The relationship between engine manufacturers and combined heat and power (CHP) system packagers is a symbiotic one. In the US, where the natural gas market is booming and CHP is becoming an ever more popular option for energy efficiency and backup power, two firms recently celebrated a 10-year anniversary of co-operation and collaboration.
Decentralized Energy spoke with Sven Graben, Manager Sales & Business Development at MAN Engines & Components, Inc in Pompano Beach, Florida, US (a 100% subsidiary of MAN Truck & Bus AG, Germany), and Aaron Fox, head of project development and marketing at plant manufacturer Martin Energy Systems in Missouri, US, about their work together since 2006.
DE: Can you give us some examples of the challenges involved in the projects you’ve worked on together?
Sven Graben: Every project is challenging. There are a number of competitors – companies importing complete CHP units ready-assembled from Europe – and what MAN and Martin do together competes against them to keep labour and content in the US. The CHP packaging or unit itself, that is more now in Europe than in the US.
The US and Canada started packaging or looking into CHP applications way later than Europeans, so of course they have a lot of packagers in Europe, and European packagers are looking to sell their products in North America. Our aim in the US is to develop the market together with Martin to sell the units there. With a lot of US content and especially US labour to the customers, Martin is one of the oldest CHP packagers in the US with the most experience.
Aaron Fox: That’s what’s made a very strong relationship between MAN and Martin – a lot of competition from the European market. But one thing that’s unique about the US is that we take each project and we build upon each project, and every project is different.
SG: It’s all customized to the customer’s demand.
AF: For an example, thinking way back to one of the earlier units I remember on a biogas application in California – the unit is still running today at 60,000+ hours and working very well. What we have is that application to wastewater or to, this week, a greenhouse application in Ontario, Canada. Each project is unique because we build it per project.
One of the biggest issues for any project is that the scope of getting a power purchase agreement (PPA) is a big, big struggle unless, for example, a lot of these facilities are just running in island mode. Financing tends to be something that, for the project, is a real challenge, more challenging than the technical aspects. It comes down to what the payback will be.
DE: Is this different in different US states?
AF: Yes, absolutely – we look [for business] on the coasts and where we have a high spark spread. Doing this makes very good sense and means it is easier to take a project from the conceptual stage to the actual design-build-implement stage. Areas where utility rates are lower are much more of a challenge. Ontario is a prime spot because of high hydropower rates. A project is hugely impacted by where it is.
SG: It comes down to dimes and cents. Packagers are using engines with the best efficiency you can get. On purchasing price we can compete against our competitors, but at the end of the day the packager realizes on efficiency, reliability and durability. We manufacture our own engines and our expertise comes from on-road applications for trucks and buses.
AF: This gives us a good market edge. That unit on the west coast that’s been operational for 60,000+ hours hasn’t been touched other than routine maintenance and very minor details. We have also been very happy with bringing in a European engine and having the opportunity to do some pilot engines –
SG: We call it a field test engine. When we bring out a brand new product it is tested first in Europe for 1500 rpm at a 50 Hz application; then we bring it to North America with a 60 Hz application. On our R&D we rely on Martin to do testing for us. They have done quite a few tests on engines for the US market.
AF: This gives you an idea of the kind of working relationship we have and the trust we have.
DE: Has MAN made engines specifically to Martin’s specifications?
SG: Martin Energy receives a long block/incomplete engine from us. It comes without a cooling system, exhaust/after treatment or any controls. They get a bare engine from us. We are the only engine manufacturer supplying engines this way without actually competing against the packager at the same time. Our engines come with a very limited scope of supply, and a packager like Martin is able to customize everything around the engine – they have a choice to use modal tech ignition systems or whatever and can customize it specially to the customer’s demand. To say that we customize an engine especially for Martin would be wrong.
AF: When we have a project we’ll take anything from a strictly power generation package – an engine and we’ll put on the generator end – like this past week in Ontario, 600 V vs 480 V here in the US. We build the enclosure, give it a full control system, air-fuel ratio, generator controls, and also if it’s CHP we’ll add a heat recovery system. We even have some systems where we use a heat recovery system and absorption chilling for trigeneration or quad generation. We build that package out from whatever the customer’s needs are. MAN provides a state of the art, efficient machine core that we can build a great package around.
DE: Are special challenges involved in configuring engines to run on biogas and alternative fuels?
SG: We react to Martin Energy’s demand.
AF: Very true, and we would specify if it is a burnable fuel or natural gas and say to MAN that we need a biogas-fuelled engine and that may be a wastewater treatment plant or anaerobic digestion, or a lot of these we do. MAN has been our biggest dual-fuel system. We do a lot of dual-fuel systems for these packages where, say, the customer is using biogas as their main fuel source but doesn’t have quite enough to maximize a full load all the time, so we blend both fuels at same time. The system is run as a dual-fuel system and is able to maintain a full load at all times regardless of fuel source.
SG: Switching between both fuels from one moment to another, depending on engine type and its compression (lean burned/turbo charged).
[The two describe a recent Martin project (pictured) at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, which features a rooftop cogeneration plant. The 250 kW system features a MAN E2842 E312 gas engine and provides around 40% of the hospital’s power and heat. The rooftop location was chosen over a ground-floor installation due to the hospital’s location next to a river, ensuring continued operation in the event of flooding.]
DE: This is the first rooftop cogeneration installation we’ve seen – is it a common thing and did it involve any special challenges?
AF: In some ways it’s rather unique, especially for a hospital – most generally hospitals tend to go with the basement. In this case they were restricted on room so decided to go to the rooftop. It’s a unique installation featuring critical sound attenuation and a lot of insulation – it’s very well insulated where it’s able to perform in extreme weather, extreme cold and lots of wind on the roof. The enclosure was designed and manufactured specifically for that, with an insulated floor and isolation.
SG: Designed and developed by you?
SG: Other packagers buy the enclosures from Martin Energy as well.
AF: We do a lot of packaging for other companies. We will buy a MAN engine and build a package for other companies that do the same thing we do: sell power generation equipment. They don’t have the packaging capabilities we do, so we sell a lot that way. They are not distributors; actually they’re our competition.
SG: They rely on Martin’s engineering expertise, as they sometimes do not have the capacity to do the whole packaging by themselves due to lack of employees or space when it comes to bigger projects.
AF: The bottom line of the good relationship between MAN and Martin is that we’ve never had to question the quality and the performance of these engines. MAN has given us that same trust, giving us these pilot engine projects. It’s been a good handshake agreement.
Also, I see a very good future ahead for both companies because, as our CHP and power generation industry and microgrid industry grow, the need for more independent power for clients is huge and we only look to MAN to provide us with this expertise in fuel-efficient, high quality engines.
We’ve done a lot of work in Canada and have a lot of MAN product in Canada. Especially recently with the inflation in hydro costs, this has opened a huge market so we’ve been going to market with it. And we see a lot more ahead of us. When we talk of quality to a customer, they sometimes ask us what’s available, and that gives us an opportunity to put forth a product and generally I like to give a really simple illustration of quality. It’s the Maserati or the Kia or the Geo Metro, so I’ll say it’s the workhorse, it’s the Maserati instead of the cheap brand. Good German engineering and technology are always a good starting point to direct someone to a MAN engine – it’s a reassuring factor to clients when they hear it’s MAN vs some other brand.
DE: Vs an American brand?