Drones save time, money on coal-fired boiler inspections

A burner tip that was recommended for replacement.

Coal-fired power plants across the United States are required to complete Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (https://www.epa.gov/mats/mercury-and-air-toxics-standards-illinois) (MATS) inspections generally every three years to comply with limits on toxic emissions. These standards provide uniformity in emissions across the country with the use of pollution control technologies that can be implemented at newer and older plants.

Hanson uses a combination of unmanned aerial system (or drone) imaging technology and boiler experts with over 30 years of coal-fired boiler experience to inspect the boiler’s burners and recommend repairs to keep them operating as designed. The inspections are conducted while the unit is offline; therefore, time is of the essence to complete and document the work, so that any necessary repairs can be made to return the unit to service.

Traditional methods include using scaffolding inside the boiler to visually inspect the burners and, where applicable, the overfire air system. Boilers can be over 200 feet tall, requiring substantial time and materials to reach the components. Hanson has eliminated the time and cost needed to set up and tear down scaffolding by using drones to obtain high-resolution images and video that can be used to assess the condition of the components.

A close-up view of the burner tip.

While the visuals are obtained by the drone, Hanson’s boiler expert evaluates the condition of the components and provides on-site recommendations the same day, so that any repairs can begin immediately. The efficiency and effectiveness of this process significantly reduces the units’ off-line time.

Once the unit is back online, Hanson returns to the plant to conduct flue gas testing and boiler efficiency verification to document that the unit’s emission requirements are in MATS compliance, providing a written report of the process.

For more information about Hanson’s drone services for coal-fired power plants, contact Matt Heyen at mheyen@hanson-inc.com or C J Saladino at csaladino@hanson-inc.com.

An overfire air system with blockages that should be removed.