Six, giant 18 cylinder engines in the cogeneration plant are what keep the lights on and heat circulating at McMaster University Medical Centre. Six engines, and a team of engineers and tradespeople who make sure they stay functional around the clock.
Cogeneration plants recover the “waste heat” that is otherwise discarded in conventional power generation systems. Instead of heating air and water directly with natural gas, the gas is used to power six engines that create electricity. The heat from these engines supplies an intricate system, and transfers energy for water heaters, building heat, and air conditioned cooling.
The net result is cheaper power, even with fluctuating prices for natural gas and electricity supplied from the local grid.
Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre and Hamilton General Hospital also operate cogeneration plants.
In this Up Close series, take a look underground at the machines and engineers that keep the hospital running.
Main Power Engines
The plant has six 18-cylinder engines powered by natural gas. Each produces a maximum 1.7 megawatts of power at max output, with a total output of 10.2 megawatts. During peak usage, the building requires about eight megawatts of power, so usually there are five engines running with one spare. If the engines fail, the building switches to city grid supplied electricity. If both grid and natural gas engines fail, there are diesel engines that supply critical areas of the building.
One of Two Engine Rooms
The main engine's exhaust gases go through an intricate system that creates steam, which eventually heats the building. The gases run through boilers to heat water into steam. The steam is used to heat air and water.
Each of these high voltage switches controls 15,000 volts of power that supply the entire building. They function similarly to the circuit breaker in your house.
Monitoring Air Handling Systems
The 36 different air handling systems in the building are monitored closely to make sure they are working as they should. They supply critical areas including operating rooms and radiology.
The cooling towers supply cooled water for condensers in the air conditioning system.
In winter, only one cooling tower is used to cool electricity producing engines. Chilled water for important services and machines, like MRI cooling and CAT scan, are borrowed from the university’s power system.
Fixing A Pump
Tony, an industrial millwright, is replacing a chill water pump in an air handler that controls air conditioning. Air conditioning is still used during winter months to cool down equipment like MRI machines and CT scanners.
Water Cooling Fan Control Units
Variable frequency drives are used to control fans. They can increase and decrease fan speed as demand changes. This saves energy by only running at the required speed.
Domestic Hot Water
These domestic hot water storage tanks supply enough hot water to support the entire facility's bathrooms, operating rooms, patient areas and kitchens. 115 litres are consumed every second!
Testing Water Level Systems
Chris carries out a daily routine to make sure there’s enough water circulating to the boiler to protect the equipment. The low water level trip test prevents the heaters from burning out by shutting down the system if there is a low supply.
Water Softening Salts
Water softening salt is used in the heating system to prevent corrosion and deterioration that can be caused by hard water. Nearly 2000lbs of salt is used every month!
Water Testing For Industrial Use
Water needs to be tested daily to keep equipment, piping, and coils in good condition. Adam is checking for the balance of alkalinity, acidity, hardness, and total resolved solids in the system. If sulphite is too low, it can corrode boilers.
Diagnosing The Problem
Jeff, the electrician on the cogeneration team, is investigating the failure of a sump pump.
Fire System Pumps
Two large pumps support the fire suppression system. They maintain water pressure in case it drops during a fire. One pump supports the sprinkler system and the other supports the manned hoses in hallways.
Resource Supply Lines
This tunnel connects the McMaster University power plant to the hospital for back up. It supplies chilled water for cooling and steam for heat.
If you enjoyed this photo set, have a look at other collections in the Up Close series:
Biomedical Technology Open Heart Surgery Prosthetics and Orthotics in Motion Trauma Team Response