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A steam turbine with the case opened. Dampfturbine Montage01.jpg
A steam turbine with the case opened.

A turbine ( /ˈtɜːrbn/ or /ˈtɜːrbɪn/ ) (from the Greek τύρβη, tyrbē, or Latin turbo, meaning vortex) [1] [2] is a rotary mechanical device that extracts energy from a fluid flow and converts it into useful work. The work produced can be used for generating electrical power when combined with a generator. [3] A turbine is a turbomachine with at least one moving part called a rotor assembly, which is a shaft or drum with blades attached. Moving fluid acts on the blades so that they move and impart rotational energy to the rotor. Early turbine examples are windmills and waterwheels.


Gas, steam, and water turbines have a casing around the blades that contains and controls the working fluid. Credit for invention of the steam turbine is given both to Anglo-Irish engineer Sir Charles Parsons (1854–1931) for invention of the reaction turbine, and to Swedish engineer Gustaf de Laval (1845–1913) for invention of the impulse turbine. Modern steam turbines frequently employ both reaction and impulse in the same unit, typically varying the degree of reaction and impulse from the blade root to its periphery. Hero of Alexandria demonstrated the turbine principle in an aeolipile in the first century AD and Vitruvius mentioned them around 70 BC.

The word "turbine" was coined in 1822 by the French mining engineer Claude Burdin from the Greek τύρβη, tyrbē, meaning "vortex" or "whirling", in a memo, "Des turbines hydrauliques ou machines rotatoires à grande vitesse", which he submitted to the Académie royale des sciences in Paris. [4] Benoit Fourneyron, a former student of Claude Burdin, built the first practical water turbine.

Humming of a small pneumatic turbine used in a German 1940s-vintage safety lamp

Operation theory

Schematic of impulse and reaction turbines, where the rotor is the rotating part, and the stator is the stationary part of the machine. Turbines impulse v reaction.svg
Schematic of impulse and reaction turbines, where the rotor is the rotating part, and the stator is the stationary part of the machine.

A working fluid contains potential energy (pressure head) and kinetic energy (velocity head). The fluid may be compressible or incompressible. Several physical principles are employed by turbines to collect this energy:

Impulse turbines change the direction of flow of a high velocity fluid or gas jet. The resulting impulse spins the turbine and leaves the fluid flow with diminished kinetic energy. There is no pressure change of the fluid or gas in the turbine blades (the moving blades), as in the case of a steam or gas turbine, all the pressure drop takes place in the stationary blades (the nozzles). Before reaching the turbine, the fluid's pressure head is changed to velocity head by accelerating the fluid with a nozzle. Pelton wheels and de Laval turbines use this process exclusively. Impulse turbines do not require a pressure casement around the rotor since the fluid jet is created by the nozzle prior to reaching the blades on the rotor. Newton's second law describes the transfer of energy for impulse turbines. Impulse turbines are most efficient for use in cases where the flow is low and the inlet pressure is high. [3]

Reaction turbines develop torque by reacting to the gas or fluid's pressure or mass. The pressure of the gas or fluid changes as it passes through the turbine rotor blades. [3] A pressure casement is needed to contain the working fluid as it acts on the turbine stage(s) or the turbine must be fully immersed in the fluid flow (such as with wind turbines). The casing contains and directs the working fluid and, for water turbines, maintains the suction imparted by the draft tube. Francis turbines and most steam turbines use this concept. For compressible working fluids, multiple turbine stages are usually used to harness the expanding gas efficiently. Newton's third law describes the transfer of energy for reaction turbines. Reaction turbines are better suited to higher flow velocities or applications where the fluid head (upstream pressure) is low. [3]

In the case of steam turbines, such as would be used for marine applications or for land-based electricity generation, a Parsons-type reaction turbine would require approximately double the number of blade rows as a de Laval-type impulse turbine, for the same degree of thermal energy conversion. Whilst this makes the Parsons turbine much longer and heavier, the overall efficiency of a reaction turbine is slightly higher than the equivalent impulse turbine for the same thermal energy conversion.

In practice, modern turbine designs use both reaction and impulse concepts to varying degrees whenever possible. Wind turbines use an airfoil to generate a reaction lift from the moving fluid and impart it to the rotor. Wind turbines also gain some energy from the impulse of the wind, by deflecting it at an angle. Turbines with multiple stages may use either reaction or impulse blading at high pressure. Steam turbines were traditionally more impulse but continue to move towards reaction designs similar to those used in gas turbines. At low pressure the operating fluid medium expands in volume for small reductions in pressure. Under these conditions, blading becomes strictly a reaction type design with the base of the blade solely impulse. The reason is due to the effect of the rotation speed for each blade. As the volume increases, the blade height increases, and the base of the blade spins at a slower speed relative to the tip. This change in speed forces a designer to change from impulse at the base, to a high reaction-style tip.

Classical turbine design methods were developed in the mid 19th century. Vector analysis related the fluid flow with turbine shape and rotation. Graphical calculation methods were used at first. Formulae for the basic dimensions of turbine parts are well documented and a highly efficient machine can be reliably designed for any fluid flow condition. Some of the calculations are empirical or 'rule of thumb' formulae, and others are based on classical mechanics. As with most engineering calculations, simplifying assumptions were made.

Turbine inlet guide vanes of a turbojet Turbine inlet guide vanes of Atar turbojet.jpg
Turbine inlet guide vanes of a turbojet

Velocity triangles can be used to calculate the basic performance of a turbine stage. Gas exits the stationary turbine nozzle guide vanes at absolute velocity Va1. The rotor rotates at velocity U. Relative to the rotor, the velocity of the gas as it impinges on the rotor entrance is Vr1. The gas is turned by the rotor and exits, relative to the rotor, at velocity Vr2. However, in absolute terms the rotor exit velocity is Va2. The velocity triangles are constructed using these various velocity vectors. Velocity triangles can be constructed at any section through the blading (for example: hub, tip, midsection and so on) but are usually shown at the mean stage radius. Mean performance for the stage can be calculated from the velocity triangles, at this radius, using the Euler equation:



is the specific enthalpy drop across stage
is the turbine entry total (or stagnation) temperature
is the turbine rotor peripheral velocity
is the change in whirl velocity

The turbine pressure ratio is a function of and the turbine efficiency.

Modern turbine design carries the calculations further. Computational fluid dynamics dispenses with many of the simplifying assumptions used to derive classical formulas and computer software facilitates optimization. These tools have led to steady improvements in turbine design over the last forty years.

The primary numerical classification of a turbine is its specific speed. This number describes the speed of the turbine at its maximum efficiency with respect to the power and flow rate. The specific speed is derived to be independent of turbine size. Given the fluid flow conditions and the desired shaft output speed, the specific speed can be calculated and an appropriate turbine design selected.

The specific speed, along with some fundamental formulas can be used to reliably scale an existing design of known performance to a new size with corresponding performance.

Off-design performance is normally displayed as a turbine map or characteristic.

The number of blades in the rotor and the number of vanes in the stator are often two different prime numbers in order to reduce the harmonics and maximize the blade-passing frequency. [5]


Three types of water turbines: Kaplan (in front), Pelton (middle) and Francis (back left) Gfa 17 641006 2-0002 Turbinen.jpg
Three types of water turbines: Kaplan (in front), Pelton (middle) and Francis (back left)


A large proportion of the world's electrical power is generated by turbo generators.

Turbines are used in gas turbine engines on land, sea and air.

Turbochargers are used on piston engines.

Gas turbines have very high power densities (i.e. the ratio of power to mass, or power to volume) because they run at very high speeds. The Space Shuttle main engines used turbopumps (machines consisting of a pump driven by a turbine engine) to feed the propellants (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen) into the engine's combustion chamber. The liquid hydrogen turbopump is slightly larger than an automobile engine (weighing approximately 700 lb) with the turbine producing nearly 70,000 hp (52.2 MW).

Turboexpanders are used for refrigeration in industrial processes.

See also


  1. "turbine". "turbid". Online Etymology Dictionary .
  2. τύρβη . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Munson, Bruce Roy, T. H. Okiishi, and Wade W. Huebsch. "Turbomachines." Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics. 6th ed. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.
  4. In 1822, Claude Burdin submitted his memo "Des turbines hydrauliques ou machines rotatoires à grande vitesse" (Hydraulic turbines or high-speed rotary machines) to the Académie royale des sciences in Paris. (See: Annales de chimie et de physique, vol. 21, page 183 (1822).) However, it was not until 1824 that a committee of the Académie (composed of Prony, Dupin, and Girard) reported favorably on Burdin's memo. See: Prony and Girard (1824) "Rapport sur le mémoire de M. Burdin intitulé: Des turbines hydrauliques ou machines rotatoires à grande vitesse" (Report on the memo of Mr. Burdin titled: Hydraulic turbines or high-speed rotary machines), Annales de chimie et de physique, vol. 26, pages 207-217.
  5. Tim J Carter. "Common failures in gas turbine blades". 2004. p. 244-245.
  6. Adrian Osler (October 1981). "Turbinia" (PDF). (ASME-sponsored booklet to mark the designation of Turbinia as an international engineering landmark). Tyne And Wear County Council Museums. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  7. Wragg, David W. (1973). A Dictionary of Aviation (first ed.). Osprey. p. 267. ISBN   9780850451634.
  8. Ingvar Jung, 1979, The history of the marine turbine, part 1, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, dep of History of technology

Further reading

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