In power production, coals ain�t coals

KNOWING the composition of the coal going into a power station’s furnaces can make a big difference to the bottom line. That’s why the CRC for Clean Power from Lignite (CRC CPL) developed and commercialised its Laser Plasma Spectrometer (LPS), enabling power station operators to run rapid tests for fuel quality.
In power production, coals ain’t coals In power production, coals ain’t coals In power production, coals ain’t coals In power production, coals ain’t coals In power production, coals ain’t coals

Coal varies in moisture, organic components and trace elements. Some coals burn better than others, some cause greater corrosion of furnaces, others deposit more ash and char. If operators understand the composition of the coal before it is fed into a furnace, combustion conditions can be tweaked to improve burning efficiency and reduce fouling.

Power stations routinely analyse their coal deliveries to determine which trace elements it includes – but this takes hours and involves several steps. The Monash-CRC CPL team has devised a laser-based instrument that can achieve the same results in minutes by probing a small disc of compressed coal.

The laser literally vaporises a small amount of coal and analyses its spectrum to determine the constituents. “LPS instruments can be built using off-the-shelf components, lasers and spectrometers, and are therefore relatively low-cost,” explains CRC CPL chief executive Dr Peter Jackson.

“Most of the value has been added in the software to operate the system, and in enhancements such as a library of characteristic emission signatures to automate element identification.”

Success depends on getting to market. After a careful search, the CRC teamed up with Automated Fusion Technology (AFT), a Melbourne-based firm with a 10-year track record for quality instrumentation.

The intellectual property of the CRC in the Laser Plasma Spectrometer — including two patents, software source codes, circuit board designs, schematics, and available know-how — was exclusively licensed to the joint venture, Laser Analysis Technologies (LAT), in 2002. Two years later, Automated Fusion Technology merged with a number of other companies to form XRF Scientific, and LAT subsequently became part of the merged XRFS Group.

Two CRC participants—Loy Yang Power and International Power Hazelwood—were also involved in developing the LPS technology, taking part in a field trial and purchasing prototype instruments for long-term testing and evaluation.

Besides coal, the LPS technology can also be used to build up an elemental profile of almost any other solid material as well, making it a potential boon to the mineral processing industries and many other businesses beside.

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