Gas Turbine vs. Steam Turbine

What's the Difference?

Gas turbines and steam turbines are both types of turbines used to generate power. However, they differ in their working principles and applications. Gas turbines use combustion to produce high-pressure gas, which then drives the turbine blades to generate power. They are commonly used in aircraft engines and power plants due to their compact size, high power-to-weight ratio, and quick start-up time. On the other hand, steam turbines use the expansion of steam to generate power. They are widely used in power plants that rely on fossil fuels or nuclear energy to heat water and produce steam. Steam turbines are known for their high efficiency and ability to generate large amounts of power, making them suitable for large-scale electricity generation.


AttributeGas TurbineSteam Turbine
Working FluidCombustion gasesWater/Steam
Energy ConversionThermal energy to mechanical energyThermal energy to mechanical energy
EfficiencyHigher efficiencyLower efficiency
Operating TemperatureHigher temperatureLower temperature
Start-up TimeQuick start-upSlower start-up
CostLower costHigher cost
ApplicationPower generation, aviation, industrial processesPower generation, marine propulsion

Further Detail


Gas turbines and steam turbines are two widely used types of turbines in various industries, including power generation, aviation, and marine propulsion. While both turbines serve the purpose of converting energy into mechanical work, they differ in their working principles, efficiency, fuel requirements, and applications. In this article, we will explore the attributes of gas turbines and steam turbines, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Working Principles

Gas turbines operate on the Brayton cycle, which involves compressing air, mixing it with fuel, combusting the mixture, and expanding the resulting hot gases through a turbine to generate power. The compressed air is first drawn into the compressor, where its pressure and temperature increase. The high-pressure air then enters the combustion chamber, where it is mixed with fuel and ignited. The hot gases produced expand through the turbine, driving its blades and generating mechanical work.

On the other hand, steam turbines operate on the Rankine cycle, which utilizes the properties of steam to generate power. In this cycle, water is heated in a boiler to produce high-pressure steam. The steam then enters the turbine, where it expands and passes through a series of stationary and rotating blades. As the steam expands, it loses pressure and temperature, transferring its energy to the turbine blades and generating mechanical work.


Gas turbines are known for their high efficiency, especially in combined cycle power plants. They can achieve efficiencies of up to 60% or more, thanks to their ability to recover waste heat from the exhaust gases and utilize it to produce additional power through a steam turbine. This combined cycle configuration significantly boosts the overall efficiency of gas turbine power plants.

On the other hand, steam turbines typically have lower efficiencies compared to gas turbines. They are limited by the Carnot cycle efficiency, which depends on the temperature difference between the steam entering and leaving the turbine. However, advancements in steam turbine technology, such as the use of higher steam pressures and temperatures, have improved their efficiency over the years.

Fuel Requirements

Gas turbines can operate on a wide range of fuels, including natural gas, diesel, kerosene, and even hydrogen. This flexibility in fuel options makes gas turbines suitable for various applications, from power generation to aviation. Additionally, gas turbines can quickly start and stop, allowing for rapid response to changes in power demand.

Steam turbines, on the other hand, primarily rely on the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, or natural gas, to produce steam. The steam is then used to drive the turbine. While steam turbines can also be fueled by biomass or waste heat, their fuel options are generally more limited compared to gas turbines.


Gas turbines find extensive use in power generation, particularly in peaking power plants and combined cycle power plants. They are also widely used in aviation for aircraft propulsion, where their high power-to-weight ratio and quick response time are advantageous. Additionally, gas turbines are employed in the oil and gas industry for mechanical drive applications, such as driving compressors and pumps.

Steam turbines, on the other hand, are commonly used in large-scale power plants, where they are driven by steam produced from the combustion of fossil fuels or nuclear reactions. These power plants can provide a stable and continuous supply of electricity to the grid. Steam turbines are also utilized in marine propulsion systems, where they drive the propellers of ships and submarines.

Maintenance and Operational Considerations

Gas turbines generally require less maintenance compared to steam turbines. They have fewer moving parts, operate at higher speeds, and do not involve the use of water, which can cause corrosion and erosion issues. Gas turbines also have shorter startup times, allowing for faster power generation when needed.

Steam turbines, on the other hand, require regular maintenance due to the presence of steam and water. The steam quality, water chemistry, and proper lubrication of the turbine components are crucial for their reliable operation. Steam turbines also have longer startup times, as they need to heat the water and produce steam before reaching their operating conditions.


Gas turbines and steam turbines are both vital components in various industries, each with its own set of advantages and applications. Gas turbines excel in efficiency, fuel flexibility, and quick response time, making them suitable for power generation, aviation, and mechanical drive applications. On the other hand, steam turbines are commonly used in large-scale power plants and marine propulsion systems, providing stable and continuous power. Understanding the attributes of gas turbines and steam turbines helps in selecting the appropriate technology for specific energy needs.

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