Flames in chaos

A system that monitors individual burners and allows operators of coal-fired power plants to make instantaneous adjustments to each burner can mean cleaner air and lower costs for utilities.

The Flame Doctor system, which uses algorithms developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Stuart Daw and Charles Finney, can help prevent up to 50% of the carbon monoxide and unburned carbon emissions, and 30% of the nitrogen oxide emissions that result from incomplete combustion.

Mathematical formulas derived from chaos analysis detect shifts in each flame’s flicker pattern and measure the degree to which each flame deviates from what is optimal.

Flame Doctor consists primarily of a data acquisition system to collect flame scanner output and a computer for signal processing and display. Conventional systems rely on global stack data, which leads to non-optimal boiler operation with higher emissions and lower efficiency.

Seven utility sites are testing the system, and short demonstrations have been made at numerous other plants.

The Babcock & Wilcox Company has a worldwide license to market the Flame Doctor technology which could save utilities millions of dollars. Commercial release is expected this year.