How Boiler Feedwater Quality Can Affect Boiler Operations

It’s important to understand how your boiler system functions, especially when trying to extend the useful life of your equipment. Low-quality boiler feedwater contains impurities and gases that can damage the whole system. This will lead to a reduction in efficiency and, even worse, boiler leaks or system leaks. In order to prevent this from happening, you must determine what impurities are in your raw water and how to prevent any potential problems before you have to call for boiler maintenance support.

What are boiler feedwater impurities?

Pure water is neutral in regard to taste, odor, and color. It is a powerful and practical means of transporting energy with its convenient boiling point and steam generation. But this type of water is expensive to generate. Raw water from a well or municipality contains impurities such as suspended solids, dissolved solids, and dissolved gases. There are many specific elements that affect the water within each category.

Dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide in feedwater results in corrosion that can eventually lead to equipment failure. Don’t let your boiler down. Learn more from @RasMech: Click To Tweet boiler feedwater impurities

These vary depending on the source from which the water was collected. Water is a universal solvent and therefore has a tendency towards inconveniently picking up minerals that will interfere with boiler efficiency. Feedwater can contain the aforementioned impurities as well as industrial wastes, sediment, and microorganisms. In the Midwest, we most commonly find calcium, magnesium, and silica.  All water absorbs gas from the surrounding atmosphere and should be deaerated, or in some cases, run through a good hot water return tank.

How can they affect you?

Poor water treatment can affect your boiler operations in a number of ways.  Let’s take them one at a time.

Dissolved Gases

Oxygen and CO2 even in trace amounts as low as 5 ppm (parts per million) will cause major corrosion damage over time. Dissolved oxygen will react with carbon steel throughout the feedwater piping, economizers, and boiler, causing oxygen pitting and eventually leaks. Take every opportunity for internal inspection of your boiler, economizer, and piping to look for internal corrosion of this type.

dissolved gas in boiler feedwater

Dissolved CO2 can come from poorly deaerated water or as a byproduct of chemical reactions taking place inside your boiler.  When this CO2 travels out of the boiler with the steam, it could make the condensate (the water formed from condensed steam in the steam piping or at the final point of use) acidic.  This acid condensate will corrode away your steam pipe while also adding iron to your boiler water (a very not good thing).

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Dissolved Solids

boiler feedwater dissolved solidsDissolved solids such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and silica in feedwater can quickly damage a boiler beyond repair. These dissolved solids come out of solution as the temperature of the water increases, forming a scale on nearby surfaces. Sometimes these scales form in feedwater pipe and economizers. In many cases, this scale is first seen in the boiler, where the heat is transferred. This scale prevents boiler water from cooling metal heat-absorbing surfaces, leading first to a loss of efficiency. This loss of efficiency can be noted by a steadily increasing boiler outlet temperature in the boiler operator’s logbook. As the problem worsens, the boiler will have a number of issues with uneven thermal growth, such as tube roll leaks. Finally, when the scale is so thick that it prevents the boiler water from cooling the heat transfer surfaces effectively, the boiler tubes may completely fail.

Foaming Carry-Over

Foaming carry-over is primarily a function of normal boiler impurities becoming too concentrated, over-treatment with chemicals or an accidental introduction of organic matter (grease or oil) into the boiler feedwater or condensate return. The foam inside the boiler is easily forced out of the boiler steam outlet and can cause major damage. Water hammer in a steam line, erosion in steam piping, and boiler low water events are damaging to your system.

What needs to be done about it?

The good news is, that all these issues can be prevented with a good plan. Raw water should be pretreated, Deaerated, and chemically treated to protect your boiler room equipment and the steam system in general. The most effective and lowest cost water treatment program goes in that order. Remove as much of the gas and impurities as possible mechanically, then treat the remaining traces with a good chemical treatment program.

Dissolved Gases

Dissolved gases are mostly driven out of feedwater in the Deaerator or hot water tank. The proper function of these systems is essential to preventing corrosion both in the boiler room and in the steam system. Careful attention is required to ensure that gases can be safely removed from the boiler water prior to feeding the boiler. Good practice would be to record the feedwater temperature in your boiler logbook during every operator round. While a Deaerator or hot water tank does the heavy lifting, a good chemical treatment program is required to remove or treat the remaining trace amounts of dissolved gas.

  • If your feedwater temperature drops below recommended temperatures (190 F for hot water tanks or 225 F for Deaerators), contact a qualified service company right away to diagnose the problem before it can damage your boiler and steam system.

Dissolved Solids

Dissolved solids, depending on the nature of the impurity, are removed in a variety of ways.  In the midwest, typical water treatment requires a water softener at a minimum to remove the Calcium and magnesium. However, many systems also include RO Systems (Reverse Osmosis) to remove calcium, Magnesium, and Silica in addition to the softener.  A good water treatment company can measure the impurities in your raw water, as well as in your feedwater and make recommendations for improving your water treatment as well as provide you with chemical recommendations for the water going into the boiler.  Good practice would be to record the makeup water conductivity, feedwater conductivity, and boiler water conductivity in your boiler logbook during every operator round.

  • If your makeup water conductivity is above the recommendation of your water treatment company, troubleshoot your raw water treatment or contact a qualified service company to troubleshoot the system.
  • If your boiler water conductivity is above the recommendation of your water treatment company, you are likely forming a scale on heat transfer surfaces!  Perform a good blowdown to get conductivity within range, and adjust your continuous blowdown accordingly to prevent future upsets or call your water chemical company for advice on adjusting blowdown practices.

Foaming Carry-Over

If you suspect carry-over or foaming, immediately verify your boiler water conductivity is within range.  If it is, call your water treatment company to help identify the cause of the foaming. They can perform a number of tests on the feedwater, boiler water, and condensate to confirm a carry-over situation.  In some cases, the boiler will need to be brought offline and cleaned by a qualified service company to remove the oil, grease or other product contamination. In other cases, the foaming can be addressed with a simple water additive.

  • If carry-over is caused ‘mechanically’ or by the way the boiler is being loaded, contact Rasmussen Mechanical Services to help diagnose the root cause and come up with a cost-effective solution.

When you need to generate steam, it can be frustrating to have a simple process impeded by outside variables. These impurities can clog strainers and valves, cause pipe or tube failures or form sludge build-up and corrosion within the boiler system. Each boiler system has its own limit of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in the feedwater and the boiler. This limit should be set with the help of your water chemistry supplier in consideration of your water, your plant, and the chemical program in use.  The chart below can be referenced to give some general guidelines. However, your water chemistry supplier will help you set better guidelines based on the chemistry you are using and the impurities in your water.

ASME guidelines chart

All of this to say, pretreatment of boiler feedwater can make all the difference when trying to prevent costly shutdowns and extensive boiler maintenance. Starting with good water keeps your system flowing efficiently and prevents system damage. Removing impurities is a necessary step for any boiler process, but it is only one part of the process.  Rasmussen Mechanical Services works with your boiler operators and your water treatment company to keep your system running efficiently and reliably.

If you have any questions or want a second opinion, drop us a line. The Rasmussen Mechanical Services Team is at your service. Save your boiler and save yourself the headache of future complications today.

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