WVU researchers team with NETL on novel simulator to promote clean coal power

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August 22, 2011 by Trina Wafle, National Research Center for Coal and Energy, and Mary Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources


Chemical Engineering professor Richard Turton talks about the AVESTAR™ Center from the simulator classroom at NRCCE. The advanced virtual reality energy simulation training and research cener was developed under the NETL-Regional University Alliance.

Morgantown, W.Va.–West Virginia University Chemical Engineering Professor Richard Turton has been at the forefront of the development of a new facility to promote the adoption of clean-coal power plant technology. He and his colleague, Stephen E. Zitney of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, are leading the first-of-a-kind advanced virtual energy simulation training and research effort that they call the AVESTAR™ Center.

The AVESTAR™ Center will operate two identical simulator facilities, one at the WVU

National Research Center for Coal and Energy and another at NETL’s Morgantown, W.Va. site. The real-time dynamic simulator, much like the simulator that an airplane pilot trains on, is designed to teach power plant personnel how to operate an integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC, power plant complete with carbon capture capability.

AVESTAR_08“The NRCCE building here on WVU’s Evansdale Campus was designed with partnerships in mind. The University’s tradition of accepting international scholars on our campus lends to AVESTAR the ability to reach out to the world in support of the adoption of clean coal power generation through our site,” said Richard Bajura, NRCCE Director.

Five courses are being offered, ranging from an orientation for engineers and managers to an advanced operators’ course, developed by Fossil Consulting Services. Information about training is available online at

Later this year, the real-time operator training system will be combined with an Invensys-built three-dimensional virtual reality environment. The immersive training system, or ITS, will enable trainees to interact with the simulated 3-D facility to study and learn various aspects of plant operation, control, and safety.

Zitney and Turton along with Prof. Debangsu Bhattacharyya of WVU and other experts from NETL and FCS provided technical guidance to Invensys Operations Management on the operator training system and 3-D virtual reality component. Invensys, a provider of technology and software solutions to the global manufacturing and process industries, including the power industry, is well-known and respected for its work in simulation modeling.

Funding for WVU’s portion of the collaborative work was provided through the NETL-Regional University Alliance.

WVU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Curt Peterson explained the project is a bold new part of the University’s commitment to interdisciplinary research on energy and the environment under WVU’s Advanced Energy Initiative and the University’s partnership in the NETL-RUA.

“AEI is this University’s umbrella organization for coordinated and interdisciplinary energy and environmental research,” he said. “Providing state-of-the-art training and information on ways to responsibly use one of the state’s most abundant natural resources is an important part of that activity.  The AVESTAR™ Center is a key step in that service to our region.”

“IGCC power plants are relatively rare,” said Turton. “There are less than 10 similar plants operating or being constructed in the states, with several more in China and Europe. The simulator gives the DOE and WVU an opportunity to showcase this technology. Because so few of these plants have been built, the center will allow engineers, technology managers and operators to obtain experience in the operation of these plants prior to actual construction.”

The virtual reality simulator will allow trainees to enter the power plant and move freely throughout the facility using a joystick to control their avatar, seeing exactly what they would see if they were in an actual plant.

“Every unit in the plant will be represented in the virtual work world,” Turton said. “Operators will be able to go anywhere in the plant, allowing them to do a virtual tour of the power plant without leaving the confines of the classroom.”

The main deterrent to building IGCC plants is their high capital cost. “A conventional pulverized coal plant can be built for about $500 million, while an IGCC plant of equivalent output might cost between $2-3 billion,” Turton said.  “But while the initial capital investment is very high, the IGCC plants operate more efficiently and can be a wise investment over the life of the plant, especially when capturing CO2.”

“Our close collaboration with WVU through the NETL-Regional University Alliance has been highly productive and rewarding,” said Zitney. “Dr. Turton’s team has added significant value to the fidelity and efficiency of the IGCC dynamic simulator. We are looking forward to continued collaborative research.”


CONTACT: Trina Karolchik Wafle, (304)293-6038

Authors: tkw-md 8/22/11

Related Items:

Power Engineering West Virginia University Researchers Team With National Energy Technology Laboratory, On Novel Simulator To Promote Clean Coal. http://www.power-eng.com/news/2011/08/1484778748/west-virginia-university-researchers-team-with-national-energy-technology-laboratory-on-novel-simul.html

Digital Manufacturing Report: Invensys Operations Management announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE ) has deployed an operator training simulator for IGCC with carbon capture. http://www.digitalmanufacturingreport.com/dmr/2011-08-22/invensys_simulation_software_now_online_at_doe_s_avestar_clean-coal_r_d_facility.html (Link no longer available.)

R & D Magazine: DOE launches virtual energy simulation training and research center at NETL and WVU. http://www.rdmag.com/News/2011/08/Energy-DOE-Launches-Virtual-Energy-Simulation-Training-And-Research-Center/