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8  Binary Cycle Power Plants 153

plant. The geothermal steam from wells was too contaminated with dissolved gases
and minerals to be sent directly to a steam turbine so it was passed through a heat
exchanger where it boiled clean water that then drove the turbine. This allowed the
use of standard materials for the turbine components and permitted the minerals to
be recovered from the steam condensate [2].
Today binary plants are the most widely used type of geothermal power plant with 235
units in operation in August 2011, generating over 708 MW of power in 15 countries.
They constitute 40% of all geothermal units in operation but generate only 6.6% of
the total power. Thus, the average power rating per unit is small, only 3 MW/unit, but
units with ratings of up to 2021 MW are coming into use with advanced cycle design
using a pair of turbines driving a single generator. Several binary units recently have
been added to existing flash-steam plants to recover more power from hot, waste brine.
See Appendix A for more statistics.

8.2 Basic binary systems


If one were to plot a histogram of geothermal resources worldwide arranged by
temperature, it would be heavily skewed toward low-temperature resources. If the
geofluid temperature is 150 C (300 F) or less, it becomes difficult, although not impos-
sible, to build a flash-steam plant that can efficiently and economically put such a
resource to use. The lower the resource temperature the worse the problem becomes
for flash technology. Indeed at such low temperatures it is unlikely that the wells will
flow spontaneously, and if they do, there is a strong likelihood of calcium carbonate
scaling in the wells.
One way to prevent the scaling problem is to produce the geofluid as a pressurized
liquid by means of down-well pumps. When geofluids are produced this way, it is
generally not thermodynamically wise to then flash the fluid in surface vessels and use
a flash-steam plant. However, there is one plant that does so, the GEM plant at East
Mesa in the Imperial Valley of California in the United States [3]. It is simpler to pass
the geofluid as a compressed liquid through heat exchangers and dispose of it in injec-
tion wells still in the liquid phase. The thermodynamic irreversibilities associated with
the flash process are replaced with irreversibilities from heat transfer across a finite
temperature difference. With imaginative design of the heat exchangers, these losses
can be minimized, as we will see later.
In its simplest form, a binary plant follows the schematic flow diagram given in
Fig. 8.1. The production wells PW are fitted with pumps P that are set below the flash
depth determined by the reservoir properties and the desired flow rate. Sand removers
SR may be needed to prevent scouring and erosion of the piping and heat exchanger
tubes. Typically there are two steps in the heating-boiling process, conducted in the
preheater PH where the working fluid is brought to its boiling point and in the evapo-
rator E from which it emerges as a saturated vapor. The geofluid is everywhere kept
at a pressure above its flash point for the fluid temperature to prevent the breakout
of steam and noncondensable gases that could lead to calcite scaling in the piping.
Furthermore, the fluid temperature is not allowed to drop to the point where silica
scaling could become an issue in the preheater and in the piping and injection wells