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Using Explosives for

Boiler Deslagging
03/28/2012 | By Dr. Robert Peltier, PE

Slagging is the formation of molten, partially fused or re-solidified


deposits on furnace walls and other surfaces exposed to radiant
heat. Over a period of time, a base deposit of slag may also form
on boiler tubes. The base deposit may be initiated by the settling
of fine ash particles or the gradual accumulation of particles with
very low melting-point constituents. As the base deposit thickens,
the temperature at its outside face increases significantly above
the tube surface temperature. Eventually, the melting point of the
ash constituents is exceeded and the deposit surface becomes
molten. The process then becomes self-accelerating, with the
molten slag trapping essentially all of the impinging ash particles.
Steam- or air-driven sootblowers are commonly used to remove
ash and slag deposits from external tube surfaces, but their
effectiveness varies. Also, sootblowing may cause localized
erosion and corrosion in areas swept too clean by the blowing
medium. This problem is often mitigated by installing shields on
all tubes adjacent to sootblowers. However, sometimes the slag
formation cant be reached using conventional cleaning
techniques.

Boiler SlagIts a Blast to


Deal With
Slag removal can be a constant battle at many solid fuel-fired
power plants. Conventional weapons include picks, jackhammers,
shotguns fired through portholes, hydro-blasting, and CO 2-

blasting. In many boilers, sootblowers, and rapping systems only


keep slag deposits in check until the next major outage, when
more vigorous removal methodssuch as explosivescan be
applied.
But each of these methods is labor intensive, consumes
substantial amounts of downtime, and may not dislodge severe
deposits. In the l960s, a Midwestern plant superintendent, short of
personnel because of a labor strike and a frustrated with
seemingly immovable slagging, resorted to dynamite! In recent
years, explosive deslagging has become more widely accepted as
a state-of-the-art combat technique, and several hundred power
plants throughout the U.S. now make use of it during annual
outages.
Some plant owners worry that the industry has expanded too fast,
and unqualified blasters are being allowed into the power plant.
Although contractors must obtain a slew of licenses, permits,
bonds, and certificates of competency, the regulations and tests
are geared toward large-scale civil engineering jobs. Carving out
roadways and tunnels, the veterans point out, does not ensure
that a contractor can use controlled explosives near delicate
boiler tubes.
Perhaps such concerns by the seasoned experts can be chalked
up to competitive posturing, but clearly, using explosives to
remove "Greyhound bus-size" clinkers is risky business. Extensive
damage has been done to boiler refractory, tube bundles, even
nearby plant buildings, when explosive deslagging was improperly
performed. One Texas utility, for example, reportedly spent $5
million replacing boiler tubes when the efforts of a new, lower
priced contractor went awry.

Practical Applications
Explosives have been used in units ranging from packaged boilers
up to 1,300-MW central stations. Early applications were limited
to large clinkers that bridged the throat and blocked the bottom
hoppers. After building their confidence in the bottom hoppers,
contractors began to use blasting more selectively, moving up

into the firebox and ultimately to all sections of tube bundles.


Explosive deslagging of the boiler has even been performed
online, with the unit turned down to low load. Check out these
videos of actual power plant boiler deslagging operations: video
1, video 2, and video 3.
Outside the boiler, explosives have been used to clean such
power plant components as scrubbers, fly ash silos, and
precipitators. Every winter, trainloads of frozen coal are blasted to
speed up the unloading process.
The technique isnt limited to coal-fired plants. Crude oil-fired
boilers, with vanadium-laden slag deposits, also have benefitted
from explosive deslagging. So have recovery boilers at pulp and
paper plants, which burn a concentrated black-liquor fuel capable
of producing severe ash deposits.
Perhaps the largest application outside coal-fired power plants is
in waste-fired systems. Waste-to-energy plants, which were built
in increasing numbers in the 1970s and 1980s, create particularly
tough slag deposits that often are impervious to conventional
removal methods. Complicating the issue is the fact that the
composition of waste-fired fly ash can vary greatly from plant to
plant and from month to month, depending on the amount of
paper, plastics, glass, metals, food scraps, and so on that
constitute the waste fuel. For example, the average heating value
of municipal solid waste has been steadily increasing over the
past decade, and the moisture content has been decreasing,
because of expanded recycling programs.
Explosive deslagging not only dislodges the severe deposits in
waste-to-energy plants, but it also typically reduces them to a fine
dust that can be easily swept away. In contrast, explosive
deslagging of coal ash might still leave chunks of slag that must
be carted off.