Filtering out the Ash: Mitigating Volcanic Ash Ingestion for Generator Sets
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Volcanic eruptions produce a range of hazards which can impact society. The most widespread of these hazards is volcanic ash fall which can impact a range of critical infrastructure. Power systems are particularly vulnerable to ash fall hazards and the resulting impacts may lead to power supply disruption. This can lead to cascading disruption of dependent systems, such as hospitals, water and wastewater treatment plants, telecommunications and emergency services. Typically, large emergency power generator sets are used to provide emergency power supply for essential services during electrical power outages. There has been little study of what impact ash fall exposure will have on generator performance. International experience suggests large generators can experience rapid performance reduction when exposed to high concentrations of suspended or falling ash due to obstruction of air filters and radiators, causing overheating of the engine and shut down of the generator system. However, it is not clear at what ash fall thresholds generators are likely to be disrupted. This research uses custom designed empirical laboratory experiments to investigate the performance of large generators subjected to a range of volcanic ash fall types and intensities, simulating both proximal and distal ash fall exposure from a range of eruptive styles. It also investigates the application of temporary external filters to minimise the ingestion of volcanic ash into generator housings. The results are used to inform recommendations on the likely impacts of ash to generators and the most effective type of mitigation, which maximises filtration whilst maintaining generator performance. Control tests recorded high particle concentrations (~0.006 mg/m3) which indicate substantial ash contamination is possible. Multiple factors were considered to determine the best mitigation measure including the lowest particle concentration, highest air speed and the ease with which the measure could be fitted. The study found material filtration to be the most effective measure; however as the quality of filtration increased, the air speed was reduced and thus so was the volume of air available to the generator engine. Therefore, the type of filtration required is dependent the ash fall intensity. The study also found that a deflection hood is an effective mitigation measure; maintaining airspeed while reducing particle concentrations within the generator. This research informs risk management strategies for critical infrastructure organisations to reduce the risk of generator disruption during volcanic ash falls.