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Pneumatic powder transport

By Erik Karlsen, m.sc., ehk@tekfa.dk, TEKFA A/S Several methods exist for transport and or dosing of powders and depending on application and amount of material each of them has its relative advantages and disadvantages. In this article we will take a look on pneumatic powder transport and make a direct comparison of two methods, suspended transport (also called dilute phase transport) and dense-phase-transport. Both transport forms may be further divided into vacuum transport and pressure transport. Pneumatic transport came out approximately 150 years ago and today it is one of the most common methods for the transport of bulk materials. All kinds of material are transported in this way in chemical industries as well as food industries, just to mention a couple of areas. There are several reasons to choose pneumatic transport forms: They are completely dust-tight. They are easy to maintain. They are easy to automate and supply with other processes. This is not to say that pneumatic transport is always the best choice. In figure 1 the main difference between the two main forms of pneumatic powder transport is illustrated.

Figure 1. The two main forms of pneumatic powder transport. The suspended phase is often called dilute phase. When the two forms are compared, one must consider several facts, including which product is going to be transported expenses for establishment running costs abrasion of the transport pipes on the attrition of the transported product segregation of a blended product. Often a plant that is relative expensive to establish will be less expensive to run. Another important thing, which often has been overlooked, is attrition of the product. During the transport the product is exposed to impact and friction, either against the walls of the transport pipes or against other grains in the product flow. This will cause a change in, among other things, grain-size distribution and may at last result in a reduced quality of the product. Suspended transport That a material powder or granulate is in a suspended phase means that it is held in the air during the transport. For this to happen the transport velocity must be sufficiently high and how much this is depends on particle size and density. In order to keep the material in suspension the powder concentration must not be to high because every single grain must in principle act as if its movement

only depends on the airflow and not on the presence of the other grains. Very often, the suspended phase is called a dilute phase. In the suspended form the main reason for attrition of the product is impact on the pipe wall and to a certain degree on the other particles. All dry powders and granulates can be transported in this way. In order to be sure that the powder remains dry, it is often a good investment to install a dehumidifier in the system before air and powder get into contact with each other. Pressure or vacuum? The suspended transport may be divided into vacuum transport and compressed air transport, each with its own advantages. One of the most obvious advantages by compressed air transport is that it is considerably easier to build a plant where the powder is distributed to various recipients. A powder plant that is driven by vacuum transport would require the installation of a vacuum pump at each receiving installation. By compressed air transport it is only necessary to install two-way distributors, which are activated when necessary. On the other hand, compressed air transport has also some disadvantages. One of them is moist transport air, which often causes problems. If one makes use of the well-known ideal gas equation, PV = nRT, it is seen that if the left side of the equal mark is increased, the temperature (T) will also increase because the two other parameters are constant. At increased temperature the air humidity will also increase and as a result the product characteristics may change. If the function of the powder plant requires the installation of compressed air transport, a dehumidifier may solve the problem. One must only remember to include it in the price calculation. Finally one can be forced to think about what will happen if there are leakages in the transport pipes. In that case powder, which is transported with compressed air, will leave the system in a dust cloud, while leakage in vacuum transport system just makes the system less effective. Dense-phase This transport form works with less speed than the suspended transport; on the other hand the product concentration in the pipe considerably bigger. In contrast to the suspended transport it is the friction between the grains and between the grains and the pipe wall that causes attrition of the product. In general, dense-phase transport systems are more expensive than systems for suspended transport; but the attrition of the product and of the pipe system is less. Not all materials are suited for dense-phase transport. Materials that are not fluidized very well (that is, which do not behave like they are floating when they are supplied with a limited amount of air) are not suitable for this transport form. Neither are sticky or clotted materials, because they will tend to block the pipe. Good materials are particles with a constricted grain-size distribution because there will be no small grains, which can pack themselves between larger grains. Though some powder are more suitable than others, the problem may in some cases be solved by a higher transport velocity. As is the case in all transport problems, a test will be the best way to find out, how low the transport velocity may be. If you compare suspension transport with dense-phase transport, the last of them has the advantage that powder, which already has been mixed, will not split up into fractions again during the transport. This may well be the case during a suspended transport because the distribution of grains in the pipe will depend on the grain-size, the particle shape, and the particle density. Also in the dense-phase case the method may be divided into vacuum transport or compressed air transport. The difference between the two methods lies first of all in the transport rates, where one can expect 5 times as high rates with the compressed air method as with the vacuum method. At the same time the compressed air method gives a better product:air ratio, which is also an important parameter to consider as compressed air is not free. Compared with the suspend transport form, the dense-phase transport uses both much more pressure and vacuum, which is too be expected as higher powder concentrations are transported at once.

Figure 2. Pneumatic transport phases in relation to air velocity and pressure drop. System design In the construction of a new pneumatic transport system the above considerations should take part together with calculations and tests. In this connection it is advantageous if the constructor has a program that, on the basis of entered data, can tell which vacuum pump or blower should be chosen. Such a calculation includes for example pipe diameter and pipe length air temperature humidity of the transport air necessary air velocity (after a test on the product) product flow in weight per unit of time volume weight for the product )where it is important to realize that this can be very different from the density). With the above values entered, the program will deliver data on pressure loss and transport rate and by changing the entered parameters, the constructor may tailor the system to fit the requirements. In addition, a comparison like the on in table 1 must be made. Altogether it must be concluded that it is not possible beforehand to tell, which transport method will be the best. It depends entirely on the products for which it is used.

Transport velocity Transport amount Pressure/Low-pressure Air:product ratio Product attrition

Suspended transport Pressure Vacuum 1-10 m/s 15-30 m/s 10 t/h 10 t/h Up to 1 bar Up to 50 % 10:1 10:1 Comparatively high

Dense-phase transport Pressure Vacuum 1-10 m/s 0,5-8 m/s 100 t/h 20 t/h Up to 8 bar Up to 99 % 1:150 1:50 Comparatively small

Table 1. Comparison of suspended transport (dilute phase) and dense-phase transport. In real life there are much more items that can be compared, and all the numbers must be read as approximate values.

Figure 3. Test arrangement for dense-phase transport.