The performance parameters of boiler, like efficiency and evaporation ratio reduces with time due to poor combustion, heat transfer surface fouling and poor operation and maintenance. Even for a new boiler, reasons such as deteriorating fuel quality, water quality etc. can result in poor boiler performance. Boiler efficiency tests help us to find out the deviation of boiler efficiency from the best efficiency and target problem area for corrective action.
Thermal efficiency of boiler is defined as the percentage of heat input that is effectively utilized to generate steam. There are two methods of assessing boiler efficiency.
a)The Direct Method: Where the energy gain of the working fluid (water and steam) is compared with the energy content of the boiler fuel.
b)The Indirect Method: Where the efficiency is the difference between the losses and the energy input.
This is also known as ‘input-output method’ due to the fact that it needs only the useful output (steam) and the heat input (i.e. fuel) for evaluating the efficiency. This efficiency can be evaluated using the formula
Parameters to be monitored for the calculation of boiler efficiency by direct method are :
Quantity of steam generated per hour (Q) in kg/hr.
Quantity of fuel used per hour (q) in kg/hr.
The working gauge pressure (in kg/cm2) and superheat temperature (°C), if any
The temperature of feed water (°C)
Type of fuel and gross calorific value of the fuel (GCV) in kCal/kg of fuel
Boiler efficiency = Q x (hg-hf) ×100 /(q×GCV)
hg – Enthalpy of saturated steam in kCal/kg of steam
hf – Enthalpy of feed water in kCal/kg of water
It should be noted that boiler may not generate 100% saturated dry steam, and there may be some amount of wetness in the steam.
Advantages of Direct Method:
Plant people can evaluate quickly the efficiency of boilers
Requires few parameters for computation
Needs few instruments for monitoring
Disadvantages of Direct Method:
Does not give clues to the operator as to why efficiency of system is lower
Does not calculate various losses accountable for various efficiency levels
There are reference standards for Boiler Testing at Site using indirect method namely British Standard, BS 845: 1987 and USA Standard is ASME PTC-4-1 Power Test Code Steam Generating Units’. Indirect method is also called as ‘’heat loss method’’. The efficiency can be arrived at, by subtracting the heat loss fractions from 100. The standards do not include blow down loss in the efficiency determination process. A brief procedure for calculating boiler efficiency by indirect method is given below.
The principle losses that occur in a boiler are:
Loss of heat due to dry flue gas
Loss of heat due to moisture in fuel and combustion air
Loss of heat due to combustion of hydrogen
Loss of heat due to radiation
Loss of heat due to unburnt
In the above, loss due to moisture in fuel and the loss due to combustion of hydrogen are dependent on the fuel, and cannot be controlled by design. The data required for calculation of boiler efficiency using indirect method are:
Ambient temperature in °C (Ta) & humidity of air in kg/kg of dry air
GCV of fuel in kCal/kg
Percentage combustible in ash (in case of solid fuels)
GCV of ash in kCal/kg (in case of solid fuels)
With the help of these parameters the boiler engineers find the losses using standard approaches as specified by ASME and other boiler OEMs. Finally losses can be subtracted from the heat added and hence efficiency can be found.
The various energy efficiency opportunities in boiler system can be related to combustion, heat transfer, avoidable losses, high auxiliary power consumption, water quality and blowdown. Examining the following factors can indicate if a boiler is being run to maximize its efficiency:
Boiler efficiency depends on following 11 things:
2.Feed Water Preheating using Economiser
3.Combustion Air Preheat
5.Excess Air Control
6.Radiation and Convection Heat Loss
7.Automatic Blowdown Control
8.Reduction of Scaling and Soot Losses
9.Reduction of Boiler Steam Pressure
10.Variable Speed Control for Fans, Blowers and Pumps
11.Effect of Boiler Loading on Efficiency
13. Proper Boiler Scheduling
The stack temperature should be as low as possible. However, it should not be so low that water vapor in the exhaust condenses on the stack walls.
This is important in fuels containing significant sulphur as low temperature
can lead to Sulphur dew point corrosion. Stack temperatures greater than 200°C indicates potential for recovery of waste heat. It also indicate the scaling of heat transfer/recovery equipment and hence the urgency of taking an early shut down for water/ flue side cleaning.
2 Feed Water Preheating using Economiser
Typically, the flue gases leaving a modern 3-pass shell boiler are at temperatures of 200 to 300 °C. Thus, there is a potential to recover heat from these gases. The flue gas exit temperature from a boiler is usually maintained at a minimum of 200 °C, so that the sulphur oxides in the flue gas do not condense and cause corrosion in heat transfer surfaces. When a clean fuel such as natural gas, LPG or gas oil is used, the economy of heat recovery must be worked out, as the flue gas temperature may be well below 200 °C.
The potential for energy saving depends on the type of boiler installed and the fuel used. For a typically older model shell boiler, with a flue gas exit temperature of 260 °C, an economizer could be used to reduce it to 200 °C, increasing the feed water temperature by 15 °C. Increase in overall thermal efficiency would be in the order of 3%. For a modern 3-pass shell boiler firing natural gas with a flue gas exit temperature of 140 °C a condensing economizer would reduce the exit temperature to 65 °C increasing thermal efficiency by 5%.
3. Combustion Air Preheat
Combustion air preheating is an alternative to feedwater heating. In order to improve thermal efficiency by 1%, the combustion air temperature must be raised by 20 °C. Most gas and oil burners used in a boiler plant are not designed for high air-preheat temperatures.
Modern burners can withstand much higher combustion air preheat, so it is possible to consider such units as heat exchangers in the exit flue as an alternative to an economizer, when either space or a high feed water return temperature make it viable.
4. Incomplete Combustion
Incomplete combustion can arise from a shortage of air or surplus of fuel or poor distribution of fuel. It is usually obvious from the colour or smoke, and must be corrected immediately. In the case of oil and gas fired systems, CO or smoke (for oil fired systems only) with normal or high excess air indicates burner system problems. A more frequent cause of incomplete combustion is the poor mixing of fuel and air at the burner. Poor oil fires can result from improper viscosity, worn tips, carbonization on tips and deterioration of diffusers or spinner plates.
With coal firing, unburned carbon can comprise a big loss. It occurs as grit carry-over or carbon-in-ash and may amount to more than 2% of the heat supplied to the boiler. Non uniform fuel size could be one of the reasons for incomplete combustion. In chain grate stokers, large lumps will not burn out completely, while small pieces and fines may block the air passage, thus causing poor air distribution. In sprinkler stokers, stoker grate condition, fuel distributors, wind box air regulation and over-fire systems can affect carbon loss. Increase in the fines in pulverized coal also increases carbon loss.
5. Excess Air Control
The Table 4.4 gives the theoretical amount of air required for combustion of various types of fuel. Excess air is required in all practical cases to ensure complete combustion, to allow for the normal variations in combustion and to ensure satisfactory stack conditions for some fuels. The optimum excess air level for maximum boiler efficiency occurs when the sum of the losses due to incomplete combustion and loss due to heat in flue gases is minimum. This level varies with furnace design, type of burner, fuel and process variables. It can be determined by conducting tests with different air fuel ratios.
Theoretical Combustion Data- Common Boiler Fuels
kg of air req./kg of air
kg of flue gas /kg of fuel
m3 of flue/kg of fuel
Theoretical CO2% in dry flue gas
CO2% in flue gas achieved in practice
Typical values of excess air supplied for various fuels are given in Table–4.5.
Excess Air Levels for Different Fuels
Type of Furnace or Burners
Excess Air (% by wt)
Completely water-cooled furnace for slag-tap or dry-ash removal
Partially water-cooled furnace for dry-ash removal
Water-cooler vibrating-grate stokers
Chain-grate and traveling-gate stokers
Oil burners, register type
Multi-fuel burners and flat-flame
High pressure burner
Dutch over (10–23% through grates) and Hofft type
Recovery furnaces for draft and soda-pulping processes
Controlling excess air to an optimum level always results in reduction in flue gas losses; for every 1% reduction in excess air there is approximately 0.6% rise in efficiency.
Various methods are available to control the excess air:
Portable oxygen analysers and draft gauges can be used to make periodic readings to guide the operator to manually adjust the flow of air for optimum operation. Excess air reduction up to 20% is feasible.
The most common method is the continuous oxygen analyzer with a local readout mounted draft gauge, by which the operator can adjust air flow. A further reduction of 10–15% can be achieved over the previous system.
III. The same continuous oxygen analyzer can have a remote controlled pneumatic damper positioner, by which the readouts are available in a control room. This enables an operator to remotely control a number of firing systems simultaneously.
The most sophisticated system is the automatic stack damper control, whose cost is really justified only for large systems.
6.Radiation and Convection Heat Loss
The external surfaces of a shell boiler are hotter than the surroundings. The surfaces thus lose heat to the surroundings depending on the surface area and the difference in temperature between the surface and the surroundings. The heat loss from the boiler shell is normally a fixed energy loss, irrespective of the boiler output. With modern boiler designs, this may represent only 1.5% on the gross calorific value at full rating, but will increase to around 6%, if the boiler operates at only 25 percent output.
Repairing or augmenting insulation can reduce heat loss through boiler walls and piping.
7. Automatic Blowdown Control
Uncontrolled continuous blowdown is very wasteful. Automatic blowdown controls can be installed that sense and respond to boiler water conductivity and pH. A 10% blow down in a 15 kg/cm2 boiler results in 3% efficiency loss.
8. Reduction of Scaling and Soot Losses
In oil and coal-fired boilers, soot buildup on tubes acts as an insulator against heat transfer. Any such deposits should be removed on a regular basis. Elevated stack temperatures may indicate excessive soot buildup. Also same result will occur due to scaling on the water side. High exit gas temperatures at normal excess air indicate poor heat transfer performance. This condition can result from a gradual build-up of gas-side or waterside deposits. Waterside deposits require a review of water treatment procedures and tube cleaning to remove deposits.
An estimated 1% efficiency loss occurs with every 22 °C increase in stack temperature. Stack temperature should be checked and recorded regularly as an indicator of soot deposits. When the flue gas temperature rises about 20 °C above the temperature for a newly cleaned boiler, it is time to remove the soot deposits. It is, therefore, recommended to install a dial type thermometer at the base of the stack to monitor the exhaust flue gas temperature. It is estimated that 3 mm of soot can cause an increase in fuel consumption by 2.5% due to increased flue gas temperatures. Periodic off-line cleaning of radiant furnace surfaces, boiler tube banks, economizers and air heaters may be necessary to remove stubborn deposits.
9. Reduction of Boiler Steam Pressure
This is an effective means of reducing fuel consumption, if permissible, by as much as 1 to 2%. Lower steam pressure gives a lower saturated steam temperature and without stack heat recovery, a similar reduction in the temperature of the flue gas temperature results. Steam is generated at pressures normally dictated by the highest pressure / temperature requirements for a particular process. In some cases, the process does not operate all the time, and there are periods when the boiler pressure could be reduced. The energy manager should consider pressure reduction carefully, before recommending it. Adverse effects, such as an increase in water carryover from the boiler owing to pressure reduction, may negate any potential saving. Pressure should be reduced in stages, and no more than a 20 percent reduction should be considered.
10. Variable Speed Control for Fans, Blowers and Pumps
Variable speed control is an important means of achieving energy savings. Generally, combustion air control is affected by throttling dampers fitted at forced and induced draft fans. Though dampers are simple means of control, they lack accuracy, giving poor control characteristics at the top and bottom of the operating range. In general, if the load characteristic of the boiler is variable, the possibility of replacing the dampers by a VSD should be evaluated.
11. Effect of Boiler Loading on Efficiency
The maximum efficiency of the boiler does not occur at full load, but at about two-thirds of the full load. If the load on the boiler decreases further, efficiency also tends to decrease. At zero output, the efficiency of the boiler is zero, and any fuel fired is used only to supply the losses.
The factors affecting boiler efficiency are:
As the load falls, so does the value of the mass flow rate of the flue gases through the tubes. This reduction in flow rate for the same heat transfer area reduced the exit flue gas temperatures by a small extent, reducing the sensible heat loss.
Below half load, most combustion appliances need more excess air to burn the fuel completely. This increases the sensible heat loss
In general, efficiency of the boiler reduces significantly below 25% of the rated load and as far as possible; operation of boilers below this level should be avoided.
12. Proper Boiler Scheduling
Since, the optimum efficiency of boilers occurs at 65–85% of full load, it is usually more efficient, on the whole, to operate a fewer number of boilers at higher loads, than to operate a large number at low loads.
The potential savings from replacing a boiler depend on the anticipated change in overall efficiency. A change in a boiler can be financially attractive if the existing boiler is:
old and inefficient
not capable of firing cheaper substitution fuel
over or undersized for present requirements
not designed for ideal loading conditions
The feasibility study should examine all implications of long-term fuel availability and company growth plans. All financial and engineering factors should be considered. Since boiler plants traditionally have a useful life of well over 25 years, replacement must be carefully studied.