The difference between steam & gas turbines

Written by mitchell brock
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The difference between steam & gas turbines
Jet engines use a type of gas turbine. (Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Many different types of turbines exist throughout the nation, such as nuclear turbines, wind turbines, gas turbines and steam turbines. The steam and gas turbines turn the turbine with heat, but the heat is produced in different ways. Of the two types of turbines, the steam turbine was invented long before the gas turbine.

Steam Turbines

Steam turbines create energy by heating water in a boiler. The water heats to a steam, which expands. The high-pressure steam causes the turbine blades to rotate on a generator creating electricity. The steam condenses back into water and goes back to the boiler so it can be heated again.

Gas Turbines

Gas turbines are best known for their use for aircraft engines. Air goes into a compressor, which flows into a combustion chamber. From the combustion chamber, the air mixes with a gas and is then ignited. The ignition of air and gas creates a high-pressure exhaust. The expansion of this high-pressure exhaust turns the turbine and an air compressor.


The biggest difference between steam and gas turbines is the fuel each turbine uses. Steam turbines use water, but gas turbines can use different gases: natural gas, gasoline, propane, diesel fuel and kerosene. The steam from the water can be recycled back into the boiler, while the exhaust from the gas can be used again, but not for the same purpose.


Another major difference between steam and gas turbines is the type of cycles each uses. The steam turbine uses the Rankine cycle for the thermodynamic cycle, while the gas turbine uses the Brayton cycle for the thermodynamic cycle. The Rankine cycle basically converts heat into work. The Brayton cycle has air ingested into an engine, which ignites with a fuel.

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