With the increasingly strict EPA emission regulations, decreasing price of natural gas fuel, and ever-changing capacity needs, many coal-fired energy plants are considering making the switch from coal to natural gas.
Depending on the type of coal currently burned in a plant, switching to burn natural gas could result in a notable drop in plant heat rate and loss of efficiency. For example, when switching from bituminous coal to gas, plant operators could see an approximately four percent degradation in efficiency due to the high moisture content of natural gas. A switch from Powder River Basin coal to gas would result in little or no change in plant heat rate. However, the current low price of natural gas may make up for at least some of the cost of this loss of efficiency.
There’s also a significant impact on heat transfer in the boiler from one fuel to the other. In many cases, the original boiler heat transfer surfaces will be inadequate for full natural gas firing. The heat transfer characteristics for natural gas versus coal vary significantly – coal has more radiant heat transfer and gas has more convective heat transfer. Without either modifications to the existing heat transfer surfaces or identification of alternative operating conditions, problems with metallurgy can arise and these components run the risk of becoming unreliable. Alleviating this potential issue requires careful consideration and study across the complete spectrum of load dispatch and cycling scenarios.
While design and construction of the conversion project is vital to success, choosing a company to develop a training and qualification program as well as operating and maintenance procedures is just as vital. Make sure that the company chosen to perform these aspects of the project has the expertise and experience necessary to develop and deliver an Operational Readiness Program that will meet those demands.
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