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AVESTAR provides high-quality, hands-on, simulator-based workforce training delivered by an experienced team of power industry training professionals for West Virginia students. | Photo courtesy of the Office of Fossil Energy.

AVESTAR provides high-quality, hands-on, simulator-based workforce training delivered by an experienced team of power industry training professionals for West Virginia students. | Photo courtesy of the Office of Fossil Energy.

Thanks to the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), students at one West Virginia college will soon be able to get valuable hands-on control room experience with cleaner-burning coal-fired power plants.  

NETL and Fairmont-based Pierpont Community and Technical College recently partnered to give Pierpont students access to the state-of-the-art, real-time dynamic simulators and 3-D virtual immersive training systems at the AVESTAR™ Center in Morgantown, W.Va. The AVESTAR Center is home to some of the most cutting edge simulation-based training, as well as research and development on process modeling, advanced process control, and 3-D virtual plant simulation. 

The Center is located at two facilities: one at NETL and one at West Virginia University’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy. Managed by leading energy experts, the center is dedicated to accelerating progress toward operational excellence for clean power plants capable of capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) they release. Capturing CO2 emissions is a critical component of the carbon capture, utilization and storage process (known as CCUS), which experts believe will help make the use of fossil energy sources like coal more environmentally sustainable.

Students enrolled in Pierpont’s year-long Power Plant Technology Program will receive training at the AVESTAR facility at West Virginia University. During their training, they will focus on the safe, efficient and reliable operation of clean energy plants. And it’s not all classroom lectures -- students will be immersed in simulated control room and plant field operations. The hands-on training will center on the most up-to-date clean coal power plant technologies.  

One example of the simulated technologies is Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology, which converts fossil fuels like coal into gas and removes pollutants like CO2 before the gas is burned. Students at the AVESTAR Center will use the advanced IGCC Dynamic Simulator, a first-of-its-kind tool, to gain experience in all aspects of an IGCC plant. They will also become proficient in other power plant technologies and procedures, while learning important communication and collaboration skills that are critical to power plant operations. Students who successfully complete the program will receive a certificate degree in power plant technology. 

But it’s not just about receiving a certificate. More importantly, at the end of their training students will be able to perform many functions critical to the operation of a cleaner burning power plant. That means a deep bench of well-qualified field operators with control room experience for cleaner power generation stations in the region. At the same time, the experience gained by Pierpont instructors will allow them to explore the possibility of establishing an AVESTAR facility at the school’s newly developed Advanced Technology Center.

As we move to a clean energy economy, there will be a growing need for workers who have the knowledge and skills to operate a new generation of power plants. A workforce trained to meet the energy challenges of this century will help us secure our energy future. It will also determine whether or not the U.S. will be a leader in the global energy economy. And collaborative efforts like the one between NETL and Pierpont will help make the difference.