Even in these troubled times UK genset manufacturer Centrax Gas Turbines remains bullish, and with very good reason: turnover increased by 64 % in 2008 and is projected to rise another 66 % this year, to around the £100 million mark.

One factor behind these impressive numbers is the company’s decision a few years ago to diversify its product line. Already well established as a packager of the Rolls-Royce 501K gas turbine (supplying gensets in the power range 2.3-6.3 MWe), Centrax is now also the European sole supplier of Rolls-Royce Trent 60 generating sets, rated at 51-64 MWe, taking the company into much bigger projects, with a correspondingly large impact on the sales figures.

The product line expansion was part of a three-strand diversification strategy, away from the company’s previous focus on CHP in western Europe, the two other elements being to diversify geographically (into eastern Europe and Asia for example) and in terms of market, with a shift towards oil and gas. These moves have also contributed to recent revenue growth, with sales of 501 gensets in India and Russia, as well as to Brazilian oil major Petrobras (for use on its Mexilhao platform).

But it is orders for the Trent gensets, four in France and two in Hungary, which have made the biggest contribution to growth and the company sees good prospects for further sales, notably in eastern Europe.

A particularly promising niche area for Trent based gensets is grid support, with utilities looking for mid-merit, fast start up, units to bolster weak grids and, increasingly to provide back-up for wind, according to Guy West, director of Centrax Gas Turbines. He was speaking at a recent open day to mark expansion of the company’s Newton Abbot manufacturing facilities (which has resulted in a doubling of the area for Trent and 501 genset assembly).

Trent 60 gas turbines (which are manufactured by Rolls-Royce at its Montreal facility) have an efficiency of 42% in simple cycle and come into their own in mid merit applications, where annual operating hours are sufficient to make fuel use a key consideration, but are not enough warrant a combined cycle plant. The “sweet spot” for the Trent is about 2000-2500 operating hours/y, with frequent fast starts (making use of the machine’s ability to go from cold start to full power in ten minutes and to tolerate daily start stop cycles). Thanks to the Trent’s three-spool design, the gas generator can be maintained at optimal performance over a wide range of conditions, giving good part load performance.

Centrax has an EPC role in the four-unit French project, which will employ four 58 MWe gensets equipped with Trent 60 gas turbines with the WLE (wet low emissions) combustion system.

The Hungarian Trent project will see Centrax supply two similar 58 MWe gensets for installation at the existing 60 MWe Bakonyi power plant, two hours west of Budapest, near Lake Balaton – again for mid merit operation, providing grid stability at times of peak demand.

The order was placed by a special purpose entity BKCE (Bakonyi Kombiciklus Eromuepito es Fejleszto Kft), now majority owned by state electricity company MVM. According to Zsolt Oravecz, MD of BKCE, “there is a big demand in Hungary currently for reserve and peaking products.” The sets are scheduled to be shipped by the end of this year, with handover due in July 2010.

Meanwhile, Centrax has reported its first CHP order in England for six years. It is to supply a 501 based genset package to a new CHP facility at GlaxoSmithKline’s Coleford factory, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. It is also supplying a similar 5 MW package to Lakeland Dairies in County Cavan, Ireland.

Another recent notable 501 order reported by Centrax is for three 5 MWe gensets to be supplied to Bermuda Electric Light Co for peak lopping and standby in support of existing baseload capacity – further evidence of the company’s geographical diversification.