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Water ring pumps

a better solution for your
wet vacuum process?
by Frank Moerman, MSc., EHEDG Belgium and Nico Desanghere, MSc., SIHI

centrifugal force creates a water ring

which is concentric to the casing. At
the top dead center, the ring of water
completely fills the voids between the
blades of the impeller. However, as
the impeller rotates, the water seal is
peeled away from the space between
the blades, creating voids between the
impeller blades that increase in size at
the inlet, drawing gas in. At the bottom
dead center, the voids between the
impeller blades and water ring are at a
maximum, while the blad tips remain
immersed in the water ring for seal-
ing. As the impeller continues to rotate
back up from bottom dead center to

Figure 1: wet pump type,

multi-bladed rotating assembly.

A wet vacuum source is a device wherein a fluid aids in the generation

of a vacuum; the removal of friction, compression and condensation
heat; and in the elimination of contaminants. Wet systems are
commonly applied as vacuum source in wet processes, such as
wet product evacuation, cleaning and rinsing. Typical wet vacuum
sources are steam jet ejectors (discussed in a former article), water
ring pumps, and oil ring pump and oil-lubricated rotary vane pumps
(discussed in a latter article). Table 1 gives an overview of the different
advantages and disadvantages of a water ring pump.

n this wet pump type (Fig. 1), a multi-bladed bly is driven by an external
rotating assembly (one or two impellers) source, normally an electric
is positioned eccentrically in a cylindrical motor. A sealant liquid, typi-
pump casing, in such a way that at the top dead cally water, is used to seal between the
center the clearance between impeller blade tip impeller blade tips and housing. As the Photo 1 (above): The gas-liquid exhaust
and housing is at a minimum, and at the bottom impeller rotates, the seal water is thrown of the water ring pump is discharged in
dead center the clearance is at a maximum, by the impeller against the inside walls the liquid separator, where the water is
resulting in a relatively large void. This assem- of the pump housing, and the exerted separated from the gas.

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Water ring pump

capacity by 30% or more, and can lower the
Advantages Disadvantages
maximum suction pressure the pump can
- Minimum achievable vacuum level mounts 33 mbar - Achievable vacuum is limited by the vapour pressure deliver (Fig. 2). At 25°C, the vapour pres-
absolute of the seal water at the operating temperature
sure of water is only 31.6 mbar; at 30°C the
- Modest gas flows - Good water quality (soft water) is critical to avoid pre-
- Excellent to handle condensable loads and slugs of mature failures due to scale build-up
vapour pressure of water is already 42.4 mbar.
liquid - Risk of cavitation, which requires that a portion of In the later case, this means that no absolute
- Excellent to handle contaminated loads, that can be the process load must be non-condensable under vacuum lower than 42.4 mbar can be obtained.
diluted and washed through the pump by the seal the pump operating conditions The higher the temperature of the water seal,
water - Inevitable mixing of the evacuated gas with seal water the less absolute vacuum that the water ring
- Can be fabricated from any castable metal and all- - Changes in liquid seal temperature makes vacuum pump can generate. Moreover, if the seal fluid
stainless steel system unstable vapour pressure is near the operating inlet
- Appropriate for 6-10 start/stop cycles per hour - Cost of running a closed loop recirculating water
pressure of the vacuum pump, the seal liquid
- Simple design circuit can be significant (cooling towers require fan
- Contact free and pump electricity, water make-up and water treat- can start to boil. Bubbles form in the liquid
- Long life-span ment chemicals) at the inlet side; but at the compression side,
- Trouble-free operation - Waste water these bubbles are subjected to higher pres-
- Simple repair & maintenance - Water and sewage operating costs sures and collapse. This phenomenon leads
- Variable frequency drive regulation is possible - Bacteria build-up associated with seal water recircu- to extensive erosion or pitting of the pump
- Low operation cost lated systems internals. By allowing air or nitrogen (ATEX-
- Little increase in temperature of the discharged gas - High power consumption, energy inefficient, as most environment) to enter the vacuum pump, the
- Minimal noise & vibration of the power is lost in friction losses
inlet operating pressure (if this pressure will
be tolerated by the process) can increase,
Table 1: water ring pumps: advantages and disadvantages. stopping the water ring pump from cavitating
(Aliasso, 2005).
The maximum attainable end-vacuum
the top dead center and towards the dis- pump is discharged in the liquid separator, and capacity correction factors can be
charge port, the ring water begins to refill where the water is separated from the gas derived from a diagram (Fig. 2), where
the volume between the blades, the voids (photo1) (Aglitz et al., 1995; Aliasso, 1999; the performance data are expressed rela-
between the impeller blades decrease in Vibert, 2004). tive to a vacuum pump using 15 °C water
size, compressing the gas isothermal with as the sealing liquid. With a seal-water
the aid of the water ring. The compressed Impact of seal temperature temperature of approx. 25°C, the maximum
gas, along with the water from the pump, is The liquid seal temperature is critical to the attainable end-vacuum is 55 mbar absolute
then discharged through the outlet nozzle. performance of the water ring pump. An for a single-stage water ring vacuum pump.
The gas-liquid exhaust of the water ring increase of a few degrees can reduce the pump At that end-vacuum, the capacity correc-
tion factor is 0.58, which means that the
pump capacity at that temperature and
end-vacuum is only 58% of the published
capacity of a given pump.
To attain lower end-vacuums (down
to 7 mbar absolute), a gas ejector can be
used. Normally, the gas ejector is mounted
directly onto the suction branch of the
pump. In a restricted area and in special
conditions, however, mounting the gas
ejector in the suction pipework is also pos-
sible. Inert gas or air (from a ring-liquid
tank or atmosphere) is used as motive gas
to operate the ejector. Even if the inlet side
of the gas ejector is closed, a minimum
amount of air or inert gas is always supplied
to protect the water ring pump from cavita-
tion. To obtain a higher suction capacity
and an end-vacuum below 1 mbar absolute,
a roots blower upstream of the water ring
vacuum pump can be used. Roots blowers
are volumetric vacuum pumps provided
Fig. 2: end-vacuum and capacity correction factors in function of the seal-water with two lobes in the shape of an “8”,
temperature. that rotate in opposite directions without

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touching each other. The gas is transported

vertically downwards through the pump.

Once-through sealing water

The disadvantage of a water ring pump is
that it requires a continuous supply of water
to operate, and to extract friction, compres-
sion and condensation heat loads. That water
is wasted to a drain if a recirculated cooling
water supply is not available (once-through
system). Options are available to reduce the
quantity of water used, by re-circulating the
seal water and replacing only the amount
necessary to maintain proper pump tempe-
rature. Seal water circulating pumps and a
heat-exchanger are common part of that total
recovery systems.
The water ring pump typically has sup-
port heat exchangers to remove heat from
and cool down the recirculated seal water,
minimizing its vapour pressure. For proper

Fig. 3: seal water piping arrangements (Frankel, 2002).

pump of being full of water when starting vapour pressure, the gas solubility of the
the water ring pump, because damage to seal water and the slippage of gas from
cooling, it is recommended to regularly the pump or motor overload may occur. the discharge side back to the suction side.
check the re-circulating heat exchanger Single-stage water ring pumps are capable
for any fouling. It is also common prac- Conclusion of achieving 130 mbar absolute, while two-
tice to check the seal liquid’s temperature In conclusion, the low-pressure performance stage water ring pumps can achieve 30 mbar
rise across the pump (Aglitz et al., 1995; of water ring pumps is limited by the water absolute (Vibert, 2004).
Aliasso, 1999; Sterling Fluids System
Group, 2010).
A water ring pump may not act as a con-
densor as such. If large amounts of water References:
vapours condense within the water ring
pump, the temperature of the water seal Aglitz, J., Bhatnagar, R., Bolt, D.E. & Butzbach, T.L. (1995), ‘Installing Liquid-Ring Vacuum
will rise. An increase in condensable load Pumps’, Chemical Engineering, 102 (11), 132-138.
may negatively affect the vacuum system Aliasso, J. (1999), ‘Choose the right vacuum pump’, Chemical Engineering, 106 (3), 96-100.
pressure. The heat exchanger of the re- Aliasso, J. (2005), ‘How to Size Liquid Ring Vacuum Pumps’, Pumps & Systems Magazine, April
circulation system does not have sufficient 2005, 2 p.
cooling capacity to remove that condensa- Frankel, M. (2002), ‘Vacuum air systems’, Ch. 15, Facilty Piping Systems Handbook, 2nd edition,
tion heat load. The only good solution is a New York, United States, McGraw-Hill, pp. 15.1-15.64.
cold wall condenser ahead of the vacuum Sterling Fluids Systems Group (2010), ‘Liquid Ring Vacuum Pumps & Compressors -Technical
pump so as to prevent water vapour from Details & Fields of Application’
entering and fouling the pump. Further, Vibert, P. (2004), ‘Mechanical pumps for vacuum processing’, Chemical Engineering, 111 (10),
provisions should be made to prevent the 44-51.

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