Soot blowers are provided in boilers at various locations like water-walls, superheaters, reheaters, economizers and air pre-heaters. Steam soot blowers have specific advantage and disadvantages over other types. The advantages being mainly their low capital cost, operating cost and the effectiveness of cleaning in areas like furnace, superheaters and reheaters. The major disadvantages are they need a higher level of maintenance; effectiveness is low in oil firing mainly in air pre-heater area. They need warm up and condensate draining before startup. The mechanisms of steam soot blower erosion of heat transfer tubes can be a single factor or multiple factors acting individually or in unison. There are much more than hundred soot boilers in boilers generating and supplying steam for a 500 MW and above plants.
- All blowers are set to be set at the right steam pressure recommended by the designer if this is not done then it leads to poor cleaning or higher rate of tube erosion due to high steam pressure. This is true for all soot blowers in the boiler starting from furnace to air pre-heater.
- The alignment of the blower with respect to the furnace walls, superheater tubes, reheater tubes, economizer tubes and air pre-heater tubes or elements is very critical and not maintaining this leads to erosion of the tubes and subsequent metal wastage. The thinning of the tubes finally leads to pinhole failures and many secondary figures due to this depending upon the orientation of the leak.
- It is required to ensure at least 50 degree centigrade of super heat in the steam being used for blowing. If the super heat in the steam is lower than required then during blowing wet steam impinge the tubes at high velocity and the impact force damaging the heat transfer tubes. This can be identified by the typical spit like metal wastage on the tubes surrounding the blower’s area of effectiveness.
- The duration of operation of blowers is another main reason for erosion of the heat transfer tubes. Even if you maintain the correct pressure and temperature the erosion will take place at a slow phase if duration is more than required.
- In coal fired boiler if alignment is not correct then the ash deposits being cleaned can get entrained and cause erosion of tubes. However in oil fired boilers it is not a mechanism that can happen due to the fact that the ash in oil is not significant at all.
- The higher frequency of operation of the soot blowers than needed also leads to tube erosion.
- Optimizing the soot blower operation is important as operating those blowers where deposits are not there or very low will lead to metal wastage over a period of time.
- Failure to drain the condensate in the soot blower steam pipes is also contributing mechanism of tube erosion. The condensate gets entrained in the steam while the blower operates and has a much higher damaging effect than the lower degree of superheat in steam.
It has been seen in many boilers, mainly coal fired boilers, the soot blower erosion is one of the main contributing factors for loss of boiler availability. In the case of chemical recovery boilers also the soot blowers attribute to the loss of availability of boiler in a significant way.