Rankine cycle
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The Rankine cycle is a thermodynamic cycle. Like other thermodynamic cycles, the maximum efficiency of the Rankine cycle is given by calculating the maximum efficiency of the Carnot cycle.
This article will deal with the Rankine cycle from an engineering point of view.
Contents 
Description
Rankine cycles describe the operation of steam heat engines commonly found in power generation plants. In such vapor power plants, power is generated by alternately vaporizing and condensing a working fluid (in many cases water, although refrigerants such as ammonia may also be used).
The working fluid in a Rankine cycle follows a closed loop and is reused constantly. Steam seen billowing from power plants is evaporating cooling water, not working fluid.
Processes of the Rankine cycle
There are four processes in the Rankine cycle, each changing the state of the working fluid. These states are identified by number in the diagram above.
 Process 41: First, the working fluid is pumped (ideally adiabatically and isentropically) from low to high pressure by a pump. Pumping requires a power input (for example mechanical or electrical).
 Process 12: The high pressure liquid enters a boiler where it is heated at constant pressure by an external heat source to become a superheated vapor. Common heat sources for power plant systems are coal, natural gas, or nuclear power.
 Process 23: The superheated vapor expands through a turbine to generate power output. Ideally, this expansion is adiabatic and isentropic. This decreases the temperature and pressure of the vapor.
 Process 34: The vapor then enters a condenser where it is cooled to become a saturated liquid. This liquid then reenters the pump and the cycle repeats.
Variables
<math>\dot{Q}_{in}<math>  heat input rate (energy per unit time) 
<math>\dot{m}<math>  mass flow rate (mass per unit time) 
<math>\dot{W}<math>  mechanical power used by or provided to the system (energy per unit time) 
<math>\eta<math>  thermodynamic efficiency of the process (power used for turbine per heat input, unitless) 
<math>h_1, h_2, h_3, h_4<math>  these are the "specific enthalpies" at indicated points on the TS diagram 
Equations
Each of the first four equations are easily derived from the energy and mass balance for a control volume. The fifth equation defines the thermodynamic efficiency of the cycle as the ratio of net power output to heat input.
<math> \begin{matrix} \frac{\dot{Q}_{in}} {\dot{m}} = h_1  h_4 & \frac{\dot{W}_{turbine}} {\dot{m}} = h_1  h_2 \\ \\ \frac{\dot{Q}_{out}} {\dot{m}} = h_2  h_3 & \frac{\dot{W}_{pump}} {\dot{m}} = h_4  h_3 \\ \\ \eta = \frac{\dot{W}_{turbine}\dot{W}_{pump}} {\dot{Q}_{in}} \end{matrix} <math>
Real Rankine cycle (nonideal)
In a real Rankine cycle, the compression by the pump and the expansion in the turbine are not isentropic. In other words, these processes are nonreversible and entropy is generated during the two processes (indicated in the figure as ΔS). This somewhat increases the power required by the pump and decreases the power generated by the turbine. It also makes calculations more tedious and difficult.
Variations of the basic Rankine cycle
Two main variations of the basic Rankine cycle are used in modern practice.
Rankine cycle with reheat
In this variaiton, two turbines work in series. The first accepts vapor from the boiler at high pressure. After the vapor has passed through the first turbine, it reenters the boiler and is reheated before passing through a second, lower pressure turbine. Among other advantages, this prevents the vapor from condensing during its expansion which can seriously damage the turbine blades.
Regenerative Rankine cycle
The regenerative Rankine cycle is so named because after emerging from the condenser (possibly as a subcooled liquid) the working fluid is heated by steam tapped from the hot portion of the cycle. This increases the average temperature of heat addition which in turn increases the thermodynamic efficiency of the cycle.
External links
Wikibooks Engineering Thermodynamics (http://wikibooks.org/wiki/Applications_(Engineering_Thermodynamics)#Rankine_Cycle)
Source material Moran & Shapiro 'Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics' (ISBN 0471274712) and Wikibook linked above.