Coal: The Energy of Right Now

November 26, 2012

While alternative energy is the energy of the future, fossil fuels are the energy of right now. Coal, especially, is still heavily relied on for energy production and is a primary source of electricity generation in many countries including the US and China. In fact, world coal consumption is actually increasing year-to-year. Scientists need to be concentrating on how to make alternative energies more widespread, but they also need to make coal a better, more efficient fuel source. Designing systems to more efficiently use coal is imperative to minimize the effect coal has on the environment. Coal production is stronger than ever, but its negative effects are made weaker every day.


Coal dust particles passing through an electrostatic precipitator

The principles behind an electrostatic precipitator. Coal dust particles pass between an electrode plate and wire, where they are charged, and attracted to the collecting plates. Image attributed to Evan Mason.

Electrostatic Precipitators

Environmental standards require that effectively all of the dust from coal combustion is removed before release to the atmosphere. One of the major ways to separate the particles from the flue emissions is with electrostatic precipitators (ESPs). Essentially, an ESP uses electrical forces to charge the particles in the gas. The particles are then collected on metal plates, where they build up to form a dust cake, and are regularly removed. Removal efficiencies are usually at 99.9%, but increasing efficiency is a nonstop process. Reducing power consumption and optimizing design costs are important too, which is where Alstom Power Sweden AB enters into the equation.

Andreas Bäck of Alstom Power and Joel Cramsky of Alvelid Engineering, work to develop and optimize environmental control technologies, including ESPs. Usually, ESP development is an experimental and empirical science, but with COMSOL Multiphysics, they were able to create mathematical models. These models provide a detailed and accurate understanding of the inner workings of an ESP. COMSOL was used to model the ESPs and then compare them to experimental measurement values. This gave confidence in the modeling technique, and allowed for more advanced simulations beyond the experiments previously performed.


For more information, and specifics on how they modeled and the results they obtained, go to page 21 in COMSOL News.


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