A new research group Applied Thermo Fluid Process Modelling Research Unit (ATProM) is working on a study – based on an existing collaboration between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and State-owned power utility Eskom – to provide engineers with up-to-date research, students with real-world experience and solutions to some of the challenges facing ageing energy infrastructure in South Africa.
UCT mechanical engineering professor and ATProM head Wim Fuls says there has been a loss of experience and knowledge in the energy infrastructure sector and that it is a tough time for capital intensive entities such as Eskom to operate.
“Financial pressures cause severe delays in necessary maintenance and future strategic investment. Additionally, long-term plans get replaced by short-term crisis management plans, in an attempt to keep up with a volatile energy market, which is owing to environmental and other commercial pressures,” Fuls says.
In light of these challenges, he believes the creation of ATProM could not have come at a better time, since it is ideally suited to provide Eskom with skilled engineers who fundamentally understand the thermal process of a power plant.
“We can make substantial contributions towards answering some of the current challenges that Eskom is facing, such as operation at low load or rapid plant turn-down,” Fuls notes.
ATProM can assist with on-line condition monitoring and contribute in algorithm development, as well as other interventions, which will enable Eskom to operate plants with better foresight around deteriorating components and required maintenance.
ATProM – accredited at the end of 2017 – focuses on the application of fundamental principles of fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and heat and mass transfer to model industrial processes.
“Having access to representative models allows engineers to analyse the operation and performance of individual components, subsystems or complete integrated plants to improve the design and operation to meet changing consumer demands,” said ATProM manager Priyesh Gosai.
UCT professor and ATProM founding member Pieter Rosseau comments that the research aims of the unit include the development of a high-fidelity power plant engineering simulator, which can serve as a platform for various other process-related studies.
From Eskom’s perspective, one of the key aims of this collaboration is to bridge the current skills gap within the utility by sending engineers to universities to conduct applied research within the power industry space, since research in this field done by ATProM is likely to result in skills development – “training through research,” he adds.
UCT Eskom Power Plant Engineering Institute head Louis Jestin believes ATProM has a critical role to play in better understanding the physical process of power generation.
“Having access to these models allows for better planning and greater flexibility. The most important aspect, however, is the training of engineers. Hopefully, ATProM can one day count our graduates in the thousands,” says Jestin.