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Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289

A technical note cupola ef®ciency improvement by increasing

air blast temperature
 lvarezb, M.J. Ugaldeb, I. Puertasa
C.J. Luisa,*, L. A
Manufacturing Engineering Section, ETSIITÐPublic University of Navarre, Navarre, Spain
V.Luzuriaga-Tafalla Foundry, Spain
Received 1 August 2000; received in revised form 27 July 2001; accepted 7 August 2001


Cupola ef®ciency has always been connected with foundry improvement and development. One of these important improvements has
been the introduction of pre-heated air for coal coke combustion. The main purpose of this study is to evaluate the results obtained when
increasing its temperature: energy savings in terms of coke consumption, production capacity growth and silicon losses. Nevertheless, this
energy savings cannot be realised without some technical limitations concerning different material characteristics. In addition, costs should
be considered in order to achieve the adequate balance between ef®ciency improvement and cost savings. This analysis has also been
carried out and shown in this paper. Results presented in this work helped to reduce the coke consumption by approximately 5%, resulting
in considerable cost savings. Also, temperatures ranging 600±700 8C have never been used before, in order to recover the energy contained
in the exhaust gases. # 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Casting; Cupola; Analysis; Process optimisation

1. Introduction The energy produced in the cupola, comes from the coal
coke combustion, but only 40% of it is devoted to metal
When the middle frequency furnaces were introduced for melting and over-heating beyond melting temperature,
iron melting cupolas, the ideal iron melting equipment whereas the remaining energy is misused in the cooling
before that time seemed to have disappeared. Higher spe- circuit, the hot air inside the cupola goes out simply through
ci®cations in terms of metal composition, and the introduc- the chimney. It is precisely this energy one is interested in
tion of ductile iron, requiring very low contents of sulphur, in saving, by using it for pre-heating the intake air before it
standard production processes, had almost replaced the enters in the combustion chamber through the nozzles.
existing cupolas. However, there are certain limitations to this temperature
In addition to this, a higher sensitivity of our society towards increase, such as the material resistance and costs, metal-
the environment makes its survival still more critical, espe- lurgical effects of changing combustion conditions, etc.
cially for those who do not realise that the cupola is not only a Fig. 1 shows an schematic representation of the energy
melting machine but also a waste recycler [1]. However, distribution in the cupola, where W0 is the energy proceeding
there is still another reason in favour of the cupola utilisa- from coke combustion, W1 the energy proceeding from Si
tion in terms of environmental protection: modern cupolas and Mn, W10 the energy contained in melted metal, W11 the
require much less primary energy per melted ton than electric loses in slag and air humidity disintegration and heating, W12
furnaces [2]. This means that, considering the whole environ- the loses in cupola cooling, W13 the loses in upper charging
mental chain, they are cleaner and ecofriendly [3,4]. door, W14 the loses in sensible heat and calori®c value of the
There are a number of possible actions to improve a cupola exit gas, WR the recovered energy by pre-heating intake air.
in terms of production capacity or energy ef®ciency [5,6]. One
of these possibilities is increasing the intake air temperature in
order to achieve a signi®cant energy ef®ciency improvement. 2. Cupola description
As an ideal hypothesis, pre-heated air should be introduced at
the highest possible temperature without adding any extra [7]. The cupola takes the form of a water-cooled vertical
cylinder. The charge consists of scrap metal and steel,
Corresponding author. alloying ingredients, limestone, and coal coke for fuel. As

0924-0136/02/$ ± see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 9 2 4 - 0 1 3 6 ( 0 1 ) 0 1 0 5 3 - 6
282 C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289

Fig. 1. Energy distribution in the cupola.

the coke is consumed, the charge drops and melts. The hot diagram of a conventional cupola and Fig. 3 shows a partial
exhaust gasses rise up through the charge, pre-heating it and view of the cupola studied in this paper (that is to say, a
increasing the energy ef®ciency of the furnace. The exhaust water-cooled cupola with a single row nozzles). In this case,
gases emerge from the top of the cupola, where they are the exhaust gas at a 850±900 8C temperature range passes
processed to meet pollution standards. through a heat exchanger, recuperating part of its heat in
The interior environment of the cupola is very harsh. Due order to increase the intake air temperature up to 500 8C,
to extreme heat, chemical reactivity, large mass ¯ows and leaving the system at a 600±650 8C temperature range.
with presence of liquid slag and metals. Fig. 2 shows a The combustion exhaust gases are cleaned counter-cur-
rent in a water curtain, which means that the sensible heat of
these gases is lost when cooled with this water. These gases
leave at 250 8C and contain small pieces of coal, sand and
metallic particles, that are separated in a cyclone ®lter placed
at the end of the charging door.
The separation between the molten metal and the slag
takes place in a pressure-siphon and afterwards, the metal is

Fig. 2. Conventional cupola furnace. Fig. 3. Water-cooled cupola with a single nozzles row.
C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289 283

Table 1 Table 2
Cast iron chemical composition in % Thermal analysis

C Si Mn S Iron 41.0%
Sensible heat of the combustion gases lost through the 7.1%
3.40 2.00 0.50 0.10 charging door
Sensible heat of the combustion gases lost through the chimney 22.8%
Slag 3.3%
Limestone decomposition 2.6%
Cooling losses 22.7%

only 25% of that energy and wasting 20% of the whole

energy produced in the cupola through the chimney.
Table 2 shows the thermal analysis of the equipment,
where all the parameters depend on the coal coke size and
Fig. 5 shows the relationship between the energy distribution
and the coal coke size.
One of the best solutions to increase the energy ef®ciency
consists of improving the internal isolation of the cupola by
choosing a better refractory dressing. Nevertheless, the
operational costs increase and no bene®ts can be obtained
due to the high temperatures. In spite of this, there is another
solution which consists of recovering as much heat as
possible from the combustion gases leaving the chimney.
Fig. 4. Combustion chamber and heat exchanger.
In this case, as mentioned above, the heat exchanger is
designed for an intake air temperature in nozzles of 500 8C
transferred to a channel furnace for its homogenisation and and an air ¯ow of 14,000 Nm3/h. Because of coal coke
temperature conservation. combustion, the energy provided by the cupola is given by
The typical feed material consists of a metallic charge of Eq. (1):
approximately 25% scrap cast iron, 30% cast iron pellets,
C ‡ O2 ! CO2 ‡ DHf (1)
and 45% steel scrap. Several alloying materials such as
ferrosilicon or ferromanganese have also been added to the Energy given off is equal to 33,600 kJ/kg of Ccoal coke. This
charge. Coke was added to the charge to obtain a metal to reaction takes place in the combustion zone in front of the
coke ratio of 11% coke by weight. Temperature of the
molten iron is 1490±1540 8C and its composition is shown
in Table 1.
The daily production rate of this cupola is 550 t, working
5 days a week with a charge weight of 2200 kg, which means
250 charges per day approximately. The melting regime is
11 t/h m2 and the hole cupola is controlled by a PLC
monitored permanently with a PC. It works at an air ¯ow
of about 14,000±15,000 Nm3/h at a 500 8C temperature and
with a pressure of 1200 mm (water column millimetres). In
Fig. 4, a scheme of the combustion chamber and the heat
exchanger can be observed.

3. Thermal analysis of the cupola

Among all the different possible energy losses occurring

in the cupola, the main ones are those that take place in the
metallic body or the ones produced because of the water
On the contrary, the energy lost during the gasi®cation
reaction (about 30% of the energy content of the coal coke)
is partially recovered when pre-heating the intake air of the
nozzles (5). Even in this case, the heat exchanger can recover Fig. 5. Energy distribution versus coal coke size.
284 C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289

Fig. 6. Gases distribution inside the cupola.

nozzles. This is the hottest zone of the cupola. The energy Fig. 7 shows the relationship between the combustion
demand is equal to 14,900 kJ/kg of Ccoal coke. temperature and the combustion index (nv) for different air
temperatures in the nozzles, where nv is given in Eq. (4).
CO2 ‡ C ! 2CO ‡ DHf (2)
‰CO2 Š
Eq. (2) shows the gasification reaction, where CO2 in touch nv ˆ (4)
‰CO2 ‡ COŠ
with coal coke at high temperatures becomes CO. The air
humidity decomposition is shown in Eq. (3), being the Combustion index (nv) decreases when air temperature
energy demand equal to 9992 kJ/kg of Ccoal coke. increases, that is to say, CO percentage increases with
the air temperature. When temperature increases, the equi-
H2 O ‡ C ! H2 ‡ CO ‡ DHf (3)
librium condition given in Eq. (2) moves towards the
Using pre-heated air, the combustion temperature can be direction that neutralises that higher temperature demand-
increased, improving the reaction profile, increasing the CO ing more energy, and as a consequence of it, more CO is
content and decreasing the temperature of the combustion produced.
gases. Gases distribution inside the cupola can be observed This lower combustion index is economically worse,
in Fig. 6. because the thermal ef®ciency of the cupola gets lower.

Fig. 7. Combustion temperature versus combustion index.

C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289 285

Despite this, the reduction can be very interesting from a SiO2 ‡ 2C $ Si ‡ 2CO ‡ DHf (6)
metallurgical point of view.
The silicon oxidation depends on the oxygen affinity for
the carbon or for other metallic elements inside the cupola.
3.1. Influence on silicon and manganese This effect is the function of several variables such as the
temperature, the silicon concentration and the silicon
The temperature rise causes a movement in chemical content of the slag. Moreover, the presence of other ele-
balance of oxides towards the reduction zone, creating ments such as manganese can modify the balance of this
suitable conditions for Fe, Si and Mn oxide reduction. reaction.
As can be observed in Fig. 8, at 1530 8C temperature, the
oxygen af®nity for the carbon is greater than for Si and Mn, 2MnO ‡ Si $ SiO2 ‡ 2Mn (7)
this af®nity can be proved in the molten iron itself: the
Thus, silicon losses are decreased when the Mn content in
higher the temperature of the iron is, higher the contents of
the charge is increased (Fig. 9).
Si and Mn are obtained. Fig. 8 shows the reduction of the
free energy during the oxidation depending on the tempera-
3.2. Influence on sulphur
ture (K), meaning that the higher the inlet air temperature is,
more the reductive operational conditions are obtained.
Sulphur, mainly obtained from the coal coke, is partially
When the combustion temperature increases, the tem-
burnt and disappears as combustion gas, whereas the rest of
perature of the cast iron also increases. This effect is due to
it is incorporated into the molten iron. In advance, higher
the rise in the temperature of the combustion zone where the
temperatures imply higher sulphur contents in the cast iron,
molten iron stays over heated. The temperature of the molten
but an endothermic reaction occurs in touch with the slag
iron increases 30 8C, approximately, for each range of
and the balance moves to the right with a bigger amount of
100 8C the inlet air temperature is increased.
sulphur transferred to the slag.
From a theoretical iron temperature of 1530 8C, silicon
losses will be lower, and under certain conditions, oxide FeS ‡ CaO $ CaS ‡ FeO (8)
reductions may take place. This reaction is given in Eq. (6).
Therefore, the cupola is not only a melting device but also a
Si ‡ O2 $ SiO2 ‡ DHf (5) chemical reactor, in which a variation on the working

Fig. 8. Free energy decrease versus temperature.

Fig. 9. Si and Mn losses versus Mn in charges.

Table 3
Thermal balance

Year 1999 Charge

%C %Si %Mn % Charge

Pig iron 4.29 0.70 0.03 0.00
Steel 0.10 0.00 0.15 40.50
Scrap 3.40 2.00 0.60 25.60
Pellets 3.00 0.50 0.50 31.80
FeMn 70.00 0.40
FeSi 70.00 0.80
SiC 100 0.90
Losses 21.60 22.10
Coal coke in molten iron (kg) 34 Coke, 10.53
Coal coke in combustion (kg) 198 Limestone, 4.40
Charge composition 1.87 1.67 0.48
Required composition 3.41 1.70 0.50
Gas volumes
Blast air (Nm3/h) 13046 77.9
CO2 limestone 201 1.2
N2 10307 61.5
CO2 1752 10.5
CO 1976 11.8
Water 2512 15.0
Total 16747 100.0
Temperature (8C)
Combustion index 0.47
MW in combustion chamber 1422
Temperature in combustion chamber 870
Temperature in heat recuperator chimney 600
Air temperature in nozzles 497
Temperature in cupola chimney 300
Energy (kW)
Iron 7259 38.8
Sensible heat through charge door 1530 8.2
Chimney 4846 25.9
Slag 602 3.2
Limestone 482 2.6
Losses 3974 21.3
Total 18693 100.0
C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289 287

parameters allows the operator to define the way it will different components. The thermal ef®ciency is calculated
work, deciding which equations will be better verified: without considering the Si and Mn losses, and resulting
either the economical or the metallurgical ones. ef®ciency is 38.8%.

3.3. Simplified thermal balance

4. Improvements using a more efficient heat exchanger
Table 3 shows a simpli®ed thermal balance. This bal-
ance has been made taking into account the data obtained In order to improve the current situation, it is necessary to
from the operation of the installations. Starting from install a more ef®cient heat exchanger. Nowadays, with the
the composition of the metallic charge, the ferrous alloys new materials and production techniques, it is possible to
and the obtained analysis, the silicon and manganese operate at more than 650 8C without suffering from geometry
losses and also the coke for the carbon restoration are
calculated. With regard to the gas volumes, it should be Table 4
mentioned that they contain steam in a 15% percentage Improvements obtained
after having been cleaned by means of a wet system. The
1999 2000 Difference
operational conditions are given by charge composition,
temperatures measured in different points, etc. These Air blast temperature (8C) 500 600 100
resulting energies are a function of the coke rate, the Coke ratio (%) 10.53 10.20 0.33
Coke per charge (kg) 231.7 224.6 7.1
production per hour and the temperatures of each of the

Table 5
Modified thermal balance

Year 2000 Charge

%C %Si %Mn % Charge

Pig iron 4.29 0.70 0.03 4.30
Steel 0.10 0.00 0.15 43.70
Scrap 3.40 2.00 0.60 23.60
Pellets 3.00 0.50 0.50 26.20
FeMn 70.00 0.40
FeSi 70.00 0.60
SiC 100 1.10
Losses 21.20 17.40
Coal coke in molten iron (kg) 36 Coke, 10.20
Coal coke in combustion (kg) 189 Limestone, 3.90
Charge composition 1.82 1.74 0.48
Required composition 3.44 1.70 0.50
Gas volumes
Blast air (Nm3/h) 13329 78.0
CO2 limestone 188 1.10
N2 10350 61.6
CO2 1791 10.5
CO 2016 11.8
Water 2563 15.0
Total 17088 100.0
Temperatures (8C)
Combustion index 0.47
MW in combustion chamber 1451
Temperature in combustion chamber 909
Temperature in heat recuperator chimney 575
Air temperature in nozzles 603
Temperature in cupola chimney 275
Energy (kW)
Iron 7931 41.5
Sensible heat through charge door 1431 7.5
Chimney 4714 24.7
Slag 562 2.9
Limestone 450 2.4
Losses 4004 21.0
Total 19092 100.0
288 C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289

alterations or severe oxidation. On the other hand, the only This is due to an increase of CO production and a reduction
special requirement is a more frequent cleaning. of the combustion index. This reduction has been estimated
In this case, our proposal is to work with a heat exchanger at 0.1% for silicon as, when reducing the air blast tempera-
that allows us to have the air blast in the nozzles at 600 8C, ture in nozzles from 500 to 400 8C, there is an increase of
increasing the present temperature in 100 8C. This improved 0.1% in the silicon losses. Considering an annual consump-
heat exchanger means a higher ef®ciency in the cupola. With tion of 142 t, Si savings are 142 kg per year. Table 5 shows
the new heat exchanger, it can be obtained that the achieved the new simpli®ed thermal balance.
goal is a 3% ef®ciency improvement. The most signi®cant
results are shown in the following sections.
5. Discussion
4.1. Energy efficiency
Based on Tables 3 and 5, a comparison from an energy
From thermodynamic point of view, a higher temperature point of view can be done. The energy balance and the
in the air blast is bene®cial, because this means a higher inlet distribution obtained are shown in Table 6. This table shows
energy without increasing the amount of coal coke rate. that the sensible heat of the combustion gases lost through
This higher temperature in the air blast is equivalent to the charging door and the sensible heat of the combustion
6.9 kg (of coke per charge). The previous value can be gases lost through the chimney decrease, where this energy
obtained from Eq. (9). is transferred to the cast iron.
Cp mDT ˆ qmc (9) As can be observed in Tables 7 and 8, the coke ratio has
been improved more than expected in advance, achieving
where Cp is the specific heat of air blast at constant very important savings from an economic point of view.
pressure (1.29 kJ/Nm3 8C), m the air mass (14,000 Nm3/ On the other hand, the silicon and manganese losses have
h), DT the temperature increase (100 8C), q the combustion not been reduced as much as had been previously expected.
heat of carbon (27,044 kJ/kg of C; it is the combustion heat The improvement in molten iron temperature 15±20 8C
of coke for a combustion index of 0.56), mc the carbon has been very important. This temperature increase leads to
mass ……1:29 kJ=Nm3  C 14 000 Nm3 =h100  C†=…27 044 important savings in required energy for the iron tempera-
kJ=kg† ˆ 67 …kg of C†=h†. For a carbon content in coke of ture conservation.
93% ! 67=0:93 ˆ 72 …kg coke†=h. If we measure the
amount of coke in ``charges'', we have, with 250 charges
per day: 72 (kg coke)/h at a rate of 10.5 charges/h gives a Table 6
Sensible heat of the combustion gases
6.9 (kg coke)/charge. This means a minor coke consumption
of 0.3%. Real data give us the balance shown in Table 4. 1999 2000 Difference

Air blast temperature (8C) 500 600 100

4.2. Production capacity Iron (%) 38.8 41.5 2.7
Sensible heat of the combustion gases lost 8.2 7.5 0.7
Eq. (10) shows that an increase of 100 8C in air tempera- through the charging door (%)
ture leads to an increase of 0.65 t/h in melting rate. Sensible heat of the combustion gases 25.9 24.7 1.2
lost through the chimney (%)
Cp mDTZ ˆ CFe TM (10) Slag (%) 3.2 2.9 0.3
Limestone decomposition (%) 2.6 2.4 0.2
where Cp is the specific heat of air, m the air volume, DT the
Cooling losses (%) 21.3 21.0 0.3
temperature increase, Z the cupola efficiency, CFe the mean
specific heat of iron, T the iron temperature, M the iron
production increase.…1:29 kJ=Nm3  C  14 000 Nm3 =h  Table 7
100  C†=…0:75 kJ=kg  1520  C† 0:41 ˆ 650 kg=h, where Improvements in Si and Mn losses
0.41 is the cupola efficiency. The production increase of Cupola efficiency Si losses Mn losses
molten metal with this new heat exchanger is 24 h 
0:650 t=h ˆ 15:6 t per day. 1999 38.3 21.6 22.1
2000 41.5 21.2 17.4
Considering a standard production rate of 0.68 t of good
parts per ton of molten iron, the whole production increase
would be: 2386.8 (ton good parts) per year (225 working Table 8
days per year). 15:6 t per day  225 days per year  0:68 ˆ Result analysis
2386:8 (ton good parts) per year. Former Present Difference
situation results
4.3. Silicon losses
Air blast temperature (8C) 500 600 100
Coke ratio (%) 10.9 10.4 0.5
Because of the higher combustion temperature, the reduc-
Coke per charge (kg) 239.8 228.8 11.0
tion of oxides (such as SiO2, MnO2 and FeO) is favoured.
C.J. Luis et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 120 (2002) 281±289 289

The improvement in terms of production is much more References

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