Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Welcome to the (New) Biomass Energy Research Laboratory

Hey everyone.

Been a while since I last updated.

So how do you do? Anybody died when I was away? I've gotta say that I have been away for quite some time now. I have found myself in pretty caught up situations, blanketed with works, sandwiched by researches and dunked by both. But now that I've managed to steal some time from my otherwise full schedule, let's talk about what I've been doing since the last few weeks.

During my days as a master student, I was given the responsibility to take care of the biomass energy laboratory in UTP. This means that I was the more or less the research officer cum laboratory head for biomass energy research under the Hybrid Energy System mission oriented research division of the university. My responsibility was to make sure that the laboratory was kept at a satisfactory state in terms of cleanliness, housekeeping, tool storage, reactor conditions and everything else alike. There were three laboratories at three different locations under my supervision when I was the leader of ongoing research. 

But then when I was completing my master's thesis, I didn't have much time to take care of the labs so stepped down and handed over the labs to my colleagues. When I gave them the keys, I did not think, nor I ever did step into the labs anymore.

Recently, as I am now continuing my PhD in the same university, I took my first step into the lab after almost a year and dear good God's heaven the place looked like the set for some World War II movies. Either that, or it served well as a backdrop for some drug addict-infested abandoned warehouse or something. That was the first surprise. The second surprise was that there will be a visit by Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) officers in less than two weeks to come then, and when we talk about the people from the HSE, they are more or less the cops in plant operation and engineering practice. And while everyone was hyped about the visit and about the fact that the current biomass laboratory might won't make it if it was to be audited by the HSE (we were even looking at the possibility of losing the entire research building), I was juggling pencils and papers during the meeting, thinking about what to eat for dinner aka I was not interested at all. 

And all of a sudden, they appointed me as, again, the lab leader, keeper, coordinator and all the related ranks and titles combined, based on what appeared to be a mutual understanding. 

"Your first duty," one of the big bosses said, "is that you have to make sure that the laboratory passes the Tier 1 HSE audit at all costs and ways possible."

That was the third surprise. 

This was what I saw after my first step into the lab.

* * *

When I entered the lab for the second time (this time much deeper and closer to the center of the lab), the first thing I noticed was that the entire interior was peppered with dusts, probably from the countless indoor combustion experiments that showered the ambient air with suspended particles. The entire area was messy and, for some certain reasons unknown then, smelly. The smell, I try best to describe, was similar to that of some dead animals being crammed into a pail half-filled with water and left to disintegrate for at least two months. Locating the smell wasn't that hard, and I ended with three large piles of some gooey stuffs stored in ordinary plastic bags. 

Well it didn't take so long for me to realize that they were bags of semi-treated human waste samples. 

Gawd damn, man, the stench.

I did a few walkabout around the laboratory floor and into each of the rooms surrounding it, where every room had its own bowl of surprises at a climbing scale after one another. Overall, there were a lot of things to be done with the lab and there I was in the middle of it, not knowing where to start. 

So I decided to start with the logo first.

The result after one hour with Adobe Photoshop CS4

Then I came out with a Transformation Plan report for the entire laboratory where the transformation timeline, HSE conduct, risk analysis and budgetary report were included for the bosses' review and to show that I did some work here and there, just so that they won't lose their heads towards the HSE inspection day.

Once done with the documentation, I started working. Here are some of the photos taken before and after the transformation plan. I did them all alone by myself, by the way. 

* * *

The Oven Room

This room was previously locked so I had to break it open using a hammer. It was full with those decomposed oil palm fronds in as-received size and also in cuts. The air inside was stale since the only window of the room was closed at all time. I could say that the room had been left for months. So I cleaned it up and now it serves as an oven and balance room. 

The Flame Propagation Chamber Room

This room was previously used as a biomass storage room but I saw it as unsuitable. So I took out all the unclaimed biomass fuel and disassembled all the racks and remove everything out of the room. In return, using a 2-ton capacity fork trolley, I moved the almost 1-ton in weight flame propagation test chamber and placed it there. Almost broke my back anyway, lifting that thing up manually.

Outdoor Gas Storage Center

During when the USM peeps were occupying this laboratory back in the late 90's, it served as a chemistry lab. So usually one of this outdoor gas storage was built to keep the LPG tanks used for Bunsen burners out of the lab while in the same time able to supply the fuel gas via an underground pipeline. Today, the pipeline is no longer used. The storage space was abandoned and was not properly taken care of, so I cleaned it up with a broom. Using a gas tank trolley, I removed all 15 gas tanks that is around 300 kg each that were left scattered in the lab and stored them here. The relocation job was an absolute hell. It was not easy to lift a 300-kg gas tank with pressurized flammable, explosive and toxic gases stored within down the 10-inch floor elevation to the gangway and again lifted it up back to 10-inch elevation using nothing but human power, a battered gas trolley and a knowledge in physics. And then came the risks. If I had accidentally dropped any of the tanks, doom awaited. I could be projected straight to the moon and NASA has to go all the way just to fetch me up. But I made it in the end anyway, and my back didn't go straight for almost a week. 

The Combustion Area

The combustion area is just an experimental space dedicated for combustion. When I first came, there were PVC pipes, water pipes, 3-phase electrical cables, biomass residues, sands, some unknown materials and other things you don't really wanna know about. As usual, I took a broom and started cleaning up. Took me one whole day to remove all the stains and whatnot. 


The Computer Set

The computer set was bought during my time to assist data reading, recording and interpretation works but from the looks of it it had suffered a very long, dusty and hot vacation under those plastic covers. It was real sad, really. When it was under my care, I cleaned it up every week and keep it in good conditions at all time. So I took all the wires off and cleaned every and each piece of the entire set. Then I built a mobile desk unit using some junks I found in the lab and now the computer is in a mobile mode and can be moved around. When not in use, it can be stored inside the oven room to protect it from suspended particles in air. 

What happened to all the biomass?

This happened. I disposed them all by means of firing at around 1000-1300 degree Celsius inside one of the reactors. The biomass was no longer suitable for any experiment so might as well I burn all of it down in fire. 

Best Friends Ever

These two metal equipment were (and still are) my best friends in the laboratory floor. One of them is the jack crane with 2-ton lifting capacity and the other one is the fork trolley with 2.5 ton lifting capacity. I assembled the jack crane myself, and I don't even want to talk about how it went. It was seriously a really bad memory to even begin with. LOL. But yeah they helped me a lot during the transformation process of the laboratory.

I'm Now a Certified Amah

I had to become a real hardcore amah when it came to cleaning the tables. I scrubbed the entire tabletops with one Good Morning towel that I pow-ed from one of the shelves. You can see the differences before and after cleanup in the above image. If any of you people need some tabletop cleaning, call me. Price can nego. 


So I had to put up this poster just so that people in the lab will be aware that they have some real shits, no pun intended, around them. It freaked the hell out of some of our guys, though. Hopefully the biohazard materials are the worse thing even stored in my lab. I don't want any of my kids to turn into some kind of mutated monsters if they decided to store radioactive and heavily toxic agents in my lab soon. 

But to have a genetically-mutated turtle than can pull some ninja moves is kinda awesome, though. Never mind, you guys can store radioactive materials in my lab alright, I won't care.

So above is the current view of my lab after the transformation work was completed. Pretty neat, huh? Now everything is in order and the safety conduct in the entire lab has been improved. Great news is that the HSE Tier 1 inspection occurred this morning and the lab passed with flying colors! Alhamdulillah, all the backache and hard works were worth it!

* * *

I took this photo during the biomass disposal by firing, when the morning sun penetrated the thick smoke through the thick glass window and shone directly on this one blower. For some reasons, I love the photo. It's just...deep.

Don't you think so too?

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