Big Data PAYS BIG Condition monitoring advantages biomass power producers by reducing critical equipment failure while maximizing uptime and profits. BY KATIE FLETCHER
o matter the end product, process economies are critical to stay competitive, and, therefore, so is attaining cost-effective plant maintenance. Condition monitoring (CM) plays a vital role in predictive maintenance by allowing a producer to actively prevent breakdowns and optimize production processes. CM is typically seen as a specific equipment-based predictive maintenance tool—vibrations analysis of a boiler fan motor, for example—but there is also operations-based CM, which can be used to determine the overall health of the system. “We monitor individual components of the plant, and then we look at many of them together to monitor the entire process of the plant, to see trends in the plant and what’s happening with the overall machine,” says Kendric Wait, a representative of biomass power generation company Eagle Valley Clean Energy. Power producers invest in ways to identify and eliminate potential reliability issues throughout a plant’s operations—from the initial delivery of raw material to the renewable power sent to the grid. “Anywhere you don’t have redundancy of a single supply line in the process is a critical point,” Wait says. Eagle Valley’s 11.5-MW plant in Gypsum, Colorado, has a few redundant systems, but the bulk of the plant is a single supply line. Any single component that fails could easily interrupt the entire process and whether it’s a $5,000 gearbox or a very expensive turbine, it’s all critical to the process, Wait emphasizes. Although producers acknowledge best practices haven’t necessarily been established, biomass power plants throughout North America are taking similar approaches when it comes to predictive maintenance. No matter
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the age, size or sophistication of a plant, there are key process components every producer should monitor to some degree.
Basic human senses compliment technology-based data acquisition efforts. Biomass plants, such as Eagle Valley, utilize plant staff as one way of monitoring, with regular walkthroughs of the plant—looking, hearing, smelling, striving to identify any problems that may arise. It’s the interaction between humans and machines through user interface technology where biomass plant processes are recorded and stored. Software packages developed for CM purposes can be individualized to track and trend what’s desired, and there are a number of platforms available for users to understand, diagnose and control process conditions in real time. Usually, producers follow a combination of engineering guidelines, OEM recommendations and what works best based on experience when it comes to predictive maintenance. A computerized distributed control system is used at the power plant serving the University of Iowa. The plant also uses a data historian called PI that stores historical operating data. “This is very useful for event root cause analysis, troubleshooting and operations monitoring,” says Ben Anderson, power plant manager. Atlantic Power Corp.’s biomass power plants deploy a real-time enterprise data historian called eDNA, which collects, archives, displays, analyzes and reports on continuously streaming time-series data. “We can develop tools within eDNA to help monitor plant efficiencies and optimize various parameters, so that we know what our optimal performance is, and then we adjust our operation to meet that,”
says Sean Gillespie, general manager with Atlantic Power. “We monitor both short-term and long-term trends to evaluate the impact of our changes on plant output and emissions, and are constantly fine-tuning operations to meet production and environmental targets with the least amount of wood burnt possible.” Atlantic Power owns four biomass power plants—two in the U.S., and two in Canada. The past three years, Gillespie says, all the biomass plant managers and some of their teams have gathered with key support staff and members of engineering, environmental, and health and safety teams at a biomass summit. “We’ll have two- to three-day meetings where we’ll share best practices between sites, share challenges, identify opportunities, and look for guidance from our peers on what we can do to address problems and optimize plant performance,” Gillespie says. “We also make sure that we do a review and reconciliation of our preventative maintenance plans, so that we’re not doing too much maintenance at any one site, but we’re making sure all the required mainte-