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Accident Involving a Two-Pass Once-Through Benson Steam Boiler

The boiler concerned was commissioned in 1994 and is part of a power station unit with a nominal capacity of 630 MWe. The design chosen by the customer was for a two-pass once-through Benson boiler suitable for supercritical pressures. The Benson concept used is distinct from other boilerdesigns in the sense that it does not include the traditional steam/water drum. The full load steam-pressure at the boiler outlet amounts to 260 bar at 540 oC. At those conditions the boiler produces 1,980 tons of steam per hour and consumes some 4,000 metric tons of coal per day, resulting in the production of some 400 tons of fly-ash in the same period of time. The steam boiler automatically shut itself down around 19.00 hours on a certain Sundayevening. The reason given for this so-called trip, was a too high furnace pressure. It was reported that the attending staff had heard noises coming from the boiler just before this happened. It was subsequently established that a large diameter crossover duct, which connects exhaust trains 1 and 2 immediately after air heaters 1 and 2 and just before electrostatic (E-) filters 1 and 2 had collapsed, destroying all that came in its way before coming to a rest on the street below.
Legend 1 Air heater 2 Crossover HNA 30 3 Electrostatic precipitator 4 Crossover HNA 50 5 Extraction fan 6 Chimney Normal gas flow Gas re-circulation line

1 2 1

3 4 3


Diagram of flue gas train layout 1

The crossover duct, which has a diameter of 3.5 metres and a horizontal length of 52.7 metres, is situated above the upper level of each of the two flue-gas ducts which connect an air heater with an E-filter. Its centreline is some 6 metres above the centreline of each flue-gas duct and 27 metres above street-level. The lower-side of the horizontal section of the crossover is situated 2 metres above the top-side of each of the flue-gas ducts. The mass of the empty crossover, which is both stiffened and insulated, was calculated to be in excess of 40 metric tons and was supported on a slender steel lattice construction, cantilevered from the trestles which carry the air heaters.

6m 52.7 m

Graphic (not to scale) of the crossover (no. 2 in layout above)

Part of the collapsed crossover

Cause The cause of the accident was the subject of several studies. The immediate reason for the collapse was found to have been an excessive accumulation of fly-ash in the crossover duct. Whilst the duct had been designed to hold a mass of some 20.8 metric tons, it was ultimately established that it had actually contained some 120 metric tons (the mass that was recovered following the accident) of fly-ash at the time of the collapse. Using basic data presented by the boiler maker we conducted a literature study and found an American1 and an UK publication from the CEGB2 organisation.
Page 125 Section 2 2.1 3 3.1 Text summary CEGB Practice (Central Electricity Generating Board of the UK) The latest practice is to have only two precipitators, one for each air heater an arrangement that eliminates the need for the crossover ducts. Gas cleaning requirements Dust size 1 to 76 micron. Dust burden 11 g/m3 for low ash fuel to 23 g/m3 for high ash fuel at STP (Standard Temperature and Pressure) conditions of 16 oC, 1 bar and 12 % CO2 and assuming 80 % carryover. Electrostatic precipitators Immediately before an electrostatic precipitator, the ductwork has a tapered section so that the gas velocity is reduced from around 15 m/s in preparation for its passing through the precipitator casing at between 1.0 m/s and 1.8 m/s. Factors affecting the design and performance of E-precipitators For power stations the gas velocity is preferably between 1 m/s and 1.8 m/s in the treatment area, higher velocities tending to scour the collected dust of the plates. Flues and ducts Economic air and gas velocities are based on the capital cost of flues and ducts including the effect of weight on the support steelwork, set against the incremental capital and running cost of the draught plant. As the capitalised cost of power varies for each station the economic velocities will be marginally different. However it is recognised that 16 m/s velocity for gas flow and 14 m/s for air flow will enable preliminary design work to proceed.



5 5.1


6 6.2


10 10.2

1 2

Filter Dust Collectors, Miles L. Croom, McGraw-Hill Inc. ISBN 0-07-014500-8.

CEGB = Central Electricity Generating Board; this governmental body was active in th United Kingdom prior to the privatisation of the electricity market. It originally produced and sponsored subsequent updates of the authoritative work Modern Power Station Practice, Third Edition, Volume B Boilers and Ancillary Plant, Chapter 4 Dust Extraction; ISBN 0-08-040512-6.

In addition we observed that the fly-ash was quite probably deposited in the cross-over after the pressure differential across the duct had been adjusted downwards (ideally to zero, the actual value did not become known) by its operator about 3 months prior to the accident. Before the adjustment was made, a pressure differential of some 2 mbar had been in existence. For this particular crossover design to work it is a requirement that ideally the pressure differential between both outlet trains is as close to zero as practically possible in order to ensure a no flow situation inside the crossover duct during normal operating conditions of the boiler. In actual fact there is probably a margin between zero and the tolerable minimal pressure differential value, but it is our understanding that the designers had not actually calculated this margin. Instead they seemed to have relied on the force of gravity interacting with fly-ash particles in case any ash carrying gas would flow into one of the vertical, 6 metres centreline-to-centreline tall, legs of the crossover duct. With hindsight it is therefore probably valid to state that any pressure differential between somewhat above zero and somewhat below 2 mbar would cause fly-ash to progressively accumulate in the horizontal section of the crossover duct. According to calculations made by the boiler maker, a pressure differential of 2 mbar results in a flow speed of the dust-laden gas through the crossover of between 10 to 15 m/s and this should ensure that more fly-ash is carried away than can be deposited in the same period of time. Therefore, and assuming for the purpose of this comment that the underlying calculations are essentially correct, no accumulation of fly-ash can occur in the crossover and any ash already present would have been swept out of the duct. Our own calculations on the speed of the gas flow allowed us to propose that the speed calculation done by the boiler maker was not exaggerated. Thus it became clear than an ill advised adjustment created a situation where more fly-ash was being carried into the duct than was swept out of it.

It thus became apparent that the gas flow could become a critical factor with respect to the integrity of the structure supporting the crossover duct, but that fact was not appreciated by the builder and consequently not known to the operator for that matter. We found that design calculations made by the builder assumed a mass of the ash (to be added to the mass of the duct) that was based on the calculation recommended only for ducts which are flow ducts. The recommendation for the static calculation of the support structure for stagnant ducts assumes a 4.2 times higher weight of an ash deposit. At this point it is also fair to state that the actually measured quantity of ash at the time of collapse was some 6 times the mass used in the static calculation that was used for the structure supporting the duct.

Conclusion The lesson learned is that the gas-flow velocity which would allow ashes to settle out purely under influence of gravitational forces is very low indeed. In particular the specific velocity range mentioned (between 1 m/s and 1.8 m/s - since higher velocities tend to scour the collected dust away again) for dust to be able to be extracted forcibly, and under the influence of an applied high voltage electrostatic charge, from a gas flow in an electro-static precipitator, is relevant in this context.
It is evident from the information obtained that no scientifically supported consideration was given to operational parameters where ashes were concerned and more specifically the critical velocity below which dust would settle out by itself, considering the distance to travel, when the particular crossover design was created. The collapse only occurred when the velocity of the fly-ash laden flue gas through the crossover had been low enough for a sufficiently long period of time to allow a large enough deposit to build and an overload to come about. It is also clear from the work done that there was (were) no numerical error(s) made by the boiler maker when the conceptual design for the crossovers was forwarded to the actual design for construction. It was the design concept itself that was at fault by being intrinsically unsafe in allowing a potentially dangerous situation to come about with relative ease.

Insurance considerations Considering all the circumstances (including an active involvement of leading Insurers in certain areas of design and more specifically materials selections) and the fact that the claim was limited to the cost of repair of rather limited collateral damage in addition to the cost of reconfiguring (essentially demolition costs) the steam boiler flue gas treatment train to permit the unit to run without crossovers no. 2 (the collapsed one) and no. 4, Insurers accepted engagement of the policy for the loss without further ado.
The conceptual design and design to construction phases had al been done by the main contractor, the actual steam boiler builder, so no subrogation became relevant (the cover did not allow for subrogation anyway). The EAR contract issued for the construction project was a tailor-made product with predominantly continental European Insurers involved (leader 40%) and a London market portion of some 15%, insuring the principal, the main contractor and all its subcontractors designers etc. Cover was wide indeed, commenced at the inception of design and in this case included cover for the consequences of errors in design etc., including damage inflicted to the immediately affected part. Gerard S.G. Eliasar RE, MarE, FCILA, FEUDI-ELAE Associate Director Property Divison Manager Industrial Engineering Department GAB Robins Takkenberg B.V. Rotterdam, the Netherlands