Multidisciplinary engineering company M-Tech Industrial is supplying a range of specialist thermal-fluid systems analysis, simulation and engineering design services to the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) company.
M-Tech Industrial CEO Dr Pieter Rousseau says that the company has been involved on a contract basis with the PBMR project since 1999. M-Tech Industrial also originally developed, and is the design authority for, the Flownex software used to model the dynamic behaviour of the reactor and main power system for the PBMR plant.
"M-Tech Industrial's involvement in the project facilitated the expansion of its in-house developed integrated simulation and design software, Flownex. The software has a much wider relevance than the PBMR application. It is also successfully used in the design and increased efficiency of coal-fired power plants, water and gas reticulation networks, gas turbine power plants and heat exchanger networks," explains Rousseau.
He adds that the expansion of the software's capabilities also spurred the local development of an internationally competitive industrial plant simulator platform (IPS), funded by the Innovation Fund.
Following the success of the Flownex supply, more contracts followed to provide a wider range of specialist engineering services to the PBMR project.
"The PBMR is a unique project that could contribute to establishing South Africa in the World Nuclear market as a strategic supplier of high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology. The project has already contributed significantly to the development of local engineering expertise and is set to continue to do so through its engagement with different tertiary education institutions around the country," says Rousseau.
M-Tech Industrial also designed, constructed and operated a number of first-of-a-kind non-nuclear test facilities, situated on the North-West University's Potchefstroom campus. The facilities are used to support the development of the PBMR plant and facilitate training of undergraduate and post-graduate students in parallel with the commercial project development.
Rousseau adds that international interest in the PBMR test facilities designed and built by M Tech Industrial is substantial and it has already been visited by more than 800 delegates from different companies and universities in North America, Europe, Singapore, Japan, China, South Korea and South Africa.
Rousseau comments that the first major project milestone for M Tech Industrial took place in 2002 when M-Tech successfully commissioned the Pebble Bed Micro Model, a first-of-its kind prototype closed-loop recuperated and intercooled gas turbine power cycle. The demonstration plant is situated on the North West University campus.
In 2003, the company released its Flownex software. M-Tech Industrial has sold several licenses for the software internationally.
M-Tech Industrial was awarded the IPS simulator development contract by the Innovation Fund in 2006. In the same year, it successfully commissioned and operated the high pressure test unit (HPTU) for the PBMR.
The company designed, constructed, commissioned and operated the unit, which is situated on the North West University campus. Its purpose is to study in detail the different heat transfer and fluid flow phenomena associated with pebble-bed reactors.
In 2007, M-Tech Industrial also successfully designed, constructed, commissioned and operated the high temperature test unit for PBMR, which is also situated on the North West University campus and has the same purpose as the HPTU.
Besides the development of Flownex and the IPS, Rousseau says that M Tech Industrial has also developed three distinctive energy efficiency and demand side management (DSM) technologies.
The first is the in-line water heating technology, since applied extensively in large DSM projects for sanitary water heating in mine residences. These projects were funded by State-owned power utility Eskom's DSM initiative to alleviate the peak load on the national electricity supply grid.
A product range of hot water heat pumps also used for large scale sanitary water heating is part of the second DSM technology. Rousseau says that the range significantly improves energy efficiency benefits when compared with conventional technologies.
The third technology is a novel modular air-cooling unit (ACU) used in working environments in underground mines. He says that the ACU offers distinct energy efficiency and power consumption advantages.
Global Economic Crisis
Rousseau comments that, as M-Tech Industrial offers a diverse range of products and services, it has, until now, been somewhat shielded from the global economic crisis.
Besides its involvement in the PBMR project, it has ongoing projects in the energy efficiency and DSM sector, and also has an established heat pump and air-cooling equipment range used in industrial and commercial applications including water heating and mine cooling.
"The company supplies engineering services to Eskom's capital expansion programme for coal and gas power plants. Furthermore, it is indirectly involved in developing plant and engineering simulators for power stations based on its locally developed simulator platform. However, the global financial crisis has significantly increased uncertainty of sustained growth going into the future," concludes Rousseau.
M-Tech Industrial, in support of PBMR, is part of an international team, led by US multinational nuclear technologies company Westinghouse Electric Company, involved with the US Department of Energy's Next Generation Nuclear Plant initiative.