DOE simulator training to Brazil’s Petrobas advances goal of deploying clean coal technology at home and abroad

Washington, D.C.— A recently-completed comprehensive Department of Energy (DOE) training initiative using an innovative high-fidelity combined-cycle dynamic simulator has provided employees of a Brazilian multi-national company the opportunity to learn to operate and control the near-zero-emission power plants critical to a cleaner energy future.

The 8-day course for power plant operators from Petrobras used a simulator from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)-sponsored AVESTAR™ (Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research) Center. AVESTAR™ offers comprehensive, hands-on, simulator-based training at two equivalent facilities: one at NETL, the research arm of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, and the other at West Virginia University’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

However, the program’s workforce training, engineering education, and advanced research programs are not geographically limited. NETL’s AVESTAR Center partners—Fossil Consulting Services and Invensys Operations Management (IOM)—delivered the Petrobras training to 10 experienced operators after installing the simulator software on computers in IOM’s office in São Paulo, Brazil. The training covered the fundamentals and operation of all major combined-cycle systems, including gas and steam turbines; condensate, feed water, and circulating water systems; heat recovery steam generators; and sulfur recovery units. Experiential learning scenarios emphasized baseload plant operations along with startup from cold metal to full load. The trainees also performed a normal plant shutdown to hot boiler condition in preparation for a subsequent startup, and they participated in a full day of plant malfunction training.

Combined-cycle training, such as that delivered at Petrobras, is only a part of AVESTAR’s current course offerings. The center’s focus is on integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants, which gasify coal, rather than burn it. IGCC systems offer many advantages, including increased power plant efficiency, fewer environmental impacts, and the ability to concentrate carbon dioxide (CO2) for capture and storage. At the AVESTAR Center, the IGCC dynamic simulator can be run as a whole or separated into two parts: a standalone gasification-with-CO2-capture simulator and a combined-cycle simulator. This makes it possible to divide the operator training control room in half and hold a gasification course on one side and a combined-cycle course, such as that delivered to Petrobras, on the other.

Most of the energy consumed in the United States and abroad comes from coal, petroleum, and natural gas. These fossil fuels account for approximately 80 percent of national and international energy production, and coal-fired power plants account for close to half of the electricity generated in the United States. With increasing global energy demands, coal is expected to continue to play an important role in meeting future energy needs. Many experts predict that IGCC represents the future of clean-coal technology.

Currently, only a handful of coal gasification electric power plants are commercially operational worldwide, but additional facilities are in the planning or construction stage. By providing a comprehensive IGCC operator training system, the AVESTAR center will be instrumental in providing the knowledge needed to develop a workforce well-prepared to operate and control these new power plants, and advance the DOE goal of deploying advanced clean coal technologies both at home and abroad.