The Rankine cycle is the traditional and widely used principle at the basis of large-scale electricity production. A similar principle, known as Organic Rankine cycle, was studied in the 70s to convert thermal energy into clean electricity more efficiently particularly for lower temperature and smaller power size applications. This system started to expand its application in the 90s but it is during the last two decades that it has experienced a rapid and consistent growth. The increasing adoption of renewable energy sources along with the favorable legislative scenario and climate pledges will encourage the deployment of these systems even more in the coming years.

What is an Organic Rankine Cycle?

An Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) system is a closed thermodynamic cycle used for power production from low to medium-high temperature heat sources ranging from 80 to 400°C and for small-medium applications at any temperature level. Its principle is similar to the steam Rankine cycle but it employs in the cycle fluids different from water. The working fluid of ORC power plants is formed by organic molecules like those of hydrocarbons and refrigerants. The choice of the best working fluid is influenced by several technical factor, such as  the power plant capacity and the temperature level of the thermal energy source.  While water, commonly used in the steam Rankine Cycle, is considered an excellent working fluid for large power capacities and high temperature levels, organic fluids offer the advantage of efficiently converting energy from sources as low as 100 °C. This makes them suitable for power sizes ranging from a few kW to tens of MW.

What are the applications of Organic Rankine Cycle?

The main applications for Organic Rankine Cycle include:

  • electricity generation from geothermal reservoirs
  • cogeneration from biomass
  • concentrating solar power installations
  • waste heat recovery from gas turbines, internal combustion engines
  • Oil&Gas processes such as LNG regasification, gas compression, Oil refining
  • energy intensive industrial processes such as cement, glass, steel and others

Where are Organic Rankine Cycles used in the world ?

ORC systems are today a common choice, widely employed in many regions worldwide. According to the Organic Rankine Cycle market report released in 2022 by Global Market Insights,  North America  currently leads with the largest installed ORC capacity of approx. 1,4 GWe as of the end of 2022. The Asia Pacific region follows closely with around 1,6 MWe. In Europe,  the installed capacity stands at 731 MWe, and it is one of the most active markets at the moment with a high potential for growth, driven by the implementation of various energy efficiency policies aimed at reducing the GHG emissions. Moreover, the presence of leading ORC manufacturers across this region can further foster opportunities for the deployment of ORC among various industries.

Geothermal Power Plant

The increasing attention toward the advantages of geothermal energy and the growing interests in its exploitation with deployment of large-scale geothermal power plants are positively impacting on ORC systems growth. ORC technology has become in recent decades the most preferred technology for geothermal power plants as it is suitable and adaptable to a wide range of resources conditions from low to medium-high enthalpy geothermal resources. Moreover, it is a more environmentally friendly technology compared to steam flash power plant, being a closed loop system allowing a total reinjection of the resource into the reservoir with no emission in the atmosphere. The global installed capacity of ORC geothermal power plants accounted for around 3 GWe at the end of 2022 and it is forecasted to reach 10 GWe by 2032 growing at a CAGR of 12.8% over 2023-2032 period.

Biomass Power Plant

Biomass covers around 14% of the global primary energy demand. Unlike other renewable sources including solar and wind, biomass is not subject to the fluctuating weather conditions and in addition to power generation can cogenerate thermal power for heating and cooling purposes. These advantages make it a renewable energy with a high potential to substantially contribute to the clean power generation. There is a huge demand for ORC systems in biomass plants across several developing countries due to the increasing demand for energy efficient technologies for power generation and available biomass in these regions.

The installed capacity worldwide from biomass at the end of 2022 was around 300 MWe and it is predicted to grow at a 16.4% CAGR between 2023-2032 to reach almost 1.5 GWe installed by 2032. North America and Asia Pacific regions are the market with more biomass installed capacity respectively 130 MWe and 100 MWe and will continue to represent the areas with the largest capacity installed also for the next decades. But Africa and Latin America are interesting geographical areas with great potential and will grow at the highest CAGR of around 20% over the period 2023-2032.

Solar Thermal Power Plant

Solar thermal power plant is another application of Organic Rankine Cycle which allows to convert the thermal energy collected by solar panels into electricity efficiently, by employing a viable and cost competitive solution. The installed capacity in CSP application accounts for around 60 MWe and it is projected to grow at 460 MWe by 2032, growing at 22.7% CAGR over next 9 years. This is the ORC renewable application with the highest growth potential. Asia Pacific and Middle East and Africa are the main market for this application.

Waste Heat Recovery Power Plant

In the waste heat recovery segment Organic Rankine Cycle systems are significantly gaining interest and adoption mainly across energy intensive industries due to their capability to reduce carbon footprints, enhance energy efficiency while reducing energy costs. Cement is the most widespread application and adoption in the glass manufacturing process is another high potential market. In general, waste heat recovery segment is projected to grow at a CAGR of 15.5% over the 2023-2032 timeline. Oil & Gas application is set to grow at a rate of 16.0% by 2032. The ORC system installation across the oil & gas sector has witnessed a considerable growth in the recent years on account of increasing focus toward energy optimization and demand for reliable electricity. Exhaust streams from refineries contain high-quality waste heat, which can be utilized for power generation & process use. In addition, rising investments toward refining capacity additions has further led to the increased production adoption.

In terms of volume and revenue the ORC WHR market is sized in 1,5 GWe installed capacity and valued 4,879 million USD in 2022. In 2032 it is forecasted to reach 5.8 GWe of installed capacity and 20,672 million USD.


Constant economic growth along with rapid industrialization across developing countries will drive the ORC market. Introduction of stringent emission norms to reduce the CO2 emissions coupled with a more favorable legislative scenario and higher financial incentives will encourage the adoption of these systems. Globally the market trends are encouraging with a 14% CAGR growth in volume and 15% CAGR growth in revenue over the 2023-2032 period.

Want to know if we can help your business become more efficient and sustainable with ORC systems? Drop us an e-mail here

Source: Organic Rankine Cycle Market Report – Global Market Insight 2022.

ORC waste heat recovery power plant

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