At the EuroCentral Regional User Meeting, we spoke to Benoît Cousin, an engineer at Swiss startup firm ECCUS, which is focused on underground storage and production solutions, to find out why simulation is so important in his line of work.
It’s been four short years since Benoît Cousin, an engineer at ECCUS, graduated from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
“I found my purpose when I started engineering school. That really drove me in life. During my master’s degree at EPFL, I focused on energy recovery in tunnels, looking at how the heat in those spaces could be used in an innovative way to provide energy to the buildings on the surface,” Cousin said.
ECCUS, established in 2020 by Andrew Bourget, who worked alongside Cousin at EPFL, provides underground storage facilities, called ECO-Cavernes®. These innovative, underground cavernes offer a cost- and energy-efficient alternative to building on land for companies with large space requirements, such as those in technology, energy, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and logistics industries. These land-saving spaces can be used for anything from data centers to battery storage or wine cellars – even as a holding facility for luxury cars.
“There’s more and more competition between industry development and the preservation of land,” Cousin said. “At the same time, we are seeing the robotization and automatization of industry. So basically, we are destroying natural land to build large empty factories filled with robots and automation.”
The concept of ECCUS is actually to hide the facilities underground and maintain their safety. “This allows more industries to be located near cities, which is a major advantage,” Cousin said. “It means there’s less of a requirement for logistics since the products are closer to the end user.”
Creating a cost-effective ECO-Caverne that could meet the unique needs of industry was no easy feat.
“Heat management was a big design challenge,” Cousin said. “First – of course – these spaces need to be fire safe, so we created a completely airtight system so that oxygen is reduced. This means we have to carefully manage the heat generated by machines used in the space. Any robotized production, for example, will generate heat. The contained air will get hot, and then heat the ground around it. At some point, you will reach temperatures that are not acceptable for the operation of the ECO-Caverne.”
To meet this challenge and validate a solution in a timely and cost-effective way, Cousin used his knowledge of geo-structures, along with CATIA, GEOVIA and the fluid flow and thermal simulation capabilities of SIMULIA Fluid Dynamics Engineer role on Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform. A cloud deployment of the platform also made sense for ECCUS as it provides access to enterprise-grade technology without the associated upfront costs.
“We designed two different heat management systems,” Cousin said. “The first is a prefabricated cladding which benefits from cold water loops that regulate the temperature. The second system is a geothermal loop integrated into the structural lining of the ECO-Caverne. What’s clever is that we can either get rid of this heat, or allow it to be used by companies located above ground.”
These systems were imagined, designed and created using a unified modeling and simulation approach with CATIA for 3D design and SIMULIA thermal analysis and parametric design study applications on Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The simulation capabilities in SIMULIA are crucial for modeling the thermal behavior of the ECO-Caverne™, as well as defining the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and electrical system requirements. “We use the thermal numerical analysis tools in our design process to reduce energy requirements and ensure the proper design and regulation of the ECO-Caverne’s™ temperature and humidity,” Cousin said. “We’re currently using SIMULIA to determine where to place the ventilators and see what the airflow needs are.”
“We were delighted when the simulations demonstrated that the systems would work as we anticipated,” said Cousin. “I was really impressed with what we could achieve using the software.” Having a link between the 3D model and the simulation is particularly useful to Cousin. “What’s amazing with SIMULIA is your simulation is linked to the 3D model. Once you define your simulation then apply all the boundary conditions, you can easily change a parameter and all the simulations are adjusted automatically to optimize your 3D model,” he said. “This is invaluable.”
But Cousin and his team didn’t just use CATIA and SIMULIA to design the heat management systems – they used it to create a catalog of pre-designed ECO-Cavernes, which can then be adjusted according to individual customer requirements.
“We used CATIA SIMULIA applications within the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to create the user-defined features (UDFs) of our underground spaces,” said Cousin. “Thanks to these tools, we can implement the ECO-Cavernes into any site in 3D, and have the project ready in less than a day.”
The UDFs allow Cousin and his team a great deal of flexibility. “We work within a set of parameters,” he said. “So we can adjust our designs according to the ground conditions, for example. The tools within CATIA and GEOVIA allow us to create a 3D model of the geology of the site, and then we can see where – and how deep – to install the shafts that are used to access the ECO-Cavernes. Using the resulting drawings – which take less than a day to create – we can then make a building permit application.”
The robust document management and project capabilities of the ENOVIA applications also on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, enable ECCUS to manage the lifecycle of its technical models and documents, but also its financial, commercial and administrative documentation.
Cousin said the process is as simple as buying a car. “The idea is that most of the work is done before the client places their order,” he said. “Because we have a 3D model, we can show the client what we are going to deliver, and in a realistic way.”
The next challenge is to actually build an ECO-Caverne to see if it works in real life. Cousin is optimistic. “We expect to have our first contract before the end of 2022, and start digging at the start of 2023,” he said. “This is a big step for us. We’ve spent two years working with 3D models and simulation, but we are really excited about building our first full-size physical prototype.
If it all goes to plan, Cousin expects to scale at a relatively fast pace. “While ECCUS acts like a construction company, it thinks like a car manufacturer,” he said. “So once we have one or two prototypes, we can adapt our model as necessary and start selling ECO-Cavernes not only across Switzerland and Europe but across the world and maybe on Mars.”
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