Reaction turbines are a type of turbine used extensively in hydroelectric power generation. Unlike impulse turbines, which convert the kinetic energy of a jet of water into mechanical energy, reaction turbines convert both the kinetic and potential energy of the water. This makes them particularly efficient for certain applications, especially where there is a significant flow of water but relatively low head height.

The development of reaction turbines dates back to the early 19th century. One of the earliest types was the Francis turbine, developed by James B. Francis in the 1840s. Over time, various designs have emerged, including the Kaplan and propeller turbines, each optimized for specific conditions and applications .

Working Principle[edit | edit source]

The working principle of a reaction turbine involves a combination of pressure and kinetic energy to generate rotational motion. Water enters the turbine, flowing over the blades of the runner. As the water flows through, it loses pressure and velocity, imparting energy to the blades. This causes the runner to rotate, converting hydraulic energy into mechanical energy. The turbine's runner is fully immersed in water, making it a true reaction machine.

Key characteristics of reaction turbines include:

  • Partial admission: Unlike impulse turbines, where water impacts only part of the runner at any given time, in reaction turbines, the water surrounds and continuously acts on all the blades.
  • Variable flow: The design allows for efficient operation under varying flow conditions, which is particularly advantageous in hydroelectric applications .

Types of Reaction Turbines[edit | edit source]

  1. Kaplan Turbine:
    • Designed by Viktor Kaplan in 1913, the Kaplan turbine is an axial-flow reaction turbine.
    • It features adjustable blades and is highly efficient at low head heights (10-70 meters) with large flow rates.
    • Commonly used in run-of-the-river and tidal power plants .
  2. Francis Turbine:
    • Named after its developer, James B. Francis, this radial-flow reaction turbine is suitable for medium head heights (10-600 meters).
    • It has fixed blades and a spiral casing to direct water flow efficiently.
    • Widely used in hydroelectric power stations .
  3. Propeller Turbine:
    • Similar to the Kaplan turbine but with fixed blades.
    • Efficient in low head, high flow situations.
    • Typically used in small hydro installations .
  4. Bulb Turbine:
    • A variation of the propeller turbine where the generator is housed in a bulb submerged in the water flow.
    • Ideal for very low head applications, such as river basins and estuaries .

Design and Components[edit | edit source]

Key components of a reaction turbine include:

  • Runner: The rotating part with blades that convert hydraulic energy to mechanical energy.
  • Blades: Curved components attached to the runner, designed to maximize the conversion of energy.
  • Casing: Encloses the runner and directs water flow, often spiral-shaped to ensure even distribution.
  • Draft Tube: A cone-shaped tube that helps recover kinetic energy and directs water away from the turbine .

Each component plays a critical role in ensuring the turbine operates efficiently and effectively.

Applications[edit | edit source]

Reaction turbines are widely used in various applications, including:

  • Hydroelectric Power Plants: Primary application, converting water flow into electricity in dams and rivers.
  • Pumped Storage Plants: Used in systems where water is pumped to a higher elevation during low energy demand and released to generate electricity during peak demand.
  • Industrial Processes: Occasionally used in industries requiring large volumes of water movement, such as water treatment facilities .

Advantages and Disadvantages[edit | edit source]


  • High efficiency across a range of flow conditions.
  • Suitable for low to medium head heights.
  • Continuous operation with partial water admission .


  • Complex design and maintenance requirements.
  • Higher initial cost compared to impulse turbines.
  • Sensitivity to debris and sediment in water, requiring effective filtration .

Comparison with Impulse Turbines[edit | edit source]

Performance Differences:

  • Reaction turbines are more efficient at converting both pressure and kinetic energy, while impulse turbines primarily convert kinetic energy.
  • Reaction turbines are suitable for low to medium head applications, whereas impulse turbines are best for high head, low flow conditions .

Situational Suitability:

  • Reaction turbines are ideal for hydroelectric plants with variable water flow and low head.
  • Impulse turbines are better for installations where water is available in high head, low flow scenarios .

Recent Advances and Innovations[edit | edit source]

Technological advancements in reaction turbines include:

  • Improved Blade Design: Enhancements in blade aerodynamics and materials have increased efficiency and durability.
  • Variable Geometry: Innovations like adjustable blade angles in Kaplan turbines optimize performance under varying conditions.
  • Environmental Adaptations: Designs that minimize ecological impact, such as fish-friendly turbines, are becoming more common .

Environmental Impact[edit | edit source]

Reaction turbines, like all hydroelectric systems, have both positive and negative environmental impacts:

  • Positive Impact: Provide a renewable source of energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Negative Impact: Can disrupt aquatic ecosystems and fish migration patterns. Mitigation measures, such as fish ladders and bypass systems, are implemented to reduce these effects

External links[edit | edit source]

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Authors Matt Oknefski
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Created November 15, 2007 by Matt Oknefski
Modified June 13, 2024 by StandardWikitext bot
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