Whatever Happened To… The Gas Turbine Engine

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
whatever happened to 8230 the gas turbine engine

Forty or fifty years ago, every manufacturer built concept cars with alternative– and sometimes pretty outlandish– power plants (small nuclear reactor, anyone?). The gas turbine was a popular choice. GM, Ford and Chrysler were all deeply involved in gas turbine research, stretching back to the late '40s and early '50s. In 1963, Chrysler built a fleet of 50 distinctively-styled turbine-powered cars and gave them to consumers to generate real-world feedback. Turbine engines were the wave of the future– a technologically-advanced powerplant that could run on anything combustible that would flow through a pipe, from kerosene to perfume. Chrysler's test program racked-up over 1.1m miles. They continued turbine engine research until the mid 70s, when they actually planned to put a turbine into production. Then, suddenly, nothing. Chrysler's financial problems led to government loan guarantees that included stipulations that they abandon plans to produce turbines (too risky). GM and Ford had long-since been distracted by other shiny objects like rotary engines and winning LeMans. So turbine engine research halted. With all the emphasis now on alternative fuels, perhaps it's time to revive an engine that can run on hydrogen, biofuels, petroleum distillates or even coal dust. Combined with modern engine-control technology, it could be worth a second look. Or not.

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  • Montgomery burns Montgomery burns on Jun 27, 2008

    "With respect, I’m not sure where you get your info from, but a family friend who actually worked on the project at Rover, John Orgille is of the opinion that the W2B as designed by Whittle, was an utter dogs breakfast in terms of gas flow. The redesigned Rover version, the B26 (which became the Rolls Royce Derwent) was an Axial flow and provided the design basis for the modern aircraft jet engine as we know it. Whittle, for the record, was an irascible hot head, hopelessly addicted to amphetimines." From the Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Whittle "By late 1941 it was obvious that the arrangement between Power Jets and Rover was not working. Whittle was frustrated by Rover's inability to deliver production-quality parts, as well as with their "we know better than you" attitude and became increasingly vocal. Rover was losing interest in the project after the delays and constant harassment from Power Jets." That sums it up rather well. One of the things Sir Frank fought Rover on was curving the compressor guide vanes something Rover refused to do and which is now universally used on centrifugal compressors. The W2B/23 became the the RB23 (when Rolls took over) which became the Welland in the first Meteors and then developed into the Derwent. All with centrifugal flow compressors. As for Whittle being an irascible hothead, it wouldn't surprise me in the least after putting over 10 years of work into jet engine design and manufacture with almost no help from the Air Ministry or anyone else. And then having his design handed off to Rover. He didn't even have the money to renew his patent in (I think) 1935 when it expired. Sorry everybody for getting OT. I'll just add that using gas turbines in a hybrid situation could be very useful unfortunately most research on turbines are aircraft related rather than "stationary" where (in civilian use) you're using the turbine to drive a big fan and there is ram air effect and so on. A last word on the turbine powered locomotives I read somewhere that if moving slowly, because the exhaust was out the top, It would tend to melt/burn the roadway of bridges the the engine travelled under!

  • Salman Ahmad Khan Salman Ahmad Khan on Apr 08, 2011

    I don't have the in depth study on turbines, but was doing some search on the subject. In the 90s I'd read an article on the Volvo's Gas-Electric turbine, and then it disappeared. I'm sure there are technical hurdles, engineering and cost effectiveness for commercial production, and perhaps others. But basically what I've understood so far: Get (make) a small axial flow turbine, to turn alternator to generate electricity, which can either charge batteries on idle, or be directed to the four electric motors turning the wheels. I've not done the mathematics, but including the losses in the turbine, and through the electricals, what would the MPG be comparatively. Could a test be done, by taking two identical cars, one as reference, and the other modified like said, and run them both identically (or as close) for a year. Has a test like this been done?

  • Jim brewer Jim brewer on Sep 22, 2013

    Gas turbines aren't that efficient in small sizes. Around 60Kw is the practical cut off. That's quite a bit of power, (and fuel consumption.) Enough to power about eight houses with air conditioning on a hot day. That's about enough to supply most of the power (and space heating) of a 150,000 square foot municipal gym. A big part of the attraction of a micro-turbine is the valuable waste heat being produced by the turbine in useable quantities. The hypothetical gym might use the waste heat to heat the swimming pool. There isn't a good heat sink on a car. Chrysler got its money's worth out of the turbine program. The PR and the glow effect just seemed endless for them.

  • The Manmaschine The Manmaschine on Mar 30, 2014

    Sorry to awaken an old thread, but I just wanted to say something about the gas turbine, I think in principal it's a good idea, and I also think that it could be the solution to electric cars, by using it not as a the main source of power directly to the wheels, but as the cars own electricity generator, why not use it to power electric motors? Since it will run on any combustible fuel, it should be possible to synthesise a fuel without the need for oil, I realise that a lot of waste heat is produced, but I'd have thought that could be used and regenerated so that it's not all wasted, not to mention that it reduces the need for a huge cache of batteries on the vehicle, as I believe efficient, high capacity batteries are possibly a decade away, electricity is very difficult to store efficiently, and a gas turbine could probably increase the distance the vehicle could travel to the equivalent of a small diesel engine if not more, surely it's an avenue that vehicle manufacturers should be investigating more seriously? The Chrysler gas turbine project was in the 60's, and things have progressed exponentially since then.