Conventional coal-fired burners are designed to operate within specific limits that, in part, result from the need to efficiently burn the fuel. These designs have been developed to ensure stable combustion, lower NOx emissions and increase the combustion efficiency through techniques such as air staging and adding swirl to the combustion air. Recent requirements to reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired boiler plant has focussed on the co-firing of biomass, primarily wood, either by delivering the pulverised biomass with the coal or through separate burners. To date this approach has typically taken place at substitution levels of around 5% by mass and at these levels the operation of the burners and boiler is not adversely affected. However, as the proportion of biomass increases the fuel characteristics of the blend moves further away from the burner design parameters. This can lead to combustion instabilities and in extreme cases extinction of the flame. In order to co-fire higher concentrations of biomass a system or technique is required that can detect the onset of these instabilities and warn before the combustion conditions become dangerous. In this paper a novel technique based around the Wigner-Ville transform is presented that shows promise at being able to temporarily resolve the conditions that could result in the onset of burner instabilities for three cases; the first will present results from the combustion of 100% bituminous coal, whilst the second and third cases will present the results from experiments where the proportion of biomass was set at 10% and 20% by mass with the same bituminous coal. In each experiment the secondary combustion air was first reduced from a nominal stable condition and then subsequently increased from the same stable condition. It was found that the Wigner transform was able to resolve flicker frequency changes as the airflow rate was reduced. These changes were subsequently used in a neural network to automatically detect drastic changes in the air flow rates to the burner and could provide a means by which utility operators could detect dangerous flame instability conditions in real-time.

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