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Rankine cycle

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

The Rankine cycle, also called the Rankine vapor cycle, is a thermodynamic cycle that converts heat into mechanical energy. The Rankine cycle is name after William Johnson Macquorn Rankine, a 19th century Scottish engineer and physicist known for his research in the thermodynamic properties of steam. 

The Rankine cycle makes practical use of the increase in pressure that occurs when a condensed fluid is forced to evaporate within a contained vessel. The cycle begins when a fluid, such as water, is compressed and put under high pressure. When the liquid is heated, the compressed fluid becomes a vapor that can be used to generate mechanical energy. When the heat is reduced, the vapor cools and condenses back to liquid form. The cycle then begins again. 

A system that uses the Rankine cycle has four parts: a pump, a boiler, a turbine and a condenser. The pump's job is to deliver liquid to the boiler. The boiler's job is to heat the liquid and turn it to vapor.  The vapor is then used to power a turbine. The turbine's job is to transform the energy created by the heated fluid into usable energy. The vaporized liquid is then cooled back to liquid state in the condenser. The pump pressurizes the liquid in the condenser and the cycle continues. 

This was last updated in March 2019

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