This is iron ore country where the generation of electrical power is critical for the biggest mines in the world as they ramp up record production.
The powerful hum from the power station competes with background noise from the mine’s massive infrastructure – a towering crusher and feeder system loading hundreds of thousands of tonnes of ore into rail wagons.
Behind the walls of the new power station are 14 Cummins QSK78 diesel generator sets, each with a prime power rating of 2.2 MW.
A further 13 QSK78 gensets will be added in 2012, as Fortescue Metal Group’s Christmas Creek mine in the Pilbara ramps up production to meet China’s seemingly insatiable appetite for the key steel-making raw material.
This will be the biggest diesel power station in Australia, another milestone for Leon Hodges’ Contract Power group of companies.
In its current form, with 14 generator sets, Christmas Creek is also the largest installation in the world of prime power Cummins QSK78 gensets.
Contract Power not only designed and built the power station but also owns and operates it. The fact it marks the first major installation of QSK78 gensets in the world doesn’t concern Hodges and his team.
“We like trying new equipment…we’re certainly not afraid of it,” says Contract Power general manager Marc Grosser.
“We believe it gives us a leading edge over our competitors.”
Cummins generator sets are nothing new to Perth-based Contract Power.
The company’s first big milestone was winning the contract in 1998 to build, own and operate the power station at Central Norseman Gold, Australia’s longest continuously running gold mine.
Contract Power still has that contract today, utilising gensets powered by the Cummins KTA50 engine – an engine Leon Hodges greatly admires for its reliability and longevity.
“What I like about Cummins is their support. They don’t run away from a problem. They turn to the problem to fix it,” says Hodges.
Contract Power boasts an ability to do business ‘anywhere in the world’ having built, owned and operated power stations across three continents. It is noted for its dynamic approach to the power generation business.
“After-sales service is a key factor for Cummins… in fact, our experience is that Cummins is the leader in this area,” says Marc Grosser, who headed up construction of the Christmas Creek power station.
The gensets in the new power station are C3000 units powered by the QSK78, Cummins’ biggest diesel engine with its 78-litre, V18 configuration. In mining’s ultra-class dump trucks, the QSK78 pumps out 3,500 hp hauling payloads up to 400 tonnes.
“Contract Power wanted reliability at the 2.2 megawatt prime rating, and they wanted serviceability and service support,” says Bhavani Sambhara, who headed up the power station project for Cummins.
“We were prepared to guarantee that those key requirements would be met and will be working closely with Contract Power to ensure reliable power supply which will be critical as the mine production ramps up.”
Contract Power’s maintenance regime at Christmas Creek is understandably fine-tuned to the enth degree. There are certainly no compromises.
“It’s a harsh environment in the Pilbara,” says Marc Grosser.
“The dust is highly abrasive and ruthless on everything… oil filter integrity needs to be spot on.”
Routine servicing is at 250-hour intervals while oil sampling is carried out every 500 hours.
To ensure best possible oil filtration, Cummins’ Eliminator system is used, replacing the traditional disposable spin-on ‘paper’ element filters.
Eliminator is a combination of an automatic, self-cleaning full-flow filter and an integral centrifugal bypass unit.
The ability of the power station to operate at maximum capacity in very high ambient temperatures is another critical factor, so cooling system efficiency rated highly in the design criteria.
“Our cooling system at Christmas Creek is designed for 50 degrees Celsius temperatures,” Marc Grosser points out.
“Marble Bar is reputedly the hottest place in Australia and it’s only 150 kilometres north-west of Christmas Creek.”
Marble Bar holds the world record for the longest sequence of days –160 days – where the temperature has reached or exceeded 100°Fahrenheit (or 37.8° on the Celsius scale).
Contract Power has high expectations for the QSK78-powered gensets which utilise 11 kV Stamford alternators. “We believe the QSK78 will outrun the competition in terms of service life and also provide good fuel efficiency,” says Marc Grosser.
Operating 6,000 to 7,000 hours a year, they will certainly be relied on for dependable power as the iron ore riches of the Pilbara continue to provide Australia with its biggest export earnings.