Recommendations for Increasing Heater Efficiency

by | Jul 23, 2007 | Industrial Energy & Onsite Utilities, Industry, Measurement Instrumentation, Services, Consulting & Training


A great question came in on the Operating Fired Heaters More Efficiently and Reliably blog post:

Jim I work with natural draft heaters on a daily basis and have initiated several efficiency tests with improved burner internals. I am looking for an opportunity to optimize dual firetube treater by first off improving the combustion efficiency to 80% in each tube and then staggering the temperature controls so that one tube runs 90 to 100% of the time and the other tube only fire during high load requirements.

I sent the comment around our advanced automation consultants for any comments that they might have and I received a great reply from Lou Heavner whom you may recall from earlier posts. Lou describes how to approach optimizing these heaters:

Heater efficiency is calculated using heat loss or input/output method. Input/Output method is difficult because you have to account for lags and delays between fuel firing rate changes and the measurement of process heat absorption changes and in the specific case where there is incomplete phase change on the process side (e.g. partial vaporization) you cannot easily solve with reasonable instrumentation. The heat loss method measures heat loss in the flue gas and assumes any other losses are negligible and constant. If not, they need to be measured and added as well.

Heat loss requires knowledge of the supply air (and fuel) temperatures and the flue gas exhaust temperature as well as the composition of the fuel and flue gas, just like with a boiler. In perfect combustion, there would be no unburned fuel in the flue gas and no sensible heat losses. But due to practical considerations, there are sensible heat losses and to calculate them, you need to know the delta T between the exhaust and ambient and how much excess oxygen remains in the exhaust. Efficiency calculations made using this technique can be pretty accurate in a natural draft heater, but if there is air leakage after the combustion zone, tramp air will show up as lower efficiency due to increased O2. And there is usually an optimum cost operation where the trade-off between sensible heat losses and unburned fuel losses require some level of unburned or incompletely burned fuel leaving in the flue.

When you are ready to control, the goal is to minimize excess O2 while not allowing excessive fuel to go unconsumed. CO analyzers are often used to detect incompletely burned fuel and the goal is usually to keep it below 150 ppm or some lower target. O2 is controlled to stay as low as possible without exceeding the CO limit, which is usually 2% O2 or less for the fluegas.

You can do this with simple feedback control, but feed forward control can help do better. Information on fuel quality, if it varies, and process side temperatures and flows (the heater load demand) can be used to adjust the fuel and air for combustion to meet the heating demand at maximum efficiency. Fuel and air cross limits are often used to maintain fuel and air ratio without getting into a fuel rich condition in the firebox during load changes. But airflow is usually difficult to measure. Therefore, it is often inferred from damper position.

When evaluating an application, we would want to know what instrumentation already exists and what the process variability looks like. What efficiency are they currently obtaining? Then we would look at the control valves and any other contributors to variability to see if they warrant repair or replacement. We would similarly evaluate the instrumentation and analyzers to see if they need anything there.

Then we could evaluate the control strategy and performance and recommend reconfiguration or tuning as appropriate, which may include advanced process control (APC). The person evaluating the controls would have to weigh the cost against the improvement from better loop tuning, valve repair/replacement, CO analyzer, etc. to come up with the best solution. Dampers are often the weak link in fine control of a natural draft heater.

As my colleague Doug Simmers in Emerson’s Rosemount Analytical business noted, “The commenter is probably correct with the strategy to fire one heater full out, and bring the second unit on only when needed. Running at full fire develops the best turbulence for fuel/air mixing, and the excess O2 can be kept lower.” This is a load allocation problem when two heaters are firing simultaneously. If we can model heater efficiency for each heater as a function of load, then we could optimize the load allocation across both heaters when both must be fired. Actual testing would identify the models, uncover the best strategy, and verify or disprove this assumption.”

He may also be interested in the efficiency calculator, developed by Doug’s team.

Join the conversation and add a comment if you have experience to share.

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