How Artificially Intelligent Boiler Combustion Tuning Systems Save Power Plants Millions

Recent testing and verification of an upgraded boiler combustion tuning system revealed the potential to save millions of dollars per year in fuel costs. Taiwan-based Linkou Thermal Power Plant’s Duel 800MW rated combustion units were both fitted with an AI combustion tuning system to improve fuel economy.

Power plants can save on costs to the tune of millions over the operational lifetime of a boiler by implementing a self-learning boiler burner management system. This article discusses how artificial intelligence based systems reduce fuel consumption and cost while driving combustion efficiency upwards.

Dealing with Data in Power Generation Systems

Boilers and generators for power generation produce a lot of real-time data during operation. The ability to analyze huge amounts of data and act on it is beyond the capabilities of human operators. The next best solution is electronic control systems designed to manage and control burner processes with little human intervention.

Boiler burner automation is nothing new. Automation technologies have been in operation for decades, but they are still unable to deal with the level of operational data a combustion system generates. So how do you overcome the challenges of huge amounts of data to create a self-learning combustion tuning system? The answer: Artificial Intelligence or AI.

Self-Learning Boiler Combustion Tuning System

Artificial intelligence is capable of ‘learning’ how variables affect the output of the boiler (such as a natural gas of a lower calorific value). Once AI learns, it then must adapt to maintain the desired objective, a high combustion efficiency. Nenad Sarunac, CEO of Power Systems Associates, reminds us that “combustion optimization using AI is nothing new” but it’s the adaptive nature of AI that is a key feature of this latest implementation. Why? “Since the state of maintenance, instrument calibration, and fuel change all the time, time-invariant AI does not work very well.”

This learning and adaptive nature of self-learning tuning systems make them more effective at dealing with real-time changes in physical parameters such as temperature, fuel feed rate, and air intake damper positions. A change in fuel supply will illicit an almost instantaneous alteration of air intake damper position. The system then ‘learns’ the correct damper position to compensate for the change in fuel and will use a similar setting should the same event happen in the future.

Improving Fuel Economy For Huge Saving

As mentioned earlier, Linkou is a coal-fired thermal power station owned by Taiwan Power Co. and two out of three units are now operational. The design rationale of the system is to account for the economic aspects which impact on the costs of running a power plant, namely boiler efficiency, and auxiliary power supply.

Artificial intelligence takes over the role of experienced engineers who would otherwise tune the operating parameters of the plant such as flue-gas temperature, combustion balance, steam temperature, plus many others, to identify the most efficient running parameters.

An AI-based tuning system is capable of altering these values at a rate much faster than an engineer can. The system then automatically identifies the optimal running characteristics which lead to a balanced boiler operation. A balanced boiler operation in these circumstances would mean the best fuel efficiency possible, leading to savings in fuel costs.

Preventative Maintenance Giving Technology a Helping Hand

As much as artificial intelligence will keep your power plant boiler combustion firing at the highest efficiency possible, it’s no good at cleaning. Preventative maintenance still has a key role to play.  

A planned maintenance program for burner appliances and FGD systems should be in place despite the fact that you have an intelligent combustion tuning software solution. Maintenance will take care of the wear and tear of mechanical components and systems so that they’re available when called upon by the control system during operation.

Next Steps

If you’re looking to upgrade a power plant boiler and want to achieve better fuel economy and high combustion efficiency, artificial intelligence may be the next step to take. Still in its infancy as far as control technology is concerned, you may have to do a bit more research to identify the right suppliers. In addition, we suggest the following:

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