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DOE Taps Virtual Reality

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is turning to virtual reality (VR) technology as part of its effort to develop and promote new clean-coal energy plants.

Stephen Zitney
Stephen Zitney
Under terms of a contract announced last month, a VR-based training system provided by Invensys Operations Management (IOM), Plano, Texas, will be part of a state-of-the-art DOE research and training center for zero-emission integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants with carbon capture.

The center, to be operated by the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), in Morgantown, W.Va., will integrate a conventional, high-fidelity IOM operator training simulator (OTS) with the VR-based system, known as EyeSim, to provide an immersive training simulator (ITS) experience for users. Wearing stereoscopic headsets, users will enter an immersive VR environment in which they can move throughout a generic IGCC virtual plant, while using a game pad to interact with equipment objects such as gasifiers, combustors, heat exchangers, valves, pumps, and turbines.

World class

“We envision this combined OTS/ITS system as being a world-class tool that we can make available for research and educational purposes to our University partners,” says Stephen Zitney, Ph.D., director, collaboratory for process & dynamic systems research, at NETL. The DOE is working with regional universities including Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University on the initiative, along with various commercial partners.

The ITS should prove attractive to students, who will be using the same game controllers they’ve been playing with for years, Zitney observes. “I think it will help get young engineers excited about focusing on energy-related applications.”

The immersive technology should also provide an effective vehicle for promoting clean-coal energy plants to a wide range of stakeholders, Zitney adds. “It’s a good, collaborative environment that is easier for people to relate to than just looking at a plant flowsheet layout in 2D on a screen.”

The center is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2010.

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