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Friday, April 21, 2017

Fighting corruption in Vietnam requires institutional reform

Author: Hai Hong Nguyen, UQ
The first half of 2016 saw Vietnam’s fight against corruption gain new momentum. Having consolidated his power after being re-elected as Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), Nguyen Phu Trong issued resolutions and directives aimed at tightening party members’ ethical conduct.
Vietnam's General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong at the office of Communist Party Vietnam Central Committee in Hanoi, Vietnam, 16 January, 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Minh Hoang/Pool).
Trong then launched attacks on several high-ranking officials — notably Trinh Xuan Thanh and Vu Huy Hoang. The former, a provincial vice chairman, was allegedly responsible for the loss of more than 3 trillion Vietnamese dong (approximately US$132 million) while he was in charge of PetroVietnam Construction Joint Stock Corporation. The latter, a retired minister of trade and industry, was disciplined for ‘malmanagement and serious wrongdoings’, including his links to Trinh Xuan Thanh in his role as the industry commander-in-chief. These attacks were hailed by some party conservatives as the ‘command drum beats’ for a more resolute effort to combat this ‘internal enemy to the regime’.
But in the second half of 2016, setbacks discredited these efforts. Thanh was expelled from the party and subjected to criminal charges, but then clandestinely fled the country and has not yet been seized despite an international arrest warrant being issued. Hoang had all his party and government titles effaced, but has not been expelled from the party as no criminal charges have been filed.
That both Thanh and Hoang have escaped criminal punishment highlights the weakness of the police and the judicial system, the influence of patronage in Vietnamese politics and the fact that the party places the most emphasis on its internal unity to keep its grip on power.
For years, the police and the judiciary have emerged as the sectors most affected by corruption — Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (CAC) chairman Nguyen Phu Trong once questioned whether there was corruption within the anti-corruption forces. Nevertheless, the police and the judiciary should not be held completely accountable for the failure of the fight against corruption: such failure is inevitable in a one-party system where the media is controlled by the state. This failure occurs due to what is branded as ‘system fault’.
Vietnam’s ‘system fault’ is caught in the reform dilemma between economic liberalisation and political democratisation. In the past decade, Vietnam has seen the rise of a so-called ‘super-rich’ class which is often connected with the political elite and which has substantial influence on policy development.
This class includes private nouveau-riches who became rich by ‘policy corruption‘ — distorting laws and policies to further their profits — as well as state-owned enterprise (SOE) executives like Pham Thanh Binh of Vinashin. He and other SOE executives have been accountable for massive losses due to ‘malmanagement and serious wrongdoings’ — a term used to imply corruption. Research recently published by the Centre for Social Governance Research in Vietnam disclosed that 38 per cent of Vietnamese viewed business executives as among the three most corrupt cohorts. It is this super-rich class that blocks democratic development in Vietnam.
The ‘system fault’ is compounded by Vietnam’s political patronage system. While the state media did not question who was behind Trinh Xuan Thanh’s escape from the police, social media pointed out that Thanh and his alleged ‘wrongdoings’ were linked with Dinh La Thang — the incumbent Party Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City and a member of the CPV Politburo. The same story can be said for Vu Huy Hoang, who allegedly has a close relationship with former prime minister Nguyen Tan Dzung.
There are 12 industrial projects losing billions of dollars that were established while these two men were in power. These projects will be reviewed by the CPV Politburo in the coming weeks, yet it is possible that no-one will take responsibility for the losses.
The CPV’s fight against corruption will always be an impossible mission if they do not ‘brake the vase when catching mice’ — referring to the need to undertake institutional and political reforms. The February 2017 Global Corruption Barometer ranked Vietnam as the second-most corrupt country by bribery rate in Asia. 65 per cent of Vietnamese had a negative view of the government’s efforts in fighting corruption, and only 53 per cent thought that ordinary citizens can make a difference. More than half of the population saw a continued decline in the CPV’s fight against corruption.
These data underscore how difficult it is for a status quo CPV to combat its ‘internal enemy’. Any substantial reforms for the nation will not be easy when vested interests are deeply rooted in state machinery and political patronage remains a key way to operate the system.
Hai Hong Nguyen is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.

Land issue to be throughly inspected: Hanoi mayor

Hanoi, April 21 (VNA) – The capital city of Hanoi will conduct a thorough inspection of the management and use of land in My Duc district’s Dong Tam commune, particularly in the Dong Xanh area where a plan to build the Mieu Mon Airport is underway.
The announcement was issued on April 20 by Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee Nguyen Duc Chung at a dialogue with 100 representatives from Dong Tam commune.
The dialogue was an opportunity for the city leader and local representatives to exchange views and try to understand each other as they seek common ground on this sensitive land issue.
However, for many reasons, including the fact that it was late in the day and the commune is 22km away from the city centre, the dialogue did not iron out all the problems as expected. Chung said he would continue to hold talks with local residents on April 21 or April 22.
Also present at the meeting were representatives from the National Assembly’s Committee for People’s Aspirations, the Government Inspectorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the My Duc district authorities and the media.
Chung promised to focus on solving the problems as quickly as possible. He said the city had asked Viettel Telecom Corporation to stop construction, as well as other activities to facilitate the inspection work. Inspections will be conducted seriously, focusing on reviewing all issues, including past offenses, and the city will strictly punish individuals and organisations for violations, according to him.
The municipal leader also urged residents to promptly remove piles of sand, bricks and other construction materials at the exits and entrances to Hoanh village and Dong Tam commune, and avoid damaging social security and order.
He recognised that in the past days, local people have not behaved too badly to 38 officers and soldiers they captured, 15 of whom have so far been released.
Responding to questions by reporters, Vice Chairman of the Dong Tam commune People’s Committee Pham Hong Sy, said this was a serious incident affecting local activities.
People are now aware that the Dong Xanh area is agricultural land belonging to the people so they deserve compensation, said Sy.
Therefore, local people all have a common desire for the city authorities to intervene to clarify who is right and who is wrong.
The commune is trying to convince residents to free all of the remaining apprehended officials and policemen.

Trump invites Vietnam’s prime minister to visit US

The two governments have expressed desire to further promote ties and strengthen their relationship since Trump’s election win last November.

U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to visit the United States, Vietnamese government said on its website on Friday.
Vietnam took ties with the U.S. to a new level under former President Barack Obama, keen for the U.S. to maintain its security presence in Asia in the face of territorial claims by giant neighbour China.
The two governments have expressed desire to further promote ties and strengthen their relationship since Trump’s election win last November.
U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster has delivered a letter of invitation from Trump to Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, now on a visit to the U.S., the government added.
Last month, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc also said he was ready to visit the U.S. to promote ties between the two countries.
Trump will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam in November.
Vietnam had been one of the top potential beneficiaries of the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement canceled by Trump, but it has also been building links to the U.S. amid a maritime dispute with China.
China claims most of the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim parts of the sea, which commands strategic sea lanes and has rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits.
Washington lifted a U.S. lethal arms embargo on Vietnam last May, allowing closer defense links and some joint military exercises.

For pho's sake: Chefs reinvent Vietnam's favourite soup

A classic chicken soup may be known as Jewish penicillin, but for a lot of us, a bowl of Vietnam's signature pho is the thing that puts us right – the broth, noodles, herbs, and the refreshing additions of chilli and lemon if you want. Who doesn't love shouldering in to a crowded, brightly lit pho joint for a steaming bowl?
But hey, why stop at soup when it comes to this symphonic combination of flavours? Restaurants around the world are riffing on the basic elements of pho and getting all Frankenpho with it.
Santa Monica's Komodo does a 'phorrito', taking the ingredients of the soup, making sure the meat is juicy enough to evoke a brothy mouthfeel, then wrapping it all up in a tortilla like a burrito.
Pho meets tartare: modern Vietnamese at Atlas Dining.
Pho meets tartare: modern Vietnamese at Atlas Dining. Photo: Supplied
Luke Nguyen served up 'Pho-guettes' – a bahn mi and pho mash-up – at Sydney's Lunar Markets earlier this year, while Hem Nine Nine in Sydney's Glebe serves souped-up versions with marbled wagyu beef and roasted bone marrow.
Ho Chi Minh City's Relish and Sons does a riff on a pho-burger, with the bun made from patties of fried pho noodles and the burger infused with the crucial soup herbs and spices. Atlas Dining in Melbourne's South Yarra served up a refined beef pho tartare during its Viet incarnation (the restaurant changes cuisine every four months).
Just why do we hold this humble soup to levels of obsessive extreme? Lucky Peach magazine recently dedicated an entire issue to it.
Luke Nguyen's Pho-guette (pho and banh mi in one).
Luke Nguyen's Pho-guette (pho and banh mi in one). Photo: Supplied
Momofuku's David Chang, who is also the co-editor of Lucky Peach, wrote: "The reason why we love pho is because it's hot, it's salty, it's umami; it's got acid, it's got heat and texture from all the stuff you add in as you're eating."
The one common element most chefs agree on is no matter how freaky you want to get with your pho, "it's all about the stock," emphasises Jerry Mai, executive chef and owner of Melbourne's Pho Nom. Mai sometimes puts a deconstructed pho on the menu, serving a banh mi, filled with pâté, seasoned and blanched meat, mayo and herbs, with the stock on the side to dip into.
Thai Ho, from Melbourne's Ho Chi Mama, makes 'pho'plings' (recipe below).
The pho paddle at Hem Nine Nine is inspired by craft beer tasting paddles and features a vegan mushroom, free-range ...
The pho paddle at Hem Nine Nine is inspired by craft beer tasting paddles and features a vegan mushroom, free-range chicken and wagyu beef pho. Photo: Lee Tran Lam
"The key to making a really tasty pho broth is ensuring that you use the right type of bones to cook it, and that you cook the bones using the right flame," he says.
"It is also very important to ensure that pho is always garnished with spring onions, coriander and fresh onion, as these ingredients really help to draw out the fragrance of the broth."
We all love the slurp of pho broth, but what about the swirl of it in a cocktail glass? Vietnamese diners Uncle (in Melbourne's St Kilda and CBD) serve and bottle their own 'Pho-Groni' – a spiced negroni. Uncle's bar manager Pete Signato took the idea of using chef Dai Duong's discarded pho spices which had soaked up the beefy goodness, to infuse in gin (he had previously experimented with beef jerky vodka). Unhappy with the result, Signato decided to macerate the gin with the unadulterated spice mix instead, hitting the sweet spot after about three months of barrel ageing.
Melbourne Vietnamese diners Uncle serve Pho-Groni cocktails.
Melbourne Vietnamese diners Uncle serve Pho-Groni cocktails. Photo: Supplied
It's the one pho situation where we don't recommend slurping.

Uncle's Pho-Groni

25g rock sugar, ground
1 coriander root
1/2 tsp toasted and then crushed coriander seeds
1 toasted black cardamon pods
1/2 small toasted cassia bark
1-2 toasted star anise
25g ginger, charred, skin on
375ml gin (Uncle uses Westwinds' Sabre)
375ml Campari
375ml vermouth (Uncle uses Casa Mariol 'Negre' Vermut)
125ml filtered water
Ice, lemon zest and holy basil, to serve
Add all dry ingredients into the gin and steep for at least 24 hours, depending on how spicy you would like it. I find about 30 hours is perfect.
Strain off the gin and hang the sieve over the container for an hour to get all the goodness out of the steeped ingredients. Add the remaining wet ingredients Campari, vermouth, water and stir.Pour into an appropriate barrel and wait. The longer you wait, the richer it gets. (For this particular cocktail to still have a good balance between richness and the freshness of the herbs and spices, four months is recommended.).
To serve, measure out 90ml and pour over lots of ice. Garnish with a strip of lemon zest and sprig of holy basil.
Makes 1.25 litres (approximately 13 drinks).

Hochi Mama's Pho'pling

500g pork mince
500g beef mince
1/3 cup finely chopped spring onions (white parts only)
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 cup pho broth, cooled to a gelatine-like thickness
70 square or round dumpling wrappers (approximately two packets)
Chinese cabbage leaves, to steam
Combine all ingredients except the pho broth, wrappers and cabbage. Take a small amount of mince and place it in the centre of each dumpling wrapper.
Top each wrapper with a quarter of a teaspoon of pho broth, carefully twisting or pleating the dumpling wrapper edges together at the top, ensuring there are no holes for the broth to escape.
Line a bamboo steamer with cabbage leaves and arrange dumplings. Steam in batches for approximately six minutes, or until cooked through.
Makes approximately 70 dumplings

Beware Vietnam's Death Machine

A closer look at capital punishment in the Southeast Asian state.
One Thursday in July 2013, Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong Tan Sang, sat down in the Oval Office to discuss Thomas Jefferson. Sang brought to this historic meeting between the two nation’s presidents a letter Ho Chi Minh had sent Harry Truman, prior to the Vietnam War, seeking cooperation with the United States. Uncle Ho’s words, said Obama, were “inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson.” In fact, when the Proclamation of Independence was read by Ho in 1945, he chose to begin with an extract from America’s Declaration of Independence, its principal author being Jefferson.
While a visit to the White House by the Vietnamese president was an occasion for historical reflection, the here-and-now was what really mattered. Indeed, diplomacy and trade were the main talking points, signaling the start of an emboldened relationship between the two nations. But the U.S. president did at least mention Vietnam’s human right’s record.
“All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain,” Obama said after the meeting. Sang’s only comment was that the two men “have differences on the issue.”
Little reported afterwards was the execution of a 27-year old Vietnamese man named Nguyen Anh Tuan, a convicted murderer, which took place on August 6, just two weeks after Sang’s visit to White House. Tuan’s execution was the first in years, and the first since Vietnam replaced firing squads with lethal injections in 2011. However, a ban on importing “authorized” lethal drugs meant it had to use untested domestic poisons. Tuan took two hours to die, reportedly in harrowing pain.
Between the date of Tuan’s death and June 30, 2016, Vietnam executed 429 people (or an average of 147 executions per year; or 12 each month). Additionally, 1,134 people were given death sentences between July 2011 and June 2016. The number remaining on “death row” is not known.
These figures only came to light after the public security ministry decided to release them in February. They are normally classified as state secrets and rarely revealed. Surprising many around the world who thought the numbers to be much lower, Amnesty International reported this month that Vietnam is now the world’s third-most prolific executioner of prisoners. Only China and Iran are thought to have executed more people.
In June 2016, the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights provided a lengthy report on the death penalty’s mechanisms in Vietnam, explaining that capital punishment is applied for 18 different offenses, down from 44 in 1999.
Like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors this includes harsh drug laws, and Vietnam metes out the death penalty for those caught in possession or smuggling 100 grams or more of heroin or cocaine, or 5 kilograms or more of cannabis and other opiates. Other crimes, including murder and rape, also carry a death sentence.
After reforms during the 2000s, “the death penalty was effectively abolished on certain crimes, such as robbery, disobeying orders or surrendering to the enemy. But in other cases, crimes were simply re-worded to mask their appearance and deceive international opinion,” the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.
Particularly troubling is the fact that the Vietnamese regime wields capital punishment for vaguely-defined crimes of “infringing upon national security,” explains the report. These include carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration (Article 109 of the reformed Criminal Code), rebellion (article 112), and sabotaging the material-technical foundations of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (article 114).
Returning to the recent execution figures, it is worth considering why the regime would choose to announce them in February – knowing the reaction they would cause – and whether they are not masking a far larger number of executions.
One problem is that they came with no information as to what the prisoners were being executed for. We might assume that most were for drug offenses or murder, as has been the case in the past, but it is by no means certain. That leads one to wonder whether any of the people executed were arrested for simply protesting against the regime.
Even if they weren’t, capital punishment and human rights are by no means detached issues, as some claim. What is the connection between the drug trafficker, the murder and the human-rights activist in the regime’s eyes? They are all a risk to national security. Indeed, in his famed essay, “Of Crimes and Punishments,” Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria described the death penalty as a “war of the whole nation against a citizen whose destruction they consider necessary.”
But what is the “nation” in Vietnam? It is not just an arbitrary land defined borders. No – according the regime’s own laws, it is defined as akin to the “people’s administration.” Since the Communist Party and the Nation are effectively the same under the law, an attack on the Party becomes treasonous. Indeed, the law makes “no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism, and the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression,” the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.
Moreover, what is a “citizen” in Vietnam? And if it is to be treasonous to attack the Party, and thereby the Nation, does this mean the person who wishes the end of the Party is not a citizen? When France did away with the peine de mort in the early 1980s, Francois Mitterrand’s Minister of Justice said the scaffold had come to symbolize “a totalitarian concept of the relationship between the citizen and the state.” It is this same totalitarian relationship that knots capital punishment and human rights in Vietnam.
What also catches the eye is the hubristic nature of Hanoi’s release of the execution figures, coming as they do as criticism of the regime increases. They might be better read as a boast, not an admission. The overriding message is: We are prepared to kill, and have done so more than most people thought.
Following the 2013 meeting between Obama and Sang, some pundits thought Obama’s ambition was to embolden Vietnam’s reformist politicians through diplomatic engagement and improved trade links. This became America’s foreign policy towards Hanoi for the next three years.  It didn’t work, however, andsuppression has remained as essential as ever for the Communist Party, perhaps even more so, especially as criticism of the Party’s rule nowadays swells on issues such an environmentalism.
So while Vietnam’s economy has flourished since Obama’s rapprochement, its civil society has languished somewhere between desperation and enviable bravery. Obama’s administration bears responsibility for this, and the strategic patience it gambled on played only into Hanoi’s hands. Naive, perhaps. Or just willfully remiss, as Vietnam’s amity was necessary for America’s counter-Beijing Asian ‘pivot’. Maybe, then, Vietnam’s activists were jettisoned for the sake of geopolitics – an unexceptional component of America’s Janus-faced foreign policy.
Today, however, U.S. trade links are far from assured. U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP has jeopardized the free-trade bounty Hanoi was counting on. Vietnam now appears keen to formalize a bilateral free-trade agreement with the US, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last month that he wants to visit Washington as soon as possible
In a perverse situation, Trump’s administration now wields the stick that Obama chose not to use. Moreover, it has the ability to bargain in a way Obama couldn’t: No trade pact without improved human rights. Since the Communist Party’s legitimacy depends on a growing economy – and a fifth of all Vietnam’s export are to the United States, which could be further hampered if Trump pushes through trade tariffs and increased taxes on imports – Hanoi might be strong-armed into opening up space for criticism, in return for the United States opening more trade links.
Still, this depends on how much Trump values a human-rights laden foreign policy, which some analysts claim he doesn’t. That said, the State Department’s decision to give the imprisoned Vietnamese activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh the “International Women of Courage Award” certainly irked Hanoi.
Perhaps this explains the adroit use of executions statistics by the Vietnamese regime, and the appropriate timing of their release. The numbers will raise hairs in Europe; the European Union (EU) bars membership for countries with capital punishment, though not for countries with which it agrees free-trade agreements, it seems. The EU-Vietnam FTA that should become effective next year but contains no condition regarding Vietnam abolishing the death penalty (surely patronizing, given that the EU has higher expectations of European countries than others).
The execution figures, however, put the United States in an awkward position. It cannot condemn Vietnam when it is still a practitioner in capital punishment, as well as the loudest proponent of drug prohibition internationally, too. As is to be expected, the White House has been silent on the matter. If the Washington can stomach the totalitarian ethos behind Vietnam’s capital punishment then why can’t it overlook Vietnam’s human right’s record, Hanoi may well argue. Indeed, the moral lecturer on human rights has the mirror turned on it when capital punishment arises.
One might assume, then, that with little international support for capital punishment abolition in Vietnam, the cogs will no doubt continue rotating on the death machine, at least until a true separation between the Nation and the Party, and between the State and the Citizen, takes place.

Source: The diplomat

When the Salt Is Not Just Salty

“No artificial colourings or preservatives” are words you will hear from the seller and see from the banner when you stop by a recipe shop in Tay Ninh province, the location famous for the production of traditional seasoned salt.
The province, about 100km west of Ho Chi Minh City, boasts 100 producers of seasoned salt, mostly located in the districts of Trang Bang and Go Dau, and the city of Tay Ninh.
Among the many types of seasoned salt, shrimp salt is the most popular product. It is a combination of dried shrimp, carrots, garlic, chili pepper and table salt.
Other seasoned salt products include pepper salt, lemongrass salt, vegetable salt and chili pepper salt.

Drying chili salt under the sunshine to give it a special taste. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

– Seasoned salt product is drying at a temperature of 80-90oC in a kiln. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
Ready for packaging.
Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
Tay Ninh seasoned salt is served with various types of food from fruits to sticky rice, rice, or used as flavourings for culinary.
According to Luong Thi Nghiep, owner of Y Nhu seasoned salt brand in Tay Ninh, a good seasoned salt is a mixture of table salt and spices and then dried under the sun for a day.
After that, the mixture is heated in the oven for 12-15 hours at 80-90oC before being grinded.
The final production process is ultraviolet exposure, which will ensure the hygiene of the products.

Nghiep, 70, the oldest in a family of three generation involved in the traditional seasoned salt making business.
Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

Shrimp salt is the most popular product. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
Vegetable Salt products.
Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
Pepper Salt products.
Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
Tay Ninh seasoned salt has become popular both at home and abroad. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
Nghiep, 70, the oldest in a family of three generation involved in the traditional seasoned salt making business, said the business of making seasoned salt in Tay Ninh started to develop after 1975, the year of country reunification.
In addition, the development of the country’s economy over the past 20 years have helped commercialise the products with expanded markets all over the country.
Story: Nguyen Vu Thanh Đat – Photos: Nguyen Luan

GE’s CO2-powered 10 MW turbine fits on a table

GE Global Research engineer Doug Hofer is building a compact and highly efficient turbine that fits on a conference table but can generate 10 megawatts (MW), enough to power 10,000 US homes.
The turbine, made from a nickel-based superalloy that can handle temperatures up to 715 degrees Celsius and pressures approaching 3,600 pounds per square inch, replaces steam with ultrahot and superpressurised carbon dioxide, allowing for a smaller design.
Ever since Thomas Edison used a steam generator in his Pearl Street Station to supply parts of lower Manhattan with electricity in 1892, people have been trying to improve the design. While Edison eked out 1.6 per cent efficiency from his boiler and generators, the latest “ultra-supercritical” systems are clocking in at 47.5 per cent.
But Doug Hofer, the scientist behind these developments, is just getting started. Hofer, an engineer at GE Global Research headquarters in Niskayuna, New York, is building a compact but superefficient turbine that replaces steam with ultrahot and superpressurised carbon dioxide.
The turbine can be used with any thermal power plant, including concentrating solar power plants, which use solar heat to generate electricity. The technology was developed in partnership with Southwest Research Institute as part of a research project with the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.
The combination of high heat and pressure are what allowed Hofer to design a turbine that fits on a conference table but can generate 10MW, enough to power 10,000 US homes.
The combination of high heat and pressure are what allowed Hofer to design a turbine that fits on a conference table but can generate 10MW, enough to power 10,000 US homes.
GE Reports first wrote about Hofer last year when he 3D printed a plastic prototype of the turbine. His team, partnered with the Southwest Research Institute and Gas Technology Institute, has since submitted the design to the US Department of Energy and won an $80 million award to build the 10MW turbine.
The turbine features a rotor that is 4.5 feet long, seven inches in diameter, and only weighs 150 pounds. The engineers are now completing a scaled-down, 1MW version of the machine and will test it in July at the Southwest Research Institute.
The idea of using CO2 to power a steam turbine has been around for a while. It first appeared in the late 1960s, and an MIT doctoral student resurrected it in 2004. “The industry has been really interested in the potential benefits of using CO2 in place of steam in advanced supercritical power plants,” Hofer said.
By “supercritical” Hofer means efficient power stations using CO2 squeezed and heated so much that it becomes a supercritical fluid, which behaves like a gas and a liquid at the same time. The world’s most efficient thermal power plant, RDK 8 in Germany, uses an “ultrasupercritical” steam turbine operating at 600 degrees Celsius and pressure of 4,000 pounds per square inch, more than what’s exerted when a bullet strikes a solid object.
Hofer said that the steam power plant technology “has been on a continuous march” to increase efficiency and steam temperature, but once it tops 700 degrees Celsius, “the CO2 cycle becomes more efficient than the steam cycle.”
Hofer’s turbine and casing are made from a nickel-based superalloy because it can handle temperatures as high as 715 degrees Celsius and pressures approaching 3,600 pounds per square inch. “You need a high-strength material for a design like this,” he said.
The hellish heat and pressure turn CO2 into a hot, dense liquid, allowing Hofer to shrink the turbine’s size and potentially increase its efficiency a few percentage points above where state-of-the-art steam systems operate today.
“The pressure and fluid density at the exit of our turbine is two orders of magnitude higher than in a steam turbine,” Hofer said. “Therefore, to push the same mass through, you can have a much smaller turbine because the flow at the exit end is much denser.”
Hofer’s design uses a small amount of CO2 in a closed loop.“It’s important to remember that this is not a CO2 capture or sequestration technology,” he said, adding that the technology, which is being developed as part of GE’s Ecomagination programme, could one day start replacing steam turbines.
“It’s on the multigenerational roadmap for steam-powered systems,” he said.
By virtue of becoming more efficient, the technology could help power-plant operators reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The efficiency of converting coal into electricity matters: more efficient power plants use less fuel and emit less climate-damaging carbon dioxide,” wrote the authors of the International Energy Agency report on measuring coal plant performance.
Moving the current average global efficiency rate of coal-fired power plants, which supply the heat to convert water (or CO2) to steam, from today’s 33 per cent to 40 per cent by deploying more advanced technology could cut CO2 emissions every year by two gigatons, which is equivalent to India’s annual CO2 emissions, according to the World Coal Association.
By Hoang Anh