FLSmidth teams up with Technical University of Denmark, Hempel and Innovation Fund Denmark to drive innovation in cement production through market oriented research.
The ability to innovate has been a driving force behind FLSmidth’s product development successes through the years. The company’s approach to research is based on an industrial application approach, where the focus is on applying knowledge that not only improves FLSmidth’s products and processes, but also benefits the cement industry.
Explaining the importance of FLSmidth’s research activities, Lars Skaarup Jensen, General Manager in Cement R&D says that it is not just about research for its own sake, but the development and application of new knowledge, tools and products to process design and operations. A key goal is to develop relevant activities that promote and encourage innovation, while also ensuring tangible outcomes.
He says: “We conduct extensive research essentially to develop our knowledge base, which provides the basis for future improvements. A more powerful knowledge base supports development of new products and helps us to get the best out of our current products.”
The MiCeTech programme
One of the most important research platforms is the MiCeTech programme involving FLSmidth, Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the coatings manufacturer Hempel, and Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD). In addition to creating business value for FLSmidth and Hempel, the overall goal of the MiCeTech programme is to create new and fundamental research results related to cement processes, mineral processes and coatings.
The MiCeTech programme is structured around PhD projects at DTU. Typically, each particular focus area is assigned to one PhD student, who spends three years working on the project with an FLSmidth specialist functioning as a co-supervisor.
“The university projects are closely linked to our business and our customers' business, so it is a very hands-on, applied approach to research,” - Lars Jensen, General Manager - Cement R&D, FLSmidth
The programme is now half-way through its five-year period and has produced noteworthy results. These include important contributions to the newly developed burner technology that has been introduced in the JETFLEX® burner.
Specifically within cement, the objective is to conduct extensive research in combustion and emissions. The work is distributed amongst three different tracks: kiln burners, calciners and hydrochloric acid emissions.
Combustion, process technology, emissions and alternative fuels are all important facets of product development within burners. Development work on the new JETFLEX burner began in the early days of the MiCeTech programme and has been accelerated by the programme.
“All research areas in the MiCeTech platform were selected to align with important new technology developments – and to address business and market needs,” says, Lars Jensen.
On the MiCeTech’s burner track, the objective was to develop diagnostic and modelling tools to facilitate further development and maturation of FLSmidth’s new flexible burner concept It involves using video imaging technology to study the characteristics of the kiln flame. Imaging diagnostics measurements on several burners have been carried out – including the JETFLEX burner at Rohoznik cement plant in Slovakia.
The main challenges have included describing the flows and combustion behaviour of alternative fuels in a kiln burner flame because making such measurements is difficult in an industrial rotary kiln burner. The key success criteria are to optimise design features and provide user guidance on how to maximise the share of alternative fuels that can be used with the JETFLEX burner.
During the first month of the JETFLEX burner’s operation, video analyses were used to document exactly how the swirl settings and position of the primary air nozzles shaped the flame.
Calciner performance and design
The MiCeTech programme is also helping to drive development of new calciners. Projects within MiCeTech’s calciner track have involved improving calciner designs to achieve greater fuel flexibility, lower NOx emissions, reduced preheater height, and easier operation and maintenance.
“Our development focuses on modelling and simulation tools that can help us predict performance, particularly within the effective use of alternative fuels and reducing NOx emissions,” says Lars Jensen.
The main challenge has been verifying the model tools for high particle load systems – including measuring particle and gas velocities. Among the important success criteria are to accurately predict fuel conversion and temperature profile in the calciner and establish generic rules for the calciner performance. The accuracy of the calciner simulation tools is also important, both regarding simulation of the zone around the spreader boxes – which is very important for NOx reduction – and how the light, flat and wet alternative fuel particles travel through and burn in the calciner.
The emissions track focuses particularly on hydrochloric acid (HCl) emissions. The need to control focus on HCl has arisen as the use of alternative fuels has become more prevalent and it has caught the attention of European and US legislators.
Lars Jensen explains: “HCl is a relatively new topic. It hasn’t always been in focus, because it has not been seen as a primary pollutant.
"When burning waste, there are strict HCl emission requirements, so it has now become relevant to cement plants that increasingly want to bring alternative fuels into their processes. We are studying the fundamentals of HCl emissions so we can design our processes accordingly and control them cost-effectively.” - Lars Jensen, General Manager - Cement R&D, FLSmidth
HCl is predominantly released from the raw materials in low temperature areas of the preheater where it is thought to be caused by impurities in the raw materials. The focus is on HCl emissions from the preheater; but the project also deals with overall aspects of HCl emissions after formation in the preheater, which govern the HCl emission level from the stack.
The main challenges have been identifying the species that cause emissions and to quantify the formation and absorption of the emissions in the preheater and the units after the preheater. The success criteria are to predict how HCl emissions from the stack of a cement plant are affected by raw materials and process parameters and to specify how to reduce the emissions to acceptable limits cost-effectively. Moisture content, temperature and raw meal composition all have a strong effect on HCl absorption after the preheater. The laboratory results will be translated to rules of thumb for industrial plants when they have been linked directly to measured industrial plant data.
A key aim of the MiCeTech programme is to produce relevant applied research, and Lars Jensen is satisfied that this aim is being met. He is impressed by the contribution of the PhD projects, seeing a direct link between innovation and commercial value.
“The work done on the programme was instrumental in developing the JETFLEX burner, which we are currently launching to the market, and we have made good progress in development on the other two tracks,” he concludes.