transporting energy, rather than being the source of energy itself. While the operations of a steam engine are as stated, a modern steam turbine may use gas, coal, solar power, or even nuclear materials in order to create the heat necessary for transforming water into steam. Rather than flow into a fitting piston, the turbine steam also pushes itself through spinning blades and will expand and cool down as a rotary motion is achieved.

While the steam generated by a steam turbine is paramount for standard operations, it is useless without a set of blades and rotors to drive. In a typical turbine, blades may come in sets and will be attached to the rotor, designed to manage the pressure, speed, and path of steam that passes through the assembly. While extracting kinetic energy from steam, the blades also ensure that pressure is only reduced by small increments so that it’s force can be harnessed as efficiently as possible.

There are also multiple types of steam turbines, those of which commonly come in the form of either impulse and reaction types. The impulse turbine is one in which the blades are shaped like buckets, allowing for energy to be optimally extracted from high-pressure steam. The reaction turbine, on the other hand, features a second set of blades which remain stationary within the turbine case. With their placement, steam can be directed into rotating blades with high precision, allowing for temperature and pressure to drop without sacrificing speed.

As a staple of energy production, steam turbines are advanced machines that many societies rely on and thus must be cared for and maintained regularly. Parts Needed Yesterday is an online distributor of aircraft parts, and we are your sourcing solution for top quality steam turbine parts, aviation components, NSN parts, and more. Take the time to pursue our vast offerings at your leisure where you may find over 2 billion new, used, and obsolete items that have been sourced from leading manufactures that we trust. If you would like to initiate the purchasing process or want to learn more about how we can fulfill all your operational needs with ease, give us a call or email today and we would be happy to help!


April 26, 2021

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