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Sliding-pressure operation offers advantages

Large coal-fired plants are being asked to perform in ways their original designers never
consideredsuch as routinely operating at part load. Remember, terms such as
"deregulation" and "merchant plant" weren't even in a designer's lexicon back when these
plants were on the drawing boards.
If your plant needs to "turn down" to meet part-load demands, but the control system is
limited to fixed-pressure operation and is just not up to the task, you may want to consider
retrofitting your plant to sliding-pressure operation.
Fixed-pressure operation means the pressure in the steam turbine is nominally fixed and
determined by the setpoint to the steam-turbine governor valves, even at part-load
conditions. During sliding-pressure operation, steam pressure in the turbine is determined
by actual process conditions in the boiler, the main-steam line, and the steam turbine.
Essentially, the steam turbine becomes just another pressure loss in the system.
Advantages of sliding-pressure operation include:
Higher reheat steam temperature at part load.
Higher high-pressure turbine internal efficiency at part load.
Faster step increases in load when loading rates are limited by material stresses in the
turbine.
Shorter startup times.
Greater operational flexibility at part loads.
Less boiler feedwater pumping power at part load.
Typically, plants are designed with a combination of fixed- and sliding-pressure operation;
some call this "modified sliding-pressure operation." The plant is operated under slidingpressure control for loads less than 95% maximum continuous rating (MCR), but engages
the throttle valves when operating above 95% load. When the load drops to, say, 40%, the
fixed-pressure controls reengage. The specific point typically is determined by heat-transfer
limitations on the fireside or minimum-pressure limitations on the waterside of the steam
generator.
Tohoku Electric Power Co (Sendai, Japan) recently completed sliding-pressure modifications
to a supercritical 600-MW unit, which enables the plant to control load from 100% down to
10%. The modifications required two 14-in. ANSI-class 2,500-lb boiler-throttle valves for
accurate steam-temperature control upstream of the high-pressure turbine inlet and two 8 x
6 ANSI-class 2,500-lb boiler-throttle bypass valves to control steam flow to the final
superheater and throttle pressure up to approximately 30% load. These Fisher
(Marshalltown, Iowa) valves were installed upstream of the primary superheater for
accurate temperature control. The cycle efficiency is enhanced because of the higher inlet

temperature into the high-pressure turbine, and the turbine outlet temperature is higher,
making it easier to control hot reheat temperatures. The modifications are expected to
improve the plant heat rate by at least 0.8%. Valve cost was $1 million.

Constant and slidingpressure options for new


supercritical plants
02/15/2006 | rian P. Vitalis, Riley Power Inc., a subsidiary of Babcock Power
Inc.
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The drivers may be different, but the destinationhigher efficiencyis the same
worldwide. As a primary component of current efforts to reduce the environmental
impact of burning low-cost coal, new and more-efficient steam plant designs are once
again being considered by the U.S. generation industry.
Even though current market conditions in the U.S. tend to favor diversification of
technologies and operating capabilities, the lowest-cost generating units will still be first
in line for dispatching. The present and expected makeup of regional generating fleets
in the U.S. generally indicate that any modern supercritical, coal-fired unit will have a
significant fuel cost advantage and could be dispatched at costs approaching those of
current nuclear plants.

Although seasonal and daily load reductions could be plausible in the long term, much
of any new supercritical coal-fired capacity will not be frequently shut down or
continually load-cycled. This is one major difference between the market conditions and
practices of the U.S. and Europe, and a main reason why it should not be assumed that
the pressure-control mode and technology prevalent in Europe should be embodied in
the bulk of new unit construction in the U.S.
To advance plant efficiencies to 40% (HHV) and beyond, supercritical steam conditions
(higher than 3,208 psia) are employed. Operation at these pressures, where there is no
phase distinction between liquid and vapor, requires unique steam generator design
features, most notably in furnace circuitry and components. Within this category of
steam generators, the design is also very much influenced by the intended operating
mode: constant pressure or sliding pressure (see box).
Beyond the apparent differences in component and construction design features, the
choice of mode has broader implications, for example, on overall furnace sizing
differences and materials options. These less-discussed differences can have a
noticeable impact on cost and can become even more significant as steam conditions
are gradually advanced toward ultra-supercritical conditions in pursuit of greater
efficiency and reduced emissions. Plant designers should factor these steam generator
design implications into their strategic planning and their development of specifications
for new plants to arrive at the most cost-effective generation portfolio for particular U.S.
and regional market environments.

Steam pressure vs. load


Constant pressure implies stable pressure of the steam generator and main steam line
over the units load range. Meanwhile, the basic nature of a simple, rotating turbine is to
require less pressure as load and flow rate are reduced, and if the main steam pressure
is limited to only that required for each load, this mode is referred to as pure sliding
pressure.
However, when we speak generally of "sliding pressure," we often mean modified
sliding pressure, as shown in Figure 1. This mode has a limited amount of pressure
throttling to provide a modest amount of fast-response load reserve. A unit under
constant pressure will have significant load reserve at any reduced load, due to its
significant pressure throttling or the availability of admission valve(s). By opening the
throttle valve or an admission valve, the pressure in the turbine and steam generator
move toward equalization. The sudden reduction of pressure in the steam generator
prompts an instantaneous expulsion of steam mass due to the increase in a specific
volume of steam within the confines of the system, and it provides a temporary load
increase even before the fuel-handling and -firing system can be loaded to support any
sustained higher load.

graph

1. Steam generator operating modes


Pure sliding-pressure operation does not offer this kind of load or frequency response
and is therefore generally not practiced. Note that for a typical 3,800-psia steam
pressure rating, a (modified) sliding-pressure steam generator operates at subcritical
pressures at all loads below about 73% maximum continuous rating (MCR).

Design for sliding pressure


Market conditions in Europe and Japanincluding shutdowns and rapid and continual
load ramping of supercritical coal-fired plantsfoster priorities and operating practices
different from those in the U.S. In part, these conditions have justified the development
and expense of sliding-pressure designs overseas. For instance, to handle rapid and
continual load ramping (which is of particular value due to high local fuel costs), turbine
temperature transients are minimized by operating in sliding-pressure mode. This
requires certain drastic adaptations of the steam generator design, whichfor current
steam conditionsare apparently worth the investment given European and Japanese
market realities (except that the implied low capacity factor means a longer payback
period for the higher capital investment).
In sliding-pressure operation, because the steam generator operates under both
supercritical and subcritical conditions as load is varied, the furnace must be designed
to accommodate both single- and two-phase fluid flow. Because the two pressure
regimes and the wide variation in fluid specific volume make continual forced
recirculation rather impractical, it is appropriate to use a once-through design, in which
flow rate through the furnace is directly proportional to load. Steam flow rate and
velocity through the furnace tubes are critical for cooling the tubes, and with flow
proportional to load, low-load operation presents a challenge to proper furnace tube
cooling.
Further, in sliding-pressure mode at low load, the fluid is subcritical, posing specific
challenges to heat transfer and tube cooling. Both departure from nucleate boiling and
steam dry-out carry the potential for elevated tube metal temperatures. These
conditions are mitigated or avoided, in part, by providing sufficient steam mass flow
density at subcritical, once-through, low loads. Designing for proper steam cooling
effect at low loads produces very high steam mass flow density and pressure drop at full

load in a once-through design. Therefore, specifying minimum once-through load should


be done with careful consideration of its consequences at full load. Below the minimum
design once-through flow rate, recirculation pumps are usually used to protect the
furnace.
Sufficiently high steam mass flow density at once-through loads is provided by use of a
small flow area. Because the furnace perimeter has certain minimum limitations due to
conventional firing configurations and slag control, the challenge of providing a small
flow area to envelop a relatively large furnace enclosure requires special plumbing
arrangements. But because sliding pressure operation involves two-phase fluid over
most of the load range, multiple furnace passes with up-down-up flow direction become
difficult to manage, making a single upward flow progression preferable.
The upward flow progression in a single pass is achieved with fewer tubes by laying the
wall tubes down at a low inclination angle rather than hanging the tubes vertically. A
given transverse dimension of a furnace wall normally covered by nine vertical tubes
and membrane fins can be spanned by only three inclined tubes of the same tube and
membrane size (Figure 2). Although the furnace cross-section remains rectangular, this
inclined tube arrangement is often called a "spiral" design due to the overall progression
of each tube upward and around the furnace. The tube inclination angle is typically 10
to 20 degrees from horizontal, so the tube length is three to five times greater than the
vertical distance gained.

Source: Riley Power Inc.


2. Spiral arrangement. The furnace circuit flow area and the tube count can be reduced
by inclining the wall tubing at a low angle.
Special internally rifled tubing could allow a lower steam mass flow density and the use
of vertical tubes, but the range of operating conditions under sliding-pressure operation
would make such a system design quite challenging.
Figure 3 is an example of a sliding-pressure unit designed for Powder River Basin (PRB)
coal, with a spiral arrangement in the high heat-flux zone of the lower furnace. Although
much experience has been gained and many lessons learned from such a furnace wall
design, it remains a complicated structure to design, fabricate, erect, and maintain.
Once the tubes rise into a sufficiently low heat-flux zone, the expensive arrangement is
terminated and a transition is made to vertical tubes in the upper furnace. The
transition is commonly accomplished by a ring of forgings around the perimeter of the
furnace and an external ring mixing header. The walls composed of inclined tubes are

not self-supporting, so an "exoskeleton" support system is used, consisting of vertical


support straps and load transfer by many welded lugs over the wall surfaces.

Source: Riley Power Inc.


3. Sliding-pressure, once-through furnace construction. The lower walls with inclined
tubing are supported by external support straps.

Constant pressure
Two-phase heat transfer crises are not encountered in furnaces maintained at
supercritical pressure, so constant-pressure operation allows greater flexibility and the
use of a conventional design. By employing furnace recirculation smoothly over the
entire operating range, low load does not dictate furnace design. As a result, a furnace
can be designed with:

Vertical, self-supporting, smooth-bore tubes.

A single upward pass with the same simple construction as a conventional drum
unit.

No intermediate mixing or external piping.


Figure 4 shows a 400-MW Riley Power recirculating supercritical unit with these features.
It has powered South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.s Wateree Station Units 1 and 2 since
1970.

Source: Riley Power Inc.


4. Constant-pressure, recirculating unit. This design features vertical, self-supporting,
smooth-bore furnace tubing in a single upward pass.

Beyond plumbing
In addition to incorporating these constructional differences, a sliding-pressure furnace
(evaporator system) must be sized to yield a greater outlet enthalpy (energy content of
steam), so it requires a greater heat duty and furnace size.
To illustrate this, Figure 5 compares the steam generator operating conditions and
trends on an enthalpy-pressure steam diagram. This steam property diagram is used to
trace the rising heat content (enthalpy) of the steam as it flows and loses pressure
through the boiler (the series of circled data markers and dashed lines at right).

Source: Riley Power Inc.


5. Enthalpy-pressure steam diagram. In sliding-pressure operation, the furnace must
absorb proportionately as much energy as a typical, 1,500-psia industrial boiler.

Sliding-pressure operation during load reductions moves the furnace operation into the
subcritical, two-phase region at loads below 70% to 75% MCR. The nearly horizontal
dashed lines in Figure 5 indicate the trend of furnace inlet and outlet conditions over the
load range. To accommodate the two-phase boiling condition of steam, there are
specific steamside conditions that must be fulfilled at the minimum once-through load,
and so it is sometimes low loadrather than full loadthat determines the heat duty
and size of the furnace or evaporator system. Those conditions are:

The economizer size is limited to prevent steaming within it.


The furnace size must be sufficient to produce dry steam in once-through mode
to prevent introduction of liquid water into superheaters.
These requirements are indicated in Figure 5 at the 35% of MCR load condition. A
furnace sized for a certain minimum once-through load produces the indicated
conditions at full load, including the total heating duty (the arrow on the far right) and
the furnace outlet enthalpy and temperature. Accordingly, the selection of minimum
once-through load has consequences not only on the steam flow area and the full-load
pressure drop; it also drives the overall furnace size and operating steam and metal
temperatures. It is interesting to note that the sliding-pressure furnace is essentially
sized as one would size the evaporator system for a 1,500-psia industrial unit. Often,
these medium-pressure industrial units employ a boiler bank or convective evaporator
section to supplement the boiling heat duty while limiting the furnace size.
In contrast, constant-pressure units stay in the supercritical, single-phase region and
therefore have no such waterside sizing criterion. Figure 6 shows in blue the operating
conditions of the constant-pressure, Riley Power recirculating unit over the same load
range. The usual gas-side furnace sizing criteria that apply to any operating pressure
unitsuch as firing arrangement requirements, residence time and burnout, emissions
considerations, and exit gas temperature limits for slagging and fouling controlwill
dictate. Depending on the particular fuel and fireside conditions, the constant-pressure
furnace could be sized as indicated (the large blue arrow). Note that, although the
sliding-pressure furnace must be sized like an industrial boiler, the constant-pressure
furnace can be sized as one would a high-pressure subcritical, natural-circulation unit
(Figure 7).

Source: Riley Power Inc.

6. Constant- and sliding-pressure operating trends. The constant-pressure furnace size is


not driven by the significant heat of vaporization at lower pressures.
graph

Source: Riley Power Inc.


7. Relative furnace heating duty. Although the sliding-pressure furnace must be sized
like an industrial boiler, the constant-pressure furnace can be sized as one would expect
for a high-pressure subcritical, natural-circulation unit.
But unlike natural-circulation units, the supercritical unit remains flexible in its
performance, because it does not have a fixed evaporator (furnace) end point.
Evaporative and superheat duty can be shifted between furnace and convective
surfaces in response to changes in fuel, slagging, or other conditions. This feature is not
limited to Benson, Sulzer, or other once-through designs, and the constant-pressure
design retains this flexibility at all loads. By comparison, a sliding-pressure unit has less
flexibility as pressure is reduced and the margin above saturation (two-phase boiling)
decreases.
Nearly as important as this size difference, the furnace outlet temperature of the
constant-pressure unit can be significantly less than that from the sliding-pressure unit
(due to this enthalpy difference). Furthermore, the thermodynamics of steam are such
that, at the greater outlet enthalpy level required for the sliding-pressure unit,
temperature is much more sensitive to differences in enthalpy between furnace tubes.
This increased sensitivity is partly mitigated by the heat absorption equalizing effect of
the spiral tube arrangement around the sliding-pressure furnace.
These are especially important points for extension to ultra-supercritical conditions,
where it is found that sliding-pressure designs will have very high furnace outlet
temperatures (approaching 1,000F to 1,100F) and may require advanced alloys for the
furnace walls. The various materials research efforts being conducted worldwide for
ultra-supercritical plants are struggling with this issue, partly due to the exclusive
assumption of sliding pressure. Though the furnace outlet temperature with constant
pressure also continues to rise, the potential reduction compared to sliding pressure
becomes greaterand furnace materials ooptions are comparatively broaderas the
final steam conditions are advanced.

A visible difference

A constant-pressure furnace designed according to the universal gas-side criteria results


in a furnace outlet steam enthalpy of about 1,050 Btu/lb (at 760F). The equivalent
sliding-pressure furnace is about 20% larger in order to yield the required outlet
enthalpy of 1,150 Btu/lb (at 790 to 800F). Because the larger furnace is effectively
accomplishing some of the superheat duty at higher loads, the radiant superheater can
be reduced accordingly, but the net cost increase is positive. Additionally, a particular
advantage of the Riley Power recirculating supercritical design is that it does not require
intermediate furnace mixing. That not only reduces associated piping costs but also
permits the use of a close-coupled backpass and eliminates the tunnel section that
would otherwise be required.
The primary differences in furnace construction and size are estimated to result in 4% to
5% greater overall boiler cost for sliding-pressure designs. For a 650-MW unit, this
differential amounts to about $6 million to $7 million, including materials and erection.
This cost differential is due to only the tube circuitry, intimate support, erection, and
overall furnace size differences. It does not include further potential differences in tube
materials; tunnel pass elimination; cycling design requirements; and steel, building, or
foundation differencesall of which lead to even greater costs for a typical slidingpressure design.

Is it worth it?
Can the additional capital investment in a sliding-pressure plant be recovered by
operating cost advantages in the U.S. market? With uncertainty about long-range load
dispatching, the efficiency of new plants at low loads becomes important for considering
a plants payback of capital and, indeed, for dispatch competition. Many people have
been under the impression that sliding-pressure units offer better efficiency (lower heat
rate) than constant-pressure units at reduced loads. The extent to which this is true
depends greatly on the turbine control mode, and so a closer review of heat rate
differentials is in order.
Though old, throttle-control turbines at constant pressure indeed suffer in efficiency at
part loads, comparative data from turbine manufacturers indicate that modern, nozzlecontrol turbines at constant pressure have nearly the same efficiency as at sliding
pressure across the load range. This is mainly due to the sequential use of the turbine
admission valves, and at several loads (the "valve best points") the remaining valves
are fully open and there is negligible throttling loss before the first turbine stage.
Using differential heat rate data from turbine manufacturers, heat rates were evaluated
for both constant- and sliding-pressure systems, with both throttle and nozzle control.
Plant operating costs were evaluated at all loads for each turbine control mode using a
detailed economic model including fuel, reagent, and emissions costs according to
typical U.S. conditions.
Even assuming a nightly load reduction to 35% to 80% every night over an entire 20year evaluation period, the present value of the difference in operating costs is
calculated to be only $0.5 million for PRB coal firing and less than $1 million for highsulfur bituminous coal firing of a modern 650-MW unit with nozzle control. As Figure 8

makes clear, the present value of 20 years of operating cost savings is not nearly
enough to justify the additional $6 million to $7 million capital investment required for
the sliding-pressure steam generator. Meanwhile, the sliding-pressure turbine cost
savings are reportedly estimated to be on the order of $0.5 million and would be partly
offset by any additional feedwater heater and steam generator costs to handle sliding
pressure and any associated load and pressure cycling.

Source: Riley Power Inc.


8. Investment payback. The chart shows simple 20-year present value of operating cost
savings with sliding pressure on a 650-MW unit. Additional cost for a sliding-pressure
steam generator is estimated as $6 million to $7 million.

For cycling service?


For completeness, it should be recognized that continual load cycling and fast start-up
abilities may be of particular value for a limited number of units in each region of the
U.S., though the value is relatively difficult to quantify. Sliding pressure may be justified
and viable where such features are especially valued, but development of these abilities
with constant-pressure systems should not be overlooked. Nevertheless, it is widely
believed that any continual load cycling of new coal units, beyond controlled nightly
reductions, will be for a relatively small proportion, to be strategically determined for
each grid region. The significant operating cost advantage of new supercritical units will
give these units preference for load dispatch.
In addition, Americas installed natural gasfired capacitynow almost 200 GW
represents a sizeable sunk investment in generation that is well suited for peaking duty.
Though it is expensive to operate, this capacity is available to meet peak loads and is
relatively easy to start up and shut down. This creates a different environment from that
of the 1970s, when such peaking capacity was not available and utilities were caught
not being able to easily cycle their baseloaded units when a recession hit. Independent
power producers considering new coal-fired units should recognize thatarmed with
economically efficient generation fired by coal rather than by natural gastheir role in
contributing to the regional grid load and their priority on the dispatch curve will be

entirely different, moving from the peaking role into the baseload and average-load
roles.
Regarding start-up, it should be noted that not all of the start-up systems and features
employed on modern generating units around the world are inherently or exclusively
applicable to sliding-pressure operation, and the expense of once-through slidingpressure steam generators need not be assumed to gain such features. The Riley Power
recirculating units in operation since 1970 already prove the successful application of
recirculation to facilitate start-up of a constant-pressure supercritical unit. For the future
generation of coal-fired plants in the U.S., other modern start-up features can be
developed and integrated with appropriate plant designs for the range of expected
domestic needs, for both constant- and sliding-pressure applications.