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Heat Recovery Steam Generators

Vulnerable to Failure
Victor Rogers
28 July 2016

Combined-cycle natural gas generation is displacing King Coal. And although renewables
promise a bright future, combined-cycle power plants (CCPP) are efficient, clean and
inexpensive generating sources with the capacity to replace base-load generation in large
The recent growth U.S. shale gas production along with pipeline network expansions have
lowered and stabilized natural gas prices to the point where they are competitive with coal
generation. Combined-cycle plants are relatively inexpensive to build and can achieve
thermodynamic efficiencies exceeding 60%. Additionally, their fast-start ramping capabilities
enable hundreds of megawatts to hit the grid faster than other sources.
(Read “Combined Cycle Power Plants: Is Their Reign Assured?”)
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that 2016’s power generation from
natural gas, for the first time ever, will surpass coal’s share at 33% to 32%, respectively.
Correspondingly, 2015 was the first year when domestic natural gas plant utilization exceeded
that of coal at a capacity factor of 56% versus 55%.
The initial wave of CCPP construction that began in the 1990’s, anticipated low generating
costs through baseload operation. Instead, natural gas price volatility and electricity demand
variation forced most of these plants to catch emerging power sale opportunities by cycling
(meaning they were off at night and on weekends). In recent years, with gas price stabilizing
at around the $3 - $4/MMBtu range, many CCPPs are called on to follow load demand and
even for baseload operation as they originally were designed.
At the same time, their associated heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs) have been used
(and sometimes abused) to suit market needs. The HRSG is the boiler placed after the gas
turbine to absorb remaining hot exhaust gasses and produce steam to drive an additional
turbine/generator set. It enables the added generation and efficiency made possible by
combined-cycles in the power plant.
Highly flexible operational practices--from periodic baseload operation to cycling the plant
every day-- take their toll on HRSG pressure parts. Most in current operation were not
designed with the flexibility to withstand the stress levels caused by faster startups, low-load
operations and repeated thermal cycling. And the stressors are intensified by today’s larger,
more efficient gas turbines.
Located directly downstream of these turbines, HRSGs sustain greater thermal and
mechanical stress from increased exhaust gas temperatures and pressure changes. In
addition to damages from failure mechanisms that have long-plagued conventional boilers,
HRSGs are also prone to design, construction, operation and water chemistry deficiencies.
Pressure part failures of tubes, headers and connecting piping represent some of the greatest
reliability threats. Of critical importance are regular internal inspections to proactively identify
failure mechanisms and root causes so that forced outages can be mitigated.
The following summarizes some of the most common types of HRSG system failure
mechanisms and their causes.

 Thermal Fatigue is a common damage mechanism among superheaters and reheaters caused by the thermal expansion and contraction of cyclic operation. In contrast to conventional boilers. FAC originates from the loss of protective metal oxides within the tubes which enables wall loss. HTF repair events don’t necessarily require lengthy outages. A suitable water treatment program helps to ensure feedwater quality maintains tube internal surfaces free of contamination and corrosion among all areas of the HRSG.  Long-term Overheating (Creep) accumulates from temperature exposures in excess of design. headers and risers in low-pressure (LP) economizers and LP evaporators. The best approach to managing FAC metal loss is a combination of correct water chemistry control and regular assessment and trending of wall thicknesses among susceptible locations (most of which are internal to the HRSG box). Attemperator overspray and residual condensate among LP economizer sections cause steaming and quenching during startup and exacerbate thermal fatigue. Reheater tubes in close proximity to attemperators or duct burners are especially susceptible to bowing. preventing tube internal exfoliation or upgrading tube materials may mitigate overheating. It involves the single (water only) and two-phase (water/steam) variations. Even minimal temperature exceedances accrue cumulatively and with time form microstructural creep voids that can shorten tube life. Often tough to diagnose. flow disruptions and contaminants. causes 40% of all HRSG tube failures. Improved temperature controls or upgrading tube materials are two strategies to mitigate creep. The shutdowns and poor layup practices from cyclical operation introduce elevated temperatures. It can be mitigated by reducing cyclic loading and localized overheating. quenching and tube fabrication disparities. a chemistry-related failure. Increasing . Additionally. Some units experience tube bowing to the degree that crimping and local yielding results in premature tube failures.  Creep Fatigue occurs due to the combined effect of overheating and cyclic stress. Unfortunately.HRSG tube failures (HTF) are the primary source of unavailability among combined cycles causing an average of six forced outage events per unit year as indicated by recent NERC GADS data. but they can have large effects on in-market availability and prove costly. Thermal fatigue occurs primarily at dissimilar metal welds and tube to header connections. materials containing chromium are resistant to FAC. The corrosive mix rests upon the tubes and wastes away metal over time. the system design or mode of operation increases susceptibility to tube internal deposition. it typically initiates along the outside diameter of tubing in high-temperature locations. Cycle Chemistry (CC) influences approximately 70% of the HRSG tube failures (HTF). Oxide growth and progressive deposition of water/steam impurities or oxide scale buildup contribute to a variety of damage mechanisms. Improving temperature controls. especially for merchant generators. FAC among HRSGs is found predominantly among tubes. Proper boiler water chemistry is critical. This mechanism may be spared by upgrading tube materials or changing operation to increase tube temperatures. External feedwater piping is also susceptible among HRSGs which take feed pump suction from the LP drum.  Short-term Overheating results from exposures to highly elevated temperatures or when tubes are starved of flow as a result of some blockage.  Acid Dewpoint Corrosion occurs from gas turbine exhaust gas moisture which condenses to water vapor and sulfuric acid.  Flow-Assisted Corrosion (FAC).  Bowing is a common failure mechanism caused by differential expansion.

Corrosion fatigue is an “on again. Containing 9% Chromium. Grade 91 enables elevated temperature operation. it exhibits enhanced creep rupture. better lifetime performance and thinner materials in the design and manufacture of piping systems. The most common cause of pitting is poor drainage and layup between cycles. The water in contact with iron attempts to restore this magnetite and traps the high caustic concentration. o Acid Phosphate Corrosion is defined by a combination of internal deposits and phosphate salts leading to UDC and eventual tube failure. A continuous loss of metal ensues. Chemistry controls using mono. A combination of deposited material and corrosion products adhere to the internal tube surface and waste away tube material until eventual failure occurs.numbers of utilities are simply upgrading materials to chromium to enact a permanent fix. many complications have emerged since then. its material integrity was frequently compromised from microstructural damages sustained during manufacture. Grade 91 materials were viewed as a panacea for cycling-related thermal fatigue. The excess caustic dissolves the protective magnetite layer. headers and high energy piping constructed from Grade 91. (Read “P91 Piping: A Panacea-Turned-Nightmare for Power Plants?”) During the boom years of new HRSG construction. erection or as a result of operational issues experienced among HRSGs. It encompasses several water chemistry-related failure mechanisms which commonly cause significant problems when not adequately controlled. Appropriate cycle chemistry with negligible feedwater corrosion products and avoidance of localized elevated temperatures are the best defense against UDC. It’s usually identified where expansion is restricted such as among tube to header welds. o Hydrogen Damage refers to a combination of internal deposits and contaminant ingress or an acidic concentration. It’s imperative during lengthy shutdowns that procedures are in place to drain and/or evacuate all water and protect the tube internals from any remaining moisture through dehumidification or nitrogen blanketing.  Pitting is characterized by localized corrosive metal loss illustrated by deep pits. off again” mechanism that reemerges when oxide laden cracks are exposed to concurrent strain along with poor water chemistry.or di-sodium phosphate is problematic. A majority of large HRSGs built from the 1990s have tubes. yield and ultimate tensile strengths in addition to toughness. stagnant water within numerous tube circuits is the usual culprit. Groups of cracks appear on the internal surface in a position perpendicular to the major strain. major . especially among welds. is widespread. Failures among the larger components such as headers. Premature cracking from creep degradation. An understanding of these corrosion mechanisms is necessary to prohibit or reverse active corrosion. In particular. o Caustic Gouging occurs when chemistry controls employ too highly concentrated caustic or caustic ingress occurs from the regeneration ion exchange process. Grade 91 steel poses a particular problem. Grade 91 is more sensitive to variations in metallurgy and heat treatment than traditional materials. Chloride frequently enters the cycle through condenser leakage. Unfortunately.  Under-Deposit Corrosion (UDC) occurs exclusively among HP evaporator tubing.  Corrosion Fatigue is a leading cause of failures among LP evaporators and economizers. Oxygenated.

Without this needed heat transfer. such as at a weld. premature valve actuation or inadequately design condensate drain lines are often culprits. These events. the HRSG is located downstream of the combustion turbine. shorten the economizer’s remaining useful life at each instance. Faulty control logic or damaging operational practices are often to blame. necessary repair(s) and preventing unexpected outages. often taking a toll on piping supports and sometimes exacerbating piping failure mechanisms. economizer metal temperatures can reach flue gas temperatures of 500– 600F.  Thermal Quenching-Induced Fracture ensues when significant “off-design” events occur resulting in rapid thermal quenching and/or overloading failures. no water enters the economizer.  HRSG Economizers are vulnerable to a number of issues. although short-lived. Improper steam attemperator spray controls. HRSG design. pay close attention to any and all heat treatment activities such that the correct microstructures are developed and maintained and. risk-based inspections of failure-vulnerable locations are critical to issue identification. such as controlled startups/shutdowns. By ensuring correct operational methods.connecting piping. is two-fold: First. A root cause of failure analysis should be conducted following any such event to mitigate future occurrences. second. HRSG reliability is maximized by understanding the conditions giving rise to potential damage mechanisms. are variables critical to operational flexibility. Water hammer can be a destructive force. along with its feedwater and attemperator control systems. But where else?  Water Hammer occurs among many HRSGs. The consequences of sporadic temperature and pressure swings from exhaust gasses and the effect they have on tubes are an obvious place to recognize. and component materials. They create large temperature differences between contiguous tube sections. Problematic designs and operating constraints introduce additional causes of HRSG failures. As previously discussed. This phenomenon introduces stress risers. assess current risk(s) through timely and aggressive piping and weld inspections to determine creep degradation and confirm material properties. primarily at tube-to-header connections. the damaging thermal transients can be mitigated. regarding P91 piping. for repairs. particularly among areas of tube geometrical changes. since the feedwater control valve is closed. The recommended course of action. and steam piping frequently require lengthy outages with significant repair costs not to mention the loss of generation. Upon initial startup. Proactive. Cooler tubes contract while the adjacent warm tubes do not. o Tube-to-Tube Stressors can occur from unbalanced economizer flow distribution. water chemistry. . HP evaporators are yet to produce steam and do not require makeup water. Thus. o Cold surges among the economizer pose significant sources of stress.