In the second half of 1980’s, a rich local businessman with textile plants in Istanbul and Edirne, called us. In his textile plants, energy costs were getting high. To be competitive in the international markets, he was considering to invest in a new power plant to utilize cheap local coal available nearby to meet the energy and steam demand of the plants. Thrace Saray local coal has very low calorific value (1500-2000 kcal/kg lhv) and very high moisture content (50-60%). Our North American based joint venter partner advised that they had no matching thermal power plant designed for this coal.
We had no internet at that time. We reviewed available literature and technical magazines to find an appropriate boiler supplier with reliable references with similar coal firing experience in the world. Then we found a boiler company in Finland, in Tampere, called Tampella Oy. They were firing a similar coal with a new bubbling fluidized bed combustion technology at high output capacities. Today there is nothing left unknown for this technology. There are thousands of similar references in operation.
So we made first contact through a fax machine. The company asked for coal samples to fire in their test stand to see if they could design appropriate design to match combustibles. We transferred the request to our investor. Since they were textile exporters to Europe, it was very easy for them to mobilize for the transportation of 50-ton coal sample from a coal mine to Tampere, Finland. Then we made travel plans to go to Tampere to witness the coal firing tests in their laboratory. Today there are 2-daily Thy flights from Istanbul to Helsinski, but back then in 1980’s, we had only one flight per week.
So we chose the Lufthansa, Ankara-Munich- Helsinki route. From the Helsinki airport we took a train to the city center then moved to local train to Tampere for three more hours. We checked in our city hotel late at night. The next day, our Finnish company met us at the breakfast lounge, took us to their head office for an exchange of information. Then after lunch, we were invited to the test lab to observe the test combustion. The boiler design was consistent, the test was satisfactory. We drafted our cooperation and license agreements, agreed on scope split, an tentative timetable to finalize our joint proposal. The next day we returned home through the same route.
At that time, Finnish engineers had no international experience, all their references were in their home market. Their new basic design took some time to complete. Their income expectations were high above prevailing market prices. Anyway, they completed their design, priced their scope, and advised details of non-critical parts in our scope. So we made estimations to price our scope, plus a steam turbine and its auxiliaries, both scopes were brought together. Then we submitted our final joint proposal to our end customer in Istanbul.
During the evaluation period, Finnish engineers came to Turkey, visited us in Ankara, then we together visited the client in their Istanbul head office and Edirne plant.
The owner of the textile plant was an experienced mechanical engineer with a post-graduate degree from a reputable European university. He could speak English, French and German since. I suppose he could also speak Spanish and Italian.
In his Istanbul office, he had priceless oil paintings of famous painters from Ottoman period. From time to time, he was inviting me to his office and asking clarifications of our proposal, where I would often spend the whole day in his office. During that time, I was witnessing his daily work load, his business transactions, marketing sales, logistics, finance, operation, staff problems. Sometimes I had got a headache watching as his life was not enviable.
On the weekend, on Friday evening, he would fly to the west coast of Ireland, boarding on his ocean boat, with a 10-men professional crew for training to prepare for an upcoming international sailing race on the Atlantic ocean. But on Monday morning he was back in his office.
Our investor was not pleased with our high proposal price. Finnish engineers were not salesmen and they were not so responsive. Other competitors could not supply their counter proposals. All my documentation was stored in a single 3.5″ floppy disk in Word and Excel files. Since there are no longer available 3.5″ floppy disk readers slots in the existing PC computers, I had to transfer all those files to a USB stick to write this article. All letters, cooperation agreements, minutes of meetings, cooperation agreement, confidentiality agreements, estimation calculations were all stored on that 3.5″ floppy.
Today there is no need to transport coal samples abroad. There are test facilities in Turkish research institutes, Tubitak Marmara Gebze And in Metu Chemical engineering combustion laboratories. They have all the necessary facilities to test coal samples in bubbling and circulating fluid bed combustion chambers.
We had further contacts to understand the proposal evaluations, but it was not promising. There were no easy cheap, but unreliable far east proposals at that time. Due to ongoing economic difficulties, ups and downs of market forces, the investor company had gone into survival turmoil.
The Finnish boiler company was sold to an US conglomerate together with all its technology and know-how.
I got peer criticism from my own company, “that coal was hopeless, with no possibility to fire, you wasted company resources and you furnished consultancy without getting paid”. I don’t think so. We proved that local coal could be fired with appropriate fluid bed technology. It was an intelligent game between us. We had demand, we had a sound design, and financing was available. If the client was satisfied with design and price, we could end up with an order. We had an highly intelligent businessman, and we had the beauty of joint work.