The PLATO-F Engine Module

Engine Module loadingThe Engine Module being loaded on board the Shirase icebreaker for its journey to Antarctica—26 November 2010 (credit: Michael Ashley)

The PLATO-F Engine Module was designed and built by the University of New South Wales during 2010. The Engine Module has the same dimensions as a standard 10 foot shipping container, allowing it to be coupled to the Instrument Module and shipped as an ISO standard 20 foot container. This allows for convenient transport via road, rail, and sea. The module provides up to about 1.2kW of electrical power to supplement solar arrays during summer and is the primary power source after April when the sun sets for winter each year at Dome F.

The Engine Module contains five Hatz 1B30 diesel engines, six thousand liters of Jet-A1 fuel, and power management and control electronics. The module is heavily insulated with 200mm thick polyurethane foam panels, enabling it to maintain internal temperatures up to 80°C above ambient using only the waste heat from the engines. It also allows the module to stay warm enough to restart the engines (i.e., internal air temperature greater than about –10°C) for approximately a day without any heat input.

The Hatz 1B30 is a compact high efficiency, 350cc displacement, single cylinder diesel engine. It can produce up to 1.5kW at the altitude of Dome F, although we typically run at 1kW to avoid overheating the electrical alternator. Each engine is run at a fixed speed of about 2000RPM and has its own alternator that produces 120–150VDC. The 1B30 was tested for starting behavior, efficiency, and thermal performance in a specially designed low pressure chamber at the University of New South Wales. Only one engine is run at any time in normal operation. Each engine has its own bulk oil filtration and recirculation system, oil and fuel pumps, and is under CAN bus microprocessor control.

engines Three of the five Hatz 1B30 engines inside the Engine Module. Beneath the aluminium plate at the bottom is a 6000 litre fuel tank. The engine exhausts were removed for transport, but normally pass through the holes at the top. Each engine is on a modular plate with vibration isolation and integral fuel pumps/filters, oil tank and oil pumps/filters, electrical alternators, and WaveSculptor control system (the black boxes with orange stripes) (credit: Michael Ashley)

Tritium WaveSculptors are used to start the engine (by driving current from the 120VDC bus into the alternator), to extract power from the alternator, and to provide a wealth of diagnostic information about the engine. As an example of the data we receive, see our live update plots.

The fuel tank contains enough capacity for two years of operation and is also used to store heat from the engines to help regulate the internal temperature of the module. A fuel circulation system, radiator, and electrically driven fan can be used to efficiently couple heat into the fuel. A closed-loop temperature controller regulates the internal temperature of the Engine Module by expelling hot air, thereby bringing in ambient Antarctic air, which ranges from –30°C in summer to below –70°C in winter.