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Peer Review

Virtual Tour of a Steam Turbine Cogeneration Power Plant

by Carl Lira


Overall Rating:

4 stars
Content Quality: 3.8 stars
Effectiveness: 3.5 stars
Ease of Use: 4.5 stars
Reviewed: Nov 24, 2004 by Engineering Editorial Board
Overview: This learning object takes the user on a virtual tour of a steam plant and shows
the unit operations in a power plant used to generate both heat and
electricity. It includes a schematic of the plant, text descriptions, and many
good-quality photographs, including some of equipment disassembled for
maintenance. It happens to be a tour of the Michigan State University plant,
but this is a typical steam generation facility with coal and gas-fired boilers,
condensers, steam turbines, and electric generators.

The web site is not fancy, but its content is solid. A couple of phrases in the
text are specific to the course for which the ?Tour? was developed, but that is
a minor detraction from its general applicability in a fundamentals of
thermodynamics course. This is a good basis for a short project or a lecture in
an undergraduate thermodynamics course.
Learning Goals: The learning object appears to have the following learning goals:

1) To be able to name the major unit operations involved in steam and power
2) To be able to describe how each unit is constructed and how it functions.
3) To be able to explain how the units are connected.
4) To be able to describe the overall operation of a steam generation plant.
Target Student Population: Undergraduate engineering students, primarily mechanical or chemical, in a
course concerned with thermodynamics, energy balances, or power generation.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Students should have a basic engineering, chemistry, and physics vocabulary, and
be familiar with the unit operations involved, although they likely have not
seen real equipment. For example, terms such as ?superheat?, ?cation?,
?preheater?, and ?tube-in-shell design? are not explained. Students should
have, or concurrently be developing, familiarity with the thermodynamic
properties of steam.
Type of Material: This is best described as a case study.
Recommended Uses: This site could be used as a basis for short projects or for in-class
discussion. It needs to be used in conjunction with other instruction on
thermodynamics since it is not a stand-alone tutorial on thermodynamics or steam
generation. It would be particularly useful if time or geography prevents the
class from touring an actual steam plant.

As the basis for a Writing-to-Learn exercise, students could be asked to
describe the physical and energetic transformations H2O undergoes as it proceeds
through the power generation cycle.

As the basis for a short project, students could be asked to calculate the fuel
costs to run a boiler at full capacity. In class, the instructor would need to
provide information about heat transfer efficiency, fuel heating value, fuel
costs. If given as homework, students could be required to research typical
values for some or all of these parameters.

As part of a class discussion, students could be asked to review the site for
homework, and then pass out schematics and ask a series of questions about the
process. For example, "Why is a condenser needed after the turbine-generator?"
Or, "Why is there more than one outlet for H2O from each turbine?" "Describe
what a boiler looks like in real life."
Technical Requirements: No special plugins or software are required, beyond a standard web-browser. Time
to load would be rather long with a modem connection, because the schematic is
large. With a broadband connection, however, loading speed is acceptable.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 3.8 stars
Strengths: This object does an excellent job of introducing the thermodynamic processes and
hardware associated with the cogeneration of heat and electricity. The
schematics, photographs, and text are accurate and are typical of many
steam-based power generation facilities across the industrialized world. The
site is significant because steam-based power plants are a common application of

thermodynamic principles, and all mechanical and chemical engineers are expected
to know how they work.
Concerns: None insofar as validity is concerned. However, from a significance standpoint,
similar content is available in many other forms. For example, most university
campuses have a steam plant that classes can tour. Also, many text books show
photographs and cutaway diagrams of similar equipment.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 3.5 stars
Strengths: The site provides an excellent virtual tour that can serve much the same purpose
as an actual walking tour of a power generation facility. The photographs and
cut-away drawings of the hardware involved in such a plant are quite
instructive, especially those that show the details of the turbines and valves
and those that contain labels for the various components.

Also quite useful are the several plant schematics that show the steam path and
the respective positions of the various components.

The narrative that accompanies the tour is quite complete and does an excellent
job of explaining the various processes that occur in such a plant. Detailed
explanations of elements like the rocker arms that control the steam flow to the
turbines are excellent.

The online availability is both convenient and comfortable for instructors and
students alike, especially for those campuses that do not have such a power
plant available.
Concerns: This is not so much a concern as a lack-of-strength. As mentioned in ?quality
of content?, similar schematics, photographs, and descriptions are available in
traditional textbooks and by touring an actual plant. The online availability
is convenient, but does not represent a unique instructional approach. There is
no reason to expect the online tour to be any more or less effective than an
actual tour or a quality paper handout.

One concern is an occasional phrase that is obviously specific to the course for
which this was developed, but it remains a useful resource.

Cut-away drawings of the condenser and feedwater heaters like that provided for
the turbine would be very helpful.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: This virtual tour is very easy to take. Anyone with even minimal familiarity
with web pages should be able to navigate through the tour with no difficulty.
Concerns: None.

Other Issues and Comments: