Combined Cycle

Combustion turbine with heat recovery steam generator

This image illustrates the combined cycle system that Western Michigan University employs in order to increase efficiency and production.

A combined cycle is characteristic of a power producing engine or plant that employs more than one thermodynamic cycle. Heat engines are only able to use a portion of the energy their fuel generates (usually less than 50 percent). The remaining heat from combustion is generally wasted. Combining two or more "cycles" such as the Brayton cycle and Rankine cycle results in improved overall efficiency.

In a combined cycle power plant, or combined cycle gas turbine plant, a gas turbine generator generates electricity and the waste heat is used to make steam to generate additional electricity via a steam turbine; this last step enhances the efficiency of electricity generation. Most new gas power plants in North America and Europe are of this type. In a thermal power plant, high-temperature heat as input to the power plant, usually from burning of fuel, is converted to electricity as one of the outputs and low-temperature heat as another output. As a rule, in order to achieve high efficiency, the temperature difference between the input and output heat levels should be as high as possible. This is achieved by combining the Rankine (steam) and Brayton (gas) thermodynamic cycles.