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LabsActuation and Power Systems ■ Projects ■ Microturbine



The target of the research program was to study novel miniaturized power supply systems, with applications to robotics, but with clear applications also to other fields. Energy autonomy is a bottleneck for many off-the-grid applications, including autonomous robotics, mobile systems, and remotely located or geographically distributed infrastructures.

Depending on size and load requirements, some of the currently available solutions to power up systems off-the-grid are battery packs or diesel engine generators and more recently fuel cells. Other energy harvesting solutions can be used for very low power applications as they typically provide mW order power.

The focus of the project was a microturbine as an energy harvesting device. The idea of studying the feasibility of a microturbine stemmed from the previous experience of the project leader, Emanuele Guglielmino, that had many years of industrial experience in the field of gas turbines in a lead multinational company, was intrigued by the challenge of miniaturizing a turbomachinery and observed the need of such a device to provide power in several real-life applications.

From scientific and technical standpoints, micro-turbomachinery offers high challenges, including micro-fluid dynamics, high speed rotordynamics, mechatronic systems integration and micro-manufacturing.

Critical Problem and Solution

Consider for instance a pipeline where we need to monitor integrity with sensors and measure its flow smartly. Sensors and actuators are typically supplied with batteries, sometimes remotely mounted, and associated wiring. These are costly and requires periodical maintenance. All this impacts on the safety, reliability and cost of the plant.

The microturbine is an energy harvesting device that enables one to successfully tackle these problems: it provides power supply to on-field monitoring systems, especially along geographically distributed plants.


A turbine converts fluidic energy (pressure and flow) into mechanical energy via an isentropic expansion. If connected to an electric generator mechanical energy is converted into electric energy.

The core technology is a few millimiter diameter microturbine, a patented energy harvesting device capable of delivering 30W of electrical power when supplied with pressurized air.

When shrinking to micro scale physical phenomena arise that are less significant in large scale. Downscaling enhances surface phenomena against volumetric ones, viscous effects dominate, aerodynamic performance reduces and friction level increases. However the power-to-weight ratio raises linearly with the inverse of the dimension. Therefore, miniaturized turbomachinery potentially provides extremely high-power density.

The microturbine offers several advantages:

  • Compactness
  • High energy density
  • Negligible internal heating (air cools when expanded)
  • Small level of vibration (with respect to volumetric machines)

The microturbine is therefore a miniaturized and well integrated energy harvesting device that can produce an electronically controlled electric output.


Emanuele Guglielmino, electrical engineer with PhD at University of Bath (UK); he has 13 years of experience (of which 7 years in the UK) in industry and research. He held technical and commercial positions in the oil & gas and railway industry in General Electric – Nuovo Pignone and Westinghouse. He is currently team leader at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).

Michele Focchi, automation engineer, with 1 year industrial experience in Indesit and final year PhD candidate at IIT.

We acknowledge the support in the project of Gianluca Pane, mechanical designer, and Carlo Tacchino and Stefano Cordasco electronic engineers.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 March 2013 12:26


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