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To acquaint you with some of the fundamentals underlying the process of steam operation, suppose that you set an open pan of water on the stove and turn on the heat. You find that the heat causes the temperature of the water to increase and, at the same time, to expand in volume. When the temperature reaches the BOILING POINT (212F or 100C at sea level). a physical change occurs in the water; the water starts vaporizing. When you hold the temperature at the boiling point long enough, the water continues to vaporize until the pan is dry. A point to remember is that  the temperature of water does not increase beyond its boiling point. Even if you add more heat after the water starts to boil, the water cannot get any hotter as long as it remains at the same pressure.

Now suppose you place a tightly fitting lid on the pan of boiling water. The lid prevents the steam from escaping from the pan and this results in a buildup of pressure inside the container. However, when you make an opening in the lid, the steam escapes at the same rate it is generated. As long as water remains in the pan and as long as the pressure remains constant, the temperature of the water and steam remains constant and equal.

The steam boiler operates on the same basic principle as a closed container of boiling water. By way of comparison, it is as true with the boiler as with the closed container that steam formed during boiling tends to push against the water and sides of the vessel. Because of this downward pressure on the surface of the water, a temperature in excess of 212F is required for boiling. The higher temperature is obtained simply by increasing the supply of heat; therefore, the rules you should remember are as follows:

  1. All of the water in a vessel, when held at the boiling point long enough, will change into steam. As long as the pressure is hed constant, the temperature of the steam and boiling water remains the same.
  2. An increase in pressure resultes in an increase in the boiling-point temperature of water.

A handy formula with a couple of fixed factors will prove this theory. The square root of steam pressure multiplied by 14 plus 198 will give you the steam temperature. When you have 1 psig of steam pressure, the square root is one times 14 plus 198 which equals 212F which is the temperature that the water will boil at 1 psig.

There are a number of technical terms used in connection with steam generation. Some of these commonly used terms you should know are as follows:

  • Degree is defined as a measure of heat intensity.
  • Temperature is defined as a measure in degrees of sensible heat. The term sensible heat refers to heat that can be measured with a thermometer.
  • Heat is a form of energy measured in British thermal units (Btu). One Btu is the amount of heat required to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit at sea level.
  • Steam means water in a vapor state. Dry saturated steam is steam at the saturation temperature corresponding to pressure, and it contains no water in suspension. Wet saturated steam is steam at the saturation temperature corresponding to pressure, and it contains water particles in suspension.
  • The Quality of steam is expressed in terms of percent. For instance, if a quantity of wet steam consists of 90 percent steam and 10 percent moisture, the quality of the mixture is 90 percent.
  • Superheated steam  is steam at a temperature higher than the saturation temperature corresponding to pressure. For example, a boiler may operate at 415 psig (pounds per square inch gauge). The corresponding saturation temperature for this pressure is 483F, and this will be the temperature of the water in the boiler and the steam in the drum. (Charts and graphs are available for computing this pressure-temperature relationship.) This steam can be passed through a superheater where the pressure remains about the same, but the temperature will be increased to some higher figure.

Q1. When heat is applied to water, what physical change occurs?

Q2. How is a "degree" of heat defined?

Q3. As long as the pressure in a boiler is held constant, what factor remains the same in the boiler?

Q4. What three requirements must a boiler meet before being considered satisfactory for operation?

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015