• The AFRC 2017 Industrial Combustion Symposium – a perspective

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      Philip Sharman

      IFRF Director

Last week, the American Flame Research Committee (AFRC), an affiliated National Committee of IFRF, held its 2017 Industrial Combustion Symposium in Houston, Texas.  This popular meeting had been re-scheduled from mid-September due to the terrible impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area, and it was a testament to the AFRC team, the Houston hotel and Texas ‘true grit’ that everything was up-and-running and the event could go ahead after a three-month delay.

Following a welcoming reception on the Sunday evening, the 98 registered attendees gathered for the Symposium start the next morning with an expectant buzz of conversation.  Professor Phil J Smith of the University of Utah and chair of AFRC got things going, before handing over to Jamal Jamaluddin of AFRC (and formerly of Shell Oil) to chair a session of very informative scene-setting presentations: David Lenhert of Praxair, Inc. reviewing three innovative solutions for emission control using oxygen injection (targeting FCC units, cement kilns and melting furnaces, respectively); Sultan Ahamad of Bechtel Corp. presenting on transient analysis to estimate the Safety Time for process fired heater coils; and Phil Smith, University of Utah, looking at the cutting-edge ‘digital twinning’ approach (i.e. predicting future behaviour of a physical asset – in this case an alky de-propaniser reboiler – in near real-time, using datasets from 25 sensors) for combustion modelling.  All talks provoked lively Q&A!

After a break and some tasty US-style refreshments, Vance Varner of The Dow Chemical Co. chaired a session of three presentations on the topic of gas flaring:  Derek Stuck of SAGE ATC Environmental Consulting provided an update on regulations for flares in the chemical sector; Robert Jackson, Elevated Analytics, presented a study aiming to optimise flow distribution to flare tips of a multi-point ground flare; and Joseph Smith of Missouri University of Science and Technology showed how unmanned aerial systems can add benefits to monitoring flare emissions.  Once again, very interactive Q&A followed each presentation – clearly a hallmark of AFRC events…
Following an excellent lunch and a lot of useful networking, Charles Finney of the US DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) chaired a session of three presentations on fired process heater and pressurised gasifier design and operation;  Ashutosh Garg of Furnace Improvements Service, Inc. described a new ’smart’ stack damper design that greatly improves the draft control in fired heaters (offering greater flexibility and large cost reductions); Walter Gull, Birwelco USA, Inc. gave a very practical run through the role of radiant tube supports and damper performance in improving fired heater resiliency; and Thangam Parameswaran from CanmetENERGY (Natural Resources Canada’s Ottawa labs), presented on biomass gasification diagnostics using flame emission spectroscopy in an oxy-fired pressurised gasifier, which proved to be a useful tool.

The last session of Day 1 was given over to a panel discussion on how to promote better collaboration between the AFRC (and indeed IFRF) and the American Petroleum Institute’s Sub-Committee on Heat Transfer Equipment (API/SCHTE – focussed on developing standards).  The discussion was introduced by a presentation on the 70-year history of IFRF in industrial combustion, its status and a vision for the organisation in the future, shared by IFRF’s Director, together with initial statements by the panellists: Jamal Jamaluddin (ex-Shell Oil) facilitating, and Phil Smith (University of Utah), Chuck Benson (etaPartners LLC), Hector Ayala (ExxonMobil Research & Engineering) and Walter Gull (Birwelco USA, Inc.).  This discussion proved to be very interactive, with a great deal of delegate participation and some excellent ideas to be developed further by AFRC, API/SCHTE and IFRF.

Day 2 of the Symposium started with a session on flame diagnostic tools, chaired by Kurt Kraus of Callidus Technologies LLC (part of Honeywell UOP):  Charles Finney, ORNL, reported on work done with Babcock & Wilcox to see if flame scanners (for coal-fired burners) help with gas-fired burners; Kaitlyn Scheib of the University of Utah presented on results from a narrow-angle radiometer instrument used on their 1.5MWth furnace; and Chris Filoon of Zeeco, Inc. described their flame scanner techniques for fired process heaters that are now finding widespread application in the USA and beginning to make an appearance elsewhere.

After a refreshment break, Ian Fischer of ExxonMobil Research & Engineering chaired a session of papers on gas flaring:  Vance Varner, The Dow Chemical Co., shared higher-level lessons learned concerning the installation and operation of multipoint ground flares; Matthew Martin of Callidus Technologies LLC presented an impressive industrial-scale development of an elevated flare tip; and Brian Duck of Zeeco, Inc. described a new direct flame monitoring technology that will help operators comply with the increasingly stringent flaring regulations.

After another excellent networking lunch, two sessions of papers addressed the theme of optimising the performance of fired heaters, furnaces and boilers.  William Frasse of Petro-Chem Development Co., Inc. chaired the first of these sessions: Matthew Valancius of Bloom Engineering Co., Inc. compared forced draft and induced draft firing techniques; Sultan Ahamad, Bechtel Corp., reported on dynamic simulation for transient plant operations in fired heaters; and Charles Finney of ORNL looked at the use of thermoacoustic vibrations to optimise industrial furnaces and boilers.  The second session was chaired by Tom Gilmartin of BP – always ready to stir-up the debate: Joseph Smith, Missouri University of Science and Technology, compared large eddy simulations (LES) with Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) based CFD techniques for the analysis of gas-fired combustion equipment (note – see piece in this edition of MNM on Joseph’s paper on this topic, now published in IFRF’s online journal Industrial Combustion); Ken Moody of BNZ Materials, Inc. reported on their alkaline hydrolysis resistant and durable refractory linings for fired heaters; Chuck Baukal, John Zink Co. LLC, described the causes, indications and prevention of sub-stoichiometric operation (i.e. ‘flooding’) of fired heaters; and Kurt Kraus of Callidus Technologies LLC presented their CUBL-CF compact flame, ultra low-NOx burner for commercial application on off-stoichiometry, partial-premix for process burner applications.  By now, the delegates were in full-swing, and these two doughty chairmen were challenged to contain the Q&A sessions, with discussions continuing throughout an entertaining Symposium Banquet!

Day 3 was dedicated to a focussed discussion on industrial boilers (did you know that there are about 43,000 in the USA?).  After some opening remarks from Jamal Jamaluddin, formerly of Shell Oil, Paul Eichamer – leading on API/SCHTE – set the scene by describing the important role of industrial boilers in refineries and chemical plants.  This was followed by the presentation of a number of – often graphically-illustrated – case studies on ‘troubleshooting’ problems on boilers, by Paul, Joseph Tleimat of Valero and Matt Whelan of John Zink Hamworthy Combustion.  These perspectives and case studies prompted an excellent and extended discussion period.

Phil J Smith, as Chair of AFRC, brought the 2017 Symposium to a conclusion at lunchtime.

All in all, this AFRC Symposium was a great combustion event.  It was interesting to see the clear focus on ‘industry’ presentations at this Symposium, as opposed to the more ‘academic’ based presentations at the Nordic Flame Days meeting in October – both very valid, just different.  Also, the technical focus was somewhat different in Houston – much more on fired process heaters, flares and industrial boilers (and associated technologies), with little on utility-scale boilers for power generation, and nothing on CCS.  However, my overriding and lasting impression was of the very lively, good-humoured discussion:  AFRC and API/SCHTE folk certainly don’t hold-back in this department!

Finally, ‘Hats off’ to AFRC (!) for organising an excellent 2017 Symposium, and, particularly, for handling the problems inflicted by Hurricane Harvey…  I’m already looking forward to the 2018 Symposium in Salt Lake City in the September 2018.
Note, a more-or-less constant feed of Tweets (updates, comments, facts, pictures) were posted on Twitter during the Symposium, with the hashtag ‘AFRC2017’:  These have since been collated into a ‘Storify’ for the AFRC 2017 Symposium – see here.