The PLATO engine module

Engine module at Dome A
Engine module at Dome A

The PLATO engine module was designed and built by the University of New South Wales during 2007. The engine module is built into a standard 10 foot shipping container, and is designed 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 1kW of power to supplement solar arrays during summer and is the primary power source after April when the sun will finally set for the year at Dome A.

The module contains six Hatz 1B30 diesel engines, four 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 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 1500W at Dome A altitudes. The engine was tested for starting behavior, efficiency, and thermal issues 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, and is under CAN bus microprocessor control.

Test chamber Low pressure test chamber (Daniel Luong-Van: March 2007)

Each engine is run at a fixed speed of about 2200RPM and has its own generator that produces 120-150VDC. The engines are arranged in two banks of three for redundancy, and two separate 120VDC power cables are connected back to the instrument module.

The engine banks each have their own ultra-capacitor array to start the engines. The ultra-capacitor array is used in a similar way to a lead acid battery, but operates to temperatures below -40°C and provides ideal charging behaviour and extremely high discharge current capacity.

Engine module just before shipping Internal view of engine module just prior to shipping to Antarctica (Michael Ashley: 28 Nov 2007)

The fuel tank contains enough capacity for nine months of continuous running and is also used to store heat from the engines to help regulate the internal temperature of the module. A closed-loop temperature controller extracts hot air to keep the internal temperature under tight regulation. The controller is programmed to keep the internal temperature at a nominal 15°C.