Posts Tagged ‘power engineer’

How Condensers Increase Efficiency Inside Power Plants

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

      Last time we ran our basic power plant steam turbine without a condenser.   In that configuration the steam from the turbine exhaust was simply discharged to the surrounding atmosphere.   Today we’ll connect it to a condenser to see how it improves the turbine’s efficiency.

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      As discussed in a previous blog, enthalpy h1 is solely dependent on the pressure and temperature at the turbine inlet.   For purposes of today’s discussion, turbine inlet steam pressure and temperature will remain as last time, with values of 2,000 lbs PSI and 1000°F respectively, and calculations today will be based upon those values.   So to review, the inlet enthalpy h1 is,

h1 = 1474 BTU/lb

      If the condenser vacuum exists at a pressure of 0.6 PSI, a realistic value for a power plant condenser, then referring to the steam tables in the Van Wylen and Sonntag thermodynamics book, we find that the enthalpy h2 will be,

h2 = 847 BTU/lb

and the amount of useful work that the turbine can perform with the condenser in place would therefore be,

W = h1h2 = 1474 BTU/lb – 847 BTU/lb = 627 BTU/lb

      So essentially with the condenser present, the work of the turbine is increased by 168 BTU/lb (627 BTU/lb – 459 BTU/lb).   To put this increase into terms we can relate to, consider this.  Suppose there’s one million pounds of steam flowing through the turbine each hour.   Knowing this, the turbine power increase, P, is calculated to be,

P = (168 BTU/lb) ´ (1,000,000 lb/hr) = 168,000,000 BTU/hr

      Now according to Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers, a popular general reference book in mechanical engineering circles, one BTU per hour is equivalent to 0.000393 horsepower, or HP.   So converting turbine power, P, to horsepower, HP, we get,

P = (168,000,000 BTU/hr) ´ (0.000393 HP/BTU/hr) = 66,025 HP

      A typical automobile has a 120 HP engine, so this equation tells us that the turbine horsepower output was increased a great deal simply by adding a condenser to the turbine exhaust.   In fact, it was increased to the tune of the power behind approximately 550 cars!

      What all this means is that the stronger the vacuum within the condenser, the greater the difference between h1 and h2 will be.   This results in increased turbine efficiency and work output, as evidenced by the greater numeric value for W. Put another way, the turbine’s increased efficiency is a direct result of the condenser’s vacuum forming action and its recapturing of the steam that would otherwise escape from the turbine’s exhaust into the atmosphere.

      This wraps up our series on the power plant water-to-steam cycle.   Next time we’ll use the power of 3D animation to turn a static 2D image of a centrifugal clutch into a moving portrayal to see how it works.


Enthalpy Values in the Absence of a Condenser

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

      Last time we learned that the amount of useful work, W, that a steam turbine performs is calculated by taking the difference between the enthalpy of the steam entering and then leaving the turbine.   And in an earlier blog we learned that a vacuum is created in the condenser when condensate is formed.    This vacuum acts to lower the pressure of turbine exhaust, and in so doing also lowers the enthalpy of the exhaust steam.   Putting these facts together we are able to generate data which demonstrates how the condenser increases the amount of work produced by the turbine.

      To better gauge the effects of a condenser, let’s look at the differences between its being present and not present.   Let’s first take a look at how much work is produced by a steam turbine without a condenser.

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      The steam entering the turbine inlet has a pressure of 2000 pounds per square inch (PSI) and a temperature of 1000°F.   Knowing these turbine inlet conditions, we can go to the steam tables in any thermodynamics book to find the enthalpy, h1.   Titles such as Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics by Gordon J. Van Wylen and Richard E. Sonntag list enthalpy values over a wide range of temperatures and pressures.   For our example this volume tells us that,

h1 = 1474 BTU/lb

where BTU stands for British Thermal Units, a unit of measurement used to quantify the energy contained within steam or water, in our case the water to steam cycle inside a power plant.   Technically speaking, a BTU is the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.   The term lb should be a familiar one, it’s the standard abbreviation used for pound, so enthalpy is the measurement of the amount of energy per pound of steam flowing through, in this case, the turbine.

      Since there is no condenser attached to the steam turbine’s exhaust in our illustration, the turbine discharges its spent steam into the surrounding atmosphere.   The atmosphere in our scenario exists at 14.7 PSI because our power plant happens to be at sea level.   Knowing these facts, the steam tables inform us that the value of the exhausted steam’s enthalpy, h2, is:

h2 = 1015 BTU/lb

      Combining the two equations we are able to calculate the useful work the turbine is able to perform as:

W = h1h2 = 1474 BTU/lb – 1015 BTU/lb = 459 BTU/lb

      This equation tells us that for every pound of steam flowing through it, the turbine converts 459 BTUs of the steam’s heat energy into mechanical energy to run the electrical generator.

      Next week we’ll connect a condenser to the steam turbine to see how its efficiency can be improved.


Vacuum in a Power Plant Condenser

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

      Last time we discussed the key functions of the make-up valve in the power plant water-to-steam cycle.   Today we’re going to talk about a vacuum.   No, not the kind you use around the house, the kind that’s created by the condenser inside a power plant.

      As discussed previously, the condenser is a piece of equipment that turns turbine exhaust steam back into water.   The water that’s formed during this process is known as condensate, and its density is higher than that of the steam it shares space with inside the condenser.   That difference in density is what creates the vacuum inside the condenser vessel.   Put another way, the increase in density along with the condenser’s airtight design prevent air from rushing in from outside to occupy any of the space inside the condenser, a desirable condition from an efficiency standpoint.

      But to understand how all this works we’ll first have to gain an understanding of what is meant by density.   A textbook would define it as the mass of a substance divided by the amount of space that that substance occupies.    Let’s take steam and water for example.   One pound of steam at 212°F forms a vapor cloud that occupies 26.78 cubic feet of space.   If we condensed that pound of steam back into water at the same temperature, it would just about fit into a 16 ounce glass and occupy a mere 0.017 cubic feet.

Power plant condenser vacuum.

      The huge difference in their volumes is due to the fact that steam contains more than five times the heat energy that unheated water does.    That energy makes the molecules in a cloud of steam more active, causing them to collide against each other with great force, spread apart, and occupy a larger space.

      If you’re wondering what change in density has to do with vacuum in the condenser, allow me to offer an analogy.   Ever canned any produce, like tomatoes, in glass jars to over-winter?   Not likely, as this once common survival tactic has nearly become a lost art.   But the vacuum created inside the condenser is much like the vacuum created within a mason jar during canning.

      Inside the glass mason jar, a small space is intentionally left between the tomatoes and lid.   During the process of boiling, or heat sterilization, this space fills with steam.   Then during cooling the trapped steam condenses into water.   This condensation creates the vacuum that sucks down on the jar’s lid, giving it an airtight seal, a condition which won’t allow bacteria to grow on our canned foods.   You see, like us bacteria need oxygen to live, but thanks to the vacuum inside our cooked mason jar no air containing oxygen will remain inside to harbor it.

      Next time we’ll continue our discussion on vacuum to see how it’s used to increase a steam turbine’s efficiency.


The Make-up Valve in the Power Plant Steam to Water Cycle

Monday, October 28th, 2013

      Last time we learned how the condenser recycles steam from the turbine exhaust by condensing it back into water for its reuse within the power plant steam-water cycle.   This water is known as condensate, and after leaving the boiler feed pump at high pressure, it’s known as boiler feed water.   Today we’ll introduce a special valve into the system, whose job it is to perform the important function of compensating for lost water.   It’s known as the make-up valve.

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      The illustration shows the flow of steam and water within the cycle.    Tracing the path of orange arrows will reveal it as a closed system.

      Under ideal operating conditions recycled condensate from the condenser would provide enough water to keep the boiler indefinitely supplied.   In reality water and steam leaks are a chronic problem within power plants, even when well maintained.   Leaks typically occur due to worn parts on equipment, a condition which is commonly present due to the demanding operating conditions they must endure.   First, there is the strain of continuous operation, then there are the high temperatures, typically greater than 1000°F, and high pressures that pipes, valves, pumps, and the boiler itself must endure.   We’re talking about pressure higher than 2000 psi, that is, pounds per square inch.   As a result, water levels within the boiler must periodically be replenished.

      While tracing the arrows through the diagram, you would have come across the new make-up valve under discussion.   It’s located on the pipe leading from the power plant’s water treatment system to the boiler feed pump.   It’s normally kept closed, except under two circumstances, when the boiler is initially filled at startup, or when water replenishment needs to take place.

      Due to water loss and difficult operating conditions, maintenance within the water-to-steam system of a power plant is a never ending task.   There are miles of pipe connected to hundreds of pieces of equipment, all of which are distributed through a huge power plant structure.   So the reality is that power plants operate with a continuous eye on leakage.

      To contend with the leaks, human intervention is often required in the way of a boiler operator.   Their job is to manually open the make-up valve to admit a fresh supply of water from the treatment plant to the boiler via the boiler feed pump.   Once the system’s water requirements are replenished, the valve is once again closed.

      Next time we’ll continue this series by discussing how the condenser enables the steam turbine to run more efficiently by creating a vacuum at the turbine’s exhaust.


How A Power Plant Condenser Works, Part 3

Monday, October 14th, 2013

      We’ve been discussing various aspects of a power plant’s water-to-steam cycle, from machinery specifics to identifying inefficiencies, and today we’ll do more of the same by introducing the condenser hot well and discussing its importance as a key contributor to the conservation of energy, specifically heat energy.   Let’s start by returning our attention to the steam inside the condenser vessel.

      Last week we traced the path of the condenser’s tubes and learned that the cool water contained within them serve to regulate the steam’s temperature surrounding them so that temperatures don’t rise dangerously high.   To fully understand the important result of this dynamic we have to revisit the concept of latent heat energy explored in a previous article.   More specifically, how this energy factors into the transformation of water into steam and vice versa.

      Steam entering the condenser from the steam turbine contains latent heat energy that was added earlier in the water/steam cycle by the boiler.   This steam enters the condenser just above the boiling point of water, and it will give up all of its latent heat energy due to its attraction to the cool water inside the condenser tubes.   This initiates the process of condensation, and water droplets form on the exterior surfaces of the tubes.

Power Plant Condenser

      The water droplets fall like rain from the tube surfaces into the hot well situated at the bottom of the condenser.   This hot well is essentially a large basin that serves as a collection point for the condensed water, otherwise known as condensate.

      It’s important to collect the condensate in the hot well and not just empty it back into the lake, because condensate is water that has already undergone the process of purification.   It’s been made to pass through a water treatment plant prior to being put to use in the boiler, and that purified water took both time and energy to create.   The purified condensate also contains a lot of sensible heat energy which was added by the boiler to raise the water temperature to boiling point, as we learned in another previous article.   This heat energy was produced by the burning of expensive fuels, such as coal, oil, or natural gas.

      So it’s clear that the condensate collecting in the hot well has already had a lot of energy put into it, energy we don’t want to lose, and that’s why its an integral part of the water-to-steam setup.   It acts as a reservoir, and the drain in its bottom allows the condensate to flow from the condenser, then follow a path to the boiler, where it will be recycled and put to renewed use within the power plant.

      Next week we’ll follow that path to see how the condensate’s residual heat energy is put to good use.


Power Plant Inefficiency

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

      Last week we identified some inefficiencies in our water to steam power plant energy cycle.   The superheater addressed some of these concerns, but not others.   Our illustration discloses one of these wasteful areas to be coming from the turbine exhaust.   That’s energy laden steam being expelled into the surrounding atmosphere!   It’s the same heat energy that was produced in the boiler when water was transformed into steam.   It came from burning fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil, all expensive and precious natural resources.

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      In its present configuration the power plant will work, but because steam is being continually dispersed into the atmosphere, it must continually be replenished.   The key ingredient, water, must be drawn into the power plant from a nearby source, treated for contaminants, then fed into the boiler to make up for lost steam.   That wastes both water and energy, because the make-up pump, which draws water from the lake for treatment, (thus “making up” for spent water), is continuously operating, resulting in excessive wear and tear and increased operating costs.

      Fortunately, power plant engineers have devised methods to correct these inefficiencies.   They’ve come up with a clever means of recapturing exhaust steam, thus enabling it to recycle within the system.   Next week we’ll see how this is accomplished with a piece of equipment called a condenser.


Superheater Construction and Function

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

      Power plants produce electrical energy for consumers to use, whether at home or for business, that’s obvious enough, but did you know that in order to produce that electrical energy they must first be supplied with heat energy?   The heat energy that power plants crave comes from a fuel source, such as coal, oil, or natural gas, by way of a burning process.   Once the heat energy is released from the coal through burning, it’s transported into a steam turbine by way of superheated steam, which is supplied to it by a piece of equipment named, appropriately enough, a superheater.

      So what is a superheater and how does it function?   Take a look at the illustration below.

Electric Utility Power Plant Superheater

      The superheater looks like a W.   It’s actually a cascading array of bent steam pipe, situated above a source of open flames which are produced by the burning of a fuel source.   A photo of an actual superheater is shown below.

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      So how many bends are in a superheater?   Enough to fill the needs of the particular power plant it is supplying energy to.   Since all power plants are designed differently, we’ll keep things in general terms.

      The many bends in the superheater’s pipes form a circuitous path for steam to flow as it follows a path from the boiler to the steam turbine.   The superheater’s unique construction gives the steam flowing through it maximum exposure to heat.   In other words, the bends increase the time it takes for the steam to flow through the superheater.   The more bends that are present, the longer the steam will be exposed to the flame’s heat energy, and the longer that exposure, the more heat energy that is absorbed by the steam.

      Superheating routinely results in temperatures in excess of 1000°F.   This superheated steam is laden with abundant heat energy which will keep the steam turbine spinning and the generator operating.   The net result is millions of watts of electrical power.

      As we learned in a previous blog, the superheater is designed to provide the turbine with sensible heat energy to prevent steam from completely desuperheating, which would result in dangerous condensation inside the turbine.

      The newly added superheater is a major improvement to a power plant’s water-to-steam cycle, but there’s still plenty of waste and inefficiency in the system, which we’ll discuss next week.


Condensation Inside the Steam Turbine

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

      Did you know that water droplets traveling at high velocity can take on the force of bullets?   It can happen, particularly within steam turbines at a power plant during the process of condensation, where steam transforms back into water.

      The last couple of weeks in this blog series we’ve been talking about the steam and water cycle within electric utility power plants, how heat energy is added to water during the boiling process, and how turbines run on the sensible heat energy that lies within the superheated steam vapor supplied by boilers and superheaters.   We learned that without a superheater there is a very real possibility that the steam’s temperature can fall to mere boiling point.

      When steam returns to boiling point temperature an undesirable situation is created.  The steam begins to condense into water within the turbine.   To understand how this happens, let’s return to our graph from last week.   It illustrates the situation when there’s no superheater present in the power plant’s steam cycle.

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Figure 1


      After consuming all the sensible heat energy in phase C in Figure 1, the only heat energy which remains available to the turbine is the latent heat energy in phase B.   If you recall from past blog articles, latent heat energy is the energy added to the boiler water to initiate the building of steam.   As the turbine consumes this final source of heat energy, the steam begins a process of condensation while it flows through the turbine.   You can think of condensing as a process that is opposite to boiling.   During condensation, steam changes back into water as latent heat energy is consumed by the turbine.

      When the condensing process is in progress, the temperature in phase B remains at boiling point, but instead of pure steam flowing through the turbine, the steam will now include water droplets, a dangerous mixture.   As steam flows through the progressive chambers of turbine blades, more of its latent heat energy is consumed and increasingly more steam turns back into water as the number of water droplets increases.

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Figure 2 – Water Droplets Forming in the Turbine


      The danger comes in when you consider that the steam/water droplet mixture is flying through the turbine at hundreds of miles per hour.   At these high speeds water droplets take on the force of machine gun bullets.  That’s because they act more like a solid than a liquid due to their incompressible state.   In other words, under great pressure and at high speed water droplets don’t just harmlessly splash around.   They hit hard and cause damage to rapidly spinning turbine blades.   Without a working turbine, the generator will grind to a halt.

      So how do we supply the energy hungry turbine with the energy contained within high temperature superheated steam in sufficient quantities to keep things going?   We’ll talk more about the superheater, its function and construction, next week.


Superheating, Part 2

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

      Last time we added a piece of equipment called a superheater, positioned between the boiler and steam turbine, to our basic electric utility power plant steam and water cycle.   Its addition enables a greater and more consistent supply of heat energy to the steam which powers the turbine.   How much more?   Let’s look at Figure 1 to get an idea.

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Figure 1


      You may have noticed that our illustration lacks numerical representation.   That’s because power plants are designed differently, depending on fuels used and power output required.   So unless we’re talking about a particular power plant, number values would be impractical.   For example, I could specify a boiling point of 596°F at 1,500 pounds per square inch (PSI), and a superheater outlet temperature of 1,050°F at 1,200PSI, and I could make note of esoteric things like enthalpy (British Thermal Units per pound mass) values on the Heat Energy axis.    But to facilitate our discussion we’ll keep things simple and focus on the general process.

      Figure 1 shows in phase D the additional heat energy being added to the steam, thanks to the superheater.   This is significantly more than had been added by the boiler alone, as represented by phase C.   The turbine consumes heat energy added in phases C and D and converts it into mechanical energy to drive the generator, resulting in electrical energy being provided to consumers in the most energy efficient way possible.

      But increasing power output and efficiency isn’t the superheater’s only job.   The heat it adds during phase D ensures the turbine’s safe operation when it’s cranking at full capacity, as represented by the superheated steam zones of phases C and D.

      Next week we’ll discover how the superheater prevents a destructive process known as condensing from occurring inside the turbine.


Superheating, Part I

Monday, August 19th, 2013

      Last time we learned that our power plant boiler as presently designed doesn’t do a good job of producing ample amounts of superheated steam, the kind of steam that turbines need to spin and power generators.   During the process of superheating the more heat energy that’s added to the steam in our boiler, the higher its temperature becomes.   However, our boiler can only produce a limited amount of superheated steam as it stands now.

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      So how do we get more heat energy into the superheated steam?   Take a look at the illustration below for the solution to the problem.

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      You’ll note a prominent new addition to our illustration.   It’s called a superheater.

      The superheater performs the function of raising the temperature of the steam produced in our boiler to the incredibly high temperatures required to run steam turbines and electrical generators down the line, as explained in my blog on steam turbines.   The superheater adds more heat energy to the steam than the boiler can alone.

      In fact, the amount of heat energy in the superheated steam produced with our new design is proportional to the amount of electrical energy that power plant generators produce.   Its addition to our setup will result in more energy supplied to the turbine, which in turn spins the generator.   The result is more electricity for consumers to use and a more efficiently operating power plant.

      But inefficiency isn’t the only problem addressed by the superheater.   We’ll see what else it can do next week.