Valentin Silivestru: INCDT Comoti to continue investments in scientific research, technology and innovation
- Written by Lavinia Iancu
Romanian Research & Development Institute for Gas Turbine Comoti has inaugurated at the beginning of this year a new research infrastructure designed for civilian, military and industrial applications. The modern testing endowment offers the researchers optimum conditions for their activity, as well as the possibility to develop new programmes and research projects at national and European level. When we met Dr. Eng. Valentin Silivestru, President – Director General of INCDT Comoti we were able to review together the most important projects carried out during the time, but also explore the major objectives for the future.
Q: Starting with 1996, the birth year of the National Research and Development Institute for Gas Turbines Comoti, which were the most important projects that led to the domestic and international acknowledgement of your professional competiveness?
Valentin Silivestru: On the domestic plane, the most important projects were related to industrial applications. Among them we could mention the cogeneration station at Suplacu de Barcau, currently working with very good results, with a global cogeneration efficiency of 85 percent. Another major project at the time, by the time we started the activity, is the centrifugal air compressors station at Suplacu de Barcau for underground combustion. Now, 20 years after inaugurating the first compressor, we have modernized it, following the improvement of knowledge and technology, so that currently the compressors are equipped with highly efficiency gears and have lower consumption.
We should notice our evolution on the domestic market during the latest years, specifically the development, together with the German company GHH-Rand, of the screw compressors for natural gas, which are acquired mainly by OMV Petrom. Currently, it may well be that these compressors represent the great majority of the company’s compressors, let’s call them the frontline ones. OMV Petrom has increased the gas output, outdistancing Romgaz. We sold solely to OMV Petrom about 120 groups; lately we have succeeded in selling such groups abroad, for example to the Russian Federation and, some two years ago, to the Czech Republic. We are cooperating abroad with French companies in the field of aviation engines; since 2000 we have cooperated with Snecma, with Turbomeca – an important producer of helicopter engines – with ONERA (the National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research of France), with DLR (the German Institute for Aviation and Space).
We have taken part to important projects, we have received financing from the European Commission within the FP 5, 6, 7 programmes and we are looking forward to Orizont 2020 new programme. We should mention also the SILENCE project – a six-year important project at the time, amounting to EUR 120 million, to which some 50 partners throughout Europe took part, including Comoti. More huge projects followed – VITAL, TEENI, OPEN AIR, COBRA - aiming at developing new technologies. Furthermore, we have been active members of a network developed by France – X NOISE, with partners all over Europe, a network meant to promote many research projects for reducing noise and emissions for the new generation of airplane and helicopter engines.
Q: Although the basis of the institute’s activity is related to applications for aeronautics, the oil and gas industry was not left aside. What is the current share for the two activities, from the numerical and the value points of view?
Valentin Silivestru: From the numerical point of view it is hard to appreciate the weight of each activity, as they are not clearly delimited; there are groups working in both sectors. The best part is that the know-how transfer from one area to another is easy (from aviation to the industrial field). Looking at the values, we see the field of oil and gas is the strongest one, including research, production and service. The oil and gas area is about 50 percent of our activity and has always been a good basis; when registering syncope in budgetary financing, this area helped us overcome the situation. I believe this balance will remain the same further on, although during the last year and a half, we joined the activity in the space field. Romania has become a member of the European Space Agency and every year it takes part with a considerable amount of money, money returned through projects. There aren’t many actors in this specialized and emergent market.
Q: More exactly, what are the new modernizations within the institute about?
Valentin Silivestru: We have always had in view the better endowment of the institute, as the main resource is represented by people/researchers, and the second one is represented by equipments, which we tried to improve to European and international level. We have the necessary knowledge in the field and, as we work together with foreign partners, we were informed about the required level, mostly imposed by them. The most important modernization carried out lately is the new stand for turbo-engines tests built with governmental funds. The project, acquired in 2008, started after 2011 and has now outstanding endowments. We had an experimental base for turbo-reactor engines, built during the ‘80s, however it was improper, a new experimental base was needed. Initially we wanted to build it outside the capital, but in the end we decided to place it in the centre of the institute, along with other experimental bases, due to the extra facilities and because all utilities are available. The experimental base is up to date, the stand being made up by three cells: only one of the old ones has been modernized and is reused, the other two being brand new. The one we mostly take pride of is the cell to test axial engines, be they helicopter engines, engines for natural gas compressors or engines for naval propellers, turbo-propulsive engines for airplanes.
Thus we are able to test engines with powers of 5-5.5 MW. The command and control system is modern, similar to the ones other renowned researchers in the world have. This allows us to develop programmes and projects on domestic and international planes. The stand is unique in the country from the point of view of the equipments’ power.
Q: What impact do you envisage on future programmes and projects coming from the recent modernizations and the new facilities of the institute? What kind of benefit would they bring to your business partners?
Valentin Silivestru: We are about to finalize the first contract and the customers are satisfied. For example, for Transgaz we finalized the repairs of a power-turbine from the SOLAR group. Until now the tests were carried out abroad, now we have the test stand. Besides, along with the research activity for our engines, we are trying to cover the area of repairs for industrial and naval engines for the above mentioned power range, as there is an important demand on the market.
Q: What influences on INCDT Comoti’s activity has the price increase of natural gas as well as the issue of securing regional supply with resources?
Valentin Silivestru: The natural gas price increase is having a positive influence on us, as even the selling of sources with small debit and reduced pressure becomes efficient, meaning the use of compressors becomes efficient. Comoti is an important player on this market. Lately we have developed together with GHH-Rand a high pressure class of compressors, up to 45 - 50 bar, in order to replace the technically outdated energy-intensive compressors. Some 20 - 30 years ago the price of gas was not so important, but now the price increase will lead to opting for energy-efficient equipments. The gas price increase will lead to the replacement of old equipments with energy-efficient ones and this is what Comoti is doing. We have patented in this regard a new product, the turbo-expander, meant to recuperate expansion energy which otherwise is wasted. There is demand for this product, but firstly we have to finalize the homologation process, the prototype being under testing at the Transgaz’ Onesti station. We look forward to finalize this important step of the homologation process this autumn.
Q: We are aware of the fact that the compressors produced by Comoti are on high demand from foreign partners. How have the exports evolved lately (what external markets have you had in view)? What about domestic production (cooperation with domestic partners)?
Valentin Silivestru: Referring to the gas compressors, we are already producing screw compressors under license for six years, only the unit itself. Six years ago GHH-Rand transferred us the production license and, according to the contract, we have had access to the network of international clients as well. Our production increased yearly and we export our compressors worldwide – to Germany, Italy, Chile, Taiwan, the US, Canada, the Netherlands, to the Russian Federation – we are talking about the unit.
As far as the package is concerned, we have sold on the domestic market 120 such packages to OMV Petrom. Furthermore, we have sold packages to the Czech Republic and to the Russian Federation. We were testing the Libyan market – as an important local gas producer was facing the same problems of low pressure – but the war started... We are testing new markets in the Middle East, in Pakistan, wherever there is demand. For us 2014 will conclude in a positive way. We have inaugurated a station at Mandresti-Munteni, Vrancea County. For the domestic market we started producing the next class of 45 bar and we envisage even replacement of the piston engines groups.
As new partners on the local market, we have a request coming from Raffles Energy for an experimental model powered by a Caterpillar engine, currently under tests. The screw engines solution will replace older piston engines. Experiments prove it is energy-efficient to replace piston compressors with screw compressors, as the investment can be cleared off in one year’s time, one year and a half.
Q: On global scale there is a tendency to promote environment-friendly technologies and products, a tendency followed also by Romania. What contribution has INCDT Comoti in this regard?
Valentin Silivestru: The first example is the expander we were talking about: we use energy that was wasted before, it is clean energy, an advantage for the environment. We carried out a countrywide investigation and we found out we could recoup at least 10 installed MW, referring to power. Besides Transgaz, we received demands from Electrocentrale Bucharest to replace energy-consuming old equipments. For example, by replacing them with new equipments the energy consumption drops by almost 50 percent, an important benefit. More than that, sustainable solutions lead to significant savings, maintenance costs drop, etc.
Q: In your field of activity the situation seems to be improving... I am referring to the EY report for this year, which reveals that Europe’s coming out of the recession is confirmed by the increasing number of investments in projects focused on innovation. Hence, in the research-development field a significant 23 percent growth against the previous period is noticed. What about Comoti? What programmes/projects are on your agenda for the future, on domestic and international plane?
Valentin Silivestru: In Europe there is a clear direction: there is one way of development involving scientific creation and innovation. Hence, attempts were made to increase the funds for research within the FP 7 frame programme (EUR 45 million allotted), while for the Orizont 2020 programme EUR 80 million is allotted in view of research in various fields, there is no doubt about it. Romania is trying to increase these funds as much as possible and we get the support. Within a programme called ‘Equipments of national interest’ some of our hi-tech equipments were accepted for financing. This represents support for research, because until now such costs were borne by us. There is also a trend to set up new ‘bridges’ between East and West in the field of research. As far as we are concerned, there in interest from our French and German partners to further cooperate with us, as they know the Romanians’ professional abilities.
Q: Besides optimism, one characteristic you are not lacking, what other ‘technical’ features do you think a young man’s CV should include so that he could join the research work? What advice would you give to a potential applicant?
Valentin Silivestru: First of all, one needs to be well trained for the current high level of research, which has to be carried on further. If the person is not well trained, it stands no change in this field. Secondly, he has to love his work enormously, to work passionately. It may be that things don’t go as planned at the beginning, at first he may earn less money than a sales department worker for example. On the other hand, there are other things that matter... the satisfaction of a work well done when you succeed is greater than anything else. I don’t understand why nowadays many youngsters are so focused on earnings. This is only one of the aspects... and maybe not the one bringing most satisfactions. Education is very important in stimulating the young, teachers should know how to educate them to understand the satisfaction of a job well done. Another stimulating factor is the possibility to take part to European projects. By having connections with colleagues from other countries they would notice that differences are not that big and that labour has value indeed.
Q: As researcher and teacher you have a special vision on technology, science and innovation. How do you succeed, as manager, to motivate your team in order to meet the high exigencies of the academic environment as well as the ones of financial challenges?
Valentin Silivestru: Passion is the secret. The institute needs indeed to be run as a business, but things are not that simple. The statute of national institute for research-development is regulated by the legal framework reading that by the end of the year we have to register profit. The profit is divided 20 percent to employees, part of it goes to other projects and another one for endowment/modernization so that the money stays with the institute. Although I didn’t like the idea at the very beginning, I’ve got used to being both researcher and manager. As manager I have the opportunity, together with the board, to set the strategic directions, things get together from the technical, economic and financial points of view. We face challenges all the time, new project lie ahead, giving us the opportunity to put in practice our experience.