$1.75M Gift to Create Advanced Turbine Lab at Penn State

By Curtis Chan, Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK – A $1.75 million gift from United Technologies Corp. (UTC) will help build the most advanced turbine testing facility in the United States.

Officials from UTC’s Pratt & Whitney division will present a $500,000 check to Penn State President Graham Spanier on Sept. 23 as the second installment of the promised $1.75 million for the facility.

Karen Thole, professor and head of mechanical and nuclear engineering, said the laboratory, which also is supported by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), will allow a level of testing that isn’t available anywhere else.

Thole explained that in gas turbine engines there are rotating and stationary airfoil components that have gaps at the interfaces. Significant losses in turbine efficiencies occur for both aircraft and power generation turbines because of the leakages from these gaps, which translates to a need for more fuel. Through this research, she said, there is the potential to reduce crude oil savings of about 25 million barrels per year and an associated reduction of green house gas emissions of 10 million metric tons per year.

The problem, Thole said, is that current facilities don’t have the ability to evaluate new designs to reduce these gap leakage flows. “Current rigs can’t get the rotational speeds and air-flow speeds that engineers need to evaluate the leakage effects,” she said.

The new facility, to be housed at Cato Park near the University Park campus, will give researches the opportunity to simulate and test a whole new generation of gas turbine engines that will be more fuel efficient than today’s models.

Meeting with Spanier will be Paul Adams, Pratt & Whitney’s senior vice president of engineering; Al Brockett, Pratt & Whitney’s vice president and UTC-Penn State executive champion; and Anthony Cuigini, director of the DOE NETL.

The gift is the latest in the line of gifts, grants and sponsored research by UTC, the parent company of Pratt & Whitney. Over the past six years, UTC has sponsored more than $5 million in research across the University, including projects at the Applied Research Laboratory, Materials Research Institute, and architectural engineering department, aerospace engineering department, industrial engineering department, and mechanical and nuclear engineering department.

In 2008, Pratt & Whitney established a Center of Excellence at Penn State that averages approximately $600,000 in research funding each year. UTC stepped up their efforts in recruiting and hiring engineers from Penn State with 17 new, full-time hires in 2011 and internship offers to nine students already made for summer 2012.

Penn State also has received more than $2.6 million in gifts from the two since 1982 that has helped fund an endowed professorship in acoustics and the UTC Engineering Ambassadors Program in the College of Engineering.

The DOE has historically supported Penn State gas turbine research through its Research Alliance University Program and its University Turbine Systems Research Program.

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