Center for Operational Excellence of Coal-Fired Power Plants using Dynamic Simulation and Virtual Reality Technologies

Written by Stephen E. Zitney, Director, AVESTAR Center, Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research Office of Research & Development, U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)

How can virtual reality and computer game technologies help to address the skills requirements for clean energy deployment and provide an environment for advanced R&D on safe plant operation? Read on to find out more….

The Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research, or AVESTAR®, Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is dedicated to accelerating progress toward achieving operational excellence for smart energy systems ranging from smart power plants to modern grid applications.

Attaining operational excellence requires that energy producers maximize the efficiency and profitability from their operations through excellent process automation and control, while also improving safety and reducing negative environmental impact.

Driving people excellence via the development, training, and empowerment of a highly-skilled engineering and operations workforce is another critical component of operational excellence.

The NETL AVESTAR Center is addressing all of these challenges by bringing together advanced dynamic simulation and virtual reality technologies, state-of-the-art training facilities, and leading industry experts to focus on the optimal operation of clean energy plants in the smart grid era.

Fig 1. Trainees use IGCC dynamic simulator/OTS in AVESTAR's control room environment

The AVESTAR Center was launched in March 2011 with deployment of a high-fidelity, real-time dynamic simulator and operating training system (OTS) for a coal-fired integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant with carbon capture.

The IGCC dynamic simulator is designed with dual-train entrained-flow gasifiers producing shifted, high-hydrogen synthesis gas.

CO2 capture and desulfurization of the sour syngas are accomplished by a two-stage physical solvent-based acid gas removal process.

In the combined cycle, the high-hydrogen syngas is combusted in two gas turbines (GTs) which are partially integrated with an air separation unit (ASU) which supplies nitrogen for syngas dilution to reduce NOx emissions. The ASU also produces high-purity oxygen for use in the gasifiers.

The exhaust of each GT is sent through a heat recovery steam generator and produces steam that is supplied to a steam turbine for additional power generation.

The full-scope OTS recreates the look and feel of the operator station in the IGCC power plant control room (Figure 1), thereby providing much-needed hands-on experience with plant operations and control.

Based on first-principles dynamic models, the OTS enables engineers, operators, students, and researchers to analyze IGCC performance over a wide range of operating scenarios, including normal full-load operation, plant startup, shutdown, power demand load following, and variable CO2 capture rates.

The IGCC dynamic simulator also lets users analyze the plant’s response to disturbances (eg. fluctuating coal flowrate and composition) and malfunctions (eg. pump failure, valve stuck open).

In addition, the dynamic simulator allows for switching and co-firing of different types of feedstocks, including various coals, petroleum coke, and biomasses.

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