(19)
(11)EP 3 202 234 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
16.05.2018 Bulletin 2018/20

(21)Application number: 15767523.2

(22)Date of filing:  25.09.2015
(51)Int. Cl.: 
H05B 7/18  (2006.01)
H05H 1/36  (2006.01)
B23K 9/073  (2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/EP2015/072084
(87)International publication number:
WO 2016/050627 (07.04.2016 Gazette  2016/14)

(54)

POWER SUPPLY FOR ELECTRIC ARC GAS HEATER

STROMVERSORGUNG FÜR LICHTBOGENGASBRENNER

ALIMENTATION POUR CHAUFFAGE DE GAZ D'ARC ÉLECTRIQUE


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 01.10.2014 EP 14187236

(43)Date of publication of application:
09.08.2017 Bulletin 2017/32

(73)Proprietor: Umicore
1000 Brussels (BE)

(72)Inventors:
  • OSTERMEYER, John
    B-2630 Aartselaar (BE)
  • HEULENS, Jeroen
    B-3370 Kerkom (BE)

(74)Representative: Umicore RDI Patent Department 
Watertorenstraat 33
2250 Olen
2250 Olen (BE)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A1-91/18488
US-A- 5 349 605
JP-A- S6 092 081
  
  • YONGSUG SUH ET AL: "A study on medium voltage power conversion system for plasma torch", POWER ELECTRONICS SPECIALISTS CONFERENCE, 2008. PESC 2008. IEEE, IEEE, PISCATAWAY, NJ, USA, 15 June 2008 (2008-06-15), pages 437-443, XP031300011, ISBN: 978-1-4244-1667-7 cited in the application
  
Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


Description


[0001] This invention concerns DC power supplies suitable for electric arc gas heaters such a plasma torches. It more particularly relates to the dimensioning of the inductor in a switched-mode DC to DC converter used for feeding the torches.

[0002] Electric arc gas heaters are powerful tools to heat up virtually any type of gas to extreme temperatures. There are many descriptions available nowadays for such devices, e.g. in "Electric Arcs and Arc Gas Heaters", E. Pfender, Chapter 5, Gaseous Electronics. In numerous industrial applications, the high potential of gases heated to the plasma state is recognized. Examples are: powder spraying and coating, production of nano-sized powders, extractive metallurgy, aerospace engineering, etc.

[0003] In electric arc gas heaters, also known as plasma torches, a gas is entered through an input port into a flow-through chamber, in which an electric arc is maintained. The gas heats up to extreme temperatures and is expelled as a plasma through an output port. The arc is generated and sustained by an electric power supply that is connected to an anode and a cathode, both located within the gas flow-through chamber. The arc remains confined within the chamber and is therefore said to be non-transferred. Examples of such arc gas heaters are shown in US 4,543,470 or WO 91/18488. Achieving high power operation implies the combination of high arc voltages and currents. High voltage operation can be achieved by lengthening the arc. Longer arcs can be obtained by forcing the arc through a vortex-stabilized and electrically-isolated zone between the electrodes. This type of gas heater is called "segmented" or "constricted". According to current practice, the maximum allowable current is limited as electrode erosion may become excessive.

[0004] Non-transferred arcs are most often fed with direct current (DC); using alternating current (AC) indeed leads to less stable operation due to repeated interruption of the arc at each zero-crossing of the AC cycle.

[0005] An electric arc has a unique U-I (voltage-current) characteristic in which the arc voltage decreases with increasing arc current. This corresponds to a negative differential resistance posing regulation challenges to the DC power supply. These challenges are well described in "Electrical And Mechanical Technology of Plasma Generation and Control", P. Mogensen and J. Thörnblom, Chapter 6, Plasma Technology in Metallurgical Processing.

[0006] Although a ballast resistor in series with a DC voltage source could theoretically be used to stabilize the operating point of the arc, the ohmic losses in the resistor would be excessive.

[0007] A first solution to this problem has been to combine silicon-controlled rectifiers with a ballast inductor in series with the torch. The role of the inductor is to stabilize the current to the load between successive actions of the regulator. The rectifiers are controlled to maintain a constant current through the load. The latency of the electronic regulation is however significant as the switching frequency is a small multiple (typically 6 or 12) of the mains frequency, and thus limited to a few hundred Hz. Consequently, a large inductance is needed.

[0008] A theoretical attempt to design a multi megawatt DC power supply for plasma torch operation according to the above principle is given in "A study on medium voltage power conversion system for plasma torch", Y. Suh, Power Electronics Specialists Conference, IEEE, 2008. Herein it is recognized that the size of the inductor is inversely proportional to the switching frequency of the rectifying unit.

[0009] A more modern approach is the use of a state of the art DC power supply comprising a rectifying unit followed by a switching DC to DC converter. Such switchers can operate at relatively higher frequencies such as 2 kHz, even when designed for high powers in the megawatt range. The DC-DC converter is regulated to behave as a constant current supply. To this end, a pulse-width modulated chopper is used, the pulse-width being continuously adapted by a feedback controller comparing the instantaneous torch current with a set-point value. A DC to DC converter also provides for isolation between the chopper pulses and the grid, solving most of the power factor and grid pollution issues typical of silicon-controlled rectifiers.

[0010] This type of realization is illustrated in e.g. US 5,349,605.

[0011] The role of the inductor is most important in ensuring stable operation of a torch. As described in above-mentioned "Electrical And Mechanical Technology of Plasma Generation and Control", P. Mogensen and J. Thörnblom, Chapter 6, Plasma Technology in Metallurgical Processing, the size of the output inductance is determined by three main factors: (1) limiting the rate of current increase after ignition of the electric arc to what the control loop can handle, (2) providing a smoothing effect to reduce the current ripple produced by the switching devices in the power supply, and, (3) providing uninterrupted current during start-up of the plasma torch.

[0012] Although the size of the ballast inductor determines whether or not a specific power supply topology is able to stabilize the electric arc in a plasma torch, no references are available in the prior art to derive a suitable inductance for a specific installation. In fact, "sufficiently large" inductors are taught, which, in practice means that these inductors are generally overdesigned. Such an inductor however carries a substantial part of the investment of a multi megawatt DC power supply, as a plasma generator may operate at several thousand amperes. The costs of the inductor indeed scales with the inductance and with the maximum current.

[0013] According to the present invention, the inductance should be chosen within a certain range. The lower limit is needed to fulfill the stability criterion of the current feedback loop. The upper limit is determined by a need for a certain minimum current ripple. This ripple is desired because it tends to periodically vary the length of the arc slightly, thereby spreading out the erosion zone on the electrodes. This spreading of the wear allows for higher current operation.

[0014] Contrary to conventional DC-DC PSU design rules, the minimum inductance needed is, in this case, not dictated by the minimum current and by the desire to keep the power supply in continuous mode. Industrial torches are indeed intended to work within a restricted range of relatively high currents only.

[0015] The invention concerns in particular a DC power supply for driving a non-transferred electric arc gas heater, comprising: an AC to DC rectifier providing a potential U0; a DC to DC switching converter having a switching frequency fs; a current control loop having a latency τ; and, a ballast inductor having an inductance L; characterized in that inductance L is such that

and



[0016] In another embodiment, the invention concerns a method of operating a non-transferred electric arc gas heater, characterized in that the heater is fed with a current of more than 500 A RMS, the current comprising a DC component and an AC component, the AC component having a peak to peak amplitude between 50 A and 20% of the DC component, and preferably between 50 A and 10% of the DC component.

[0017] The DC to DC converter is preferably a buck converter.

[0018] With respect to industrial applications, the potential U0 delivered by the AC to DC rectifier should preferably be above 3000 V, and the power delivered to the load be between 1 and 10 MW. Such a power supply is especially adapted for powering a non-transferred segmented plasma torch with hollow electrodes.

[0019] By U0 is meant the loaded output voltage (in Volt) of the AC to DC rectifier. While this voltage should be high enough to provide enough potential to sustain the electric arc at all conditions, it also increases the minimum required size of the ballast inductor.

[0020] By the switching frequency fs is meant the frequency (in Hertz) of the pulse-width modulated chopper used to regulate the current to the load.

[0021] By the latency τ of the control loop is meant the time interval (in second) between sampling the current and the subsequent control action. In case of a digital regulator, it includes the sampling and averaging of the current, the A/D conversion time, and the control loop calculations. The latency includes the delay imposed by the pulse-width modulator that is part of the DC tot DC conversion unit. A short latency is generally beneficial, allowing the use of a smaller ballast inductance.

[0022] We have found that for a high-power non-transferred non-segmented electric arc gas heater, the ballast inductor should have an inductance L (in Henry) of more than



[0023] The electric arc inside a plasma torch is particularly unstable on a timescale of about 10 to 100 µs. Within this timescale, the electric arc roots may move stochastically on the electrode surfaces. A varying current will further boost the wandering of the roots, thus spreading out the electrode wear and increasing the electrode lifetime. According to the invention, use is made of the current ripple generated in the chopper to enhance this effect.

[0024] In a DC to DC switching converter, the ripple is maximum when the duty cycle of the chopper amounts to 50%. In that particular case, the ripple can be expressed as

Neglecting secondary effects, the ripple varies as D (1 - D), D being the duty cycle of the chopper pulses.

[0025] Using conventional well filtered DC, we have learned that at average currents above 500 A, the electrode wear becomes too high for industrial purposes. On the other hand, the electrode erosion is surprisingly well spread if at least 50 A peak to peak of current ripple is superposed. This allows to reach average currents between 500 and 2000 A while avoiding premature electrode erosion. This contrasts with classical power supplies, designed to deliver a clean constant current output with low ripple. The constraint on the ballast inductor, assuming a typical duty cycle of 50%, and a ripple current of at least 50 A, can be determined as

This equation remains valid in practice for duty cycles between 20 and 80%, i.e. across the range of the practical operating conditions for industrial high power plasma's.

[0026] Figure 1 illustrates the invention. Are shown:
  1. (1) the AC to DC rectifier producing a DC voltage of U0;
  2. (2) the pulse-width modulated chopper, operating at frequency fs;
  3. (3) the ballast inductor with inductance L;
  4. (4) the fly-back diode, part of the buck converter topology;
  5. (5) the sensor reporting the instantaneous torch current;
  6. (6) the desired torch current or set-point value;
  7. (7) the current regulator, comparing the instantaneous torch current with the set-point value;
  8. (8) the unit driving the pulse-width modulation of the chopper based on the output of the regulator;
  9. (9) the plasma torch.


[0027] The following example illustrates an apparatus according to the invention. A 4 MW power supply comprises a rectifying unit delivering a voltage under nominal load of 3000 V (U0), and a chopper unit equipped with IGBT switching devices operating at 2 kHz (fs).

[0028] A ballast inductor is placed in series with an electric arc heater having a nominal power rating of 2.5 MW. The current to the load is measured using a Hall-probe and the value is fed to a PID regulator. A current set-point of 1000 A is chosen, which, for this particular torch, corresponds to a potential of about 1450 V. The duty cycle (D) of the chopper is thus about 48%.

[0029] The digital PID regulator induces a delay of 1 ms, and the chopper adds a further mean delay of 0.5 ms. A control loop latency of 1.5 ms (τ) is thus considered. According to the invention, a minimum inductance of 3 mH is needed to ensure the stability of the control loop.

[0030] The maximum inductance is calculated according to the invention as 7.5 mH. This indeed ensures the desired peak to peak current ripple of 50 A.

[0031] To maximize electrode lifetime and power supply robustness, a value of 4 mH is chosen for this specific installation.


Claims

1. A DC power supply for driving a non-transferred electric arc gas heater (9), comprising:

- an AC to DC rectifier (1) providing a potential U0;

- a DC to DC switching converter (2, 3, 4) having a switching frequency fs;

- a current control loop (5, 6, 7, 8) latency τ; and,

- a ballast inductor (3) having an inductance L;

characterized in that inductance L is such that

and


 
2. A DC power supply according to claim 1, characterized in that the DC to DC converter (2, 3, 4) is a buck converter.
 
3. A DC power supply according to claims 1 or 2, characterized in that U0 > 3000 V.
 
4. A DC power supply according to any one of claims 1 to 3, characterized in that the power delivered to the gas heater (9) is between 1 and 10 MW.
 
5. A DC power supply according to any one of claims 1 to 4, characterized in that the electric gas heater (9) is a non-transferred segmented plasma torch with hollow electrodes.
 
6. Method of operating a non-transferred electric arc gas heater using a DC power supply according to any one of claims 1 to 5, characterized in that the heater (9) is fed with a current of more than 500 A RMS, the current comprising a DC component and an AC component, the AC component having a peak to peak amplitude between 50 A and 20% of the DC component.
 


Ansprüche

1. DC-Stromversorgung zum Antreiben eines nicht übertragenen, elektrischen Lichtbogengasheizers (9), umfassend:

- einen AC-DC-Gleichrichter (1), der ein Potenzial U0 bereitstellt;

- einen DC-DC-Schaltwandler (2, 3, 4), der eine Schaltfrequenz fs aufweist;

- eine Latenz τ für eine Stromsteuerschleife (5, 6, 7, 8); und

- einen Ballastinduktor (3), der eine Induktanz L aufweist;

dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Induktanz L derart ist, dass L >

und


 
2. DC-Stromversorgung nach Anspruch 1, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass der DC-DC-Wandler (2, 3, 4) ein Abwärtswandler ist.
 
3. DC-Stromversorgung nach den Ansprüchen 1 oder 2, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass U0 > 3000 V.
 
4. DC-Stromversorgung nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 3, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die an den Gasheizer (9) gelieferte Leistung zwischen 1 und 10 MW beträgt.
 
5. DC-Stromversorgung nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 4, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass der elektrische Gasheizer (9) ein nicht übertragener, segmentierter Plasmabrenner mit Hohlelektroden ist.
 
6. Verfahren zum Betreiben eines nicht übertragenen, elektrischen Lichtbogengasheizers unter Verwendung einer DC-Stromversorgung gemäß einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 5, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass der Heizer (9) mit einem Strom von mehr als 500 A RMS gespeist wird, wobei der Strom eine DC-Komponente und eine AC-Komponente umfasst, wobei die AC-Komponente eine Spitze-Spitze-Amplitude zwischen 50 A und 20 % der DC-Komponente aufweist.
 


Revendications

1. Alimentation en courant continu pour entraîner un réchauffeur de gaz à arc électrique non transféré (9), comprenant :

- un redresseur alternatif-continu (1) fournissant un potentiel U0 ;

- un convertisseur à découpage continu-continu (2, 3, 4) ayant une fréquence de commutation fs;

- une latence de boucle de commande de courant (5, 6, 7, 8) τ; et,

- un inducteur ballast (3) ayant une inductance L ;

caractérisée en ce que l'inductance L est telle que

et


 
2. Alimentation en courant continu selon la revendication 1, caractérisée en ce que le convertisseur continu-continu (2, 3, 4) est un convertisseur abaisseur de tension.
 
3. Alimentation en courant continu selon les revendications 1 ou 2, caractérisée en ce que U0 > 3000 V.
 
4. Alimentation en courant continu selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 3, caractérisée en ce que la puissance délivrée au réchauffeur de gaz (9) est comprise entre 1 et 10 MW.
 
5. Alimentation en courant continu selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 4, caractérisée en ce que le réchauffeur de gaz électrique (9) est une torche à plasma à électrode segmentée à arc non transféré avec des électrodes creuses.
 
6. Procédé de fonctionnement d'un réchauffeur de gaz à arc électrique non transféré utilisant une alimentation en courant continu selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 5, caractérisé en ce que le réchauffeur (9) est alimenté par un courant de plus de 500 A efficaces, le courant comprenant une composante continue et une composante alternative, la composante alternative ayant une amplitude de crête à crête comprise entre 50 A et 20 % de la composante continue.
 




Drawing






REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description




Non-patent literature cited in the description