Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Pros and Cons of Different Fuel Options for Power Plants

In our previous article, we discussed lifecycle costs associated with the operation and maintenance of power plants, be they temporary or permanent. We said that though fuel represented the highest lifecycle cost, it was also the easiest to predict and calculate. In this article, we will look into some of the fuel options available for power plants, and identify some of their advantages and disadvantages.

Different fuel options are important in designing systems that respond to individual energy needs, budget concerns and fuel availability. Each fuel type has its benefits and drawbacks, so it is essential to take some time and research on the best fuel option during the system design process. Some fuel options available include natural gas, diesel, HFO and renewable fuels, such as vegetable oils, animal fats, and bio-diesel.

Natural gas is gaining ground as a cost-effective fuel solution, because it burns cleaner, and lengthens maintenance intervals and component lifetimes. There are multi-megawatt temporary power plants composed of natural gas generators that are designed for low-emission operation and fast set-up. Running on natural gas, these generators comply with worldwide emission limits even without after-treatment. Some observed disadvantages of natural gas are its limited availability and high costs of installing safe and reliable fuel delivery infrastructure. These, however, are gradually being solved owing to the increasing availability of gas and the opportunities in bigger and longer-duration projects opening up for gas power plants.

Diesel’s trump card has always been its availability, safety and economy, and ease of installation of power generation systems running on diesel. Diesel power generation systems are known to be reliable and flexible and are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies that allow them to run on a variety of fuels. Some noted disadvantages of using diesel as a fuel are the observed fluctuation of its price and environmental stewardship issues. The good news is that with cutting-edge power technologies made available by global temporary power providers, these observed issues can be mitigated.

Heavy fuel oil or HFO is available worldwide and engines running on this fuel are relatively common, but HFO has been observed to contain contaminants that increase component wear. Recognizing this, temporary power plant providers are making sure that they have intermediate systems that refine the fuel, reducing the contaminants and further enhancing the quality of the fuel. When choosing a power partner to run an HFO power plant, it is vital to make sure that the provider has these technologies available in order to lower the chances of reduced component life and higher maintenance costs.

Dual-fuel engines are another option to be considered. Though these engines are observed to have higher initial costs compared to single-fuel engines, they have the capability to provide the high-level of fuel flexibility that operators specifically require. Global temporary power providers can offer bi-fuel technologies that are specifically engineered to reduce fuel costs. For instance, there is a technologically advanced power system that uses a combination of 70% gas and 30% diesel, which will have a positive impact not only on fuel costs but also on emissions.

Alternative, reliable fuel options like vegetable oils, animal fats, and bio-diesel can also be utilized, but these require fuel treatment equipment. It may be helpful to note that the additional equipment may increase the initial capital costs and maintenance costs.

Different fuels have characteristics that influence their applicability. Depending on the location, budget, energy requirements or available technology, one fuel may be preferred over another. Experts say that it is still best to go with the clean fuel option, as this will result in longer component life and less performance degradation. But, thanks to the cutting-edge auxiliary technologies introduced in today’s power generation technologies, even the less clean fuels become viable options in specific situations.


Steffens, David. “Lifecycle Cost Considerations when Choosing a Power Generation System”. Caterpillar Power Generation Systems. February 2013.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a great article. It gave me a lot of useful information. thank you very much.
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