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Ways To Increase Boiler Efficiency | Energy Conservation Opportunity in Boiler - Steam Generator

Updated: Feb 22, 2022


This section includes energy efficiency opportunities related to combustion, heat transfer, avoidable losses, auxiliary power consumption, water quality and blow down.

Energy losses and therefore energy efficiency opportunities in boilers can be related to combustion, heat transfer, avoidable losses, high auxiliary power consumption, water quality and blow down.

The various energy efficiency opportunities in a boiler system can be related to:

  1. Stack temperature control

  2. Feed water preheating using economizers

  3. Combustion air pre-heating.

  4. Incomplete combustion minimization

  5. Excess air control

  6. Radiation and convection heat loss avoidance

  7. Automatic blow down control

  8. Reduction of scaling and soot losses

  9. Reduction of boiler steam pressure

  10. Variable speed control for fans, blowers and pumps

  11. Controlling boiler loading

  12. Proper boiler scheduling

  13. Boiler replacement

These are explained in the sections below.

1. Stack Temperature Control

The stack temperature should be as low as possible. However, it should not be so low that water vapor in the exhaust condenses on the stack walls. This is important in fuels containing significant sulphur as low temperature can lead to sulphur dew point corrosion. Stack temperatures greater than 200°C indicates potential for recovery of waste heat. It also indicates the scaling of heat transfer/recovery equipment and hence the urgency of taking an early shut down for water / flue side cleaning.

2. Feed Water Preheating using Economizers

Typically, the flue gases leaving a modern 3-pass shell boiler are at temperatures of 200 to 300 degree centigrade. Thus, there is a potential to recover heat from these gases. The flue gas exit temperature from a boiler is usually maintained at a minimum of 200oC, so that the sulphur oxides in the flue gas do not condense and cause corrosion in heat transfer surfaces. When a clean fuel such as natural gas, LPG or gas oil is used, the economy of heat recovery must be worked out, as the flue gas temperature may be well below 200 degree centigrade. The potential for energy savings depends on the type of boiler installed and the fuel used. For atypically older model shell boiler, with a flue gas exit temperature of 260 degree centigrade, an economizer could be used to reduce it to 200 degree centigrade, increasing the feed water temperature by 15 degree centigrade. Increase in overall thermal efficiency would be in the order of 3 percent. For a modern 3-pass shell boiler firing natural gas with a flue gas exit temperature of 140 degree centigrade a condensing economizer would reduce the exit temperature to 65 degree centigrade increasing thermal efficiency by 5 percent.

3. Combustion Air Preheating

Combustion air preheating is an alternative to feed water heating. In order to improve thermal efficiency by 1 percent, the combustion air temperature must be raised by 20 degree centigrade. Most gas and oil burners used in a boiler plant are not designed for high air-preheat temperatures.

Modern burners can withstand much higher combustion air preheat, so it is possible to consider such units as heat ex-changers in the exit flue as an alternative to an economizer, when either space or a high feed water return temperature make it viable.

4. Incomplete Combustion

Incomplete combustion can arise from a shortage of air or surplus of fuel or poor distribution of fuel. It is usually obvious from the color or smoke, and must be corrected immediately.

In the case of oil and gas fired systems,CO or smoke (for oil fired systems only) with normal or high excess air indicates burner system problems. A more frequent cause of incomplete combustion is the poor mixing of fuel and air at the burner. Poor oil fires can result from improper viscosity, worn tips, canonization on tips and deterioration of diffuzers or spinner plates.

With coal firing, un-burned carbon can comprise a big loss. It occurs as grit carry-over or carbon-in-ash and may amount to more than 2 percent of the heat supplied to the boiler.

Non-uniform fuel size could be one of the reasons for incomplete combustion. In chain grate stokers, large lumps will not burn out completely, while small piece sand fines may block the air passage, thus causing poor air distribution. In sprinkler stokers, stoker grate condition, fuel distributors, wind box air regulation and over-fire systems can affect carbon loss. Increase in the fines in pulverized coal also increases carbon loss.

5. Excess Air Control

The table below gives the theoretical amount of air required for combustion of various types of fuel.

Excess air is required in all practical cases to ensure complete combustion, to allow for the normal variations in combustion and to ensure satisfactory stack conditions for some fuels. The optimum excess air level for maximum boiler efficiency occurs when the sum of the losses due to incomplete combustion and loss due to heat in flue gases is minimized. This level varies with furnace design, type of burner, fuel and process variables. It can be determined by conducting tests with different air fuel ratios.

Controlling excess air to an optimum level always results in reduction in flue gas losses; for every 1 percent reduction in excess air there is approximately 0.6 percent rise in efficiency.

Various methods are available to control the excess air:

  • Portable oxygen analyzers and draft gauges can be used to make periodic readings to guide the operator to manually adjust the flow of air for optimum operation. Excess air reduction up to 20 percent is feasible.

  • The most common method is the continuous oxygen analyzer with a local readout mounted draft gauge, by which the operator can adjust air flow. A further reduction of 10- 15 percent can be achieved over the previous system.

  • The same continuous oxygen analyzer can have a remote controlled pneumatic damper position-er, by which the readouts-are available in a control room. This enables an operator to remotely control a number of firing systems simultaneously.

The most sophisticated system is the automatic stack damper control, whose cost is really justified only for large systems.

6. Radiation and Convection Heat Loss Minimization

The external surfaces of a shell boiler are hotter than the surroundings. The surfaces thus lose heat to the surroundings depending on the surface area and the difference in temperature between the surface and the surroundings.

The heat loss from the boiler shell is normally a fixed energy loss, irrespective of the boiler output.With modern boiler designs,this may represent only1.5 percent on the gross calorific value at full rating, but will increase to around 6 percent, if the boiler operates at only 25 percent output.

Repairing or augmenting insulation can reduce heat loss through boiler walls and piping.

7. Automatic Blow down Control

Uncontrolled continuous blow down is very wasteful. Automatic blow down control scan be installed that sense and respond to boiler water conductivity and pH. A 10 percent blow down in a 15 kg/cm2 boiler results in 3 percent efficiency loss.

8. Reduction of Scaling and Soot Losses

In oil and coal-fired boilers, soot buildup on tubes acts as an insulator against heat transfer. Any such deposits should be removed on a regular basis. Elevated stack temperatures may indicate excessive soot buildup. Also same result will occur due to scaling on the water side. High exit gas temperatures at normal excess air indicate poor heat transfer performance. This condition can result from a gradual build-up of gas-side or waterside deposits. Waterside deposits require a review of water treatment procedures and tube cleaning to remove deposits. An estimated 1 percent efficiency loss occurs with every 22oC increase in stack temperature.

Stack temperature should be checked and recorded regularly as an indicator of soot deposits. When the flue gas temperature rises to about 20 oC above the temperature for a newly cleaned boiler, it is time to remove the soot deposits. It is therefore recommended to install dial type thermometer at the base of the stack to monitor the exhaust flue gas temperature.

It is estimated that 3 mm of soot can cause an increase in fuel consumption by 2.5 percent due to increased flue gas temperatures. Periodic off-line cleaning of radiant furnace surfaces, boiler tube banks, economizers and air heaters may be necessary to remove stubborn deposits.

9. Reduction of Boiler Steam Pressure

This is an effective means of reducing fuel consumption, if permissible, by as much as 1 to 2 percent. Lower steam pressure gives a lower saturated steam temperature and without stack heat recovery, a similar reduction in the temperature of the flue gas temperature results.

Steam is generated at pressures normally dictated by the highest pressure / temperature requirements for a particular process. In some cases, the process does not operate all the time, and there are periods when the boiler pressure could be reduced. But it must be remembered that any reduction of boiler pressure reduces the specific volume of the steam in the boiler, and effectively de-rates the boiler output. If the steam load exceeds the de-rated boiler output, carryover of water will occur. The energy manager should therefore consider the possible consequences of pressure reduction carefully, before recommending it. Pressure should be reduced in stages,and no more than a 20 percent reduction should be considered.

10.Variable Speed Control for Fans, Blowers and Pumps

Variable speed control is an important means of achieving energy savings. Generally, combustion air control is affected by throttling dampers fitted at forced and induced draft fans. Though dampers are simple means of control, they lack accuracy, giving poor control characteristics at the top and bottom of the operating range. In general, if the load characteristic of the boiler is variable, the possibility of replacing the dampers by a VSD should be evaluated.

11. Controlling Boiler Loading

The maximum efficiency of the boiler does not occur at full load, but at about two-thirds of the full load. If the load on the boiler decreases further, efficiency also tends to decrease. At zero output, the efficiency of the boiler is zero, and any fuel fired is used only to supply the losses. The factors affecting boiler efficiency are:

  • As the load falls, so does the value of the mass flow rate of the flue gases through the tubes. This reduction in flow rate for the same heat transfer area reduces the exit flue gas temperatures by a small extent, reducing the sensible heat loss.

  • Below half load, most combustion appliances need more excess air to burn the fuel completely. This increases the sensible heat loss.

In general, efficiency of the boiler reduces significantly below 25 percent of the rated load and operation of boilers below this level should be avoided as far as possible.

12. Proper Boiler Scheduling

Since, the optimum efficiency of boilers occurs at 65-85 percent of full load, it is usually more efficient, on the whole, to operate a fewer number of boilers at higher loads, than to operate a large number at low loads.

13. Boiler Replacement

The potential savings from replacing a boiler depend on the anticipated change in overall efficiency. A change in a boiler can be financially attractive if the existing boiler is:

  • Old and inefficient

  • Not capable of firing cheaper substitution fuel

  • Over or under-sized for present requirements

  • Not designed for ideal loading conditions

The feasibility study should examine all implications of long-term fuel availability and company growth plans. All financial and engineering factors should be considered. Since boiler plants traditionally have a useful life of well over 25 years, replacement must be carefully studied.


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