Virtually Simulating the Next Generation of Clean Energy Technologies

NETL's AVESTAR Center Is Dedicated to the Safe, Reliable and Efficient Operation of Advanced Energy Plants With Carbon Capture

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Compared to traditional power plants, IGCC offers many advantages, including increased power plant efficiency, resulting in lower-cost electricity. Because gasification occurs at higher temperature and pressure, with limited oxygen, environmental contaminants are easier to remove from the flue gas stream. The system also makes it possible to concentrate CO2, providing for more efficient removal. Aside from coal, a wide range of carbon-containing materials, such as petroleum coke and biomass, can be used to produce syngas. In addition to being used for electricity, syngas can be converted to other end products, such as specialty chemicals, clean hydrogen and transportation fuels. Coal gasification electric power plants are now commercially operational in the United States and other nations, and energy experts predict that this process represents the future of clean coal technology.

However, IGCC is also a complex process requiring highly trained operators and process engineers. Many plants are now in various stages of design or construction in the United States, and there is a pressing need for a well-trained work force. The AVESTAR Center is therefore providing high-fidelity dynamic simulation environments that will enable trainees to learn to interact with controls that are almost indistinguishable from those they would encounter in a real plant.

What Makes AVESTAR Work?

Flight simulators that train pilots create realistic environments using full cockpit mock-ups and computer-based software. These two pieces work together to replicate what really happens when the pilot flies the plane. When the pilot adjusts the thrust, the simulation software changes the instrument readings and cockpit screen to create realistic views of flight scenarios, including take off, landing and the occasional mishap, all in a safe training environment.

Today, the energy industry is also using training simulators to teach plant operators how to safely start up, control and shut down their processes in a risk-free environment. For AVESTAR, Invensys Operations Management ( has worked with NETL to develop a virtual "cockpit" (the plant control room) and "flight simulator" (the plant real-time dynamic model) to create an environment where trainees can be taught how to operate clean-coal IGCC power plants with carbon capture.

Invensys's DYNSIM software combines heat and material balances, thermodynamics and reaction chemistry to create high-fidelity dynamic process models that accurately predict what will happen when operators perform certain actions from inside the plant's control room. The company's InTouch software, a human-machine interface, recreates the look and feel of the control room to complete the training environment (Figure 2). For example, the integrated DYNSIM and InTouch system allows an operator to open a plant valve, initiating the flow of coal slurry into the gasifier vessel. The DYNSIM software predicts the rate at which the coal will react with oxygen from the air separation unit and provides readings on gasifier conditions to the plant operator, who is working in a simulated control room using InTouch. Viewing the information provided via DYNSIM, the operator knows when the gasifier is at full load so he or she can maintain safe operation and avoid gasifier trip conditions.

DYNSIM and InTouch can model every operating condition, including emergency and hazard scenarios, to provide complete training in a risk-free environment. The training platform can also provide simulations that assist in the design, construction and performance improvement of IGCC plants. Designers can run and validate an entire control strategy before the plant is even built. And once the plant is up and running, the training solution can be integrated with the control system for continuous operation and refinement based on real-world data.

Leveraging AVESTAR's Simulators in Training, Education and Research

The AVESTAR Center offers a combination of classroom and dynamic simulator instruction to provide hands-on experience operating a commercial-scale IGCC plant with CO2 capture. A portfolio of courses are being offered, ranging from an orientation for engineers and managers to an advanced operators' course, all developed for NETL by Fossil Consulting Services ( Information about training is available online at The AVESTAR team can also work directly with clients to analyze their needs and goals to design customized training programs.

Based on early interest, AVESTAR is getting off to a good start and generating significant attention. In several inaugural demonstrations, more than 50 engineers and researchers from industry, government and academia received hands-on experience with the gasification section of the IGCC simulator. The Center also recently offered its first IGCC training course for participants from the power industry. The overall feedback was extremely positive with the trainees clearly impressed with the simulator, course content, and their "learn-by-operating" experience. More recently, the AVESTAR team provided training on the pre-combustion carbon capture and compression section of the IGCC dynamic simulator to the industry advisory board for the DOE's Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI) aimed at accelerating the widespread deployment of CO2 capture technology to hundreds of power plants (

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