Research partnerships lead to exceptional theory

Date: November; 19; 2013 | Author:
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When Babcock & Wilcox Vølund teams up with universities to conduct research in areas such as waste combustion, the company harvests the latest knowledge, and theories are given a reality check. At the same time, joint research endeavours provide specialists with unique challenges.

The overall understanding of the combustion process in the furnace has been refined, and the boiler design and waste combustion management are optimised. Both are due to completely new computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling. The near future can be predicted with a high degree of certainty thanks to a joint research and development project between Lund University's Faculty of Engineering and Babcock & Wilcox Vølund.

Making the most of cutting-edge technology

In Lund, Sweden, a professor and a PhD candidate are working on developing a computer model of the combustion process in a furnace. In Glostrup, Denmark, CFD and combustion engineer Thomas Sødring and R & D manager Thomas Norman bring the model to life at a waste-to-energy plant. The strongest cards are simply being assembled to give the team a winning hand in increasing knowledge about the combustion process. If left to their own devices, the university and the company would remain, respectively, either too theoretical or too practical. Together, however, they can create new, useful knowledge.

It is this understanding that forms the basis for Babcock & Wilcox Vølund's strategic partnerships with a total of four universities in Denmark and Sweden.

"The goal of our academic partnerships is to support our development plans; to become even stronger in our core technologies; to benefit from the latest research and become integrated in the research milieus in these areas in order to recruit the most talented people from the universities; and to give our employees the chance to engage in sparring and competence development," Norman explains.

Adjusting the model for plants in operation

Understanding the combustion process inside the furnace is fundamental for a successful CFD model. Lund University's Faculty of Engineering has come up with a theoretical model. In short, it is a model that can calculate the progress and processes of waste combustion inside the furnace. And when researchers from Lund University toss the theory up in the air, it is up to Thomas Sødring to catch it and hold it up against real life experience.

"We're responsible for getting the results of the model to correspond with reality. We adjust the model so that the output lives up to our expectations for a plant in operation," explains Sødring, who offers an example:

"An output from a combustion cycle is that the ash generally only contains 1% coal, with a maximum of up to 3%. We then enter this output as a "lock" in the model, which makes it more practical to use in relation to operational experience. The data we use for comparison is obtained, for example, from measurements taken at the state-of-the-art plant that we recently built in Meath, Ireland. This way, we can make comparisons and determine the degree of trust we have in the model."

A combustion expert in his element

Thomas Sødring is well in his element in the field of tension between combustion theory and practice. He graduated with a degree in energy engineering from Aalborg University in 1999, and he worked at the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology and the Danish Gas Technology Center before joining Babcock & Wilcox Vølund as a combustion expert in 2008.

"My entire professional career has dealt with the science of combustion. It's a key consideration when I decide whether or not to take a job," he says. At Babcock & Wilcox Vølund, Sødring divides his time between the research projects and his on-going responsibilities at the plants, where he must think creatively to fine-tune a given furnace with regard to air supply, grate movements and insulation.

As he sees it, the combination of theory and practice is a good source of motivation in his daily work.

"Two years from now, I'll be able to point to the things I'm working on today and say, 'I helped make that.'"

With respect to the CFD modelling, it will take one to two years to reach optimised furnace control and design.

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