A couple of years ago, conventional logic for gensets or generator sets held that diesel meant inexpensive and reliable but also messy, loud, and noisy. Using natural gas meant a temperamental and expensive option and a cleaner and quieter one. Today, thanks to the developments of modern techs in enclosures, engines, and other engine parts, the differences between natural gas (NG) and diesel generator sets still need to be clearly defined.
Additionally, a lot of companies follow the traditional logic in their comparisons of these two genset types and need to provide more weight to the realities of both devices’ particular applications. This article will take a closer look at new developments, as well as long-standing considerations that have a significant impact on genset selection by fuel type in this industry.
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Conventionally, the viewpoint has been that engines using diesel provide longevity, power, and response, while engines that run on natural gas are more environmentally friendly. While the environmental argument for engines that uses natural gas still holds true, the response and power terms of diesel-powered devices are no longer true.
Spark-ignited industrial device manufacturers can now optimize these generator sets’ Revolutions per Minute (RPM) to make their transitory response similar to their diesel counterparts. A lot of manufacturers are also making natural gas units that can meet the ten-second startup requirement for a backup genset that is usually associated with diesel-powered engines alone.
The use of two-pole alternators (compared to conventional four-pole alternators) or gear-on-gear powertrains has increased the overall performance, as well as the power of NG devices. Manufacturers have also used more resilient and more robust parts like hardened seats and valves to help increase reliability and boost performance.
When it comes to energy density, there’s no doubt that diesel devices have a more significant energy density peak compared to their NG counterpart by a factor of at least three (usually 129 British Thermal Units versus 37 British Thermal Units).
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Even here, there are extenuating factors that can tip the scales in favor of NG. Both fuel conditions and the engine impact density. Poorly maintained diesel-powered devices, or ones running on sludgy fuels from tanks filled with particulates, will most likely outperform natural gas engines but will not reach their peak performance.
Ever more, diesel-powered devices have a sweet spot of fifty to seventy percent of the load, with eighty percent being the recommended max for long-term prime operations. Running these generator sets under lighter loads for long periods might result in wet stacking. It is a condition that can send unburned fuels, as well as soot, into the device’s exhaust system.
Companies that run devices under lighter loads usually use load banks to help them consume their excess energy. This kind of approach minimizes wet stacking but can also waste a lot of fuel. As an option, companies could choose NG-powered gensets, which burn hotter compared to diesel-powered gensets. These devices are less likely to experience issues with unburned fuels, even if companies run them at lighter-than-optimal loads.
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Built to last
When it comes to longevity, diesel-powered devices still have longer lives, on average, compared to their NG counterpart. But most of the new techs mentioned above not only help enhance the performance of NG devices; they also maximize engine longevity and resilience.
In short, firms that plan to keep their gensets operating at their peak condition will enjoy the greatest longevity from their diesel-powered systems. If they allow it to fall to the operating challenges mentioned above, longevity will suffer. In extreme instances, it cuts the life of the device in half.
For companies that use gensets as backup power, NG devices may provide the same effective life, given they will only use them occasionally. Other considerations like the continuity of the fuel source can also come into play, maybe outweighing diesel’s pros regarding longevity and performance.
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It is a common misconception that diesel engines used in an industrial setting are considerably less expensive compared to NG models. Below 150 kilowatts, NG gensets are actually less expensive, even without including fuel differential in the computation.
For applications where more kilo watts are needed, producers can create parallel configs on smaller gensets to provide them with cumulative kWs required for their operation. Parallel systems have the significant advantage of supporting load management and sharing.
It makes these things one of the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective options when it comes to fuel use, especially for variable load apps like mini-grids. Add the scalability and reliability to the savings of parallel systems where they replace larger and single diesel gensets like backup power, as well as the benefits of this type of solution are considerable.
For the past couple of years, NG generator set suppliers have peddled fuel prices as a cost-benefit. While the fall in prices of natural gas is making these gensets a more cost-effective and attractive alternative, the plummeting oil price is having the same effect when it comes to diesel-powered genset fuel. Experts are not making any predictions since the outcome of these prices is very volatile.
Click https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/diesel-fuel/ to know more about diesel fuels.
Saving the environment
Another big advantage of NG is that it burns more cleanly compared to its counterpart. This comparison is worsened for any of the operating conditions listed above, where wasted fuels can increase dangerous emissions and soot. In addition, light loads, shortened engine lifespan from problems like wet stacking, not enough maintenance, as well as other common diesel-powered genset problems can have a negative impact on emissions.
It can be an issue not only for the planet but also for regulatory compliance with agencies like EPA that protect the environment. New rules require maximum achievable control tech (MACT) emission controls and generally achievable control tech management practices for major area sources and sources of hazardous air pollutants.
Engine condition monitoring and maintenance need to be verified through thorough reporting. If users allow devices to fall outside the acceptable range with poor fuel conditioning and maintenance, expensive fines can result. Fines for not keeping the device in optimal running conditions can eclipse the added expenses of NG models. Consequently, companies need to consider these factors before making their choices.