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January 29, 2013

BMW Plant Runs on GE Engines with 'Cast-Iron Stomachs'



BMW’s massive manufacturing plant in Regensburg, Germany, boasts a large inventory of powerful motors—ready to be assembled annually into 250,000 of the world’s most desirable and roadworthy cars. But recently, several much bigger General Electric (GE) engines arrived on the premises.

Manufactured in the small Austrian town of Jenbach by the Gas Engine Division of GE Power & Water, the Jenbacher combined heat and power (CHP) engines generate 10.7 megawatts (MW) and are fuel-flexible—meaning that they can run on either natural gas or biogas, which can be sourced from a wide variety of materials, from tree bark, to brewery waste, to discarded school lunches.

The automaker will use the new, omnivorous engines to generate enough heat and electricity for the plant to cover one-third of the factory’s needs. The massive 16-cylinder CHP engines, which are part of GE’s Ecomagination portfolio, operate at a respectable 85 percent efficiency. They convert some 45 percent of the heat energy from burning gas into electricity, and the technology captures a further 40 percent of the heat to help keep the plant warm. In the event of a blackout or service disruption to the national grid, the engines will generate enough power to operate the factory’s emergency lights.

“The project illustrates the increased demand that GE is seeing for its fuel-flexible gas engines to help industrial and municipal customers throughout Europe generate their own on-site power and heat to meet their increasingly stringent environmental and energy efficiency goals,” said Karl Wetzlaymer, general manager of Gas Engines for Power Generation at GE Power & Water.

Four other Jenbachers already are working at the Regensburg plant and BMW also uses the engines  at its plants in Steyr, Leipzig and Landshut.

In addition, the engines have found applications across many industries. “It’s a base load process, comparable to a coal-fired plant,” commented Lauren Toretta, vice president of CH4 Biogas, which operates a Jenbacher on a dairy farm in upstate New York. “We run it all the time. It’s also a very big waste management technology.”

The biogas plant started generating electricity just a month ago, in December 2012. It produces some 10,000 MWh of renewable electricity annually, enough to power almost 1,000 homes. The project received $1 million in funding from the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and another $750,000 in a grant from the National Grid utility company.

The plant’s innovative “digestion” technology blends cow manure with cheese whey, school lunch leftovers and other food waste to make methane—and turns it into electricity in GE’s clean-burning Jenbacher engine. “It’s a commercial-grade stomach,” said Toretta.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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