Design Challenges of Boiler Feed Pump Turbines in Thermal Power Stations

 The design of a boiler feed pump turbine features some unique characteristics that presents certain challenges in terms of efficiency management, varying operating ranges, and many other features.  In order better understand the accepted designs of Boiler Feed Pump Turbines (BFPTs), it is important to know how the operation of steam turbines used to drive boiler feed pumps can fundamentally improve fossil and nuclear plants.  Much like the design of mechanical drive turbines, feed pump turbines also feature the same thermodynamic objectives as the main turbine and all of the engineering difficulties with optimal blade design, rotor and bearing harmonic conditions, ideal flow path definitions, and so on.  However, some distinctions can make a BFPT design particularly distinct from a regular mechanical drive turbine.  Figure 1 shows a basic heat balance diagram for a plant using a boiler feed pump turbine arrangement.

Figure 1 – Simple Process Diagram for Plant with Boiler Feed Pump Turbine in AxCYCLE®

Inherent in its name, the BFPT must be fully compatible with the boiler feed pump. In other words, the necessary power and speed of the BFPT are determined by the requirements of the pump. In a fully integrated and dynamic system such as this, a large portion of the design requires developing a proper heat balance that will optimize the plant performance. In general, the boiler feed pump turbine uses both steam from the boiler and the main turbine to drive the mechanical shaft connected to the boiler feed pump. This arrangement has proven highly successful in efficiently applying the steam’s thermal energy throughout the plant. In certain arrangements, the BFPT can instead accept steam from cold reheat lines, main unit crossover piping lines, and different extractions from the main turbine. Regardless of the source, one distinction specifically unique to the BFPT is that it must accept steam from two separate sources.

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Driving Turboexpander Technology

Turboexpanders are used in a number of applications, including floating LNG (liquefied natural gas), LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) / NGL (natural gas liquids), dew point control, and ethylene plants.  Used as a highly efficient system that takes advantage of high pressure, high-temperature flows, the turboexpander both produces cryogenic temperatures and simultaneously converts thermal energy into shaft power.  Essentially, a turboexpander is comprised of a radial inflow expansion turbine and a centrifugal compressor combined as a single unit on a rigid shaft. The process fluid from a plant stream will run through the expansion turbine to both provide low-temperature refrigeration and convert thermal energy to mechanical power as a byproduct.  First, the gas will radially enter the variable inlet nozzles (or guide vanes) of the turbine, which will allow for a localized increase in fluid velocity prior to entering the turbine wheel.  The turbine wheel will accept this high-temperature, high-pressure, accelerated gas and convert it into mechanical energy via shaft rotation. The primary product of a turboexpander manifests at the outflow of this turbine.  After the process gas passes through the turbine wheel, this gas has expanded so dramatically that it produces cryogenic temperatures colder than any other equipment in the plant.

Figure 1- Typical Turboexpander – Expander-Compressor Configuration

The useful mechanical energy converted from this system is generally used to drive a centrifugal compressor positioned on the opposite end of the shaft.  In the case of this expander-compressor setup, the mentioned turboexpander technology avoids the excessive use of fuel consumption seen in other systems, and significantly decreases the CO2 footprint of the overall design.  As well, there are various examples of turboexpanders that use an expander-generator setup, which converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into direct electrical power.  Turboexpanders have come a long way in the last 40 years.  With the advent of magnetic bearings and more advanced sealing systems, turboexpanders have been able to handle shaft speeds in large and small machines of up to 10,000 rpm and 120,000 rpm, respectively.  Moreover, innovations in specific CFD modules for turbomachinery have allowed turboexpander systems to achieve efficiencies upwards of 90%.

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Understanding the Characteristics of Varying Centrifugal Blower Designs

Many people speculate about the confusion on what is considered a compressor, a blower, or simply a fan.  In essence, each of these turbo-machines achieve a pressure rise by adding velocity to a continuous flow of fluid.  The distinctions between fans, blowers, and compressors are quite simply defined by one parameter, the specific pressure ratio.  Each machine type, however, utilizes a number of different design techniques specific to lower and higher-pressure applications.  As per the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the specific pressure is defined as the ratio of the discharge pressure over the suction pressure (or inlet pressure).  The table shown below defines the range at which fans, blowers, and compressors are categorized.

Similarities between the design of fans and blowers occur near the lower end of a blower’s range.  As well, many design parallels exist between high-pressure blowers and compressors.  For the article, we will be investigating the different design characteristics of centrifugal blowers. Blower selection depends on a number of factors including operating range, efficiency, space limitations, and material handled.   Figure 1 shows a number of different impeller blade designs that are available for centrifugal blowers.

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Impeller Design Challenges on Integrally Geared Centrifugal Compressors

The integrally geared compressor, also known as a multi-shaft compressor, is a technology that has been around since the 1960s, but remains underdeveloped.  Usually seen in applications in the industrial gases industry, integrally geared compressors (IGCs) can range in size from small product machines to steam turbine driven high-horsepower, high-flow compressors for air separation plants.  These compressors modular construction principle, consisting of as many as eight different stages, allows for implementation in a large number of varied customer processes.  The main advantages of IGCs in the industrial gases industry is the compact design and smaller installation footprint, efficiency increases due to the use of multiple speeds for separate impellers, and overall lower operational and installation costs.

Figure 1 – Semi-Open Impeller

One of the key design differences between the standard inline compressors and the IGCs is that the integrally geared compressor makes use of both closed AND semi-open impellers.  The reason for the use of open impellers in IGCs are the higher strengths due to better manufacturing techniques, speed of manufacture, and the inherent lower costs.  However, the main drawback to having an open impeller in your system is that in the event of impeller rub, the damage to the compressor would be significantly worse than with a closed impeller.

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The Future of Turbocharger Technology

­One of the main setbacks in scaling different turbochargers for diesel, petrol, and gas engines is the inherit variability that different turbochargers would exhibit at low or high RPMs. In order to understand this further, a common term used to describe a flow characteristic of these machines is the A/R ratio.  Technically, this ratio is defined as the inlet cross-sectional area divided by the radius from the turbo center to the centroid of that area (Figure 1).  This ratio is essentially a metric for the amount of air that is allowed into the turbine section of the turbocharger.

Ratio visualization
Figure 1 – A/R Ratio Visualization

For smaller turbochargers, lower A/R ratios allow the fast exhaust velocities to drive the turbine at lower speeds.  This results in a more responsive engine and overall higher boosts at lower RPMs.  However, once a vehicle starts to navigate at a higher RPM, smaller turbochargers experience a significant reduction in performance due to the high backpressure present in the system.  This occurs because of the low A/R ratio limits the flow capacity and does not allow a sufficient amount of air to feed into the turbine.  The same effect is present for larger turbochargers, only in reverse.  They will perform most efficiently at higher RPMs, but in turn exhibit a significant reduction in performance at lower RPMs.

In order to overcome this phenomenon, many engineers have developed more complex turbocharger systems over the years, which attempt to leverage the benefits of each type of turbo.  One of the first solutions to this dilemma was the twin turbo: simply comprised of two separate turbochargers operating in the system in parallel or in series.  The problem with this system is that it disproportionately increases the cost, complexity, and space necessary for implementation.

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Performance Effects of Axial Turbines & Compressors Due to Roughness Variations

As turbomachinery technology continues to advance in efficiency as well as overall power, many engineers want an estimate on how long these manufactured machines will operate.  Specifically, in high-temperature and high-flow turbomachinery applications, one of the main sources of performance degradation can be attributed to increases in surface roughness.  Gas turbine and compressor blades in particular experience a substantial amount of surface degradation over their lifetime.

gas turbine blade
Figure 1 – Gas Turbine Blade and Annulus Surface Wear (Source PowerMag)

There are many mechanisms that contribute to surface degradation in airfoils and annulus surfaces.  Foreign particles adhering to the material surface (or fouling) is generally caused by any increase in contaminants such as oils, salts, carbon, and dirt in the airflow.  Corrosion occurs when there is a chemical reaction between the material surface and the environment that causes further imperfections on the machine surfaces.  Additional mechanical factors such as erosion and abrasion will play a part in a machine’s surface degradation as well.

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