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Condenser Backpressure High?

Check Vacuum System Sizing

02/01/2012 | S. Zaheer Akhtar, PE and Magdy Mahmoud, Power Generation Engineering and Services Co., Cairo In a power plant, the primary use of vacuum systems is to remove air and other noncondensable gases from the shell side of the condenser in order to maintain design heat transfer and thus design vacuum. If holding condenser vacuum is a persistent problem, one often-overlooked cause is an inadequately sized vacuum system. The primary application of vacuum systems in the power generation industry is for the evacuation of air and other noncondensable gases from the shell side and the waterbox side of a steam surface condenser. On the shell side, the vacuum equipment is used for two purposes: rapid evacuation of air to reduce condenser pressure before steam turbine start, the hogging mode, or for continuous removal of air and associated water vapor from the main condenser when the steam turbine is in operation, the holding mode. The removal of air and other noncondensable gases from the condenser shell side is required for proper heat transfer from steam to cooling water in the condenser and, thus, to maintain high vacuum in the condenser. This, in turn, enhances the amount of energy extracted from the steam exhausted from the steam turbine and increases the plants energy production. Without a vacuum system, air and other noncondensable gases would severely reduce the heat transfer in the condenser, and the plant would require a condenser with significantly more surface area for the same thermal load. This article provides plant designers with an understanding of published design standards for air-venting equipment used in condenser shell side applications and the vacuum system sizing methodology used by equipment suppliers.

Vacuum System Standards

The Heat Exchange Institutes (HEIs) Standards for Steam Surface Condensers provides clear directions on capacity requirements for venting equipment when operating in either holding or hogging modes. The capacity in the holding mode is more critical, as it has a direct effect on megawatt generation. The HEI recommends that the capacity of venting equipment in the holding mode be no less than the values shown in [HEIs] Table 9 at the design suction pressure to ensure adequate removal capacity under commercial operating conditions. The HEI defines the design suction pressure for electric generation service as 1.0 inch HgA or the condenser design pressure, whichever is lower. In addition, the HEI states that the saturation temperature of the gas vapor mixture must be considered as the steam temperature corresponding to the design pressure of the venting equipment less the greater of 7.5F or 0.25 (Tsat Tcw,inlet). Tsat is the saturation temperature of the liquid in the condenser at the given vacuum, and Tcw,inlet is the temperature of the incoming cooling water.

The values found in HEIs Table 9 correspond to dry air as well as the air-vapor mixture at design parameters of 1 inch HgA and 71.5F, which corresponds to the 7.5F differential (subcooling) described above. If the subcooling is less than 7.5F, then the vacuum pump duty increases accordingly. Note that the design conditions selected by the HEI are used to physically size the venting equipment; actual operating conditions are not necessarily the same. However, such sizing conditions are stipulated in equipment purchase agreements to ensure that the venting equipment capacity is adequate under commercial operating conditions where air in-leakage can be expected and subcooling may not be as low as 7.5F. The methodology for selecting vent equipment capacity from the HEIs Table 9 is explained in the HEI standards and should be carefully followed. In general, the standard is based on the number of openings exhausting steam to the condenser and the effective steam flow through each opening. Note that the German VGB code is significantly different regarding the requirement for air-venting equipment (Figure 1). In fact, the VGB code is approximately 50% less stringent than the HEI standard requirements. Your purchase specification should clearly indicate whether the equipment should meet the HEI standards or the VGB code.

1. Pick your standard. The Heat Exchange Institute (HEI) standards and the German VGB code have significantly different dry-air vent requirements for vacuum equipment. Source: Gardner Denver Nash

Why is vacuum in the condenser of such importance?

Answer: If you are talking about a condenser attached to a steam turbine, then a vacuum is important because it extends the usefulness of the steam in the turbine. As you probably know, steam begins to condense back into water at 212 deg at atmospheric pressure. However, in a vacuum condition, the boiling and condensing temperature is lower. Because the condenser is under a vacuum, steam exits the turbine and enters the condenser around 130 deg. This results in more power (mega watts).