Funding boost for coal-fired power plant technology

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Funding boost for coal-fired power plant technology

Real-time data poised to eek out small reductions in pollution.


South Australian company IPACS Power is spearheading the development of a real-time boiler optimisation technology that its backers expect will improve boiler efficiency in coal-fired power plants.

Coal-fired power plants make up 80 percent of the electricity industry’s greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.

Alinta Energy, the University of South Australia and a $110,000 grant from the Government’s Clean Technology Innovation program will assist in supporting the software development project.

“The technology involves clear high-speed computing systems and the use of data collection via short-wave infra-red cameras and monitors, removing the guess work from determining slag build-up in these huge boilers, said Greg Combet, Australia’s Minister for Industry and Innovation.

The traditional method of detecting the build-up of combustion by-product (slag) on the tubes of coal-fired boilers relies on using a large number of sensors that gathers a limited number of measurement points based on vibration and temperature peaks within the boiler.

In recent years, attention has focused on extracting rich sources of information from images of the slag formation itself.

“Once the cameras have been mounted within the walls of the furnace, the software will extract key features from the images captured, using a hierarchy of image, feature and signal processing,” explained IPACS managing director Dr Vinay Sriram. “Once extracted, these key features are then fused to form an overall model, in real-time, of the current state of the slag formation”.  

The results for each image are combined to arrive at a prediction of the state of slag formation in the furnace, which is then removed using soot blowers.

Dr Sriram admits that executing the computationally complex slag detection image processing algorithms in real-time is an area of technical challenge but remains confident that it can be achieved by leveraging the use of “modern parallel processors like multi-core CPUs, graphics cards and Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs)”.

Associate Professor David Kearney from the University of South Australia will lead the team in the design and development of the high performance embedded computer while engineers from Alinta will assist in the field trials and demonstration of the new technology at the Flinders Power Plant.

“Power station operators will be able to use the new technology to identify and remove slag build-up from boiler tubes in a timely manner, thereby increasing the time during which the boiler operates at peak efficiency,” Dr. Sriram said.

The new optimisation technology is expected to provide a conservative 0.1 percent efficiency gain across all current coal-fired power stations in Australia.

“This will have the same impact in reducing emissions as taking 1.6 million cars off Australian roads”, Dr Sriram said. 

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