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Is the Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Market Reaching Critical Mass?

By Dr. David Schowalter
May 11, 2018

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There is obviously a huge amount of interest in Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (sCO2) within the energy industry. One reason is because sCO2 Brayton power cycles operate in the same way as other Brayton cycles, but with a much higher power density. This has the potential for greatly reducing the size and cost of equipment. Additionally, efficiencies can reach as high as 40% for an sCO2 system, compared to about 33% for a typical heat recovery system. 


SCO2 systems are being considered for electricity conversion for everything from waste heat recovery to advanced nuclear power plants. As my colleague, Kevin Fairman, covered in his blog a few months ago, there remain significant technical challenges to commercialization of this industry. Concepts NREC is working with customers to get past those challenges and, to do so, we took a careful look at the state of the market.


The sCO2 heat recovery cycle market is nascent, but promising. It is on the radar of large global power and energy companies, as well as smaller ones. Even start-ups are getting into the space, hoping to leverage their unique solution to grab early market share. Many of these companies have been in touch with us to discuss the significant technological challenges associated with sCO2 technology. With the promise of smaller size, lower costs and higher efficiency, we expect the large companies will devote larger budgets to R&D, and many more start-up companies will appear, adding their ideas for innovation.


A study out of MIT showed that, for large power plants using an advanced nuclear reactor (around 300 MWe), there was a 10% cost savings for sCO2 systems relative to a conventional steam cycle. The savings came from reduced capital costs and increased efficiency. A paper presented by M.L. Bauer, R. Vijaykumar, M. Lausten, and J. Stekli, at the 5th International Symposium - Supercritical CO2 Power Cycles, highlighted that smaller power plants are even more cost competitive using sCO2. And if the plant includes a small concentrated solar power generator, these systems would make the entire power generation system competitive with other conventional alternatives. An ideal application for sCO2 technology may be a system that is tied to a concentrated solar heat generator during the day, and a small gas turbine at night or during very cloudy conditions, enabling reliability and continuity of electrical service for an approximately 10 MWe system in a remote area. The competitiveness of such a system is likely to create a market pull for developing the supercritical technology.


When we were estimating market size, it made sense to consider the gas turbine combined-cycle conversion market. This market addresses the demand for improved gas turbine efficiency by adding heat recovery steam generators to the single cycle exhaust. McIlvaine estimated in 2014 that this would be a $200 billion market, globally. Studies have shown that the rate of return for steam systems generally runs from 10% to 17%, while supercritical systems typically have a rate of return closer to 18%. 


Given these financial drivers, we expect supercritical technologies to take over a growing portion of this market. By making some assumptions about how this conversion market spreads over time, and the share likely to be gained by sCO2 systems, we estimate a market of approximately $60 billion for SCO2 systems between now and 2030.


Is your company involved or interested in sCO2 systems? Call us, we would love to start a conversation!

Tags: Renewable Energy, Supercritical CO2, SCO2, Brayton Cycle, Energy Recovery

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