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Layup Practices for Fossil Plants

02/01/2013 | James Mathews, EPRI


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Courtesy: TVA

Improper layup practices are a major contributor to boiler tube failures and to steam turbine pitting and cracking in U.S. fossil plants. EPRIs research into identifying
damage mechanisms, utility best practices, and innovative new methods to protect plant equipment during outages will aid plant operators in achieving a successful layup.

For several decades, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has conducted ongoing research into the causes of damage mechanisms, utility best practices, and
innovative new methods for protecting boiler and turbine equipment. This research has helped to identify the most effective planning strategies, evaluate
protection techniques, and outline key principles for successful layups.

Our research confirms that damage to plant equipment from improper layup procedures continues to be a problem for U.S. fossil plants. There are many
underlying factors to be considered, particularly at plants where equipment is aging and more vulnerable to damage. Our research confirms that improper layup
practices are a major contributor to boiler tube failures and to steam turbine pitting and cracking, a major cause of reduced plant reliability and availability.

The causes of improper layup procedures are many. At some plants, the duration of the required layup is not always clear at the beginning of an outage; short-
term outages can quickly become long-term outages, with different unplanned-for layup requirements or preservation techniques required. For example, some
layup techniques, such as nitrogen blankets and dehumidified air, require capital expense for equipment and may take time to procure and assemble.

At other plants, correct layup procedures are well known but not always followed. An EPRI study found that only 37% of utilities surveyed routinely nitrogen-blanket
the boiler, and only 6% protect the turbine.
Additionally, with historically low prices of natural gas, an increasing number of coal-fired plants designed for baseload service are now experiencing short-term
outages due to age and cycling, as well as in response to reduced or seasonal dispatch demands. For these plants, layup practices may not have been a significant
concern in the past, but now they must perform reliably when experiencing many starts per year or extended downtimes between periods of operation.

Choosing a Layup Procedure

Proper layup practices must consider the entire unit. Protection strategies should take into account site-specific factors, operational requirements, and unit design.
A seamless transition from service through shutdown, into the out-of-service or layup period, and through the subsequent unit startup and return-to-service status
must be factored into the strategy. Finally, proper storage of all major components or systems should be incorporated into a comprehensive layup procedure for
the unit (see sidebar Damage Mechanisms from Improper Layup Practices).

Damage Mechanisms from Improper Layup Practices

Inadequate layup practices allow metal to remain in contact with oxygen and water for extended periods of time. The presence of salts, particularly chloride salts,
can accelerate the corrosive effects of water and oxygen on metal surfaces.

Corrosion fatigue is a major failure mechanism in boiler tubes. The fatigue portion of the corrosion fatigue mechanism depends on mechanical and thermal
stresses developed during the cycle. At a greater than 2% strain, the protective magnetite oxide of the stressed component cracks, exposing unprotected surfaces
to the boiler water. Pitting, the corrosion portion of the mechanism, can significantly increase the propagation rate through the material (Figure 2). Pitting
corrosion is the most prevalent layup-initiated corrosion mechanism. Other corrosion mechanisms, such as stress corrosion cracking and various under-deposit
corrosion mechanisms, are initiated or exacerbated by pitting corrosion.

2. Permanent damage. This image shows oxygen pitting in a boiler

drum that was given inadequate layup protection. Courtesy: EPRI

Poor layup practices also affect steam turbines. Left open to the atmosphere and sitting over a full and warm hotwell, the steam turbine is bathed in warm and
humid conditions that are conducive to pitting, particularly on the low-pressure turbine blade/disk surfaces in the phase transition zone, which is a precursor to
corrosion fatigue on the turbine (Figure 3). In cases where the turbine has been contaminated (for example, following a condenser tube leak), corrosion can be
rapid and severe.

3. Pitiful problem. Deposits that contain chloride

aggressively pit the turbine when it is allowed to sit

in moist conditions. These pits become sites for

corrosion fatigue. Courtesy: EPRI

The corrosion potential and damage risk during a unit outage are nearly independent of the outage duration. Mitigation of corrosion and preservation of the asset
need to be implemented during the unit shutdown process. Two key points should be emphasized:

Thermal cyclic stresses and rapid startup/shutdown operations mean that short-term outages can actually be more detrimental than longer, planned outages
with controlled shutdowns.
Corrosion activity is most aggressive in the minutes and hours following shutdown when the moist, aerated environment is at its highest temperature. A rule
of thumb is that the rate of corrosion doubles for each 10 degrees Celsius of temperature elevation.
Frequent, short-term outages (from unit cycling) are more problematic and damaging than traditional, but infrequent, long-term outages, because the percentage
of operating life and annual hours that the components are strained or imperfectly protected is increased by nearly an order of magnitude. The more time
cumulatively spent in these operating conditions and the higher the frequency of cycling, the greater the chance of damage.

As a simple example, consider the number of times you can bend a paper clip before it breaks. Regardless of how slowly you repeat the cycle, the paper clip will
eventually fail. But more rapid and frequent cycling decreases the time before it breaks. Unlike a paper clip, steam-generating equipment protection must also
consider correct water chemistry (corrosive damage) and operating temperatures (thermal stresses).


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