PNEUMATIC CONVEYOR OVERVIEW

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1 PNEUMATIC CONVEYOR OVERVIEW conveying is the transport of dry granular or powdered material though a pipeline using air (or an inert gas) as the carrier. It is used extensively in industry where powders or granular material needs to be moved from one point in a factory to another which may be some distance away. The alternative method that this material could be conveyed would be via mechanical s such as belt s, screw s and bucket elevators. The type of is selected on the basis of suitability for an application as well as cost-effectiveness both in initial capital layout and running costs. These costs differ for the various methods described below. There are different types of s and can be broken down based on the material to air ratio (i.e. kg/material per kg/air). When this ratio is below 15 a system is deemed to be a lean phase in terms of little material in the airstream). a.) b.) (Roots Blower) Material Feed Hopper or Silo Air Filter Material Feeder (Rotary Vane Feeder) Conveying Line Filter Exhaust Fan Air and Solids Separation unit (Filter) Receiving Hopper Safety Filter (Roots Exhauster) Medium phase s run at air to material ratios between 15 and 25. Finally dense phase systems run at much higher material to air ratios > 25. c.) LEAN PHASE PNEUMATIC CONVEYORS For lean phase s a further differentiation is that the can be classified as a positive pressure (fig. 1b) or a vacuum (fig. 1a). In a positive pressure system the material is blown down the pipeline with the prime air mover located at the beginning of the system where the material is fed into the pipeline. For a vacuum system the prime air mover is an exhauster at the receiving end of the system with the material being sucked through the pipeline (much like a vacuum cleaner works). Both types have their merits. In particular where poisonous material is to be conveyed, lean phase vacuum conveying ensures that there is no material leakage to atmosphere in the event of bend or pipe wear. Positive pressure systems generally run with pressures up to 50kPa and for vacuum conveying down to 50kPa. d.) Cooler Vacuum s are limited due to the fact that the atmospheric pressure at sea level is kpa. That would be the maximum vacuum you could theoretically draw to get to an absolute vacuum. In practice sea level vacuum s run comfortably to -60kPa and at altitude (for example Johannesburg at 1750 masl has an atmospheric pressure of only 82 kpa) that reduces to around 50kPa. e.) (Compressor) Pressure Vessel Filter Exhaust Fan The primary mover on a lean phase is typically a positive displacement blower (or exhauster) such as a roots blower. Fans are not ideal for pneumatic conveying because the performance curve of a fan is such that the higher the pressure the lower the flow rate. This is exactly the opposite of what is required when there are pressure surges in the system. In that case you want to ensure that the flow rate does not drop off. Roots blowers have a minor change in volume flow rate through the pressure range and match the criteria of upholding the volume flow rate during a possible pressure surge. Figure 1: Typical configurations for pneumatic s The air blower must generate sufficient airflow to ensure that the air velocity in the pipeline is high enough for particles to remain in suspension during the conveying process. These speeds vary between m/s depending on the product. As a rule of thumb fine particles tend to be conveyed at higher velocities to remain in suspension where larger particles (for example dog food pellets) can be conveyed at much lower speeds. A controlled material feed into the pipeline is required to ensure that the runs 1

2 Figure 1: Typical feed arrangement on a lean phase pneumatic. This particular is for pulverised coal and incorporates features to prevent and/or contain a possible dust explosion. at a constant pressure (or vacuum) and at the same time the feed device must act as an airlock. Because the conveying line is under pressure at the infeed point air will tend to try and escape through the infeed point. Normally rotary airlocks or rotary vane feeders are used to control the flow and act as an airlock at the same time. Some air leakage occurs through the returning pockets of a rotary airlock as well as through the clearances around the rotor and this must be compensated for when selecting the blower to ensure that sufficient air goes down the pipeline after taking account the rotary airlock leakage which is lost to the conveying process. Figure 2: A typical cyclone and filter combination on a lean phase vacuum for high conveying rates At the receiving end some form of filtration is required. When the air and material mixture is blown into the receiver the filter is used to separate the material from the airstream. The material is dropped back into the receiver and the clean air is exhausted to atmosphere. The only exception would be where coarse particles such as clean plastic pellets are conveyed and there is no dust generation during the conveying process. In this case a cyclone is normally sufficient to separate the product from the air. When high feed rates are considered for a lean phase system it is possible to use a cyclone and filter combination (Figure 2). wall combined with friction pressure losses due to the carrier gas alone. For a fixed pipeline length the friction losses increase with an increase in material loading. For a constant feed rate the friction losses increase with an increasing length of pipeline. So lean phase conveying is used for moderate feed rates over shorter distances or a low feed rate over a longer distances. The only way to reduce the pressure loss is to increase the pipeline diameter and at some point that becomes uneconomical as the roots blower increases in size with an increase in pipeline diameter. The cyclone will drop out the bulk of the material and a minor amount of dust will then be transferred to the filter for final cleaning of the conveying air before it is vented to atmosphere. Standard filters used for this application are reverse jet pulse filters. These filters have an exhaust fan to draw the air though the filter and keep the receiver under a slight vacuum and compressed air is used to clean the filter bags periodically and drop the caked material back into the receiver. When comparing positive pressure to vacuum conveying systems the vacuum conveying system is generally more expensive due to the fact that the receiver and the filter casing need to be re-enforced to withstand high negative pressures to prevent imploding. Furthermore, more air is required to move material in vacuum s due to the fact that the air is at a lower density under vacuum. This means that the roots exhauster on a vacuum conveying system may be one size larger than the blower used on an equivalent positive pressure conveying system. Lean phase systems are generally cost effective for lower feed rates and shorter distances (<15 t/hr and up to 200m distance). The system parameters that are responsible for the pressure loss along the pipeline is firstly the tonnage rate of material that is fed though the pipeline and the distance of the pipeline. Pressure loss is created by friction losses of the material against the pipeline MEDIUM PHASE PNEUMATIC CONVEYORS Generally medium phase pneumatic s will run at pressures in excess of 60kPa. The material to air ratio is higher 2

3 and the increase in pressure is used to overcome additional friction losses due to the settling of particles in a pipeline that need to be re-entrained. Medium phase s often run in what is called a dune-flow mode. Material settles on the pipe floor (in horizontal pipes) and start to flow in waves resembling moving dunes along the bottom of the pipeline. One issue with medium phase s is the increase in wear on in such as rotary feeders as a result of the higher pressure differential across the feeder. An increase in differential pressure increases the velocity of leakage through the rotor clearances. Coupled with material particles that are also entrained in this leakage air it creates a sand-blasting effect in the valve which can rapidly erode rotary feeder casings and impeller tips. At the same time twin stage roots blowers or compressors are required to generate the pressure required for the conveying process. are deemed Pressure Equipment and need to comply to SANS 347. When moving beyond pressures of 50kPa for conveying it becomes financially viable to go to full dense phase conveying instead. DENSE PHASE PNEUMATIC CONVEYORS Dense phase s (fig. 1 e) with high material to air ratios and conveying pressures up to 6 bar become cost effective at higher feed rates and longer distances (> 15 t/hr and distances greater than 150m). Material is conveyed down the pipeline in dense slugs and low velocities. Distances over 3000m have recently been achieved conveying cement to an underground batching plant in a Gold mine. Dense phase feeding technology (discussed in the next section) can be utilised for feeding material into the pipeline but the technology becomes more expensive. Bear in mind also that any conveying process with pressures in excess of 50kPa become subject to the Pressure Equipment Regulation (PER) in South Africa which means that vessels and equipment used for this process Figure 4: Typical dense phase vessel Dense phase conveying technology uses a certified pressure pot that is filled with the material to be conveyed. The pot is then sealed and pressurised to the conveying pressure before a valve is opened and the aerated material allowed to flow down the conveying pipe. At the same time that the material is moved down the pipeline, additional air can be fed into the system to keep the conveying pressure stable. Figure 3: Typical baghouse using a lean phase pneumatic with multiple feed points into the conveying pipeline The process is a batching process and in order to use this technology for a continuous infeed one would need to place an intermediate storage hopper above a single conveying vessel or use a tandem vessel where one vessel is used for conveying while the second is being filled. 3

4 COMPARISON CHART: vs. s (dense Conveying Distance < 200m) < 100m) < 3000m) Capital Cost Maintenance Cost Maintenance Effort Operating Costs low low low high medium low medium high mediumhigh medium medium high long (> 50m) high high high low Discharge End Advantage Disadvantage Limited in distance and conveying rate, possible wear Limited in distance and conveying rate, possible wear medium low low high medium low medium high (dense high medium medium high medium high high low short (L < 10m) high low low high short (L < 10m) high low medium high (dense short (L < 10m) high medium medium high short (L < 10m) low medium medium low Table 1: Cost comparison versus systems Traditionally manufacturers claim that this method of conveying is ideal for abrasive materials as a result of the low conveying velocities associated with dense phase conveying (typically below 10 m/s). This major selling point is only true when utilising a stepped conveying pipeline. Compressed air at the conveying pressure in the pressure pot (say at 6 bar) expands as it moves down the pipeline to the exit point which is normally at atmospheric pressure. If the pipe diameter remains constant over the distance, the material will rapidly accelerate with expanding air towards the discharge. Where the initial velocity may be 5 m/s, the conveying velocity at the end of a constant diameter pipeline may reach speeds up to 45 m/s. At 45 m/s pipes and bends have an extremely short life span. A properly engineered solution increases the pipe diameter as the air and material travel down the line, dropping the velocity every time the air and material passes an expansion. The core of the system design hinges on determining exactly where the expansion points need to be to keep conveying velocities in check. Dense phase s are ideal for fine powdered products. When switching to granular material there is a problem with air bypassing the material through relatively large interstitial spaces 4

5 between the product particles. In this case it is necessary to inject additional air at points along the pipeline to keep the conveying process stable. The primary air mover for dense phase s is a compressor to produce dry compressed air a minimum pressure of 6 bar. Running and capital costs for dense phase s are generally higher than that of a lean phase. SELECTING A CONVEYOR Selection between using a pneumatic compared to a mechanical is subject to various considerations. In general the table 1 summarises the costs of each system in a direct comparison. Selections between the types of pneumatic s are driven by technical requirements as well as running and capital costs. A big factor that also influences the selection of a pneumatic is the actual velocity at which the product is conveyed. Lean phase s are generally not used for fragile products and with products where material breakage and degradation cannot be tolerated. Dense phase s are often used instead as the initial conveying velocity of 5m/s is gentle on the product and the lower velocities reduce material degradation. Stepped pipelines must be used to ensure low conveying velocities are maintained throughout the pipeline. Potentially explosive, flammable or hygroscopic materials can be conveyed in closed loop systems (fig. 1 d) running on Nitrogen instead of air as the carrier gas. Nitrogen is aspirated from a bladder that is kept at a constant pressure by bleeding additional Nitrogen into the bladder from the Nitrogen source. At the same time the Nitrogen exhausted from the filter at the end of the conveying process is fed back into the bladder as well to reduce the usage of Nitrogen. Intercoolers are required to keep the recirculated carrier gas temperature at an acceptable level for aspiration back into the roots blower. Some products require cooling of the air after the blower to ensure the product does not melt or become sticky. Sugar is a prime example where an intercooler is typically installed between blower and feeding point. On other products additional heating may be required after the blower to prevent the conveying air cooling down below the dew point as it moves material through the pipeline. long distances without the possibility of material theft along the way. The double pneumatic flap valve also makes it possible to feed multiple points into a single positive pressure lean phase conveying line. This allows the technology to be applied to a multiple outlet filter baghouse with up to 10 outlets feeding into the same conveying line and at the same time keeping the air leakage back into the baghouse to a minimum. DESIGN PARAMETERS REQUIRED FOR THE SELECTION OF A PNEUMATIC CONVEYOR 1. Material to be conveyed 2. Particle distribution of the material 3. Bulk density of the material 4. Feed rate of the material 5. Temperature of the material 6. Moisture content of the material 7. Number of infeed points into the 8. Horizontal distance to be conveyed 9. Vertical distance to be conveyed 10. Number of bends 11. Site altitude 12. Where is the feed coming from? 13. Where is the feed discharging to? 14. Is a filter available at the discharge point and if so what type and what is the filter bag surface area? 15. Is the material potentially flammable, explosive or toxic? PRACTICAL DESIGN SUGGESTIONS Conveying lines should preferably be either horizontal or vertical. Inclines (especially upward conveying inclines) should be avoided. Conveying up incline pipes on lean phase s tends to lead to surging. Acceleration lengths must be allowed for between the infeed point and the first bend as well as between bends. A rule of thumb is to use at least times the pipe diameter for acceleration distance. Long radius bends with a radius equivalent to at least 10 pipe diameters should be used to minimise bend pressure drops. Pipes should have a smooth bore to prevent unnecessary flow turbulences that can cause unexpected pipe wear. Novel methods of feeding the material through a double pneumatic flap valve into a blowline allows coarse material such as diamond bearing gravel to be conveyed in a lean phase pneumatic. This allows the product to be conveyed securely over Techmatic Engineering (Pty) Ltd. 1 Granite Drive Kya Sands Business Park Kya Sand Ext Tel: +27 (0) Techmatic Industrials (Pty) Ltd. 15 Cowies Park 3 Oliver Road Pinetown Tel: +27 (0)

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