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Combustion Engineering (C-E) was an innovative American engineering firm and leading firm in the development of power systems in the United Statesmarker with approximately 30,000 employees in about a dozen states at its peak. Headquartered in Stamford, Connecticutmarker, C-E owned over two dozen other companies including National Tank Company and the Morgan Door Company. Former workers have gone on to hold leadership positions in major engineering firms and governments around the world. The company was acquired by Asea Brown Boveri in the late 1980s. The boiler and fossil fuel businesses were purchased by ALSTOM in 2000, and the nuclear business was purchased by Westinghouse Electric Company also in 2000.

History

Welders making boilers for a ship, Combustion Engineering Co, Chattanooga, Tenn. (1942)
Maintenance man at the Combustion Engineering Co working at the largest cold steel hydraulic press in the world, Chattanooga, Tenn. (1942)

Founding

Combustion Engineering was organized in 1912 through the merger of the Grieve Grate Company and the American Stoker Company, two well-known manufacturers of fuel burning equipment. The company was originally headquarterd on 11 Broadwaymarker in New York Citymarker. C-E's signature boiler equipment was the English designed Type-E stoker. C-E also offered several other types of underfeed stokers in addition to the Type-E. During the 1920s, all of C-E's stokers were fabricated in manufacturing plants along the Monongahela River south of Pittsburghmarker.

In 1925 C-E entered the steam boiler business, beginning with a steam boiler installed at the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Plantmarker in Dearborn, MImarker. C-E also acquired two boiler companies in Chattanooga, TNmarker to augment its manufacturing capabilities.

Merger

During the Great Depression, C-E formed a partnerhip with the Superheater Company. The Locomotive Superheater Company was founded in 1910 to further the use of superheated steam in locomotives. The Superheater Company's primary manufacturing facility was located in East Chicago, Indianamarker.

The Superheater Company and C-E eventually merged in 1948 under the name of Combustion Engineering-Superheater, Inc. in 1953, the name Superheater was eliminated and the company took the more familiar name - Combustion Engineering, Inc. At this time, C-E primarily designed and built boiler assemblies for conventional power plants; those powered by coal and oil.

Growth

In the mid-1950s, C-E also expanded its operations into oil and gas exploration, production, refining, and petrochemicals with the acquisition of the Lummus Company located in Bloomfield, NJmarker.

Beginning In 1955, C-E's nuclear power activity began during this time. The history of the C-E Windsor campus, which is currently sandwiched between tobacco fields and corporate office parks, dates to the early development of the nuclear submarine. From the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, Combustion Engineering, under federal government contract, produced nuclear fuel for U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. Also located at the Windsor site was the prototype marine nuclear propulsion training facility known as S1C, which was designed and constructed by C-E adjacent to its main campus. The S1C prototype was operated by C-E for more than 10 years as an R&D and Naval training facility. After expiration of C-E's contract, the S1C contract was subsequently awarded to Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL), who operated the unit until its decommissioning and dismantlement in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

C-E was one of the major suppliers of boiler for US Navy steam-powered warships. Amongst many other warships, all of the 46 Knox class frigates built during the 1960s and 1970s were equipped with a 1200 PSI C-E power plant.

In the 1960s, C-E began selling nuclear power steam supply systems. The first commercial nuclear steam supply system was sold to Consumers Power Company of Michigan for the Palisades Nuclear Generating Stationmarker, which is still in operation. C-E competed aggressively with General Electric and Westinghouse in this domain.

C-E was generally credited with a superior design, evidenced by the fact that the megawatt yield of its nuclear reactors was typically about 10% higher than that of comparable Westinghouse plants. The basis for this increase in efficiency was a computer-based system called the Core Operating Limit Supervisory System (COLSS), which leveraged almost 300 in-core neutron detectors and a patented algorithm to allow higher power densities.

Acquisition by ABB

In 1990 C-E became a wholly owned subsidiary of Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), a Swiss-Swedish multinational conglomerate based out of Zurich and one of the largest electrical engineering companies in the world.

C-E's financial debt and lingering asbestos liability brought ABB to the brink of bankruptcy in the early 2000s. ABB was able to resolve asbestos claims filed against Combustion Engineering and Lummus Global in 2006 with a billion-plus dollar settlement agreement.

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