A boiler is a closed vessel in which fluid (generally water) is heated. The fluid does not necessarily boil. The heated or vaporized fluid exits the boiler for use in various processes or heating applications, including water heating, central heating, boiler-based power generation, cooking, and sanitation.
In a fossil fuel power plant using a steam cycle for power generation, the primary heat source will be combustion of coal, oil, or natural gas. In some cases byproduct fuel such as the carbon-monoxide rich offgasses of a coke battery can be burned to heat a boiler; biofuels such as bagasse, where economically available, can also be used. In a nuclear power plant, boilers called steam generators are heated by the heat produced by nuclear fission. Where a large volume of hot gas is available from some process, a heat recovery steam generator or recovery boiler can use the heat to produce steam, with little or no extra fuel consumed; such a configuration is common in a combined cycle power plant where a gas turbine and a steam boiler are used. In all cases the combustion product waste gases are separate from the working fluid of the steam cycle, making these systems examples of External combustion engines.
The source of heat for a boiler is combustion of any of several fuels, such as wood, coal, oil, or natural gas. Electric steam boilers use resistance- or immersion-type heating elements. Nuclear fission is also used as a heat source for generating steam, either directly (BWR) or, in most cases, in specialised heat exchangers called “steam generators" (PWR). Heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs) use the heat rejected from other processes such as gas turbine.