boiler, device for generating steam. It consists of two principal parts: the furnace, which provides heat, usually by burning a fuel, and the boiler proper, a device in which the heat changes water into steam. A steam engine is driven by steam generated under pressure in a boiler. The amount of steam that can be generated per hour depends upon the rate of combustion of the fuel in the furnace and upon the efficiency of heat transfer to the boiler proper. Since the rate of combustion of the fuel in a furnace is largely dependent upon the quantity of air available, i.e., upon the draft, a sufficient supply of air is an important consideration in boiler construction. In some large installations the incoming air is preheated by the waste heat of the flue gases, and in order to increase the speed of combustion a forced draft (air at higher than atmospheric pressure) is often used. Two types of boilers are most common—fire-tube boilers, containing long steel tubes through which the hot gases from the furnace pass and around which the water to be changed to steam circulates, and water-tube boilers, in which the conditions are reversed. Water is changed to steam in these continuous circuits and also is super-heated in transit. This additional heating of the steam increases the efficiency of the power-generating cycle. The safety valve is used to prevent explosions by releasing steam if the pressure becomes too great. The construction of boilers in the United States is governed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Boiler Construction Code. Progress in boiler design and performance have been governed by the continuous development of improved materials.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.