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E n e r g y C o n v e r s i o n . Vo l . 8, p p . 8 5 - 9 0 . F e r g a m o n Pr e ~s , 1 9 6 8 .

Pri nt ed in Gr e a t B r i t a i n
T h e S u p e r c r itic a l T h e rm o d y n a m ic P o w e r C ycle
E , G , F E H E R t
(Received 13 January 1968)
1 . I n t r o d u c t i o n
Thermodynami c power cycles most commonl y used
for closed cycle engines t oday are the Ranki ne Cycle and
the recuperated Brayton Cycle. Both are characterized
by two const ant pressure and two isentropic processes.
The Ranki ne Cycle operates mai nl y in the saturated
region of its working fluid whereas the Brayton Cycle
processes are located entirely in the superheat or gas
The simple Ranki ne Cycle is inherently efficient. Heat
is added and rejected isothermally and therefore the
ideal cycle can achieve over 90 per cent of Carnot
efficiency between the same temperatures. Pressure rise
in the cycle is accomplished by pumpi ng a liquid, which
is an efficient process requiring small energy input.
The ratio of net work out put to gross work in the cycle
is large. Among the limitations of the cycle are the
(i) The temperature range of the cycle is severely
limited by the nat ure of the working fluid. Addi ng
superheat in an at t empt to circumvent this will depart the
cycle from isothermal heat addition. Increasing the
temperature range wi t hout superheat leads to excessive
moisture content in the turbines, resulting in blade
(ii) Simple recuperator cannot be employed to recover
heat from the turbine exhaust.
(iii) Expansion ratio of the cycle is usually large,
requiring in some cases more t han 30 turbine stages,
The recuperated Brayton Cycle adds heat at const ant
pressure over a temperature range. The temperature level
is independent of the pressure level. No blade erosion
occurs in the turbine. The pressure ratio is low, therefore
one or two turbine stages are adequate. A simple re-
cuperator can recover much of the turbine exhaust heat.
Some of the limitations of the cycle are:
(i) The compression process requires large energy
input, therefore the net work to gross work ratio is small.
(ii) The cycle is very sensitive to compressor efficiency
and pressure drop.
(iii) Heat transfer surfaces are large for pressure levels
t hat are typical for current Brayt on engines.
A t hermodynami c power cycle has been devised which
avoids most of the problems of these cycles and yet retains
many of their advantages. This cycle operates entirely
above the critical pressure of its working fluid; it is the
Supercritical Cycle.
t Astropower Laboratory Missile and Space Systems Division,
Douglas Aircraft Co., Inc., 2121 Campus Drive, Newport Beach,
2 . D e s c r i p t i o n o f t h e C y c l e
For the t hermodynami c analysis of the Supercritical
Cycle, the properties of its working fluid are represented
in Figs. 1 and 2. A pure substance (such as water or
carbon dioxide) is shown on a t emperat ure-ent ropy
diagram and on an ent hal py-ent ropy diagram. Also
E n tro p y
Fi g. 1. Temperat ure- ent ropy di agram f or t he supercritieal

- i , e
. . . . . . . , ~mV' f C~ P o i n J - -
I i
Fi g. 2. Ent hal py- ent ropy di agram f or t he supercritical cycl e.
86 E.~ G; FEl l ER . . . .
shown are lines of const ant pressure, const ant enthalpy,
const ant temperature, and the sat urat i on line and critical
The i deal cycle processes are shown by line segments
a b , b d , d e , and e a . Segment a b represents an isentropic
compression of the subcooled liquid from pressure Pt ' t o
p2. Segment b d represents heat addi t i on at const ant pres-
sure p2 to the highest temperature of the cycle at poi nt d.
Fr om d to e, isentropic expansion occurs from pressure
pz to pl , with accompanyi ng work out put . Heat is ex-
tracted from e to a along const ant pressure line pl . A
port i on of this heat, represented by ent hal py drop from
e to f at const ant pressure pl , is transferred back to the
fluid, raising its ent hal py from b to c at const ant pressure
p2. Net heat rejected is indicated by the ent hal py dro p
f r o mf t o a at const ant pressurepl . Poi nt a is at the lowest
temperature of the cycle and above the temperature of
the heat-receiving reservoir. Net heat input to the cycle
occurs from c to d at const ant pressure p2. Net work
out put is the difference between work out put from d
to e and pump work input from a to b.
A pseudo-Supercritical Cycle has been empl oyed for
steam power plants previously. In this combi nat i on of the
Ranki ne and Brayton Cycles the worki ng fluid is pumped
from the saturated state to a supercritical pressure. (See
Fig. 3.) Heat is added in a const ant pressure process over
E n tr o p y
F i g . 3. Temperature-entropy diagram for a p s e u d o - s u p e r c r i t i c a l
a temperature range. The same cycle, using carbon di-
oxide as the worki ng fluid has been :discussed by the
Russian, V. L. Dektiarev [1], and the Italian, . G. Angelino
[2]. This CO2 cycle was discussed by the aut hor, wi t hout
knowledge of the above works, in connection with the
initial disclosure of the Supercritical Cycle in an Engin-
eering Report [3].
3. Cy c l e Pe r f o r ma nc e Ana l y s i s
Referring to Fig. 2, the ideal t hermal efficiency of the
Supercritical Cycle is defined as
Wout _ ( h a - - h e ) - - ( h o - - h a )
~ t - Qin h a - h c ' (1)
where h is the value of the ent hal py at the point indicated
by the subscript.
The efficiency of the cycle is high because, (i) the pump
work is a small fraction of the t ot al work out put , and
(ii) most of the heat extracted from the cycle can be trans-
ferred back t o l he worki ng fluid by regeneration, thus
reducing the t ot al energy rejected from the cycle.
In t he actual cycle, the greatest loss will occur in the
expansion process, which will proceed along the poly-
tropic line d e ' instead of the isentropic line d e . The
efficiency of the turbine may be defined as
h a - he" A H ~
et -- -- (2)
h a - - h e A H t "
The t ot a l work out put is reduced because of the lowered
turbine efficiency. The t hermal efficiency of the cycle is
also loWered. However, some of the energy not available
as work, is available as heat and can be transferred to
the heat i nput process of the cycle. In ot her words, the
ent hal py drop he" - - he is utilized in raising the ent hal py
from he to h e ' , t hus reducing the net heat i nput from
h a - - he to h a - - h e .
The pressure drops in the system are reflected as an
increase in pump work. The liquid pump has high effi-
Ciency, and the magni t ude of the ent hal py difference
between ideal and actual pump work is small. The
efficiency of the pump may be defined as
h o - - h a A H v
- ( 3 )
e v - - h b ' - - h a A H " r "
The actual thermal efficiency of a real cycle becomes
( h a - - h e ' ) - - ( hb" - - h a ) (4)
Vlat : h a - - he"
4. Re g e ne r a t i o n
The regeneration process is essential to the achieve-
ment of high t hermal efficiency in the Supercritical
Cycle. The process is more complicated t han t hat for
the Brayt on Cycle due to the large deviation of fluid
properties from the ideal in the vicinity of the critical
point. For the pure substance, the specific heat at const ant
pr e s s ur e increases wi t hout bounds at the critical poi nt .
By definition, the specific heat at const ant pressure is
the ratio of increase in ent hal py in a const ant pressure
process to the corresponding increase in t emperat ure,
expressed as a derivative. Symbolically,
C , = ( O 0 ~ I , ) ~ . (5)
I f the properties of a pure substance are represented
on a rectangular coordi nat e system, with ent hal py as the
The Supercri t i cal Thermodynami c Power Cyc l e 8 7
5 ' ] / ~, ~ 2OO
) - * - 100
< " : ] ' ' , ~ - - - - - - o
J " oC,) 7L,,3 800 900 lOOO HOO 1200
I u r ~? c l a t : ,r c I o [ j
Fig. 4. Enthaipy-temperature diagram--high A H r .
ordinate, temperature as the abscissa, and lines of
const ant pressure are drawn, t hen the slope at any poi nt
is proport i onal to the value Of the Specific heat. Figure 4
shows such a set of curves for water. On the critical
pressure line the maxi mum slope is infinite and occurs
at the critical point. The maxi mum slope is finite at
higher pressures and its value decreases with increasing
To illustrate the effect of the pressure level and pressure
ratio on the regeneration process let the lower and upper
pressures Of an ideal supercritical cycle be 3500 psia and
4500 psia, respectively. In Fig. 4 the ent hal py difference
at const ant temperature for these pressures is plotted as a
function of temperature and labeled AH. The const ant
temperature line at the maxi mum poi nt of the AH curve,
AHr , is drawn. This line intersects the 3500 psia and
4500 psia const ant pressure lines at ao and b0, respectively.
Now, equal increments of ent hal py are t aken on the two
pressure lines in the directions of bot h increasing and
decreasing enthalpy. The corresponding points are
labeled a~, bl, al l , bl l , a2, b2, a22, b22, etc. It can be seen
t hat for const ant ent hal py increments in bot h directions
the temperature increment is increasing. The increase is
the greatest on the lower pressure line in the increasing
ent hal py direction and on the higher pressure line in the
decreasing ent hal py direction. The existence of this
positive temperature gradient allows heat transfer to
take place in the supercritical region from the lower to
the higher pressure.
Of the two aspects of the enthalpy~-temperature
relations, namel y the existence of a maxi mum AH
between the const ant pressure relation and the increasing
temperature increment with const ant ent hal py increment,
the former is a detriment to cycle efficiency and the
latter is an aid in reducing recuperator size. The former
is an index of the unavailability of heat energy for
conversion to work. As such, it leads to an alternate but
equivalent definition of cycle thermal efficiency,
(ha - - he) - - (hb - - ha)
lit = (hd - - he) + (he - - he)
_ ( h a - - h e) - - ( h o - - ha)
- - ( h a - - h e) + ( h i - - h b) ' ( 6)
where he - - he = h ! - hb = AHr . Expressed in anot her
1 - - A Hv / A Ht
~ . = (7)
1 + AHr / AHt "
Fr om this relation it is evident t hat ~,t can be increased
by reducing AHr .
I f AH for a higher set of pressures, say 4500 and 5500
psia is plotted (see Fig. 5) a lower AHr is obtained. It is
evident t hat as the pressure level (above the critical
Cr i t i c a l Po i n t
- - ' i ' ] ~ ~ t } ~ 3 " ~ - "- U0 ] l I BII.Ii Ib!
a l l ;
; - " / ! - - i b i - 0
500 600 700 800 900 1000 I I 0 0 1200
Ter n p er at u r e lF}
Fig. 5. Enthalpy-temperature diagram--low AHr.
pressure) is increased (within undetermined limits) and
as the pressure ratio is decreased, the AHr is decreased.
The value of the untransferable ent hal py is AHr in an
ideal recuperator. At t hat point the AT across the re-
cuperat or is zero and theoretically an infinite surface
would be required for heat transfer. In a real recuperator
the AT has a positive value ATp~ and is called the "pi nch
t emperat ure". The surface required for heat transfer
becomes smaller as AT is increased. An increase in AT
results in an increase in A Hr to some value AH~,
according to the relation
A H' r - - AHr : Cp-avg >( ATpi . (8)
This relation holds where ATp , is less t han 15F, which
is a practical value for real applications. Over this
range the differences between Cp_avg and the maxi mum
and mi ni mum values of Cp are negligibly small.
The efficiency of the recuperator may be defined as
the ratio of the ideal and actual enthalpy differences,
er : AH~ (9)
Using Equations (2), (3), (7) and (9), the actual thermal
efficiency of a real cycle becomes
1 - - A Hp / A Ht e t e v
~at : i - ~- A-Hr-/ AHt et er" (10)
5. Worki ng Fluids
In principle, the Supercritical Cycle can be operated
with any fluid, j ust as a Brayton Cycle can be operated
with any gas. In practice, the choice of working fluid
controls the range of cycle operating pressures and
temperatures. Table 1 lists critical properties of some
88 E. G. FEHER
Table 1. Critical constants of working fluids
Name Formula
Critical Critical
temperature pressure
(F) (psia)
Ammonia NH3 271" 2 1636
Carbon dioxide CO2 87.8 1072
Hexafluorobenzene C6F6 460 402
Perfluoropropane CaFa 161"4 388
Sulfur dioxide SO2 315" 5 1143
Sulfur hexafluoride SF6 114 546
Water H20 705 3206
Xenon Xe 61.9 853
of the working fluids which can be used in practical
For initial investigations carbon dioxide was selected
as the worki ng fluid for several reasons. First, its critical
pressure is one t hi rd t hat of water, allowing lower
operating pressures. Second, it is known t o be a stable
and inert material t hr oughout the t emperat ure range of
interest. Third, there is a considerable body of literature
on the properties of carbon dioxide, hence cycle analysis
is based on reasonabl y firm data. And finally, carbon
dioxide is abundant , non-toxic and relatively inexpensive.
The t hermodynami c and t ransport properties of carbon
dioxide were assembled from several sources, not abl y
from R. L. Sweigert et al. [4], G. C. Kennedy [5], D.
Price [6], D. M. Newitt et aL [7], and L. H. Chen [8].
This dat a covers the temperature range from 32F t o
1800F and the pressure range from 0 to 500 atm.
6. Ef f ect of Component Paramet ers
Inspection of Equat i on (7) reveals the influence on
ideal cycle efficiency of turbine work, pump work and
the unavailable energy in the regeneration process.
Figure 6 is a pl ot of cycle efficiency as a funct i on of the
i ndependent variables of Equat i on (7), AH~/AHt and
AHr/AHt. Superimposed on this plot are some typical
ideal carbon dioxide cycles operating between practical
t emperat ure and pressure limits. It is evident t hat typical
values of AHp/AHt range from 0. 07 to 0. 20 and t hat
the values of AHr/AHt usually lie between 1/3 and 1.
Figure 7 shows the change in all variables of Equat i on
' 0 . 6
~ 0 " 4
1 -
0. 8
, o , 2 . ~
Turbine In let Temp.
1600%- u
1200F- o
800F= ~ - -
P~IPI = 2"2"~
~ ~P21PI *.I'25
0.2 0"4 0.6 O.B
Z~Hpt' z~H t
Fig. 6. Cycle efficiency vs. pump work to turbine work ratio.
0" 65 -
0 .6 -
~, 0 .5 5 .
0 " 5 -
0 . 45 -
f ~ ,
T u r b i n e I n l d T e mp , ).300OF
- Pump I n l e t Temp , 6~'F
Pump I n l e t Pr ess, L~O00 p s i a
Cy cle Pr ess Dr o p - 0
q - %- e r . l
Cnrn0t Efficleney - 0.70
-W0rklng Fluid: C02
0 . 4- -O
1"5 2 2.5 3 3.5
Pump Dischar ge P r e s s u r e
Pump i n l e t Pr essur e .
Fig. 7. Cycle efficiency vs. pressure ratio.
- 0 " 8
-0" 5
- 0 .4
- 0 - 2
(7) as a funct i on of pressure ratio, for a pump inlet
pressure of 2000 psia. Ideal cycle efficiency is also
compared to Car not efficiency. The highest efficiency
occurs for a pressure ratio of more t han 3. 5, but it is
significant t hat the efficiency remains al most const ant
down to a pressure ratio of 2.
The difference between ideal and actual thermal
efficiencies as represented by Equat i ons (7) and (10),
respectively, is due to the efficiencies of the three maj or
component s of an engine operating on the Supercritical
Cycle. These component s are the pump, turbine and
Figure 8 shows the recuperator efficiency and cycle
efficiency as a funct i on of pressure ratio and pinch
t emperat ure ATtn. Here the degrading influence of the
1 1.5 2 2"5 3 3"5
Pump Dischar ge Pr e s s u r e
Pump I n l e t Pr e s s u r e
F i g . 8 . Cycl e effi ci ency and recuperator effi ci ency vs. pressure ratio
and pinch temperature.
The Supercritical Thermodynamic Power Cycl e 89
0, 8-
Tur bin e In let Temp, - ~300F . ~
Pump In let Temp, - 58 F
0 . 7 - Tur bin e In let Press, 40(X) p sia -
Tur bin e Out let Press, - 20(]0 p s i a
er =CyclelPress" Drop - 0 _ ~
0 .6 - Wo r kin g Fluid: CO 2
0 . 4 -
" G
- r b i n (ep = 1)
0 . 3 -
(3.2 ~ - - ~ _ _
0. 1
0" 2 0,4 0,6 0,8 1
Tur bin e and Pump E f f i c i e n c y
Fig, 9. Cycl e efficiency vs. turbine and pump efficiency.
recuperator efficiency on cycle efficiency is shown
quantitatively. Increasing AT~ represents decreasing size
recuperators. It is to be noted t hat the higher the pinch
temperature, the more marked the effect of pressure
ratio on cycle efficiency.
The effect of pump and turbine efficiencies is shown
in Fig. 9. As would be expected, the pump efficiency h a s
the smaller effect, producing less t han 10 per cent
degradation in cycle efficiency for a drop from 100 per
cent to 60 per cent pump efficiency. The effect of turbine
efficiency is similar to t hat for a regenerated Brayt on
The combined effect on cycle efficiency of the three
component efficiencies as a function of pressure ratio is
z 1:5 z 2;5 3 3; 3
Pump Discharge Pr essur e
Pump In let Pr essur e
Fig. 10. Cycl e efficiency vs. pressure ratio and component
shown in Fig. 10. Peak cycle efficiency occurs at pro-
gressively lower pressure ratios as component efficiencies
In a practical engine, the total pressure drop around
the cycle also has a degrading effect on cycle efficiency.
Total pressure drop can be referred to the pump as
increase in pump pressure ratio over the turbine pressure
APc~ = APv -- APt (11)
and expressed as a ratio,
AP e y APp I. (12)
The effect of increasing pressure drop on cycle efficiency
at several pump and turbine efficiencies is shown in
Fig. 1 1 .
Tur bin e In let Temp. 1300OF
Pump In let Temp. - 68F
Tur bin e In let Press. - 4000 p sia
Tur bin e Out let Press, - 2000 p sia
0,6 - - - O r . ,90
Pin cll Temp. - 8OF(Ap p ro x.) i
Car n o t E fficien cy - 0,70
Working Fluid: CO 2 ~ e t - ep 1 ]
/ - - e o e = 0.9
~ 0,5 i ~
~ , ~ j Fe t =e p : 0 " 7
0.4 ~ ,
i i I
! r
0.35 ~ I J
0.025 0.05 0.075 0,1
Cycle Pr essur e Dr o p , ~ - I
Fi g. 11. Cycl e efficiency vs. cycl e pressure drop.
o.6-~ 7 ! - ~ l
I ! I
Ap p i ?
[ Cy c l e Pr e s s ' D r p " ~t " 1 ; [
. 3 1 -
F ~ n let Press. = 3000 p sie i
0'35 ~ - - - - ~ Tur bin e Out let Press, = 2000 p sia
r Pump In let Temp. - 68OF
[ e t ~ ep = e r - 0 . 8 i
[ ~,'o rkmg Fluid: CO 2 j
o . 3 ~ i I l
I000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600
Tur bin e In let Temp erature, OF
Fig. 12. Cycl e efficiency vs. turbine i nl et temperature.
90 E . G. FEHER
o.~ - - ~- ! __
0 " 45 I
~-, ,~Pp , /
~_ z I / / '
0.35- -- ~/ ~1~/ ~
o - / , 1 /
I 'l--',t i
0.3- Turbine Inlet Temp. -
! T u r b i n e I n l e t Pr e s s . - 30~Op sia I
T u r b i n e O u t l e t Pr e s s . - 2000 p s i a j
0 . 2 ~- [ ~ ~ e t - e . - e r - 0 - 8 - - $ . . . . . d
! Wo r ki~n ~j Fl u id. CO-~ I
Cr i t i c a l T e mp e r a t u r e ! i
. 2 . . . . . i I ]
40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
Pu mp I n l e t T e mp e r a t u r e , OF
Fi g. 13. Cycl e efficiency vs. pump i nl et temperature.
Among the several cycle parameters that influence
cycle efficiency there remains the turbine and pump
inlet temperatures to consider. The effect of turbine inlet
temperature on cycle efficiency at several cycle pressure
drops is shown in Fig. 12. The variation is much the
same as for the regenerated Brayton Cycle. Figure 13
shows the effect of pump inlet temperature on cycle
efficiency at several cycle pressure drops. The cycle
efficiency variation here is quite different from that of
a Brayton Cycle. At temperatures lower than the critical
temperature the effect is small. A change of 40F in
pump inlet temperature causes a 1 percentage point
change in cycle efficiency. At temperatures higher than
about 15F above the critical temperature the effect is
suddenly large. A change of about 8F causes a 1 per-
centage point change. At temperatures farther above the
critical temperature the cycle behaves much as a high
pressure Brayton Cycle because the working fluid there
is a high density compressible gas.
7 . C o n c l u s i o n
The Supercritical Cycle offers the followfng charac-
teristics, which are desirable in a practical application.
High thermal efficiency, low volume to power ratio, no
blade erosion in the turbine, no cavitation in the pump,
single stage turbine and pump, single phase fluid in the
heat rejection process, and insensitivity to compression
Some applications for a supercritical engine are:
electric power generation for space,
terrestrial electric power generation (stationary and
shaft power for marine propulsion (surface and
With carbon dioxide as the working fluid and a
nuclear reactor as the heat source, the supercritical
engine can be a compact, portable electric power
The reasons for the neglect of the Supercritical Cycle
until now are not known. It can be conjectured that its
introduction to use has been delayed by the engineering
requirements of some of the components. It is clear,
however, that the level of today' s technology is adequate
for the successful practical utilization of the Supercritical
Q i n
N o m e n c l a t u r e
specific heat at constant pressure
average specific heat at constant pressure
component thermal efficiency
heat input
work out put
actual thermal efficiency
cycle thermal efficiency
ideal thermal efficiency
ideal enthalpy difference
actual enthalpy difference
temperature difference
pinch temperature (difference)
S u b s c r i p t s
a to f state points
p pump
r recuperator
t turbine
S u p e r s c r i p t s
' actual point or process (as opposed to ideal)
Acknowledgments Wor k presented herein was conduct ed at the
Ast ropower Laborat ory, Missile and Space Systems Division,
Dougl as Ai rcraft Company, Inc. under company-sponsored
Research and De ve l opme nt funds.
R e f e r e n c e s
[1] V. L. Dekht i arev, On designing a large, highly economical
carbon dioxide power i nst al l at i on. Elecrtichenskie Stantskii,
5: 1-6, May 1962.
[2] G. Angelino, Perspectives f or the Liquid Phase Compression Gas
Turbine. ASME Paper No. 66--GT-111, 13-17 March 1966.
[3] E. G. Feher, Supercritical Thermodynamic Cycles f or External
and Internal Combustion Engines. Ast ropower, Inc. Engineering
Repor t May 1962.
[4] R. L. Sweigert, P. Weber and R. L. Allen, Ind. Engng. Chem.
38, 185 (1946).
[5l G. C. Kennedy, P- V- T relations in CO2 at elevated tempera-
tures and pressures. Am. J. Sci. 2$2, 225-241 (1954).
[6] D. Price, The Thermodynamic Properties of Carbon Dioxide up
to 1000C and 1400 bars. Navor d Repor t 3846, Nov. 1954.
[7] D. M. Newi t t , N. V. Pal, N. R. Kul oor and J. A. W. Huggill,
Thermodynamic Functions of Gases, Vol. 1 tEd. F. Din). Butter-
worth, London (1956).
[8] L. Chela, Thermodynami c and transport properties of gaseous
carbon dioxide, in t he A. S. M. E. book Thermodynamic and
Transport Properties of Gases, Liquids and Solids. McGr aw- Hi l l