Immersive Simulator Boosts Operator Preparedness

SimSci-Esscor Solutions Help Train Clean-coal Plant Operators

By Keith Larson

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Operator training took on a new sense of realism this summer, when the U.S. Department of Energy started up its new immersive simulator at the National Energy Technology Laboratory's (NETL) Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research (AVESTAR) Center in Morgantown, W.Va.

Designed to simulate the operation of an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant with carbon capture, the EYESIM solution from Invensys Operations Management uses 3-D virtual reality simulation to help train power plant control room and field operators. Wearing a stereoscopic headset, IGCC field operators are immersed in a virtual environment with the ability to move throughout the plant, coordinating their activities with control room operators and interacting as if they were in the actual facility.

"We're a simulation facility designed to promote evolving technologies for clean, affordable and secure energy," said Graham Provost, AVESTAR trainer and director with Fossil Consulting Services, this week at the meeting of users of Invensys Operations Management's SimSci-Esscor simulation solutions in Houston.

The EYESIM solution is also fully integrated with plant operating models, built on Invensys Operations Management's SimSci-Esscor DYNSIM dynamic simulation software, so actions taken by a field operator affect the plant's process, and actions performed in the control room change the information visible to the field operator. Fully interactive animations respond and react to the actions of plant personnel, illustrating how various pieces of equipment will operate under almost any scenario and condition.

As a result, field and control room operators learn to collaborate and perform as a team.

"Training IGCC operators requires us to simulate the chemical process of coal-gasification with CO2 capture together with combined-cycle power generation," said Stephen E. Zitney, Ph.D. and director of NETL's AVESTAR Center. "No one has ever done that before, but now with help from Invensys, we can simulate almost any operating scenario, including disturbances, malfunctions and emergency shutdowns. We can even train operators on different coal and biomass feed stocks. The developments we've accomplished and the technology we've installed at the AVESTAR Center show the growing viability of IGCC power plants and indicate the growing demand for a well-trained work force. We look forward to working with Invensys as we train and enable the clean-coal operators of the future."

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the United States has enough coal to last more than 200 years, but plants that continue to use conventional fossil fuel technologies will emit unacceptable levels of CO2 and other pollutants. IGCC with carbon capture offers an environmentally friendly alternative by capturing 90 percent of the CO2 produced by traditional fossil-fuel burning processes while at the same time reducing sulfur, mercury and NOx emissions. The IGCC process is more environmentally friendly than other coal-burning processes, but it is also extremely complex and requires skillfully trained personnel to operate what is effectively both a chemical processing plant and a power plant.

"Our EYESIM immersive training system makes the theoretical and conceptual side of training more realistic and tangible by allowing operators and trainees to become familiar with the layout of the physical plant and how it will operate under almost any condition," said Tobias Scheele, Ph.D., vice president, advanced applications, Invensys Operations Management. "The solution combines stereoscopic 360-degree views with collision effects, sounds, lighting and weather conditions to give the plant operator a realistic walkthrough environment and simulated hands-on experience with the plant's physical operation, helping plant personnel improve operations excellence."

A separate EYESIM virtual reality training system will be installed and commissioned at West Virginia University in Morgantown for student education and simulator training as part of assigned course work. In addition to training and plant design functions, the NETL and its research and development partners, including Invensys, will use the simulator to showcase the feasibility of clean-coal technology as a means to support future electrical generation demand without emitting environmental pollutants or greenhouse gases.

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