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PT Basuki Pratama Engineering

Comparison of Bubbling Fluidized bed combustor and

travelling grate stoker for small coal fired power

The following write up is for comparing the two technologies of burning coal to generate
superheated steam for power plant of size below 15 MW.
Coal used for power plants

Indonesian bituminous or sub bituminous coal

is the fuel used for these power plants. Indonesia has lot of coal reserves. Most of these
are located in Kalimantan and Sumatra islands. The coal considered for the design of
the power plants is as per the following properties

Proximate analysis

- As Received Basis



3800 kcal/kg

Moisture content


28.9 %



8.6 %



30.75 %

Fixed carbon


31.75 %

The coal is normally stored in open air stockpiles and transported in open trucks. This
causes the coal to be saturated in water when delivered to the power plant. The high
moisture content causes several problems such as,

Difficulty in handling in chutes, hoppers etc,

Choking of vibrating sieves

Loss of energy due to high moisture in fuel.

Corrosion of coal handling system

The firing system for the power plants should be able to handle the available coal and be
prepared to accept variations in the quality of coal during operation
Cost of operation -

The cost of fuel is the main part of the operation cost for

power plants. Normally a low grade coal is available at lower cost compared to a higher
grade coal for same heat input. If the boiler can operate with locally available low grade
coal, the cost of power produced can be reduced.

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Travelling grate stoker

This is an old technology of burning coal and is in use

for over 100 years. The travelling grate was the extension of the earlier fixed grates
where a fireman shovels in coal manually over metallic grate bars. A travelling grate
consists of a moving grate where coal is fed from one end of the grate and travels to
other end of the grate. The coal layer which is between 100 to 200 mm in depth is not
disturbed during its travel along the length of the stoker. Combustion air is supplied
from, below the grate to burn the coal. The normal speed of the grate is between 4 to 7
meters per hour. The incoming fuel is ignited by radiation from the ignition arch and
moves forward. After combustion the ash and clinker produced are discharged at the end
of the stoker.
The temperature of the burning coal mass is between 1100 to 1300 C. This causes
partial fusion of the ash and traps part of the un-burnt coal inside molten ash layer.
Significant un burnt carbon is lost to the ash conveyor due to this. Due to stationary fuel
layer on the moving grate, the time required to burn the coal is high. If a coal particle of
size more than 30 mm is fed to the furnace it is likely to be discharged without burning
till its core.
Combustion is normally started by heating up the ignition arch by burning wood. This
can take about 1 hour. Fresh coal is then fed to the stoker and furnace temperature is
increased by slow firing the fuel for some time. After the refractory near the stoker inlet
if heated up, full speed can be maintained without causing fire to run away.
Coal is fed to the stoker through a hopper located above the stoker inlet chute. A
guillotine gate is used to maintain constant level of coal over the grate. The movement
of the grate carries the coal into the furnace for combustion.
The stoker discharges hot clinkers at the extreme end. These can be at temperature
above 1000 C. A rubber belt conveyor immersed in water is used to quench this ash
and to carry it away for disposal. Water trough is also necessary to provide the seal to
avoid entry of atmospheric air into the furnace.
The stoker consists of cast iron links which are connected to form a moving mat by using
link rods. A front shaft drives the mat with the help of a set of cast iron sprockets. A rear
shaft supports the moving mat with a roller support. Both the shafts use bearings to
reduce friction. A large gear box is used to run the front shaft at very low speeds. All the
moving parts of the mat are cooled by the combustion air.

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ECKROHR-KESSEL Coal fired boiler

30 t/hr 64 barg, 500C single drum boiler with travelling grate stoker

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Bubbling fluidized bed combustor -

A fluid bed combustor is essentially a bed of

inert solids heated to a temperature of 800 -900C consisting of small amount of burning
fuel like coal. Fluidization is achieved by passing a continuous stream of combustion air
through the layer of solids by air nozzles located at bottom of the bed.

At any point of

time, the fluid bed may contain maximum 5 % of un burnt fuel. The rest of the bed
consists of correctly sized material such as silica sand or coal ash.
The bed solids are in a constant motion. The turbulence in the fluid bed offers many
advantages for combustion such as : combustion with lower amount of excess air,
reduced furnace temperature, less sensitivity to amount and nature of ash in the fuel,
less hot spots in the furnace, and lesser volatilization of alkali compounds.
Improved mixing causes the combustion temperature to be uniform in the fluid bed and
at a much lesser value of about 800 - 900 C.
The sand layer is brought to a temperature which can sustain coal combustion by
alternate heat source such as an oil burner or charcoal. Crushed coal of selected size is
then fed to the furnace and a stable sand temperature is obtained.
To allow proper mixing of the silica sand and coal, the size of the coal is selected within a
narrow range. We recommend coal of size below 15 mm for the combustor. Coal of
smaller size should be selected if the coal contains higher amount of ash. When the coal
burns in the fluid bed, erosion of the outer surface of coal particle exposes fresh carbon
to combustion air. This causes very rapid combustion rate. Most of the ash from coal is
carried away by the flue gas. A small amount of ash is discharged at the bottom of the
bed along with foreign matter or stones accumulated at the bottom of the fluid bed.
Main parameters of Basuki Bubbling fluidized bed combustor

Superficial air velocity between 1 to 2.5 m/sec

Bed temperature maintained between 700 to 900 C

Over-bed coal feed

Silica sand of size 0.5 1.5 mm is used as bed material

Water tubes immersed in the fluid bed are used for cooling the bed solids

Stationary bed height of 350 mm

Special design stainless steel nozzles are used for air distribution

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Single drum Coal fired bubbling fluidized bed boiler

Bottom ash from fluidized bed combustor

Ash from stoker

Advantages of Bubbling Fluidized bed combustor over Stoker

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Coal with higher ash or moisture content can be used as fuel

Fluidized bed combustor can burn coal with ash content as high as 60 % and with
water content up to 50 % with very little reduction in capacity of the boiler.
Fluidized bed combustor contains large amount of hot bed solids in a continuously
mixing mass, this causes instant drying and ignition of the coal. The large amount
of hot solids store lot of heat and can tolerate fuel with higher moisture content. It
is also possible to supply hot combustion air as fluidizing air to maintain heat
balance of the fluid bed.
The constant erosion from bed solids wears out the ash layer on outer surface of
burning coal particle, this exposes fresh carbon to the combustion air. High ash coal
can be thus burnt in the fluidized bed.
A stoker cannot accept high ash or high moisture content in the coal as it causes
the fire to extinguish.
A stoker does not allow mixing of the new wet fuel and the hot burning mass, all
the drying of the fuel is achieved by radiant heat from the ignition arch.
Temperature of the refractory arch is maintained by combustion of the coal below
the arch.

High moisture causes delay in drying and slowly the fire moves away

from the ignition arch. If the temperature of the ignition arch reduces below the
necessary limit, the ignition of fresh coal is not possible.
During operation of the stoker, overheating of the links is avoided by cooling the
links with combustion air. Hence a stoker cannot accept hot combustion air above
80 C as it increases the temperature of stoker metallic links and reduces the life of
moving parts.
When the coal contains high amount of ash, the time required for combustion is
longer. The larger ash content also traps extra un burnt carbon causing reduction in
thermal efficiency. Since the stoker has fixed residence time of the coal on the mat,
it needs coal of high heating value and low moisture content.

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100 % capacity of the boiler can be obtained with nearly all types of
coals. No capacity reduction for lower heating value
If the heating value of fuel is low, the capacity of the stoker fired boiler reduces
drastically. For example, if the heating value of coal reduces by 10 %, the stoker
output can reduce by 20 %. The output of fluidized bed boiler does not reduce by
much if the coal has lower heating value.
To burn low grade coal it is necessary to feed larger volume of coal into the
During bubbling fluidized bed combustion, the residence time of coal in the furnace
is very small. At any time the bed contains maximum 5 % of un-burnt coal
particles. Hence it is possible to feed more volume of coal to the furnace without
causing any problems for fluidization. Only precaution necessary is to have
adequate margin on the speed of coal feeders. To burn high ash coal, it may be
necessary to reduce the size of the fuel used. It is possible for a bubbling fluidized
bed combustor to use coal over a wide range of heating value. The Fluidized bed
has a limitation on the total heat release per unit area of bed. This means that if
the fuel has lower heating value, a fluid bed can accept higher volume or mass of
A travelling grate stoker has lot of problems if the coal has low heating value as it is
very sensitive to the quality of coal. A stoker heat output is based on volume of
coal being fed to the furnace and will produce lower heat output for coal with lower
heating value.
The amount of coal fed to the stoker is controlled by two parameters

Height of coal layer on the stoker mat

The height of coal layer cannot be increased beyond a certain limit as it causes the
bottom layers to remain un-burnt as the top and bottom layer is never mixed
during travel of the coal along the stoker. Higher thickness of coal layer also causes
higher resistance to air flow and shortage of combustion air.

Speed of travel of the mat.

The speed of travel of the stoker mat cannot be increased beyond the design limit
as it causes additional wear and tear as well as needs more torque for the driving

PT Basuki Pratama Engineering

mechanism. Also there is a danger of fire running away from the ignition arch and
eventual loss of fire on the stoker mat.
The stoker has a limitation on the volume of coal burnt per unit area of stoker. It is
not possible to adjust a stoker operation if low quality coal is to be burnt. Drastic
reduction in capacity of the boiler will be the result.

Fluidized bed combustion operates with lower excess air and can give
higher boiler thermal efficiency
A bubbling fluidized bed combustor contains cooling tubes immersed in the hot fluid
bed, and can operate with only 35 40 % excess air. This gives higher boiler
thermal efficiency and lower coal consumption.
A stoker does not have any cooling system for the burning mass of coal on the
stoker and has to use higher excess air to maintain the furnace temperatures. This
gives lower thermal efficiency for the boiler.


Fluidized bed combustor has very quick load response.

During changing steam demand, a fluidized bed boiler can respond very quickly as
it is possible to quickly add more coal and increase the combustion air. The
incoming coal is ignited by the hot bed in very short time. The efficient mixing of
coal and air causes rapid load response.
A stoker needs longer time to ignite the fresh coal, and cannot accept quick
increase of stoker mat speed. In case of quick load change, the boiler using a
stoker will cause the steam pressure to reduce and take a long time to get back to
the set pressure.


Bubbling fluidized bed combustor produces lower SOx and NOx emissions
Part of the SO2 produced by the combustion of sulphur in the coal is absorbed by
the CaCO3 in the coal ash. This gives lower values of SO2 emissions in the flue gas
compared to a stoker.
NOx is produced by oxidation of the nitrogen in the fuel and mainly depends on the
temperature in the combustion zone. Higher temperature produces higher NOx
emissions. Since a fluidized bed combustor works at lower that 950 C, the NOx
produced is much lower compared to a stoker where the burning coal mass can be
at a temperature higher than 1250 C

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Fluidized bed combustor is much more reliable compared to a stoker.

The fluidized bed combustor has no moving parts in the hot furnace zone. The air
distributor consists of stainless steel nozzles cooled by combustion air and the only
moving part is the forced draft fan handling clean air at atmospheric temperature.
The air nozzles are guaranteed for life and need no replacement. The fluid bed itself
is made up of silica sand which can be replaced at very little cost.
The Stoker needs lot of maintenance as the cast iron links and link rods are moving
in a hot furnace in constant motion. The driving sprockets, front and rear bearings
also need to be changed periodically. The side seal bars besides the moving mat
also burn out. The spares for the stoker need to come from the original vendors as
they are special parts, not available in open market. Specially trained technicians
are needed to service the stokers and install the parts.
Daily maintenance is needs to lubricate the bearings of the stoker and to keep
equal tension in left and right side of the stoker front bearings. The first year of
operation of stoker is relatively trouble free. Later on the boiler can shut down
without notice due to breakdown of stoker.


Fluidized bed boiler has lower fouling of furnace walls and heat transfer
The lower furnace temperature (950 C) of a fluidized bed combustor produces
amorphous ash particles which do not stick to refractory walls and metallic tubes of
the boiler. This keeps the exhaust gas temperature stable and keeps the thermal
efficiency also stable at high value. The reduced fouling of refractory walls means
less cost of repairs/replacement of the refractory.
A stoker fired boiler works with much higher furnace temperature (1250 C). this
produced ash particles which have partially molten surfaces causing heavy fouling
of the refractory walls and water tubes. Repeated cleaning or shut down is needed
to clean the heat transfer surface. Heavy use of soot blowers to clean the surfaces
can cause failure of the tubes.


Fluidized bed combustor can be started within 10 minutes

after a

shutdown of 4 hours
The hot bed material in a fluid bed retains its temperature for as long as 4 hours
after shut down. This allows instant startup of firing as coal is ignited immediately.

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A stoker needs to be lighted up from cold after such a shut down.


A variety of fuels can be burnt in the same fluidized bed combustor

The fluid bed combustor can be designed to burn a variety of fuels in the same
combustor. Fuels like coal, rice husk, palm shell etc can be burnt alternatively.
A stoker cannot burn such diverse range of fuels in the same installation.

Advantages of Stoker over Bubbling Fluidized bed combustor


A stoker fired boiler can operate with higher turn down ratio compared
to a fluidized bed combustor
A stoker can run with turndown ratio as high as 5:1 (20 % of maximum capacity)
with step less modulation. The speed of the stoker and the FD fan can be
modulated together.
A fluidized bed combustor has a turn down ratio of 2.5 (40 % of maximum
capacity). Since the fluidized bed needs to maintain the fluidization of the bed, the
air flow cannot be reduced below certain value.


A stoker fired boiler needs lower amount of electricity to run the Forced
draft fan.
A stoker needs a forced draft fan with only 200 mm wg pressure against a high
pressure of 800 mm wg needed by a fluidized bed combustor. This causes a lower
power consumption.


A stoker fired boiler produces lesser dust load in flue gas leaving the
As nearly 90 % of the ash is collected in form of clinkers below the stoker, the dust
loading from a stoker fired furnace is much lower compared to a fluidized bed
combustor where more than 90 % of ash in the coal is carried away by the hot gas.

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If emission of 300 mg/Nm3 is acceptable from the boiler, the stoker fired boiler can
work with a multy cyclone separator alone and will not need costly dust collection
system such as ESP or ventury scrubber.

A stoker fired boiler does not need changing the tubes in furnace like a
The cooling tubes installed in the fluidized bed combustor erode due to erosion
from the bed solids and need to be changed after about 5 years. A stoker does not
have these tubes.

For coal fired power plants of size below 15 MW, the choice of firing system is either
a Bubbling fluidized bed combustor or a travelling grate stoker. The bubbling
fluidized bed is the obvious preference. After all factors such as available fuel
properties, reliability, cost of operation, Ability to meet the load, emissions, cost of

etc are considered, the advantages of a bubbling fluidized bed

combustor far out weight the advantages of a stoker. For boilers above 100 t/hr a
circulating fluidized bed combustor should be considered. The experience of PT
Basuki over the last ten years in supply of over 250 coal fired installations in
Indonesia show that all the users who selected a fluidized bed combustor are
satisfied with the unit. The customers who selected a stoker fired boiler are always
having problems of searching the high quality coal needed, unplanned breakdown
of stokers, and less capacity due to coal of low grade being available.