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Development of a Multi-robotic System for Exploration of Biomass Power Plants


Abstract and Figures

Biomass Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (BIGCC) is a power generation technology which has been vastly used in past years. Maintaining those power plants are very crucial due to having various risk of hazards. In order to increase workers safety and reduce property losses, common faults which are reported in BIGCC based power plants were investigated in this paper. Also, a fault detection methods using multi-robot system was proposed. Therefore, autonomous group of robots were used for achieving continuous inspection in BIGCC power plants. The inspection scenario and implementation of the proposed scenario were conducted with simulation software, V-rep. Two types of mobile robots, ground and flying robots, have been deployed.
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Development of a Multi-robotic System for
Exploration of Biomass Power Plants
Sihai An, Farshad Arvin, Simon Watson, and Barry Lennox
Abstract—Biomass Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle
(BIGCC) is a power generation technology which has been
vastly used in past years. Maintaining those power plants are
very crucial due to having various risk of hazards. In order
to increase workers safety and reduce property losses, common
faults which are reported in BIGCC based power plants were
investigated in this paper. Also, a fault detection methods using
multi-robot system was proposed. Therefore, autonomous group
of robots were used for achieving continuous inspection in BIGCC
power plants. The inspection scenario and implementation of the
proposed scenario were conducted with simulation software, V-
rep. Two types of mobile robots, ground and flying robots, have
been deployed.
Index Terms—Exploration, Autonomous System, Mobile
Robots, Extreme Environments
Inspection using robotic platforms has become an
important research topic in recent years. Particularly, some
patrolling robots have been developed for smart industry
in petroleum [1], chemical industry [2], power plant [3]
and other applications [4]. With regard to single robot
inspection, the robot for visual inspection of nuclear plants
were proposed in [5] [6]. The proposed robot can reduces
human involvement in inspection of nuclear radioactive area.
In a recent study [7], an aircraft fuel tank inspection robot
was developed. It decreases the workload of aircraft crew and
improves the maintenance efficiency. Although using single
robot for inspection is an efficient approach, multi-robotics
has shown better performance to solve exploration tasks in
complex and unknown environments [8]. As an example, an
inspection of jet engine turbine using miniature swarm robots
were proposed in [9]. In another study, an application of
swarm robotics in crops inspection for precision agriculture
was proposed in [10]. The custom robotic systems can be the
one main reliable solutions for industry.
BIGCC is an advanced power system to extract energy
from renewable biomass sources. There are nearly 2000
biomass power plants producing a total of 22.5 GW in over
40 countries [11]. BIGCC usually containing 13 key sub-
systems as listed in Table I. It can achieve zero emission
to offer good performance on environmental protection [12].
However, several flaws remained in BIGCC. The gasification
is a dangerous process and it may pose issues of Occupational
Safety and Health (OSH) for workers and environmental
damage [13]. In August 2017, a man had multiple injuries of
All the authors are with the Robotics for Extreme Environments Lab at the
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, The University of Manchester,
UK. (email:
serious burns after an explosion in a gasification plant [14]. Six
weeks later, two men were badly hurt in another gasification
plant again [14]. In addition to the reported accidents, various
risks exist in the power system. To identify the dangerous
causes of BIGCC power plant, some general faults of power
plants were listed in Table I. These issues of the power system
have drawn a great risk to the 1.2 million workers [15].
Numerous people have to face a series challenge on their
works for each family’s well-beings.
Monitoring of power system equipment is an indispensable
process for their sustainability and continuous maintenance.
Some invention has been proposed and implemented. Wall-
climbing robot was proposed for inspection of nuclear plants
equipment [16]. Application of robots for tank inspection
in power plant was proposed in [17]. Recently, a multi-
function pipe inspection robot was proposed in [18]. These
robots have helped engineers for inspection and maintenance
in some extent. These inspection robots were most suitable
for static environments and it has to cooperated with human
operator. An advanced way for monitoring dynamic power
system is using an automated guided vehicle (AGV). It have
been utilized to follow a certain path [19] and integrated
sound, light, electricity and computer [20]. In addition, another
forward research that is using robot service to renewable wind-
farm was developed in [21].
In summary, inspection using mobile robots still has a room
for improvement in the dynamic power system. Single robot
deployed for large scale energy system has limitations by its
ability, such as running speed, power capacity of unmanned
aerial vehicle (UAVs), multi inspection tasks, inspection
frequency etc. Multi-robotics system has strong robustness
which made robotics system becomes flexible and scaleable.
However, inspection using autonomous multi-robots for the
renewable energy system is demanding research area. The
project has broad prospects and generality that is focused on
to solve real-world problems by integrating robotic technology
into the renewable energy system, it also contributes to the
body of knowledge in the multi-robotics technology. This work
aims at providing a reliable autonomous multi-robot system
to carry out continuous patrolling tasks, specifically to help
to inspector keep away from hazard areas of a power system.
The proposed multi-robotic solution in this study will be able
to cover inspection tasks of full-scale biomass power plant.
A. Research Question
BIGCC technology has several immaturities as listed in
Table I. Any faults in BIGCC power plant will result in
BIGCC-Subsystem Functionality Problem, Running Condition Consequence
Biomass Raw Material
Handling System
also called pulverization stage, which convert the raw
biomass material to the small pellets dust explosions, self ignition,
off-gassing of bacteria, fungi
worker fatalities,
loss of production,
power plant destruction,
operator OSH,
gas/steam turbine
or generator damaged,
electricity black-out in
large scale,
terminal user unsatisfied,
power plant maintenance
Biomass Storage System for storage the wet biomass pellets, general its a
circular shapes tank.
Biomass Feeding System for delivery of the treated pellets to the carbonization
system. Typically, it’s a closed screw feeder. noise
Carbonization System
remove the different moisture content (MC%) from
biomass pellets for reduce the gasification system
primilary energy cost.
self ignition
Air Booster System pump the compressed air to gasification and gas
power system. high temperature, pressure
Gasification System
which is the key part of the BIGCC power technology,
the function of gasifer is transfer the solid fuel to gases
fuel after a series gasification process.
syn-gas leakage,
Tar Remove System for remove the tar from syn-gas, this process will start
after gasification transfer process. high temperature, pressure
Syn-Gas Purification System remove the ash and impurities from syn-gas. such as:
C, SiO2, COS, NH3, H2S etc. combustible leakage
Gas Power System for electricity generation, which is decide the entire
power system energy utilization factor. generator excessive
vibration and overheating,
tube corrosion, leakage,
noise, output voltage level
over accepted level
Steam Power System
Heat Recovery Steam Generator (HRSG) system was
the main part of steam power system, which is used
for recovery thermal energy from hot flue-gas, this
process is for highly system net thermal efficiency.
Heating System recovery the bleeding from power cycle for supply
hot water to terminal user.
output water temperature
higher/lower than accept level
Refrigeration System recovery waste heat from power cycle for support
cold requirements. refrigerator fault
Back-up System support power to user when the BIGCC system
maintenance or fault happening. back up system start time delay
injuries to workers and property losses. It is essential to
provide continuous monitoring of the facilities using intelligent
devices. Multi-robotic solutions will improve the performance
of monitoring for this kind of long-term exploration of large
B. BIGCC Scenario Development
BIGCC system generally containing different sub-systems,
the detail was as listed in Table I. Each sub-system have
been built in V-Rep software. The primary model work was
as shown in Fig. 1. The BIGCC model developed from raw
biomass material handling process, main energy converting
process, power generation cycles etc until the electricity output
processes. General and faulty, two modes will be conducted
in to the experimental. Such as: steam leakage, tube overheat,
switching operation, parameter calibration with control center,
self ignition, cable trench inspection etc.
C. Multi-Robotics System
1) Flying Robot – Trailbreaker: Trailbreaker is a four-axis
UAVs robot as shown in Fig. 2. The Trailbreaker robot was
allowed in six degree of freedom (DOF) flying. For gathering
data from BIGCC, sensing equipment will be attached to group
of Trailbreaker robots.
Energy radiation around everywhere in BIGCC, which
provides good opportunities for monitoring the temperature of
each subsystem. While, each sub-system of BIGCC running
in a constant state. The temperature values of each pipelines
or subsystems will exist in a constant value. Thermal camera
will be employed into the robot system for detect the energy
emission of BIGCC. A thermal map therefore can be generated
in time, while a set of normal threshold value will be added
in the robot system. Thus, monitoring of temperature fault
will be achieved Trailbreakers. In another hand with regard
to others issues of BIGCC, for example leakage, open flames
or some instrument parameter reading etc, is indispensable
tasks to the inspection robot as well. Additional vision system
will be equipped on-board of Trailbreaker robots for guarantee
more redundancy of inspection process.
2) Ground Robot – Wheeljack: Wheeljack, is an unmanned
ground vehicle (UGV) robot as shown in Fig. 3. The
Wheeljack is designed to cover the missing inspection points
from Trailbreaker. In the other hand, the main contribution of
Wheeljeack is fix general issues of Biomass-IGCCs.
Road boundary detection and obstacle avoidance are
essential task to the robot inspection. Unknown environmental
and multi obstacles of BIGCC has made inspection process
more complexity. A high-resolution camera and radar system
has designed and employed in Wheeljack robots. The
Wheeljack robot was able to directly measure the range,
velocity, and azimuth angle of obstacles [22]. With these
equipment deployed, the inspection of robot system performed
with excellent quality on problem judgement. Different
accessories will be employed with regard to debug process
of Wheeljack, such as a cooling tank for overheat problem, a
fire extinguisher for ignition or an additional manipulator for
transfer the wounded operators, etc.
3) Multi-Robotics system control mechanisms: A hybrid
architecture (combine centralized and distributed) will be
Fig. 1. A model of Biomass-IGCC Power Plant developed in V-rep
attempted to deployed in Heterogeneous robot system. The
Trailbreaker, Wheeljack and base station will cooperate with
each others to conduct the exploration tasks. The tasks for
robot system will be classified to different priority levels.
Trailbreaker and Wheeljack will be allowed to command
each other. Wheeljack collective behaviours will judged by
Trailbreaker. Feedback mechanism will be deployed when an
unreasonable command received. Each robot will broadcast
a signal of itself current status to its own team, as well as
around robot. The signal information, such as current position,
inspection missions and priority levels, fault information,
state of power etc. Additionally, heterogeneous robot system
will be separated into different small teams. Wheeljack and
Trailbreaker will be treated to different agent groups. Each
groups will performing inspection in autonomous and worked
at a specified area.
D. V-Rep Implementation
V-Rep is a free simulator for education with versatile and
scaleable framework for modelling robotics. It is vastly used
in the academic as well as industrial applications [23]. In this
project, V-Rep will be employed for carrying out the entire
system modelling work. The simulation process will be split
into four steps:
Building a biomass power plant model. This will be
achieved by utilizing the various physics and graphics
libraries in the V-Rep. Some of sub-systems will be
specially designed compared with real case, for example
ignition of storage system, feeding water temperature of
power systems.
Building and control heterogeneous multi-robot model.
To utilizing the V-Rep robot simulator and controller.
Such as a robot motion control: (a) define the desired
robot position (b) using V-Rep to calculate the kinematics
for each motor (c) assigning the calculated motor
positions to be used as target positions by the dynamics
module [24]
Fig. 2. A model of Trailbreaker Robot
Fig. 3. A model of Wheeljack Robot
Group robot inspection synergy design. This relative on
architecture, communication, the collective mechanism
(multi-task allocation, multi-robot path planning),
collective localization and mapping and target following
etc. More detail can be check in [24]
The entire system modelling and implementation.
Calibrating the power plant and robot model to general
states. Dynamic experimental of proposed system under
different modules calling. The modules detail can be
found in [23]
The representative of data has various limitations,
e.g. simulation random fault cannot represent the real
A large scale scenario is difficult to develop in simulators,
e.g. details may be ignored or results may contain
unrealistic values.
In a real-world experiments, robots are not be able
to conducted complex task probability due to their
processing or communication limits.
The project has broad prospects and generality that is
focused on to solve real-world problem by integrating
advanced robotic technology in the renewable smart grid.
Three originality details are as follow:
This project has a wide range of applications. The
proposed robot system has ability to performing
inspection in any power or similar power plant, such as
gas, thermal or nuclear.
Monitoring a large scale facility using a group robot.
This is inspired by the collective behaviour of ants
or honeybees. This project will improve the inspection
performance, and propose new applications for group
robotic systems
Integrating heterogeneous multi-robot and smart
renewable grid together. This project will help in
building the first world smart autonomous renewable
energy system
Two objectives will be the main research direction of this
Exploration of a BIGCC using the heterogeneous multi-
robot system
Development of collective control mechanisms for multi-
robot system
This work was supported by EPSRC RNE (No.
EP/P01366X/1) and EPSRC RAIN (No. EP/R026084/1)
projects. The Wheeljack robot’s V-rep model was developed
by Craig West at the Bristol Robotic Lab.
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... The criteria matrices, alternatives criteria and different parameters for AHP methods used for comparing different control architecture are illustrated in the Tables 6,7,8,9. Then, we can find the value Fr T ×W for the two types of architectures as follow: ...
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