The head of boiler technology at Babcock Borsig Steinmüller GmbH, a subsidiary of Bilfinger, says his company sees plenty of opportunities to serve coal-fired power plants, but warned that engineering graduates need to be enticed back into the sector.

Babcock Borsig Steinmüller GmbH is involved in planning, development, design, construction and commissioning of power plant technologies and while new plants builds aren’t plentiful, Bernd Thaler told Power Engineering International that modernization upgrades are, as companies look to increase plant life and improve efficiency at a difficult time for the sector.

“Regarding coal power market our focus still lies on Europe and the eastern part of Europe. Changes in terms of the demand for decarbonisation offer more and more problems so servicing and modernisation is where much of our business is now,” Thaler said, speaking on the fringes of POWER-GEN Europe in Cologne.

“Instead of building power plants, modernisation is currently the favoured solution, where Bilfinger can exchange the whole boiler for example. Instead of making new, we rebuild the whole boiler with state of the art design and use as much as possible the infrastructure around the boiler, the fuel feeding system, the ash conveying system and steel structure, you implement the new boiler with a new firing system for emissions control.”

Unsurprisingly the company is much in demand by the eastern side of Europe, as regulation continues to potentially squeeze the margins of coal plant operators.
 
“We are doing a lot in Poland in terms of the refurbishment of boilers. We perform modernisation services too in Serbia. Right now, we are involved in a project there where we are adapting the firing system of a lignite boiler in order to reduce emissions to European limits.”

The regulations are helping as companies look to Babcock Borsig Steinmüller in order to comply, adapt and survive.

“We are helping our client in a deeper way. Due to the increase of unsteady renewable power, the coal fired power plant must take care about grid stabilisation and power control. Therefore it’s a new business for us to improve the flexibility of power plants. One possibility is It’s about decreasing their part load by 50-60 per cent. Helping them to make the power plants more flexible by minimizing the part load of a lignite boiler for example to 30 to 35 per cent.”

“It’s an issue we help them overcome. If you reduce the part load of a coal-fired power plant, then the emissions can go up so you have to work to reduce those emissions. We are elaborating testing of plants, help them to reduce the part load and minimise the emissions.”

Thaler expressed some concern about the dearth of engineering graduates coming through to service a space that, despite the clean energy transition, looks set to continue well into mid-century and beyond.

“Companies are under pressure to make their plants more flexible and competitive, yet we have no more engineers who want to go into thermal power. It seems that nobody wants to step into the steam or conventional power business at the moment.”