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CHP engines now more reliable

29 March 2022

FOR THE owners of a local authority-owned anaerobic digestion (AD) plant, removing the responsibility for their CHP engines from a single service provider and handing it to two smaller, expert companies – including gas engine upgrading specialist Gen-C – has delivered big rewards.

Not only have CHP maintenance costs been slashed but the two MWM engines are now more reliable, easier to start and simpler to maintain, resulting in significantly increased uptime.

Previously, it was common for AD plant owners to tie themselves into lengthy CHP service contracts with a single, large provider to safeguard the performance and longevity of their engine. But following reports of disjointed communication, lengthy waits for engine restarts and expensive additional call-out charges, increasing numbers of plant operators are now turning to smaller, specialist firms to deliver a more flexible and cost-effective solution.

This has certainly proved the case for the operators of an AD plant situated on a local authority recycling park in Bedfordshire. The 600kW facility converts over 30,000 tonnes of kerbside-collected food waste each year into renewable energy and employs two MWM V12 CHP (combined heat and power) engines.

When the plant owner’s relationship with their long-term engine service provider broke down, they were keen to find an alternative option that would offer local taxpayers better value for money. While the day-to-day CHP management was set to be managed by a third-party company that already handled the recycling park’s steam turbines, additional support from reliable partners was also required for the engines’ servicing and spares.

“We had previously supplied the owners with high-quality CHP spare parts and have a strong reputation within the waste and AD industry for engine upgrading solutions, so when they approached us with this latest request, we were keen to help,” says Gen-C’s James Thompson. “Having also developed a strong working relationship with servicing experts GenV, I knew that we could once again work together to deliver an expert, bespoke, value-for-money solution for the waste recycling plant’s owners to ensure the continued reliable and efficient running of their CHPs.”

Unlocking the key to success

First on the agenda was gaining access to the CHP control panels, which had been locked by the previous service provider to prevent the owners from accessing them. Without direct access, effective engine management would be impossible; anytime the CHPs stalled or shut down (for example, due to a change in biogas composition or bad weather), the operators would be unable to restart them and would incur significant and costly engine downtime while they waited for an engineer to arrive.

Gen-C offered a unique solution – the supply and installation of brand-new, open-access Motortech control panels, fitted with the latest intelligent ComAp technology. This would give full control to the plant managers themselves, rather than a third-party service provider, and significantly increase engine uptime.  

Remote control

Open-access control panels are the key to enabling operators to leave a restrictive service contract. They allow CHP owners to dial in remotely at any time and from anywhere to manage their engines’ performance directly. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, this facility has proved especially popular with Gen-C’s customers, as it requires fewer personnel to be on site. The control panels also feature IGS-LOG software as standard. This monitoring technology enables managers to understand what constitutes normal operation for their engines and spot any downward trends or anomalies before they affect their smooth operation. In addition, the software issues an alert if a fault occurs and allows the operators to diagnose and rectify it themselves, and even remotely restart the engines; significantly reducing downtime.

Satisfied with this solution, the plant owners took the decision to give both of the waste recovery park’s CHP engines a complete overhaul to kickstart their performance. The first CHP was out of action for just seven days, during which time it underwent a full E60 service by GenV and was fitted with an upgraded open-access control panel by Gen-C. Gen-C also installed a series of new and improved Motortech parts specific for biogas engines to improve performance further, including a VariFuel gas mixer, an MIC4 ignition controller and a DetCon 20 detonation control system. The overhaul of the second engine was completed a month later, also taking just one week.

The power of three

The success of the collaboration between the two specialist firms is already paying dividends. “Not only do the engines now start first time, every time, they also run much more smoothly,” explains James Thompson. “Should a simple issue cause either of the engines to temporarily shut down, the operators can now restart it themselves within seconds instead of waiting for a service provider to respond. And if the cause is something more serious, they can assess it remotely and either fix it themselves or call us to have it up and running within hours, not days. This has resulted in increased engine uptime and better, more reliable performance. And as the plant owners are no longer tied into an expensive monthly service contract, their bills are significantly lower, too. Working in partnership alongside other specialist firms is something we’re used to doing and, as in this case, it can really pay off.”