STORY Power Generation

Life on the edge

Posted on October 01, 2021 by Lucie Maluck, Images by Rolls-Royce Power Systems

Freezing cold in Siberia, searing desert heat, towering waves or quaking earth – mtu Series 2000 and Series 4000 engines are tough as nails.
People living in the Siberian town of Aichal are allowed to retire earlier, and are given a relaxing Black Sea holiday every two years. Why? Because this city in Russia's constituent republic of Yakutia is widely regarded as the country's deep-freeze. Temperatures of down to minus 60 degrees Celsius are not uncommon. Yet haul trucks fitted with mtu engines run 24 hours a day here at the Jubilejny mine, helping extract 10 million carats of diamonds each year.

“At first I was skeptical about whether the powerful mtu engines could really hack it, but they run without any problems,” said Vladimir Koyhevnikov (chief engineer Andrei Kajukov), chief engineer of mine operator Alrosa. The engines are specially prepared to withstand the icy cold of Siberia. Because the polar diesel used in this region has a kerosene content of 60%, making it much lower-viscosity than normal winter diesel, the injectors are adapted to cope with the thinner fuel. Louvers in front of the radiator prevent the engine from cooling down. These are always closed when idling during really cold spells. The engine control unit automatically adjusts fuel quantity and injection timing in line with the air temperature. In addition, depending on ambient temperature, pre-injection is used alongside main injection during start-up.

In the Aichal diamond mine in Siberia, dump trucks have to run reliably even at temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Trains in the desert

Freezing is a foreign word for the people in Saudi Arabia. Temperatures below freezing point are only found there in the deep freeze. But even there, the engines have to deal with special conditions: across the sandy desert - from the port city of Dammam on the Persian Gulf to the capital Riyadh in the interior - mtu engines power ten Powerheads produced by the Spanish manufacturer CAF. Temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius above zero are just as common there as sandstorms that make it impossible to see one's hand in front of one's eyes. In general, the conditions for trains in the desert are difficult: camels often block the way and just as the tracks have to be cleared of snow in colder regions, sand drifts are a problem here. And this is in the middle of the desert, where someone cannot constantly come by to clear the tracks. Apart from this the desert sand is so fine that no seal can withstand it - not even that of the engine compartment.  

Each of the ten diesel-electric power cars is equipped with two 1,800-kilowatt mtu twelve-cylinder engines of the 4000 series. These are part of complete power modules consisting of a rail engine, a traction generator and the mtu automation system Powerline. "Integrating two mtu motors into one powerhead is unique and the result of customised development work," says mtu project manager Frank Scheider. The requirement, he says, was due to the fact that the motors had to be redundant, as their operation was vital. "If the engines fail in the middle of the desert, not even the air conditioning would work, that would be life-threatening for the passengers," says Scheider, who also explicitly praises the cooperation with the manufacturer CAF.    

The air filter concept of the powerheads is also designed for the sandy conditions in the desert. Special cyclone coarse filters separate 90 percent of the sand grains before the air enters the engine room through the roof of the powerhead. However, before the air is compressed by the turbocharger and enters the combustion chamber, it is cleaned again by two large cyclone air filters, each with an integrated paper filter. What still gets into the engine now no longer harms it.

mtu engines turn turtle

“At least we're on an even keel,” might be the thought flashing through the minds of the mtu Series 2000 engines which have to work dependably in big lifeboats whenever the sea is so rough that other vessels return to port or find themselves in distress. To keep these lifeboats moving, Rolls-Royce has developed a special SAR kit for search-and-rescue (SAR) vessels, enabling the engines to remain running at extreme angles of heel or even when turning turtle. The Hong Kong fire department is set to join sea rescue organizations using this technology in Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway and Canada, to name but a few. The design incorporates an extra-deep oil pan with special baffles and a modified crankcase breather system which enable the engine to withstand extreme angles of inclination in rough seas up to, and including, a full rollover. The crankcase breather and its pipework are designed to prevent oil or oil mist entering the engine intake, and hence uncontrolled combustion, should the vessel turn turtle through a full 360 degrees. The engines are also equipped with a digital inclination sensor which constantly transmits measured values to a dedicated software program, which in turn processes the signals and trips appropriate responses to protect the engines. The software is eminently versatile, allowing the SAR system to be tailored to meet customer requirements or different vessel designs.  

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Quake-proof gensets

And what if the earth moves? Whether they're safeguarding power supplies in data centers or in hospitals, emergency power generators cannot be allowed to fail in cases like this. California experiences up to 10,000 earth tremors per year, and earthquakes are not uncommon in other parts of the world. The mtu Series 4000 engines powering these generator sets must be able to withstand such conditions. And they can – as has been proven on a special test stand in the US where a genset fitted with a 3,250 kW Series 4000 was shaken vigorously before being fired up.    

The result was that before and – more importantly – after the simulated earthquake, the genset was running and doing what it needs to do in such a scenario: generate electricity. As a result, the genset meets the requirements of the International Building Code (IBC).

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