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Going New Ways


German Aerospace Center banks on Atlas Copco technology

At times, it’s just as hungry for air as a chemical plant is: welcome to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne-Porz. Known primarily as a hub of expertise and research in the realms of aeronautics and space flights, energy technology is now one of the other key areas that the DLR works in. So it comes as no surprise that the DLR has emerged as Germany’s largest testing facility for power-station turbines. 
The DLR’s hunger for air is particularly great when firebox tests – which aim to optimize the turbines – are underway. In just one hour, up to 140,000 cubic meters of air may be required here. 
Once primarily a testing ground for airplane engines, this division of DLR is now increasingly emerging as a place where customers can test stationary gas turbines for energy production. DLR can essentially create any type of “gas cocktail” that emerges during combustion processes. That gas, in turn, can be used to fuel power-station turbines. 
Without competition in Germany 
“There aren’t many facilities that can do that. The strangest gas compounds emerge at times,” says Martin Hirth, who is in charge of building trade and operations at DLR. Hirth also oversees the air supply for testing purposes. 
“In the high-pressure segment, we have no competition in Germany,” Hirth says proudly, adding that there are just three firebox test beds in all of Europe capable of what the DLR facilities can do. As a result, several gas-turbine makers regularly book the DLR to run high-pressure tests, some have even agreed to five-year contracts.

During these firebox tests, all available compressors operate at full throttle. They are aligned into three lines of machines, or “trains,” as Hirth calls them, and consist of several compressor stages. 

For a long time, Hirth and his colleagues worked with two turbocompressors from the 1970s, which served as the backbone of one of the trains. They compressed up to 22 bar, and until recently that was enough. 
But as customer requirements in the realm of process pressure grew, the DLR had to explore new ways of guaranteeing its high-pressure supply. Hirth and his colleagues looked no further than multi-stage turbo-compressors built by Atlas Copco Gas and Process. “The company’s excellent reputation was just one of many reasons for our decision,” says Hirth.