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Constant and sliding-pressure options for new supercritical plants
Sliding-pressure, supercritical plants are all the rage. They generally include certain design features developed for markets and operating environments outside the U.S., where new coal-ﬁred plants have been built in recent decades. U.S. market conditions are different, and considerable capital cost savings—with negligible operating cost differences—are possible if technology options are considered for the next wave of supercritical and ultra-supercritical steam plants.
By Brian P. Vitalis, Riley Power Inc., a subsidiary of Babcock Power Inc.
he drivers may be different, but the destination—higher efficiency—is the same worldwide. As a primary component of current efforts to reduce the environmental impact of burning low-cost coal, new and more-efficient steam plant designs are once again being considered by the U.S. generation industry. Even though current market conditions in the U.S. tend to favor diversiﬁcation of technologies and operating capabilities, the lowest-cost generating units will still be ﬁrst in line for dispatching. The present and expected makeup of regional generating ﬂeets in the U.S. generally indicate that any modern supercritical, coal-fired unit will have a significant fuel cost advantage and could be dispatched at costs approaching those of current nuclear plants. Although seasonal and daily load reductions could be plausible in the long term, much of any new supercritical coal-fired capacity will not be frequently shut down or continually load-cycled. This is one major difference between the market conditions and practices of the U.S. and Europe, and a main reason why it should not be assumed that the pressure-control mode and technology prevalent in Europe should be embodied in the bulk of new unit construction in the U.S. To advance plant efficiencies to 40% (HHV) and beyond, supercritical steam conditions (higher than 3,208 psia) are employed. Operation at these pressures, where there is no phase distinction between liquid and vapor, requires unique steam generator design features, most notably in furnace circuitry and components. Within this category of steam generators, the design is also very much inﬂuenced by the intended operating mode: constant pressure or sliding pressure (see box).
Steam pressure vs. load
Constant pressure implies stable pressure of the steam generator and main steam line over the unit’s load range. Meanwhile, the basic nature of a simple, rotating turbine is to require less pressure as load and ﬂow rate are reduced, and if the main steam pressure is limited to only that required for each load, this mode is referred to as pure sliding pressure. However, when we speak generally of “sliding pressure,” we often mean modiﬁed sliding pressure, as shown in Figure 1. This mode has a limited amount of pressure throttling to provide a modest amount of fast-response load reserve. A unit under constant pressure will have signiﬁcant load reserve at any reduced load, due to its signiﬁcant pressure throttling or the availability of admission valve(s). By opening the throttle valve or an admission valve, the pressure in the turbine and steam generator move toward equalization. The sudden reduction of pressure in the steam generator prompts an instantaneous expulsion of steam mass due to the increase in a speciﬁc volume of steam within the conﬁnes of the system, and it provides a temporary load increase even before the fuel-handling and -ﬁring system can be loaded to support any sustained higher load. Pure sliding-pressure operation does not offer this kind of load or frequency response and is therefore generally not practiced. Note that for a typical 3,800-psia steam pressure rating, a (modiﬁed) sliding-pressure steam generator operates at subcritical pressures at all loads below about 73% maximum continuous rating (MCR).
1. Steam generator operating modes
100 80 60 40 20 0 Subcritical
M fie odi ds lidi n
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Pressure (% of full rating)
Load (% of MCR) Note: MCR = maximum continuous rating Source: Riley Power Inc.
| January/February 2006
Source: Riley Power Inc. A given transverse dimension of a furnace wall normally covered by nine vertical tubes and membrane fins can be spanned by only three inclined tubes of the same tube and membrane size (Figure 2). but the range of operating conditions under sliding-pressure operation would make such a system design quite challenging. which—for current steam conditions—are apparently worth the investment given European and Japanese market realities (except that the implied low capacity factor means a longer payback period for the higher capital investment). Because the two pressure regimes and the wide variation in fluid specific volume make continual forced recirculation rather impractical. the furnace must be designed to accommodate both single. 2. Plant designers should factor these steam generator design implications into their strategic planning and their development of speciﬁcations for new plants to arrive at the most cost-effective generation portfolio for particular U. recirculation pumps are usually used to protect the furnace. specifying minimum oncethrough load should be done with careful consideration of its consequences at full load. the choice of mode has broader implications. in which flow rate through the furnace is directly proportional to load.S. Special internally rifled tubing could allow a lower steam mass ﬂow density and the use of vertical tubes. The upward ﬂow progression in a single pass is achieved with fewer tubes by laying the wall tubes down at a low inclination angle rather than hanging the tubes vertically. this inclined tube arrangement is often called a “spiral” design due to the overall progression of each tube upward and around the furnace.STEAM GENERATOR DESIGN Beyond the apparent differences in component and construction design features. with a spiral arrangement in the high heat-flux zone of the lower furnace. Forging cap The lower walls with inclined tubing are supported by external support straps.S. Below the minimum design oncethrough ﬂow rate. Sufficiently high steam mass ﬂow density at once-through loads is provided by use of a small flow area. in sliding-pressure mode at low load. Sliding-pressure. once-through.055/1. Because the furnace perimeter has certain minimum limitations due to conventional firing configurations and slag control. the challenge of providing a small flow area to envelop a relatively large furnace enclosure requires special plumbing arrangements. Both departure from nucleate boiling and steam dry-out carry the potential for elevated tube metal temperatures. 3 | POWER . But because sliding pressure operation involves two-phase ﬂuid over most of the load range. for example. low loads. once-through furnace construction. making a single upward ﬂow progression preferable. low-load operation presents a challenge to proper furnace tube cooling. in part. the ﬂuid is subcritical. Steam flow rate and velocity through the furnace tubes are critical for cooling the tubes. it remains a complicated structure to design. because the steam generator operates under both supercritical and subcritical conditions as load is varied.800 psia/ 1. and with ﬂow proportional to load. turbine temperature transients are minimized by operating in sliding-pressure mode. to handle rapid and continual load ramping (which is of particular value due to high local fuel costs).and two-phase fluid flow. Spiral arrangement. so the tube length is three to five times greater than the vertical distance gained. For instance. The tube inclination angle is typically 10 to 20 degrees from horizontal. January/February 2006 Membrane wall Header Load transfer weld pads Support straps 725 MWg 3. Therefore. Although much experience has been gained and many lessons learned from such a furnace wall design. on overall furnace sizing differences and materials options. these conditions have justiﬁed the development and expense of sliding-pressure designs overseas. Although the furnace cross-section remains rectangular. Designing for proper steam cooling effect at low loads produces very high steam mass ﬂow density and pressure drop at full load in a once-through design.051F PRB coal Support straps 50 by providing sufficient steam mass flow density at subcritical. Design for sliding pressure Market conditions in Europe and Japan— including shutdowns and rapid and continual load ramping of supercritical coal-ﬁred plants—foster priorities and operating practices different from those in the U. These less-discussed differences can have a noticeable impact on cost and can become even more signiﬁcant as steam conditions are gradually advanced toward ultra-supercritical conditions in pursuit of greater efficiency and reduced emissions. posing speciﬁc challenges to heat transfer and tube cooling. Source: Riley Power Inc. and regional market environments. These conditions are mitigated or avoided. Figure 3 is an example of a slidingpressure unit designed for Powder River Basin (PRB) coal. This requires certain drastic adaptations of the steam generator design. In sliding-pressure operation. In part. Further. it is appropriate to use a once-through design. multiple furnace passes with up-down-up ﬂow direction become difficult to manage. The furnace circuit ﬂow area and the tube count can be reduced by inclining the wall tubing at a low angle. Furnace wall dimension 3.
This steam property diagram is used to trace the rising heat content (enthalpy) of the steam as it flows and loses pressure through the boiler (the series of circled data markers and dashed lines at right). A single upward pass with the same simple construction as a conventional drum unit. consisting of vertical support straps and load transfer by many welded lugs over the wall surfaces. low load does not dictate furnace design. two-phase region at loads below 70% to 75% MCR. A Vertical. 1. self-supporting. a furnace can be designed with: ■ ■ ■ 4. the furnace must absorb proportionately as much energy as a typical. Source: Riley Power Inc. there are speciﬁc steamside conditions that must be fulfilled at the minimum once-through load. These requirements are indicated in Figure 5 at the 35% of MCR load condi- tion. Constant-pressure. By employing furnace recirculation smoothly over the entire operating range.STEAM GENERATOR DESIGN fabricate. Those conditions are: ■ ■ The economizer size is limited to prevent steaming within it. Detail A Beyond plumbing In addition to incorporating these constructional differences.500-psia industrial boiler.000 3. The walls composed of inclined tubes are not self-supporting. erect.000 Two-phase (boiling) region 500 Liquid 0 35% MCR 0 1. As a result. so it requires a greater heat duty and furnace size. the selection of minimum once-through load has consequences not only on the steam flow area and the full-load pressure drop. Source: Riley Power Inc. it also drives the overall furnace size and operating steam and metal temperatures.000 4. 1. It is interesting to note that the Constant pressure Two-phase heat transfer crises are not encountered in furnaces maintained at supercritical pressure. To accommodate the two-phase boiling condition of steam. The nearly horizontal dashed lines in Figure 5 indicate the trend of furnace inlet and outlet conditions over the load range. To illustrate this. and maintain. No intermediate mixing or external piping. Figure 5 compares the steam generator operating conditions and trends on an enthalpy-pressure steam diagram. Once the tubes rise into a sufficiently low heat-flux zone. and so it is sometimes low load— rather than full load—that determines the 4 5. SH = superheater | January/February 2006 . a sliding-pressure furnace (evaporator system) must be sized to yield a greater outlet enthalpy (energy content of steam). self-supporting. heat duty and size of the furnace or evaporator system. smooth-bore furnace tubing in a single upward pass.000 2. so an “exoskeleton” support system is used. recirculating unit. In sliding-pressure operation. so constant-pressure operation allows greater ﬂexibility and the use of a conventional design.500 Vapor SH3 SH2 SH1 Enthalpy (Btu/lb) 1. Accordingly. Enthalpy-pressure steam diagram. The furnace size must be sufficient to produce dry steam in once-through mode to prevent introduction of liquid water into superheaters. The transition is commonly accomplished by a ring of forgings around the perimeter of the furnace and an external ring mixing header.000 Pressure (psia) Furnace Economizer Sliding 100% MCR 5.000 POWER Notes: MCR = maximum continuous rating. A furnace sized for a certain minimum once-through load produces the indicated conditions at full load. Figure 4 shows a 400-MW Riley Power recirculating supercritical unit with these features. including the total heating duty (the arrow on the far right) and the furnace outlet enthalpy and temperature.’s Wateree Station Units 1 and 2 since 1970. smooth-bore tubes. Sliding-pressure operation during load reductions moves the furnace operation into the subcritical. This design features vertical. the expensive arrangement is terminated and a transition is made to vertical tubes in the upper furnace. It has powered South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.
or other once-through designs. 1.150 Btu/lb (at 790 to 800F). SH = superheater A visible difference A constant-pressure furnace designed according to the universal gas-side criteria results in a furnace outlet steam enthalpy of about 1. residence time and burnout. This increased sensitivity is partly mitigated by the heat absorption equalizing effect of the spiral tube arrangement around the sliding-pressure furnace. Source: Riley Power Inc.000 0 Pressure (psia) Notes: MCR = maximum continuous rating. the constant-pressure furnace could be sized as indicated (the large blue arrow).STEAM GENERATOR DESIGN sliding-pressure furnace is essentially sized as one would size the evaporator system for a 1. single-phase region and therefore have no such waterside sizing criterion. these medium-pressure industrial units employ a boiler bank or convective evaporator section to supplement the boiling heat duty while limiting the furnace size. the radiant superheater can be reduced accordingly. the potential reduction compared to sliding pressure becomes greater—and furnace materials ooptions are comparatively broader—as the ﬁnal steam conditions are advanced. Although the sliding-pressure furnace must be sized like an industrial boiler. the furnace outlet temperature of the constant-pressure unit can be significantly less than that from the sliding-pressure unit (due to this enthalpy difference).000 500 Liquid 0 Typical utility subcritical 2. The various materials research efforts being conducted worldwide for ultra-supercritical plants are struggling with this issue.and sliding-pressure operating trends. and exit gas temperature limits for slagging and fouling control—will dictate. But unlike natural-circulation units.000 Two-phase (boiling) region Constant 1. Figure 6 shows in blue the operating conditions of the constantpressure. partly due to the exclusive assumption of sliding pressure. where it is found that sliding-pressure designs will have very high furnace outlet temperatures (approaching 1.000F to 1. The equivalent sliding-pressure furnace is about 20% larger in order to yield the required outlet enthalpy of 1. Depending on the particular fuel and ﬁreside conditions. Source: Riley Power Inc. These are especially important points for extension to ultra-supercritical conditions. and the constant-pressure design retains this ﬂexibility at all loads. temperature is much more sensitive to differences in enthalpy between furnace tubes.000 500 Liquid 0 Furnace Economizer Sliding 5. This feature is not limited to Benson. The primary differences in furnace construction and size are estimated to result in 4% to 5% greater overall boiler cost for 5 7. Furthermore. although the sliding-pressure furnace must be sized like an industrial boiler.600 psia Furnace Economizer Sliding 5. the constant-pressure furnace can be sized as one would a high-pressure subcritical. at the greater outlet enthalpy level required for the sliding-pressure unit.000 2. constant-pressure units stay in the supercritical. or other conditions.000 2. 6. The constant-pressure furnace size is not driven by the signiﬁcant heat of vaporization at lower pressures. SH = superheater January/February 2006 | POWER .500-psia industrial unit. Because the larger furnace is effectively accomplishing some of the superheat duty at higher loads. because it does not have a ﬁxed evaporator (furnace) end point. a sliding-pressure unit has less flexibility as pressure is reduced and the margin above saturation (two-phase boiling) decreases. 1. natural-circulation unit (Figure 7). Often. Sulzer. Riley Power recirculating unit over the same load range. In contrast.000 Pressure (psia) Notes: MCR = maximum continuous rating. That not only reduces associated piping costs but also permits the use of a close-coupled backpass and eliminates the tunnel section that would otherwise be required. the thermodynamics of steam are such that. Constant. Nearly as important as this size difference.000 Two-phase (boiling) region Constant 4.050 Btu/lb (at 760F). the constant-pressure furnace can be sized as one would expect for a high-pressure subcritical.000 0 1.000 3. Additionally.500 Vapor SH3 SH2 SH1 Enthalpy (Btu/lb) 1. By comparison. the supercritical unit remains flexible in its performance.000 3. but the net cost increase is positive. slagging. emissions considerations. Note that. Evaporative and superheat duty can be shifted between furnace and convective surfaces in response to changes in fuel.000 4.100F) and may require advanced alloys for the furnace walls. Though the furnace outlet temperature with constant pressure also continues to rise.500 Vapor SH3 SH2 SH1 Enthalpy (Btu/lb) 1. Relative furnace heating duty. natural-circulation unit. The usual gas-side furnace sizing criteria that apply to any operating pressure unit—such as firing arrangement requirements. a particular advantage of the Riley Power recirculating supercritical design is that it does not require intermediate furnace mixing.
for dispatch competition. Plant operating costs were evaluated at all loads for each turbine control mode using a detailed economic model including fuel. It does not include further potential differences in tube materials. but development of these abilities with constant-pressure systems should not be overlooked. building. Nevertheless. Meanwhile. conditions. the efficiency of new plants at low loads becomes important for considering a plant’s payback of capital and. indeed.S. nozzle-control turbines at constant pressure have nearly the same efficiency as at sliding pressure across the load range. will be for a relatively small proportion. As Figure 8 makes clear. For a 650-MW unit. For cycling service? For completeness. market? With uncertainty about long-range load dispatching. erection. the sliding-pressure turbine cost savings are reportedly estimated to be on the order of $0.5 million and would be partly offset by any additional feedwater heater and steam generator costs to handle sliding pressure and any associated load and pressure cycling. tunnel pass elimination. it is widely believed that any continual load cycling of new coal units.. Using differential heat rate data from turbine manufacturers. and so a closer review of heat rate differentials is in order. Sliding pressure may be justiﬁed and viable where such features are especially valued. Though old. comparative data from turbine manufacturers indicate that modern.S. the present value of 20 years of operating cost savings is not nearly enough to justify the additional $6 million to $7 million capital investment required for the sliding-pressure steam generator. The extent to which this is true depends greatly on the turbine control mode. though the value is relatively difficult to quantify. this differential amounts to about $6 million to $7 million. reagent.STEAM GENERATOR DESIGN sliding-pressure designs. and steel. and emissions costs according to typical U. cycling design requirements. throttle-control turbines at constant pressure indeed suffer in efficiency at part loads. or foundation differences—all of which lead to even greater costs for a typical sliding-pressure design. Is it worth it? Can the additional capital investment in a sliding-pressure plant be recovered by operating cost advantages in the U. intimate support. the present value of the difference in operating costs is calculated to be only $0.and sliding-pressure systems. beyond controlled nightly reductions. and at several loads (the “valve best points”) the remaining valves are fully open and there is negligible throttling loss before the ﬁrst turbine stage. This is mainly due to the sequential use of the turbine admission valves. with both throttle and nozzle control. to be strategically determined for each grid region. it should be recognized that continual load cycling and fast start-up abilities may be of particular value for a limited number of units in each region of the U. The signiﬁcant operating ME A N D A me a n e l ﬁ atus ﬁle st 6 POWER | January/February 2006 . Many people have been under the impression that sliding-pressure units offer better efficiency (lower heat rate) than constantpressure units at reduced loads. heat rates were evaluated for both constant. including materials and erection. and overall furnace size differences. Even assuming a nightly load reduction to 35% to 80% every night over an entire 20-year evaluation period.S.5 million for PRB coal firing and less than $1 million for high-sulfur bituminous coal firing of a modern 650-MW unit with nozzle control. This cost differential is due to only the tube circuitry.
Independent power producers considering new coal-ﬁred units should recognize that—armed with economically efficient generation fired by coal rather than by natural gas—their role in contributing to the regional grid load and their priority on the dispatch curve will be entirely different.40 9.00 10 9 8 7 Millions ($) 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 0. when such peaking capacity was not available and utilities were caught not being able to easily cycle their baseloaded units when a recession hit.3 Bituminous $1. night load as indicated ME A N D A me a n e l ﬁ atus ﬁle st January/February 2006 | POWER 7 .9 0. and the expense of once-through sliding-pressure steam generators need not be assumed to gain such features.2 Powder River Basin $1.S.4 0. it should be noted that not all of the start-up systems and features employed on modern generating units around the world are inherently or exclusively applicable to sliding-pressure operation. Investment payback.. moving from the peaking role into the baseload and average-load roles. Source: Riley Power Inc.2 0.3 7. The chart shows simple 20-year present value of operating cost savings with sliding pressure on a 650-MW unit. other modern start-up features can be developed and integrated with appropriate plant designs for the range of expected domestic needs.3 35% night load 0. for both constant.7 3.6 Random night load 35% night load Random night load 4. America’s installed natural gas–ﬁred capacity—now almost 200 GW— represents a sizeable sunk investment in generation that is well suited for peaking duty.2 0. For the future generation of coal-ﬁred plants in the U. This creates a different environment from that of the 1970s. Powder River Basin $1. ■ 8. Though it is expensive to operate.and sliding-pressure applications. In addition.80 Nozzle Throttle Turbine control method and night load Notes: Two-shift operation: day 100% load. The Riley Power recirculating units in operation since 1970 already prove the successful application of recirculation to facilitate start-up of a constant-pressure supercritical unit.6 4.STEAM GENERATOR DESIGN cost advantage of new supercritical units will give these units preference for load dispatch. Additional cost for a sliding-pressure steam generator is estimated as $6 million to $7 million.8 6. this capacity is available to meet peak loads and is relatively easy to start up and shut down. Regarding start-up.