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J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

DOI 10.1007/s11668-015-9932-9


Analysis of a Failed Primary Superheater Tube and Life

Assessment in a Coal-Fired Powerplant
M. N. Ilman • M. Prihajatno • Kusmono

Submitted: 8 September 2014 / in revised form: 25 November 2014

Ó ASM International 2015

Abstract The paper presents results of failure analysis of power generation. Some types of boilers are designed with
a primary superheater tube in a steam powerplant boiler. a two-stage superheater consisting of primary (low tem-
The boiler has been in service for around 52,000 h perature) superheater and secondary (high temperature)
(6 years) and failure occurred on one of the primary su- superheater and between the two a steam temperature
perheater tubes in the form of a wide-open burst with control is usually located [1].
appreciable wall thinning. The location of failure was first Despite superheater and reheater tubes are designed for
determined by on-site visual examination. Subsequently, finite life, premature failure may occur due to various
specimens were taken from a region near the fracture factors such as design, material selection, material defects,
surface for chemical analysis, microstructural examination fabrication, and processing. It has been reported that failure
using optical microscopy, and scanning electron mi- of superheater tubes is mainly caused by creep bulging and
croscopy equipped with energy-dispersive X-ray analysis rupture as a result of overheating. In this case, the condi-
to determine the probable cause of failure; whereas the tions of temperature and time under which the failure occur
lifetime of the superheater tubes was assessed using stress can be deduced from the morphology of fracture and
rupture test. Results suggest that the cause of failure was changes in microstructure [2–6].
overheating due to deposit buildup inside the superheater Apart from creep damage, other sources of failure in
tube which acted as thermal barrier and wall thinning re- superheater tubes are erosion wear resulting from a single
sulted from direct impingement of flue gases. The lifetime flow of steam contaminated by oxide exfoliation [7] and
of the superheater tubes is estimated and is discussed in the combination of hydrogen attack, corrosion, and creep [8].
present investigation. Chromium-molybdenum steels, such as 2.25Cr-1Mo
steel are commonly selected for superheater material [9,
Keywords Boiler material  Fish mouth fracture  10] since it has resistance to oxidation due to the formation
Stress rupture of protective oxide film such as Cr2O3 whereas the high
creep strength resulted from Mo addition.

Background of the Failure
A superheater is one of the most critical boiler components
since it is operated in the creep range and failure of su- Figure 1 shows a schematic view of a power boiler under
perheater tubes may cause forced outages in power boilers. investigation whereas details of the failed horizontal pri-
A superheater is used to convert wet steam to dry steam for mary superheater are shown in Fig. 2. During operation,
the primary superheater tubes were operated at pressure of
170 Bar (17 MPa) whereas temperature inside the tubes
M. N. Ilman (&)  M. Prihajatno  Kusmono
was around 400 °C. Failure occurred on one of the super-
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Gadjah
Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia heater tubes after 6 years in service in the form of a wide-
e-mail: ilman_noer@ugm.ac.id open (fish mouth) burst on its side which experienced

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

Fig. 1 A schematic view of a

power boiler

direct impingement of flue gases. This burst tube was was carried out in the temperature range of 400–650 °C
located in the first row of the superheater tube rows. It can and in the stress range of 100–305 MPa.
be seen that the burst tube was also suffered from buckling.
The present investigation aims to analyze the probable
cause of failure and to estimate the remaining life of the Results and Discussion
primary superheater.
The chemical composition of the failed primary super-
heater and the corresponding standard composition are
shown in Table 1. It can be seen that the superheater
Experimental Methods material is closely similar to SA-210 A1 carbon steel.
Figure 3 shows a cross section of the failed primary
The failed primary superheater tube was subjected to in- superheater due to longitudinal rupture. It can be seen that
vestigation. The chemical composition of the tube was thinning occurred on one side of the tube which was sub-
analyzed using a standard spectrometer. Microstructural jected to direct impingement of flue gas. The presence of
examination was performed using optical microscopy; thinning could be linked to overheating. However, this
whereas scanning electron microscopy (SEM) equipped preliminary analysis needs to be verified by more detailed
with energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) spectrometer was characterizations as shown later.
employed to study the fractured surface and deposits inside Figure 4 shows microstructure of the failed primary
the tube. The accumulated deposits, given in the weight per superheater tube taken from outer surface (Fig. 4a) and
unit heat-transfer area, were assessed according to ASTM inner surface (Fig. 4b). Consistent with its chemical com-
D-3483 standard. The stress rupture test for life assessment position, the microstructure is composed of ferrite (bright-

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

etched phase) and pearlite (dark-etched phase). The

microstructure of outer surface exhibits coarse ferrite with
spheroidized carbides as the result of decomposition of
pearlite after prolonged exposure to high temperature. In
addition, the outer surface of the primary superheater is
suffered from exfoliation of iron oxides due to erosion of
flue gas. In contrast to the outer surface, the microstructure
of the inner surface exhibits elongated grains parallel to
rolling direction suggesting that the microstructure did not
significantly change after prolonged exposure at high
temperature. It seems that changes in microstructure are
related to temperature gradient along the tube thickness
where the hotter surface is observed at the tube outer
Results of deposit assessment according to ASTM D-
3483 standard show that deposits formed at the inner sur-
face of the tubes are relatively high, typically of 1.42
g/cm2. Results of SEM microanalysis of the deposits are
Fig. 3 Cross section of the primary superheater showing thinning at
the hotter side

Fig. 2 The location of a wide-open burst

Table 1 Composition of the primary superheater tubes (wt %)

Material C Mn Si P S

Tube 0.19 0.66 0.25 0.025 0.019

SA-210 A1 0.27 max. 0.93 max. 0.10–0.40 0.035 max. 0.035 max. Fig. 4 The microstructure of the failed primary superheater: (a) outer
surface, (b) inner surface

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

Fig. 5 (a) SEM photograph of deposits, (b) EDX-spectra of the Fig. 6 (a) Intergranular cracking at fish mouth burst region, (b) the
deposits magnified region outlined by a square in (a)

shown in Fig. 5. It can be seen that the deposits have

globular morphology. EDX-spectra taken from these de- Fig. 7. The hoop stress (rh) due to pressure P is expressed
posits show that the deposits are composed of mainly Si, as [11, 12].
Al, O and traces of Fe, probably in the forms of SiO2, Pðdo  tÞ
Al2O3 and Fe2O3, and/or Fe3O4. It seems that the presence rh ¼ ; ðEq 1Þ
of deposits or scale inside the tube wall causes overheating
where do is outer diameter and t is tube thickness so that
since the deposits can act as thermal barrier as previously
reported [3]. 17ð57:2  6:2Þ
rh ¼ ¼ 69:9 MPa:
Further investigation on fractured surface using SEM 2ð6:2Þ
(Fig. 6a) shows that crack starts to nucleate at the inner
Referring to Fig. 7, the Larson–Miller Parameter (LMP)
surface of the primary superheater tube. The magnified
can be obtained by drawing the horizontal line at
region outlined by square in Fig. 6a is shown in Fig. 6b. It
rh = 69.9 MPa until it intersects with the curve and then it
can be seen that the crack nucleates intergranularly typical
is projected on to LMP axis resulting in LMP of 17.2.
of creep failure. This type of fracture is marked by nu-
The remaining life (tr) of the superheaters (given in h) is
cleation and growth of microcracks or cavities along grain
predicted as the following.
If the power boiler is operated properly then premature LMP ¼ TðC þ log tr Þ0:001; ðEq 2Þ
failure of boiler’s components can be prevented. In such a Or
case as this, the remaining life of the primary superheater 1000 LMP
tubes can be estimated based on stress rupture as shown in tr ¼ 10 T ; ðEq 3Þ

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

4. It is recommended that water treatment needs to be

carefully performed by adding suitable chemicals to the
boiler to convert scale-forming compounds into free-
flowing sludges. Subsequently, the sludges can be
periodically removed by blowdown hence preventing
the formation of scales.


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