U.S. Department of Energy Deploys Virtual Reality Training Solution

Software helps train IGCC power plant operators by simulating the chemical process of coal-gasification with CO2 capture together with combined-cycle power generation.

Fully interactive animations respond and react to the actions of plant personnel. Source: Invensys
Fully interactive animations respond and react to the actions of plant personnel. Source: Invensys

Three-dimensional virtual reality simulation is being used to help train power plant control room and field operators at the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL) Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research (AVESTAR) Center in Morgantown, W.Va. Wearing a stereoscopic headset, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant 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.

This unique operator-training simulator for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) uses the SimSci-Esscor Eyesim virtual reality training solution from Invensys Operations Management, Houston. The formal site acceptance test was completed on July 16, 2012, after a complete plant start-up.

IGCC with carbon capture technology captures 90 percent of the CO2 produced by traditional fossil-fuel burning processes, while at the same time reducing sulfur, mercury and other NOx emissions. The IGCC process is more environmentally friendly than other coal-burning processes, but it is also extremely complex. IGCC operators are effectively running both a chemical processing plant and a power plant. 

“Training IGCC operators require 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.”

Zitney added that the developments they’ve accomplished at the AVESTAR Center show the growing viability of IGCC power plants and “indicate the growing demand for a well-trained work force.”

The Eyesim solution is 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.

Tobias Scheele, Ph.D., vice president of advanced applications for Invensys Operations Management, said the Eyesim 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.

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, Scheele explained.

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.

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