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Thermal power station


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A thermal power station comprises all of the equipment and systems required to produce electricity by using a steam generating boiler fired with fossil fuels or biofuels to drive an electrical generator. Some prefer to use the term energy center because such facilities convert forms of energy, like nuclear energy, gravitational potential energy or heat energy (derived from the combustion of fuels) into electrical energy. However, power plant is the most common term in the United States, while power station prevails in many Commonwealth countries and especially in the United Kingdom.

Such power stations are most usually constructed on a very large scale and designed for continuous operation.


Diagram of a typical coal-fired thermal power station


Steam generator

  The steam generating boiler has to produce steam at the high purity, pressure and temperature required for the steam turbine that drives the electrical generator. The generator includes the economizer, the steam drum, the chemical dosing equipment, and the furnace with its steam generating tubes and the superheater coils. Necessary safety valves are located at suitable points to avoid excessive boiler pressure. The air and flue gas path equipment include: forced draft (FD) fan, air preheater (APH), boiler furnace, induced draft (ID) fan, fly ash collectors (electric precipitator or baghouse) and the flue gas stack.[1][2][3]

For units over about 200 MW capacity, redundancy of key components is provided by installing duplicates of the FD fan, APH, fly ash collectors and ID fan with isolating dampers. On some units of about 60 MW, two boilers per unit may instead be provided.

Boiler furnace and steam drum

The boiler furnace auxiliary equipment includes coal feed nozzles and igniter guns, soot blowers, water lancing and observation ports (in the furnace walls) for observation of the furnace interior. Furnace explosions due to any accumulation of combustible gases after a trip-out are avoided by flushing out such gases from the combustion zone before igniting the coal.

The steam drum (as well as the superheater coils and headers) have air vents and drains needed for initial startup. The steam drum has internal devices that removes moisture from the wet steam entering the drum from the steam generating tubes. The dry steam then flows into the superheater coils.

Fuel preparation system

In coal-fired power stations, the raw feed coal from the coal storage area is first crushed into small pieces and then conveyed to the coal feed hoppers at the boilers. The coal is next pulverized into a very fine powder. The pulverizers may be ball mills, rotating drum grinders, or other types of grinders.

Some power stations burn fuel oil rather than coal. The oil must kept warm (above its pour point) in the fuel oil storage tanks to prevent the oil from congealing and becoming unpumpable. The oil is usually heated to about 100°C before being pumped through the furnace fuel oil spray nozzles.

Boilers in some power stations use processed natural gas as their main fuel. Other power stations may use processed natural gas as auxiliary fuel in the event that their main fuel supply (coal or oil) is interrupted. In such cases, separate gas burners are provided on the boiler furnaces.

Fuel firing system and igniter system

From the pulverized coal bin, coal is blown by hot air through the furnace coal burners at an angle which imparts a swirling motion to the powdered coal to enhance mixing of the coal powder with the incoming preheated combustion air and thus to enhance the combustion.

To provide sufficient combustion temperature in the furnace before igniting the powdered coal, the furnace temperature is raised by first burning some light fuel oil or processed natural gas (by using auxiliary burners and igniters provide for that purpose).

Air path

External fans are provided to give sufficient air for combustion. The forced draft fan takes air from the atmosphere and, first warming it in the air preheater for better combustion, injects it via the air nozzles on the furnace wall.

The induced draft fan assists the FD fan by drawing out combustible gases from the furnace, maintaining a slightly negative pressure in the furnace to avoid backfiring through any opening. At the furnace outlet, and before the furnace gases are handled by the ID fan, fine dust carried by the outlet gases is removed to avoid atmospheric pollution. This is an environmental limitation prescribed by law, and additionally minimizes erosion of the ID fan.

Auxiliary systems

Fly ash collection

Fly ash is captured and removed from the flue gas by electrostatic precipitators or fabric bag filters (or sometimes both) located at the outlet of the furnace and before the induced draft fan. The fly ash is periodically removed from the collection hoppers below the precipitators or bag filters. Generally, the fly ash is pneumatically transported to storage silos for subsequent transport by trucks or railroad cars.

Bottom ash collection and disposal

At the bottom of every boiler, a hopper has been provided for collection of the bottom ash from the bottom of the furnace. This hopper is always filled with water to quench the ash and clinkers falling down from the furnace. Some arrangement is included to crush the clinkers and for conveying the crushed clinkers and bottom ash to a storage site.

Boiler make-up water treatment plant and storage

Since there is continuous withdrawal of steam and continuous return of condensate to the boiler, losses due to blow-down and leakages have to be made up for so as to maintain the desired water level in the boiler steam drum. For this, continuous make-up water is added to the boiler water system. The impurities in the raw water input to the plant generally consist of calcium and magnesium salts which impart hardness to the water. Hardness in the make-up water to the boiler will form deposits on the tube water surfaces which will lead to overheating and failure of the tubes. Thus, the salts have to be removed from the water and that is done by a water demineralising treatment plant (DM). A DM plant generally consists of cation, anion and mixed bed exchangers. The final water from this process consists essentially of hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions which is the chemical composition of pure water. The DM water, being very pure, becomes highly corrosive once it absorbs oxygen from the atmosphere because of its very high affinity for oxygen absorption.

The capacity of the DM plant is dictated by the type and quantity of salts in the raw water input. However, some storage is essential as the DM plant may be down for maintenance. For this purpose, a storage tank is installed from which DM water is continuously withdrawn for boiler make-up. The storage tank for DM water is made from materials not affected by corrosive water, such as PVC. The piping and valves are generally of stainless steel. Sometimes, a steam blanketing arrangement or stainless steel doughnut float is provided on top of the water in the tank to avoid contact with atmospheric air. DM water make-up is generally added at the steam space of the surface condenser (i.e., the vacuum side). This arrangement not only sprays the water but also DM water gets deaerated, with the dissolved gases being removed by the ejector of the condenser itself.

Steam turbine-driven electric generator


Main article: Turbo generator

The steam turbine-driven generators have auxiliary systems enabling them to work satisfactorily and safely. The steam turbine generator being rotating equipment generally has a heavy, large diameter shaft. The shaft therefore requires not only supports but also has to be kept in position while running. To minimise the frictional resistance to the rotation, the shaft has a number of bearings. The bearing shells, in which the shaft rotates, are lined with a low friction material like Babbitt metal. Oil lubrication is provided to further reduce the friction between shaft and bearing surface and to limit the heat generated.

Barring gear (or Turning gear)

Barring gear is the term used for the mechanism provided for rotation of the turbine generator shaft at a very low speed (about one revolution per minute) after unit stoppages for any reason. Once the unit is "tripped" (i.e., the turbine steam inlet valve is closed), the turbine starts slowing or "coasting down". When it stops completely, there is a tendency for the turbine shaft to deflect or bend if allowed to remain in one position too long. This deflection is because the heat inside the turbine casing tends to concentrate in the top half of the casing, thus making the top half portion of the shaft hotter than the bottom half. The shaft therefore warps or bends by millionths of inches, only detectable by monitoring eccentricity meters.

But this small amount of shaft deflection would be enough to cause vibrations and damage the entire steam turbine generator unit when it is restarted. Therefore, the shaft is not permitted to come to a complete stop by a mechanism known as "turning gear" or "barring gear" that automatically takes over to rotate the unit at a preset low speed.

If the unit is shut down for major maintenance, then the barring gear must be kept in service until the temperatures of the casings and bearings are sufficiently low.


Main article: Surface condenser

  The surface condenser is a shell and tube heat exchanger in which cooling water is circulated through the tubes.[4][5][6][2] The exhaust steam from the low pressure turbine enters the shell where it is cooled and converted to condensate (water) by flowing over the tubes as shown in the adjacent diagram.

Such condensers use steam ejectors or rotary motor-driven exhausters for continuous removal of air and gases from the steam side to maintain vacuum.

The condenser generally uses either circulating cooling water from a cooling tower or once-through water from a river, lake or ocean.


Main article: Deaerator


A steam generating boiler requires that the boiler feed water should be devoid of air and other dissolved gases, particularly corrosive ones, in order to avoid corrosion of the metal.

Generally, power stations use a deaerator to provide for the removal of air and other dissoved gases from the boiler feedwater. A deaerator typically includes a vertical, domed deaeration section mounted on top of a horizontal cylindrical vessel which serves as the deaerated boiler feedwater storage tank.[2][3][7]

There are many different designs for a deaerator and the designs will vary from one manufacturer to another. The adjacent diagram depicts a typical conventional trayed deaerator.[7][8] If operated properly, most deaerator manufacturers will guarantee that oxygen in the deaerated water will not exceed 7 ppb by weight (0.005 cm³/L).[7][9]

Auxiliary systems

Oil system

An auxiliary oil system pump is used to supply oil at the start-up of the steam turbine generator. It supplies the hydraulic oil system required for steam turbine's main inlet steam stop valve, the governing control valves, the bearing and seal oil systems, the relevant hydraulic relays and other mechanisms.

At a preset speed of the turbine during start-ups, a pump driven by the turbine main shaft takes over the functions of the auxiliary system.

Generator heat dissipation

The electricity generator requires cooling to dissipate the heat that it generates. While small units may be cooled by air drawn through filters at the inlet, larger units generally require special cooling arrangements. Hydrogen gas cooling, in an oil-sealed casing, is used because it has the highest known heat transfer coefficient of any gas and for its low viscosity which reduces windage losses. This system requires special handling during start-up, with air in the chamber first displaced by carbon dioxide before filling with hydrogen. This ensures that the highly flammable hydrogen does not mix with oxygen in the air.

The hydrogen pressure inside the casing is maintained slightly higher than atmospheric pressure to avoid outside air ingress. The hydrogen must be sealed against outward leakage where the shaft emerges from the casing. Mechanical seals around the shaft are installed with a very small annular gap to avoid rubbing between the shaft and the seals. Seal oil is used to prevent the hydrogen gas leakage to atmosphere.

The generator also uses water cooling. Since the generator coils are at a potential of about 22 kV and water is conductive, an insulating barrier such as Teflon is used to interconnect the water line and the generator high voltage windings. Demineralized water of low conductivity is used.

Generator high voltage system

The generator voltage ranges from 11 kV in smaller units to 22 kV in larger units. The generator high voltage leads are normally large aluminum channels because of their high current as compared to the cables used in smaller machines. They are enclosed in well-grounded aluminum bus ducts and are supported on suitable insulators. The generator high voltage channels are connected to step-up transformers for connecting to a high voltage electrical substation (of the order of 110 kV or 220 kV) for further transmission by the local power grid.

The necessary protection and metering devices are included for the high voltage leads. Thus, the steam turbine generator and the transformer form one unit. In smaller units, generating at 11 kV, a breaker is provided to connect it to a common 11 kV bus system.

Other systems

Monitoring and alarm system

Most of the power plant operational controls are automatic. However, at times, manual intervention may be required. Thus, the plant is provided with monitors and alarm systems that alert the plant operators when certain operating parameters are seriously deviating from their normal range.

Battery supplied emergency lighting and communication

A central battery system consisting of lead acid cell units is provided to supply emergency electric power, when needed, to essential items such as the power plant's control systems, communication systems, turbine lube oil pumps, and emergency lighting. This is essential for a safe, damage-free shutdown of the units in an emergency situation.

Transport of coal fuel to site and to storage

Most thermal stations use coal as the main fuel. Raw coal is transported from coal mines to a power station site by trucks, barges, bulk cargo ships or railway cars. Generally, when shipped by railways, the coal cars are sent as a full train of cars. The coal received at site may be of different sizes. The railway cars are unloaded at site by rotary dumpers or side tilt dumpers to tip over onto conveyor belts below. The coal is generally conveyed to crushers which crush the coal to about ¾ inch (6 mm) size. The crushed coal is then sent by belt conveyors to a storage pile. Normally, the crushed coal is compacted by bulldozers, as compacting of highly volatile coal avoids spontaneous ignition.

The crushed coal is conveyed from the storage pile to silos or hoppers at the boilers by another belt conveyor system.

See also


  1. ^ British Electricity International (1991). Modern Power Station Practice: incorporating modern power system practice, 3rd Edition (12 volume set), Pergamon. ISBN 0-08-040510-X. 
  2. ^ a b c Babcock & Wilcox Co. (2005). Steam: Its Generation and Use, 41st edition. ISBN 0-9634570-0-4. 
  3. ^ a b Thomas C. Elliott, Kao Chen, Robert Swanekamp (coauthors) (1997). Standard Handbook of Powerplant Engineering, 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-019435-1. 
  4. ^ Air Pollution Control Orientation Course from website of the Air Pollution Training Institute
  5. ^ Energy savings in steam systems Figure 3a, Layout of surface condenser (scroll to page 11 of 34 pdf pages)
  6. ^ Robert Thurston Kent (Editor in Chief) (1936). Kents’ Mechanical Engineers’ Handbook, Eleventh edition (Two volumes), John Wiley & Sons (Wiley Engineering Handbook Series). 
  7. ^ a b c Pressurized deaerators
  8. ^ Tray deaerating heaters
  9. ^ Deaerator Presentation
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Thermal_power_station". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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