The hazardous manual cleaning of heavily clogged boiler pipes can become a thing of the past, thanks to a computer controlled pipe cleaning attachment developed by EUREKA project E! 3237 APCS. But as well as boosting boiler efficiency, it also offers industry far lower cost boiler solutions for heavy duty applications that were until now, unavailable.
Dutch firm Optimum Technologies and French company Maguin, partners in the project, developed a heat resistant mechanical arm to monitor boilers and systematically insert a brush into each pipe, cleaning the boiler while it is still in operation. Typical working temperatures are in the region of 200 degrees centigrade. Computer control enables it to be accurately programmed for each boiler. The system has already been granted a European patent, and a worldwide patent is pending.
Until this development, the only alternative has been to install water tube boilers, which produce far less fouling. However, they cost 3 to 5 times more than fire tube boilers and only operate at high pressures, of over 35 bars.
Steam is still one of the best ways to transfer heat at a constant temperature, and fire tube steam boilers are widely used in industrial applications, all over the world. The concept is simple, hot gases travel through tubes or pipes placed in water, and their heat is transferred to the water surrounding the pipes. However, using heavy or solid fuels such as coal or biomass to heat the gases causes boiler pipes to clog up and become dirty. This continuously reduces the boiler's efficiency and in the worst cases, can bring it to a standstill. Cleaning fire tube boilers is an arduous and intensive task considering there are generally over 100 pipes to clean. It involves a loss in production, as the boiler has to be taken out of operation. A long brush is used to scrape each pipe out by hand, exposing the cleaner to the residue of noxious gases in the tubes.
According to Enno Nuy, director of Dutch partner Optimum Environmental Technologies B.V, the innovation is being purchased by industrial plants already using fire tube boilers and by new industries which had no option than to use the more expensive water tube boilers in the past. "Tar production plants and recycling plants in the Netherlands have already installed our system," he says. Nuy believes the partners will be set to exploit 'the enormous USA and Chinese markets' with a worldwide patent.
However, "Without EUREKA funding it wouldn't have happened," says Nuy. "All those involved were small companies, EUREKA was vital for the research and development of our system."