Finnish engine manufacturer Wärtsilä is a pioneer of gas-engine technology and has sold more gas engines than any other original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Worldwide, it has more than 700 experts working on research and development programs that are designed to maintain its competitive edge. Wärtsilä has an extremely strong presence in Turkey, with its generating capacity in the country exceeding 3 GW. Approximately 85% of these plants run on natural gas.
Mehmet Ufuk Berk is a man with vision. In 2005 at a global gathering of all Wärtsilä operating companies, the managing director of Wärtsilä Turkey urged the global corporation’s research and development teams to develop a substantially larger gas engine. He knew there were technical challenges to be overcome and it would require a great deal of innovation, but he insisted there was an emerging market need for gas engines of about 20 MW. At the time, the largest gas engine on the market was the 9-MW-rated Wärtsilä 20V34SG.
Wärtsilä’s technologists delivered. Just five years later, Wärtsilä launched the 18.3-MW-rated 18V50SG, the biggest gas engine in the world. The first units to be installed were in Turkey for a power plant on the north coast. A few months later in the southeast of the country, independent power plant operator Odaş Elektrik purchased three units; an order for four more soon followed. In less than two years, Wärtsilä Turkey had sold 18 of these units.
With an output of some 18.3 MW, the Wärtsilä 18V50SG spark-ignition gas engine is the largest gas combustion engine generating set in the world. The natural-gas-fueled engine operates at more than 48% efficiency and is based on the technology of Wärtsilä’s smaller, established engines, such as the 20V34SG, but incorporates improvements that maximize the power potential of the engine.
Wärtsilä’s role extends beyond the supply of the engines. The company has also an agreement with Odaş Elektrik under which it provides scheduled maintenance services. Odaş Elektrik does not, therefore, have to consider its maintenance requirements or employ a maintenance team. Instead, it can focus exclusively on its core business of energy production.
The Odaş Elektrik power plant supplies the electrical grid during periods of peak demand, and so gas-fired reciprocating engine technology was a perfect fit because it can be fired up rapidly. The plant often has to be on standby waiting for the order to run. Gas engines offer an immediate response.
Murat Gezgin, general manager, services, and Hakan Yildiz, contract manager, Wärtsilä Turkey, are convinced of the important role that lubrication plays in the optimal operation of their engines.
PS: How important is the quality of the lubricant to the performance of a gas engine?
HY: It is vital. The Wärtsilä 18V50SG engine that Odaş Elektrik is using has a power output of 18.3 MW. That means the engine produces 1 MW per cylinder, and that is a big challenge. The engine is operating under extreme conditions. The technology is performing at very high peak pressures, and it is vital that the lubricant can cope with this challenge and support our engine in these conditions. The quality of a lubricating oil is one of the most crucial points for the operation of an engine. If you don’t have a proper oil, you will have a lot of problems on the machine parts, and you will have a lot of downtime, which causes a lot of trouble.
PS: What steps can be taken to ensure research and development remains vitally relevant to OEMs and power plant operators?
MG: The big issues for gas-engine operators include maintenance, as the cost of operating engines can be a key parameter, efficiency and power output. Work closely with external companies, both OEMs like Wärtsilä and customers. We learn from them. We gain insights into how the equipment and the lubricant operate in real-world situations and about the problems they face.
PS: What trends are occurring in the gas engine market?
HY: The use of gas engines has been growing rapidly since 2000. As the availability of gas has increased, so have gas engine sales. We saw a significant change in 2004, when we started to sell more gas engines than heavy-fuel engines. Moreover, the growth of renewable energy increases the need for flexible power plants such as those using gas-engine technology. The future for gas engines is extremely favorable.