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Stainless Steel Uses in the Power Generation Industry


Stainless steel has played a prominent role in transforming the way we work and live since it was first commercialized in the early 20th century.  The list of industries that have been affected by the introduction of stainless steel is a long one.  In the early 21st century, one area of particular importance is power generation.

Considering the many threats posed by climate change, scarcity of fossil fuels, and the increasing expense associated with extracting resources from remote areas of the globe, both energy efficiency and renewable energy generation are growing concerns.  Stainless steel, because of its many beneficial properties, is already contributing a great deal to both these endeavors and that presence is only likely to grow in the coming years.

At Clinton Aluminum, we understand the importance of stainless steel when it comes to environmental considerations.  With decades of combined experience, our technical professionals are ready to assist customers in the energy industry procure the right alloy for their application and ensure that they are getting the best possible return on their investment.

Contact us today to learn more.

What makes stainless steel so popular in the power generation industry?

Stainless steel is one of the most remarkable metals ever developed.  Its many beneficial properties are particularly well suited for the power and energy industries, from traditional coal-powered plants to the newest forms of renewable energy.  Foremost among these attributes, the amazing corrosion resistance of stainless steel is a necessity when dealing with the many extreme environments in which power plants must be located, such as coastal areas or underseas.

The magic that makes stainless steel so corrosion resistant stems from its chemistry.  Unlike regular carbon steel, which easily reacts to the presence of oxygen and water to form a layer of iron oxide (rust), stainless steel undergoes a natural process known as passivation.

This means that the chromium in the stainless steel forms a microscopic surface film of chromium oxide.  Not only does the layer help protect the metal from corroding, it also has the ability to heal itself following nicks or scratches.  Certain alloys have extremely elevated levels of corrosion resistance, working even in marine environments or when exposed to highly corrosive substances.

Another crucial attribute of stainless steel is its ability to transfer heat.  This is an important trait when dealing with electrical components, one that allows stainless steel components to be able to endure the high temperatures and extreme pressure often present in a power generation plant.  That’s why stainless steel is found in heat exchangers, pressure tubes, transformer enclosures and more.

Other attributes of stainless steel that are well suited for power generation include the metal’s high strength to weight ratio, weldability, machinability, durability, wear resistance and ability to withstand extremes in temperatures.

Which alloys are particularly well suited for electrical generation industries?

The tremendous diversity of stainless steel alloys is another advantage that makes it extremely popular in power generation; it is possible to find specialty metals that can be matched to nearly any application.  When it comes to power generation, there are many different types, each with its own advantages related to facilities and equipment.  Power plants are found all over the world in every natural environment.

The most popular alloy in the stainless family and the power industry is 304.  This workhorse alloy features high corrosion resistance combined with excellent strength, making it suitable for all kinds of applications.  If exposure to salt water is a factor, 316 may be a better option; it has elevated corrosion resistance in marine environments.

For equipment and fixtures that are exposed to extremely high temperatures, such as in furnaces, generators, boilers or particular types of turbines, nickel-based alloys are often employed.  These include 330, 600, 625, or 230.

Of course, this is just a partial list.  The great thing about stainless steel is that no matter what the application, there’s probably an alloy that’s perfect for the job.

What types of power generation facilities rely on stainless steel?

With the advent of green power options, the range of power generation facilities and equipment has greatly expanded in the last few decades.  For traditional energy generation, such as coal-fired plants, stainless steel has been a staple from the beginning.  In modern facilities common applications that require stainless steel include cooling, heat exchange, combustion, boiler super-heaters, reheater tubes and water wall panels.  One particular example is the flue-gas scrubber, which is an important device that helps remove sulfur from coal emissions.

Nuclear power is another form of electricity generation that uses a lot of stainless steel. These facilities are often so large that there will be kilometers of stainless steel piping throughout.  Other fixtures include chimneys, tanks, and containment canisters, as well as equipment that performs the all-important task of fission storage.

Green energy has become a buzzword in recent years with solar, wind and geothermal power being just a few examples of this rapidly expanding industry.  For instance, when it comes to geothermal generators, the exposure to corrosive brines can be intense.  These acidic compounds can be damaging to all kinds of traditional metals.  When 304 or 316 aren’t adequate, high performance specialty alloys can be used instead.

Your Technical Resource Partner

When it comes to energy power generation, there are countless factors that go into making a facility successful and effective.  For any professional who’s concerned about energy efficiency and protecting the environment, stainless steel has many benefits that can make your application both cost effective and sustainable.  The dedicated team at Clinton Aluminum makes it a point of pride to help our customers find success; we’re standing ready with our partner suppliers to help you select and procure the right alloy for your requirements.

Contact us today to speak with one of our knowledgeable and friendly representatives.

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