| Today we’ll continue our discussion of coal’s journey through a power plant. Keep in mind that the material presented in this series of blogs is meant to be a primer. It is a simplification of what actually goes on. My training seminars go into much more depth.
Now imagine a five course meal spread out on the table before you. You load up your plate and pack a forkful of food into your mouth. You instinctively chew, getting the digestive process underway and making it easier to swallow. Power plants approach their consumption of coal in much the same way.
Last time we talked about handling the coal and filling up silos for short term storage within the power plant building. The coal silo is analogous to a dinner plate, and the furnace, which heats up the boiler water to make steam for the turbine, acts very much like a diner’s stomach. As for the fork and your teeth, there are a couple of machines within power plants which mimic their behavior. They’re called the coal feeder and coal mill. The coal feeder does as its name implies, it systematically feeds a measured amount of coal to the coal mill. The coal mill, also known as a pulverizer, then grinds the coal to make it easier for the furnace to burn it.
Let’s take a look at Figure 1 below. At the top of the configuration is the coal silo, which is fully open at the bottom. Gravity draws the coal within the silo downward, facilitating the coal’s dropping through the opening into a chute, on its way to the coal feeder. The coal from the silo spills into little buckets on a wheel within the feeder, and as the wheel turns, the coal spills out and falls down into another chute leading to the mill.
Figure 1 – Feeding Coal To A Power Plant Furnace
Now you could have the coal spill down a chute directly from the silo into the mill, bypassing the coal feeder entirely, but that’s really not a good idea. Just think how difficult it would be to chew if you tried to stuff an entire plate of food into your mouth at once. Just as your mouth requires to be fed in mouth-sized amounts, the coal mill must be fed coal in a size that it can handle. It’s the job of the spinning wheel inside the coal feeder to keep coal flowing in measured amounts to the mill. You see, the wheel is attached to a variable speed motor, and depending on how quickly the furnace needs to be fed, the wheel will either turn faster or slower.
Once inside the mill, the coal is ground up before moving on to the furnace. The coal mill contains massive steel parts capable of pulverizing chunks of coal into a fine black powder. This pulverized coal is then propelled by means of an exhauster towards the burners.
The exhauster sits next to the coal mill and both are often driven by the same electric motor. The exhauster is connected to the top of the mill by a pipe, and another pipe connects the exhauster to burners on the furnace. The exhauster acts like a big vacuum cleaner, sucking coal powder out of the mill, then blowing it through pipes leading to the burners. Finally, the powder ignites within the furnace, heating the water inside the boiler.
Next time we’ll learn about the combustion process in the power plant furnace.
Posts Tagged ‘coal silo’
| If you’ve ever read a book to a small child on the subject of food or digestion, you’ve probably come across the analogy that our stomachs are like a furnace and our digestive system much like an engine. We explain to the youngster that what we eat is important, because our body needs the right fuel in order to operate properly. If little Susie or Danny insisted on eating only candy day after day, their bodies would become weak and sick.
In much the same way a coal power plant is like a living organism, eating fuel in order to function. But instead of meats and vegetables, it eats coal, and the coal handling department of a power plant acts as a dinner table. It’s where the food is placed and prepared before it enters the diner’s mouth.
The coal our power plants consume comes from one of two places, underground mines or strip mines. It all depends on the particular geology of the area from which the coal is harvested. According to the US Energy Information Administration, underground mines are more common in the eastern United States, while strip mines are more common in the western states. The coal from underground mines is excavated by means of shafts and tunnels which are dug deep beneath the earth’s surface in order to provide access to the buried coal deposits. In strip mines the deposits are just below the surface, so the topsoil is merely stripped away with heavy earthmoving machinery, like bulldozers, to reveal the coal. In both types of mining activity excavating machines and conveyors are required to remove the coal from the mine so it can be loaded for shipment to its ultimate destination.
Once harvested, coal is shipped to power plants primarily by train, river barge, or ship. Its journey can cover thousands of miles. It culminates in delivery to a power plant, where it is unloaded by means of a huge piece of machinery called a rotary dumper. This machine is capable of grabbing onto 100 ton railcars and turning them upside down. The coal spills into a large collection hopper positioned next to the railroad track.
If the coal has found its way to a plant located near a waterway, that means of transport was most likely have been made by flat barge or ship. In this case a large crane with a clamshell bucket is used for unloading. The crane drops its bucket into a pile of coal located within the ship’s hold, takes out a large bite, then hoists and dumps its contents into a large collection hopper next to the crane.
To get an idea of how coal flows within the coal handling system of a power plant, let’s refer to the flow chart in Figure 1.
Figure 1 – Schematic Diagram of the Coal Handling System
Collection hoppers and have slanted bottoms which allow coal to easily spill out onto a conveyor belt. Within the plant coal is transported by means of conveyors into what’s known as a “breaker building.” This building lives up to its name because it contains a very large machine whose job it is to break the chunks of raw coal that have been harvested from mines into smaller chunks which the boiler can work with.
Once broken down, the coal will go to one of two places, either directly into silos or coal bunkers in the power plant building for short term storage, or into an outside storage pile, usually a prominent feature of a power plant due to its formidable size. The coal pile can be several stories tall and much larger than a football field. It acts as a reserve supply should the regular delivery of coal be interrupted by labor strike, natural disaster, or equipment failure. When necessary, the coal is removed from the pile and sent into the plant to fill the coal silos. Coal from the silos is used to feed the power plant boilers.
Next week we’ll continue to follow coal’s journey, on its way to arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment in a power plant, the boiler.