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Employing Computer Optimization in Powerplant Design

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session


Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

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Paper Authors


Robert McMasters P.E. Virginia Military Institute

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Robert L. McMasters was born in Ferndale, Michigan, in 1956. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis Md, in June 1978 and completed Naval Nuclear Propulsion Training in August 1979. He subsequently served as a division officer on the USS Will Rogers (SSBN 659) until 1982. Following a 2 year
tour as an instructor at the S1W prototype of the Nautilus,
the worlds first nuclear powered ship, he resigned his
commission as a Naval Officer and began working as a
design engineer at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base near
Marquette Michigan and later at Michigan State University in
East Lansing Michigan. He completed the Ph.D. at
Michigan State University in 1997 and continued to serve there
as a Visiting Assistant Professor until 2004 when he accepted an Associate Professor position at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Va. He currently serves as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at VMI.

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As an undergraduate senior elective course, Powerplant Design is not commonly offered in most mechanical engineering curricula. Many aspects of poweplant design may be included in an advanced undergraduate thermodynamics course. Traditionally, assigned exercises involving powerplants have involved laborious interpolation from thermodynamic tables in order to obtain steam and condensate properties. With the advent of computerized thermodynamic functions, more advanced student exercises can be formulated, with the time-intensive aspect of table interpolation no longer necessary. This paper presents a portfolio of exercises which have been incorporated into a powerplant design course involving plant efficiency optimization through the use of pressure and temperature design selections at various strategic points in the plant. Additionally, components such as cooling towers involving psychrometric calculations are handled using computerized property software and incorporated into the powerplant design course. The models for these problems are generated from scratch by the students with no special software beyond the commonly-used thermodynamic property packages that are available as part of Engineering Equation Solver (EES), Microsoft Excel, MATLAB or Mathcad. Using these tools, students can be exposed to the effects of powerplant component design features, such as re-heater pressure and feedwater heater pressure on overall plant performance. Additionally, students can explore the effects of outdoor relative humidity on the performance of cooling towers for various design parameters they might select. Generating plots from the results of their designs gives students insight into the sensitivity of the performance of various components to the design parameters they have been asked to vary. They can also observe the effects of the performance of individual components on the overall performance of the plant. By assembling components over the duration of the semester, the interrelationship of the segments of the plant can be seen. For example, an integrated plant exercise includes the effect of outdoor relative humidity on overall plant performance, taking into account the interrelation between outdoor humidity, cooling water temperature, condenser vacuum and turbine output. Fundamental computer-based exercises related to nuclear power generation are also included, allowing students to observe the influence of moderator atomic mass on the thermalization rate of neutrons, the likelihood of a fission event as a function of neutron energy, the time-response of reactor thermal power to primary coolant loop sizing, and the transient concentrations of fission-product poisons such as xenon and samarium. Each of these exercises is generated using foundational principles and the generic software packages mentioned previously.

McMasters, R. (2016, June), Employing Computer Optimization in Powerplant Design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26939

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