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Water Treatment, Storage and Blowdown for Steam

A look at the chemistry of water supplies including hardness and pH values.
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Before boiler blowdown can be discussed and understood it is necessary to establish a definition
of water along with its impurities and associated terms such as hardness, pH etc.

Water is the most important raw material on earth. It is essential to life, it is used for
transportation, and it stores energy. It is also called the 'universal solvent'.

Pure water (H20) is tasteless, odourless, and colourless in its pure state; however, pure water is
very uncommon. All natural waters contain various types and amounts of impurities.

Good drinking water does not necessarily make good boiler feedwater. The minerals in drinking
water are readily absorbed by the human body, and essential to our well being. Boilers, however,
are less able to cope, and these same minerals will cause damage in a steam boiler if allowed to

Of the world's water stock, 97% is found in the oceans, and a significant part of that is trapped in
the polar glaciers - only 0.65% is available for domestic and industrial use.

This small proportion would soon be consumed if it were not for the water cycle (see Figure
3.9.1). After evaporation, the water turns into clouds, which are partly condensed during their
journey and then fall to earth as rain. However, it is wrong to assume that rainwater is pure;
during its fall to earth it will pick up impurities such as carbonic acid, nitrogen and, in industrial
areas, sulphur dioxide.

Charged with these ingredients, the water percolates through the upper layers of the earth to the
water table, or flows over the surface of the earth dissolving and collecting additional impurities.

These impurities may form deposits on heat transfer surfaces that may:

• Cause metal corrosion.

• Reduce heat transfer rates, leading to overheating and loss of mechanical strength.
Table 3.9.1 shows the technical and commonly used names of the impurities, their chemical
symbols, and their effects.
Typical water cycle

Table 3.9.1
Impurities in water

Raw water quality and regional variations

Water quality can vary tremendously from one region to another depending on the sources of
water, local minerals (see Figure 3.9.2). Table 3.9.2 gives some typical figures for different areas
in a relatively small country like the UK.
Fig. 3.9.2
Regional variations in water quality

Table 3.9.2
Water variation within the UK
All impurities expressed in mg/l calcium carbonate equivalents
The common impurities in raw water can be classified as follows:
• Dissolved solids - These are substances that will dissolve in water.

The principal ones are the carbonates and sulphates of calcium and magnesium, which
are scale-forming when heated.

There are other dissolved solids, which are non-scale forming.

In practice, any salts forming scale within the boiler should be chemically altered so that
they produce suspended solids, or sludge rather than scale.
• Suspended solids - These are substances that exist in water as suspended particles.

They are usually mineral, or organic in origin.

These substances are not generally a problem as they can be filtered out.
• Dissolved gases - Oxygen and carbon dioxide can be readily dissolved by water.

These gases are aggressive instigators of corrosion.

• Scum forming substances - These are mineral impurities that foam or scum.

One example is soda in the form of a carbonate, chloride, or sulphate.

The amount of impurities present is extremely small and they are usually expressed in any water
analysis in the form of parts per million (ppm), by weight or alternatively in milligrams per litre

The following sections within this Tutorial describe the characteristics of water.

Water is referred to as being either 'hard' or 'soft'. Hard water contains scale-forming impurities
while soft water contains little or none. The difference can easily be recognised by the effect of
water on soap. Much more soap is required to make a lather with hard water than with soft water.

Hardness is caused by the presence of the mineral salts of calcium and magnesium and it is
these same minerals that encourage the formation of scale.

There are two common classifications of hardness:

• Alkaline hardness (also known as temporary hardness) - Calcium and magnesium

bicarbonates are responsible for alkaline hardness. The salts dissolve in water to form an
alkaline solution. When heat is applied, they decompose to release carbon dioxide and
soft scale or sludge.

The term 'temporary hardness' is sometimes used, because the hardness is removed by
boiling. This effect can often be seen as scale on the inside of an electric kettle.

See Figures 3.9.3 and 3.9.4 - the latter representing the situation within the boiler.

Fig. 3.9.3
Alkaline or temporary hardness
Fig. 3.9.4
Non-alkaline or permanent hardness (scale + carbonic acid)
• Non-alkaline hardness and carbonates (also known as permanent hardness) - This
is also due to the presence of the salts of calcium and magnesium but in the form of
sulphates and chlorides. These precipitate out of solution, due to their reduced solubility
as the temperature rises, and form hard scale, which is difficult to remove.

In addition, the presence of silica in boiler water can also lead to hard scale, which can
react with calcium and magnesium salts to form silicates which can severely inhibit heat
transfer across the fire tubes and cause them to overheat.

Total hardness
Total hardness is not to be classified as a type of hardness, but as the sum of concentrations of
calcium and magnesium ions present when these are both expressed as CaCO 3. If the water is
alkaline, a proportion of this hardness, equal in magnitude to the total alkalinity and also
expressed as CaCO3, is considered as alkaline hardness, and the remainder as non-alkaline
hardness. (See Figure 3.9.5)

Fig. 3.9.5
Total hardness

Non-scale forming salts

Non-hardness salts, such as sodium salts are also present, and are far more soluble than the
salts of calcium or magnesium and will not generally form scale on the surfaces of a boiler, as
shown in Figure 3.9.6.
Fig. 3.9.6
The effects of heat
Comparative units
When salts dissolve in water they form electrically charged particles called ions.

The metallic parts (calcium, sodium, magnesium) can be identified as cations because they are
attracted to the cathode and carry positive electrical charges.

Anions are non-metallic and carry negative charges - bicarbonates, carbonate, chloride, sulphate,
are attracted to the anode.

Each impurity is generally expressed as a chemically equivalent amount of calcium carbonate,

which has a molecular weight of 100.


pH value
Another term to be considered is the pH value; this is not an impurity or constituent but merely a
numerical value representing the potential hydrogen content of water - which is a measure of the
acidic or alkaline nature of the water. Water, H2O, has two types of ions - hydrogen ions (H+) and
hydroxyl ions (OH-).

If the hydrogen ions are predominant, the solution will be acidic with a pH value between 0 and 6.
If the hydroxyl ions are predominant, the solution will be alkaline, with a pH value between 8 and
14. If there are an equal number of both hydroxyl and hydrogen ions, then the solution will be
neutral, with a pH value of 7.

Acids and alkalis have the effect of increasing the conductivity of water above that of a neutral
sample. For example, a sample of water with a pH value of 12 will have a higher conductivity than
a sample that has a pH value of 7.

Table 3.9.3 shows the pH chart and Figure 3.9.7 illustrates the pH values already mentioned both
numerically and in relation to everyday substances.
Table 3.9.3
The pH scale
Fig. 3.9.7
pH chart
Water Treatment Boilers Requirements are :

Water treatment is required to provide the physical plant with properly treated
water in sufficient quantities to meet plant needs. All system require water
treatment by using speciality chemicals such as corrosion and scale inhibitors ,
however open systems require constant water treatment to deal with the
constant need for treated water to make-up for system losses of often up to
100%. Closed systems also require water treatment, but due to minimal system
losses, that treatment commonly occurs only at the system fill source.

Industrial water treatment for cooling water systems , water treatment boiler
requires advanced water technologies ,keeping in mind chemistry of water and
use of advanced formulations of corrosion and scale inhibitors .

Three tools can be used to improve water quality:

• Internal Treatment – conditioning the boiler water to pre-determined

levels by using a variety of chemicals.
• Demineralization/ Reverse Osmosis / Electrodialysis - the
replacement of specific inorganic salts by ion exchange.
• Deaeration – the removal of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide by
heating and atomizing the water with steam.

While demineralization and deaeration can be accomplished easily by

investment in the appropriate support equipment, internal treatment calls for a
more concerted effort. However, most organizations large enough to have in-
house maintenance will find that the combination of these three tools will more
than pay for themselves in defrayed operating costs. A well-implemented
program will ensure -

• Increased heat transfer

• Lower fuel expenditures
• Lower chemical consumption

Except for steam trap maintenance, water treatment has the most potential for
reducing annual operating costs in a power plant.

Boiler Losses due to scale

Thickness of Scale Increase in fuel consumption due to scale

0.5 mm 2%
1 mm 4%
2 mm 6%
4 mm ( 0.125” ) 10 %
8 mm ( 0.25” ) 20 %
16 mm ( 0.5” ) 40 %
30 mm (1” ) 80 %

Objectives of Water Treatment boiler

Prevention of scaling in boiler.( use speciality chemicals such as scale

inhibitors to counter it )

Prevention of corrosion in boiler. (use speciality chemicals such as corrosion

inhibitors to counter it )

Prevention of stress corrosion cracking.

Prevention of steam contamination.

What is an External Treatment?

Treatment of water that are done outside of the boiler is called pre-boiler or
external treatment. The main physical methods for improving quality of water
for boiler include flocculation, clarification, deaeration, oil removal, colour
removal, suspended solids removal and blow down. When preparing water for
boilers operated at less than 150 psi, all necessary chemical treatments can be
accomplished in a clarifier, but as pressure increases; the quality of feed water
must improve. The purpose of external treatment is to reduce suspended solids,
demineralize the feed water and remove silica. This purpose can be achieved by

• Coagulation with chemicals

• Demineralization/ Reverse osmosis/ Electrodialysis (cold lime, soda
process, hotlime-soda process, mixed bed exchange)
• Silica removal (coagulation with chemical, Demineralization, Reverse
Osmosis, Electrodialysis)

What is an Internal Treatment?

There are number of treatments that are made within the boiler to minimize the
adverse effects of small concentration of components that remain in the feed
water after the external treatment. In spite of various external treatments, it is
not possible to attain an absolute perfect quality of boiler feed water. Chemical
treatment or internal treatment of water inside the boiler is essential to take care
of various impurities entering into the boiler such as hardness, dissolved solids,
oxygen, and silica.

In many cases, external treatment of water supply is not necessary specifically

in low or moderate pressure boilers or where large amount of condensed
streams are used or when raw water available is of very good quality.

Boiler Water Treatment - Industrial & Process Applications

Boiler Water Treatment - In this short paper we take a brief look at industrial boiler
water treatment and the management of steam boilers from an industrial perspective.
We examine some of the problems that can occur when steam boilers are used in
industrial and process situations. We also look at solutions to the problems that arise
with steam boiler systems, specific products and where they are used, how these
solutions are applied, and more.

What is steam?

Steam is vaporised water, being part gas, part liquid.

Steam itself is usually interspersed with minute droplets of
water in its liquid state, which gives it a white, cloudy
appearance. In industrial and process situations, steam is
often generated using water boilers that are heated to
create steam under controlled conditions. The energy
generated is then transferred and used in many different
ways. Advanced Chemical Technologies

In nature, steam is produced by the heating of underground

water by volcanic processes and is emitted from hot
springs, geysers, fumaroles, and certain types of

Steam is used as a heat transfer medium in several industries including food, paper,
process, chemical manufacture ...etc. In industry steam is produced by water boilers,
which come in all shapes, sizes, types and pressures and the water within them likewise.
This is what makes the life of a water treatment specialist interesting....having to deal
with all the alternatives and know all the ways of treating those alternatives.

Why is boiler water used?

Steam under pressure is at elevated temperatures, greater than 100C and therefore can
be used to transfer energy to different parts of a system. This energy can then be used
to cook, create energy for chemical reactions, heat water and a myriad of other uses.
Steam being "pure" water dissolves other materials into it very easily and it is these
other materials that cause problems requiring treatments. Materials such as metals from
the system, Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide to name but a few.

What problems arise and how do they occur?

There are several problems within a boiler system some of which require chemical
treatment or other mechanical means to overcome them. The major problems are:

o Scale
o Corrosion
o Boiler Water Carryover
o Sludge Deposition

These can cause problems in all parts of the system starting with the feed tank leading
through the boiler and into the condensate system. The problems arise from the quality
of the water used within the steam raising system and the manner in which the system is
operated and hence it is not only chemical issues that need to be addressed.

What happens if problems are not treated?

In extreme cases is has been known for steam boilers to explode causing much damage
and even death. So it is for this reason that strict standards have arisen on how to treat
and maintain boilers and associated systems. Then there are efficiency problem with
excess fuel being used to raise the steam or leaks causing loss of water, chemicals and
energy from the system. All of these issues are avoidable with simple chemicals and
good maintenance regimes