Electrostatic precipitator

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Electrostatic precipitator of a biomass heating system with a heat power of 2 MW

An electrostatic precipitator (ESP), or electrostatic air cleaner is a particulate collection device that removes particles from a flowing gas (such as air) using the force of an induced electrostatic charge. Electrostatic precipitators are highly efficient filtration devices that minimally impede the flow of gases through the device, and can easily remove fine particulate matter such as dust and smoke from the air stream.[1] In contrast to wet scrubbers which apply energy directly to the flowing fluid medium, an ESP applies energy only to the particulate matter being collected and therefore is very efficient in its consumption of energy (in the form of electricity).


Invention of the electrostatic precipitator

The first use of corona discharge to remove particles from an aerosol was by Hohlfeld in 1824. However, it was not commercialized until almost a century later. In 1907 Dr. Frederick G. Cottrell applied for a patent on a device for charging particles and then collecting them through electrostatic attraction — the first electrostatic precipitator. He was then a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Cottrell first applied the device to the collection of sulfuric acid mist and lead oxide fume emitted from various acid-making and smelting activities. Vineyards in northern California were being adversely affected by the lead emissions.

At the time of Cottrell's invention, the theoretical basis for operation was not understood. The operational theory was developed later in the 1920s, in Germany.

Prof. Cottrell used proceeds from his invention to fund scientific research through the creation of a foundation called Research Corporation in 1912 to which he assigned the patents. The intent of the organization was to bring inventions made by educators (such as Cottrell) into the commercial world for the benefit of society at large. The operation of Research Corporation is perpetuated by royalties paid by commercial firms after commercialization occurs. Research Corporation has provided vital funding to many scientific projects: Goddard's rocketry experiments, Lawrence's cyclotron, production methods for vitamins A and B1, among many others. By a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court the Corporation had to be split into two entities, the Research Corporation and two commercial firms making the hardware: Research-Cottrell Inc. (operating east of the Mississippi River) and Western Precipitation operating in the Western states. The Research Corporation continues to be active to this day and the two companies formed to commercialize the invention for industrial and utility applications are still in business as well.

Electrophoresis is the term used for migration of gas-suspended charged particles in a direct-current electrostatic field. If your television set accumulates dust on the face it is because of this phenomenon (a CRT is a direct-current machine operating at about 35kV).

Plate precipitator

Principle of the Electrostatic Precipitator

The most basic precipitator contains a row of thin vertical wires, and followed by a stack of large flat metal plates oriented vertically, with the plates typically spaced about 1 cm to 18 cm apart, depending on the application. The air or gas stream flows horizontally through the spaces between the wires, and then passes through the stack of plates.

A negative voltage of several thousand volts is applied between wire and plate. If the applied voltage is high enough an electric (corona) discharge ionizes the gas around the electrodes. Negative ions flow to the plates and charge the gas-flow particles.

The ionized particles, following the negative electric field created by the power supply, move to the grounded plates.

Particles build up on the collection plates and form a layer. The layer does not collapse, thanks to electrostatic pressure (given from layer resistivity, electric field, and current flowing in the collected layer).

Collection efficiency (R)

Precipitator performance is very sensitive due to two particulate properties: 1) Resistivity; and 2) Particle size distribution. These properties can be determined economically and accurately in the laboratory. A widely taught concept to calculate the collection efficiency is the Deutsch model, which assumes infinite remixing of the particles perpendicular to the gas stream.

Resistivity can be determined as a function of temperature in accordance with IEEE Standard 548. This test is conducted in an air environment containing a specified moisture concentration. The test is run as a function of ascending or descending temperature or both. Data are acquired using an average ash layer electric field of 4 kV/cm. Since relatively low applied voltage is used and no sulfuric acid vapor is present in the environment, the values obtained indicate the maximum ash resistivity.

Usually the descending temperature test is suggested when no unusual circumstances are involved. Before the test, the ash is thermally equilibrated in dry air at 454 °C (850°F) for about 14 hours. It is believed that this procedure anneals the ash and restores the surface to pre-collection condition.

If there is a concern about the effect of combustibles, the residual effect of a conditioning agent other than sulfuric acid vapor, or the effect of some other agent that inhibits the reaction of the ash with water vapor, the combination of the ascending and descending test mode is recommended. The thermal treatment that occurs between the two test modes is capable of eliminating the foregoing effects. This results in ascending and descending temperature resistivity curves that show a hysteresis related to the presence and removal of some effect such as a significant level of combustibles.

With particles of high resistivity (cement dust for example) Sulfur trioxide is sometimes injected into a flue gas stream to lower the resistivity of the particles in order to improve the collection efficiency of the electrostatic precipitator.

Modern industrial electrostatic precipitators

ESPs continue to be excellent devices for control of many industrial particulate emissions, including smoke from electricity-generating utilities (coal and oil fired), salt cake collection from black liquor boilers in pulp mills, and catalyst collection from fluidized bed catalytic cracker units in oil refineries to name a few. These devices treat gas volumes from several hundred thousand ACFM to 2.5 million ACFM (1,180 m³/s) in the largest coal-fired boiler applications. For a coal-fired boiler the collection is usually performed downstream of the air preheater at about 160 °C (320 deg.F) which provides optimal resistivity of the coal-ash particles. For some difficult applications with low-sulfur fuel hot-end units have been built operating above 371 °C (700 deg.F).

The original parallel plate–weighted wire design (described above) has evolved as more efficient (and robust) discharge electrode designs were developed, today focusing on rigid (pipe-frame) discharge electrodes to which many sharpened spikes are attached (barbed wire), maximizing corona production. Transformer-rectifier systems apply voltages of 50 – 100 kV at relatively high current densities. Modern controls, such as an automatic voltage control, minimize electric sparking and prevent arcing (sparks are quenched within 1/2 cycle of the TR set), avoiding damage to the components. Automatic plate-rapping systems and hopper-evacuation systems remove the collected particulate matter while on line, theoretically allowing ESPs to stay in operation for years at a time.

Wet electrostatic precipitator

A wet electrostatic precipitator (WESP or wet ESP) operates with saturated air streams (100% relative humidity). WESPs are commonly used to remove liquid droplets such as sulfuric acid mist from industrial process gas streams. The WESP is also commonly used where the gases are high in moisture content, contain combustible particulate, or have particles that are sticky in nature.

The preferred and most modern type of WESP is a downflow tubular design. This design allows the collected moisture and particulate to form a slurry that helps to keep the collection surfaces clean.

Plate style and upflow design WESPs are very unreliable and should not be used in applications where particulate is sticky in nature.

Consumer-oriented electrostatic air cleaners

Plate precipitators are commonly marketed to the public as air purifier devices or as a permanent replacement for furnace filters, but all have the undesirable attribute of being somewhat messy to clean. A negative side-effect of electrostatic precipitation devices is the production of toxic ozone and NOx. However, electrostatic precipitators offer benefits over other air purifications technologies, such as HEPA filtration, which require expensive filters and can become "production sinks" for many harmful forms of bacteria.

The two-stage design (charging section ahead of collecting section) has the benefit of minimizing ozone production which would adversely affect health of personnel working in enclosed spaces. For shipboard engine rooms where gearboxes generate an oil fog, two-stage ESP's are used to clean the air improving the operating environment and preventing buildup of flammable oil fog accumulations. Collected oil is returned to the gear lubricating system.

With electrostatic precipitators, if the collection plates are allowed to accumulate large amounts of particulate matter, the particles can sometimes bond so tightly to the metal plates that vigorous washing and scrubbing may be required to completely clean the collection plates. The close spacing of the plates can make thorough cleaning difficult, and the stack of plates often cannot be easily disassembled for cleaning. One solution, suggested by several manufacturers, is to wash the collector plates in a dishwasher.

Some consumer precipitation filters are sold with special soak-off cleaners, where the entire plate array is removed from the precipitator and soaked in a large container overnight, to help loosen the tightly bonded particulates.

A study by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation testing a variety of forced-air furnace filters found that ESP filters provided the best, and most cost-effective means of cleaning air using a forced-air system.[2]

The first portable electrostatic air filter systems for homes was marketed in 1954 by Raytheon. [3]

See also


  1. ^ Nic, M.; Jirat, J.; Kosata, B., eds. (2006–). "electrostatic precipitator". IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology (Online ed.). doi:10.1351/goldbook.E02028. ISBN 0-9678550-9-8. http://goldbook.iupac.org/E02028.html. 
  2. ^ "Your Furnace Filter: What A Furnace Filter Can Do For You". Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/gemare/gemare_008.cfm. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  3. ^ "Plug-in Filter Cleans the Air." Popular Science, July 1954, p. 70, bottom of page.

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