Selective Thermal Emission Coatings for Improved Turbine Performance

Default ARPA-E Project Image

Richland, Washington
Project Term:
06/01/2021 - 02/28/2023

Critical Need:

Gas turbines produce approximately 35% of the total electricity generation in the U.S. Improving their efficiency is important for reducing energy usage and carbon emissions. Similarly, higher efficiency aviation and other industrial turbines would improve the economics and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in these sectors. Gas turbine efficiency largely depends on the gas temperature at the inlet; the higher the temperature, the higher the efficiency. Gas turbine operational temperature is currently limited by its component materials, particularly those in the path of the hot gas such as turbine blades, vanes, nozzles, and shrouds. Turbine blades experience the greatest operational burden because they must concurrently withstand the highest temperatures and stresses. Currently, turbine blades are made of single crystal nickel (Ni)- or cobalt (Co)-based superalloys. After many years of refinements, their development has plateaued. There is a need to discover, develop, and implement novel materials that work at temperatures significantly higher than that of the Ni or Co superalloys if further efficiency gains are to be realized.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Thermal barrier coatings (TBCs) on turbine blades are designed to protect the blade from reaching temperatures higher than the operational capability of the base metal. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory aims to develop a new type of TBC that performs dual functions. The coating will act as a barrier to conventional heat transfer and have ability to alter the wavelength of light radiated from the hot turbine blade surface. This normally wasted energy will be absorbed in the turbine exhaust where it can then produce additional electrical power or thrust. Simulations show this new coating could increase turbine output by as much 6%. Achieving half or even 1/3 of this initial estimate in power increase would be transformational. The project team will design, synthesize, and measure the optical and thermal properties of candidate selective emitter coatings for operation at up to 1800°C.

Potential Impact:

Combining development of new ultrahigh temperature materials with compatible coatings and manufacturing technologies has the potential to increase gas turbine efficiency up to 7%, which will significantly reduce wasted energy and carbon emissions.


Coal-fired and nuclear-powered plant electricity generation is uneconomical, unsafe, outdated, and/or contributes to significant CO2 emissions. Increasing gas turbine efficiency is critical to ensuring that plants can effectively deploy their capacity to the grid, increasing energy security.


Improving gas turbine efficiency can significantly reduce carbon emissions from air travel, which represents 2% of all global carbon emissions.


By 2050, a 7% efficiency improvement in the natural gas turbines used for U.S. electricity generation could save up to 15-16 quads of energy; in civilian aircraft turbines, 3-4 quads of energy could be saved for U.S. air travel.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Philseok Kim
Project Contact:
Dr. B. Peter McGrail
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Praxair Surface Technology, Inc.

Related Projects

Release Date: