After close to 40 years in the boiler and combustion industry I have decided the time has come to put pen to paper and to jot down some of my experiences and learning to demystify the intricacies of combustion and its control. It is not uncommon to find engineering and operating staff partially or totally ignorant of the scientific principles behind combustion, boiler efficiency and boiler control, not to mention the characteristics of coal (solid fuels) and its impact on the combustion process. And quite often the little bit they do know is based on general opinion, hear-say and their own interpretation of their experiences in absence of proper guidance and training. (No, I am not pointing fingers at anyone in particular, but if the shoe fits, put it on.)

In my opinion many of the problems experienced in the boiler house originate much higher up in the organization, at management level. I once came across the following definitions pertaining to “management” which I consider appropriate:

  1. A manager is a person responsible for planning and directing the work of a group of individuals, monitoring their work, and taking corrective action when necessary.
  2. Management in all business and organizational activities is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively.

I see a lot of reference to goal setting, guidance and performance assessment above. It starts with defining a mission for steam plant operations, and then developing key performance areas and key performance indicators and aligning these with the organization’s mission. I am afraid I do not see this happening on a general scale in the boiler industry; that is why I still encounter engineers in charge of steam plant operations not even knowing the monthly steam production or fuel consumption. Not that they are careless or indifferent, but:-

  1. Senior management does not require of them to set goals, to gather information and to manage steam plant operations towards achieving a specific performance.
  2. The means of recording, processing and communicating information is totally absent.
  3. Everybody in the organization has settled into a (hectic) comfort zone and they do not want the operating environment disturbed.

But enough said about management for now; my focus will be more towards the technical aspects of steam plant operations. So do expect to see a number of Boiler Bits on combustion and related topics to be publicized over the next number of months and probably even years.

One vital question I had to answer for myself was what it is that I wanted to achieve with Boiler Bits. The name I selected for these publications already implies that they will be short pieces dealing with all kinds of boiler related matters. No lengthy scientific and mathematical formulas and lectures though; I will rather try to explain scientific principles in a logical and easy to understand way so that everyone involved with steam plant operations will be able to grasp why their plant is and works the way it does.

In the South African context I believe there is need for practical guidelines on understanding and practicing the firing of pea coal in horizontal packaged fire tube boilers, although most of the principles discussed herein equally apply to water tube boilers and boilers firing liquid, gaseous, biomass or pulverized coal fuels.

I am also convinced about the need for elementary material which provides an understanding at grass roots level of all the elements and influences making up a combustion system, how these elements interact and influence one another, as well as the steam generation process as a whole; and finally how the understanding of basic principles crystallizes out in the practice of optimized steam production, i.e. how to apply scientific principles to arrive at producing steam at the lowest total cost* per kg or ton. I hope to succeed in painting the overall combustion picture in a way that will enable readers to grasp and internalize it,and to apply it towards conserving energy, reducing pollution and protecting steam plant assets.

In the mean time our readers are more than welcome to contact us. Maybe somebody wants to know more of a certain aspect of boiler operation, maybe a combustion control issue, maybe just to express a view on the value of, or the need for tutorials of this nature.

* Total cost includes more than just the cost of fuel. It also includes the cost of capital, management, maintenance, personnel, water treatment, ash removal, etc.

This post was compiled by René le Roux for Le Roux Consulting, all rights reserved. Do you want to know more about steam plant management and optimization, or boiler operation in general? Please contact us for your professional boiler automation, steam system efficiency and coal characterization needs.

Kindly note that our posts on social media do not constitute professional advice and the comments, opinions and conclusions drawn from this post must be evaluated and implemented with discretion by our readers at their own risk.

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