China's new generator unit to power all-electric warships

Global Times
Huang Panyue
Visitors take pictures of the Chinese aircraft carriers on display. Photo: Li Hao/GT

China has developed its most powerful steam turbo generator unit, which military analysts said may provide a solution to the huge demand for electricity required by electromagnetic catapults on China's future aircraft carriers and electromagnetic railguns on future destroyers.

Independently developed by the No.704 Institute of China's largest manufacturer of naval products, China Shipbuilding Industry (CSIC), the generator recently passed technical appraisal, marking the birth of the 20-megawatt steam turbo generator unit for ships, CSIC announced in a statement released on its WeChat account on Monday.

Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the generator unit is now fully operational and technically eligible for production.

Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, said that the next step will be to install the generator on a test ship, before it is available for use by China's military in one to two years.

The new generation of generator unit made multiple technological breakthroughs and innovative design, the CSIC statement said, noting that 20-megawatts of power is four times as much as China's current generator units and is on par with the most advanced generator units developed by the US and European countries.

Twenty megawatts is sufficient to propel 10,000-ton class vessels, Song told the Global Times, noting that larger vessels like aircraft carriers can use multiple generators to get the power they need.

The new steam turbo generator unit will not only provide electricity for a vessel's propulsion system, but also lay the foundation for a fully electric power system for ships, the company said.

On traditional vessels, power units that provide power for propulsion and electricity are separate, and power generated for the propulsion system is not used to power electrical applications, Song said. Ships seldom sail at full speed, so a considerable amount of its power potential is not used while the electrical system can be overworked providing power to electricity-consuming equipment.

Generators that are powerful enough could be used for both the propulsion and electrical systems, Li said. A ship's power system would be more efficient if one system is used to allocate power to where it is needed.

The US Zumwalt-class destroyer and the UK's Type 45 destroyer use a fully electric propulsion system.

CSIC is reportedly developing China's third aircraft carrier, and experts expect it will be equipped with an electromagnetic catapult to launch aircraft. China is also reportedly looking to upgrade its most advanced 10,000-ton class destroyer the Type 055s with electromagnetic railguns.

New technologies such as electromagnetic catapult and electromagnetic railgun require a huge amount of electricity. A fully electric power system will enable them to use unoccupied propulsion power to operate properly, Li said.


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