Clean Boiler Waterside Heat Transfer Surfaces PDF Print E-mail
Written by USDOE Office of Industrial Technologies   
Thursday, 01 July 2010 15:06

Clean Boiler Waterside Heat Transfer Surfaces

Even on small boilers, the prevention of scale formation can produce substantial energy savings. Scale deposits occur when calcium, magnesium, and silica, commonly found in most water supplies, react to form a continuous layer of material on the waterside of the boiler heat exchange tubes.

Scale creates a problem because it typically possesses a thermal conductivity an order of magnitude less than the corresponding value for bare steel. Even thin layers of scale serve as an effective insulator and retard heat transfer. The result is overheating of boiler tube metal, tube failures, and loss of energy efficiency. Fuel waste due to boiler scale may be 2% for water-tube boilers and up to 5% in fire-tube boilers. Energy losses as a function of scale thickness and composition are given in the table below.

Energy Loss Due to Scale Deposits*
Scale Thickness, inches Fuel Loss, % of Total Use
Scale Type
“Normal” High Iron Iron Plus Silica
1/64 1.0 1.6 3.5
1/32 2.0 3.1 7.0
3/64 3.0 4.7 -
1/16 3.9 6.2 -

Note: “Normal” scale is usually encountered in low-pressure applications. The high iron and iron plus silica scale composition results from high-pressure service conditions.

*Extracted from National Institute of Standards and Technology, Handbook 115, Supplement 1. On well-designed natural gas-fired systems, an excess air level of 10% is attainable. An often stated rule of thumb is that boiler efficiency can be increased by 1% for each 15% reduction in excess air or 40°F reduction in the stack gas temperature.

A boiler annually uses 450,000 million Btu (MMBtu) of fuel while operating for 8,000 hours at its rated capacity of 45,000 pounds per hour (lb/hr) of 150-pounds- per-square-inch-gauge (psig) steam. If scale 1/32nd of an inch thick is allowed to form on the boiler tubes, and the scale is of “normal” composition, the table indicates a fuel loss of 2%. The increase in operating costs, assuming energy is priced at $8.00 per million Btu ($8.00/MMBtu), is:

Annual Operating Cost Increase = 450,000 MMBtu/yr x $8.00/MMBtu x 0.02
                                                        = $72,000

Monitor Flue Gas Temperature
An indirect indicator of scale or deposit formation is flue gas temperature. If the flue gas temperature rises (with boiler load and excess air held constant), the effect is possibly due to the presence of scale.

Perform Visual Inspections
Visually inspect boiler tubes when the unit is shut down for maintenance. Scale removal can be achieved by mechanical means or acid cleaning. If scale is present, consult with your local water treatment specialist and consider modifying your feedwater treatment or chemical additives schedule.

Adapted from an Energy TIPS fact sheet that was originally published by the Industrial Energy Extension Service of Georgia Tech.

EERE Information Center
1-877-EERE-INF (1-877-337-3463)

Industrial Technologies Program
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, DC 20585-0121

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