Summary
A steam turbine is a machine that extracts thermal energy from pressurized steam and uses it to do mechanical work on a rotating output shaft. Its modern manifestation was invented by Charles Parsons in 1884. Fabrication of a modern steam turbine involves advanced metalwork to form high-grade steel alloys into precision parts using technologies that first became available in the 20th century; continued advances in durability and efficiency of steam turbines remains central to the energy economics of the 21st century. The steam turbine is a form of heat engine that derives much of its improvement in thermodynamic efficiency from the use of multiple stages in the expansion of the steam, which results in a closer approach to the ideal reversible expansion process. Because the turbine generates rotary motion, it can be coupled to a generator to harness its motion into electricity. Such turbogenerators are the core of thermal power stations which can be fueled by fossil fuels, nuclear fuels, geothermal, or solar energy. About 85% of all electricity generation in the United States in the year 2014 was by use of steam turbines. Technical challenges include rotor imbalance, vibration, bearing wear, and uneven expansion (various forms of thermal shock). In large installations, even the sturdiest turbine will shake itself apart if operated out of trim. The first device that may be classified as a reaction steam turbine was little more than a toy, the classic Aeolipile, described in the 1st century by Hero of Alexandria in Roman Egypt. In 1551, Taqi al-Din in Ottoman Egypt described a steam turbine with the practical application of rotating a spit. Steam turbines were also described by the Italian Giovanni Branca (1629) and John Wilkins in England (1648). The devices described by Taqi al-Din and Wilkins are today known as steam jacks. In 1672 an impulse turbine driven car was designed by Ferdinand Verbiest. A more modern version of this car was produced some time in the late 18th century by an unknown German mechanic.
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