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Sulphuric Acid on the WebTM Technical Manual DKL Engineering, Inc.

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Strong Acid System - Pump Tanks
September 6, 2004

Introduction
Sizing
Level Measurement
        Bubbler
        Capacitance
        Radar
Associated Links

Pressure Grouting
Maintenance/Problems

Materials of Construction

Acid Resistant Linings


Introduction

Pump tanks in a strong acid circulating system provide the following functions:

To adequately perform the above functions the pump tank must be properly sized and designed.  The most common types of pump tanks are vertical cylindrical and horizontal cylindrical tanks.  Materials of construction are the same as for the towers; brick lined or stainless steel.

Pump boots are closed coupled to the tower such that the bottom of the tower and the pump boot provide the same functions as a standalone pump tank.

Sizing

Properly sized pump tanks will ensure trouble free operation of the acid circulating system.  The following information is required to size a pump tank:

When vertical submerged pumps are use, the length of the pump will generally set the height for vertical cylindrical tanks or the diameter of horizontal cylindrical tanks.  Pump manufacturers generally offer standard pump lengths but custom lengths are also available.  The diameter or height of the tank must take into consideration that the pumps will require a minimum undersuction which is the distance from the pump suction to the floor of the tank.  If the minimum undersuction is no provided the pump may not operate properly.  As well, the height of the pump mounting nozzle must also be considered when determining the height or diameter of the tank. 

Once the height or diameter of the tank is set the other major dimension must be determined.  For vertical tanks the diameter is calculated and for horizontal tanks it is the length that must be determined.  The diameter or length is calculated by setting the operating levels in the tank, knowing the required runback volume and setting the freeboard or ullage at the top of the tank. 

Vertical submerged pumps require a minimum liquid level above the pump suction to prevent vortexing and drawing air into the pump suction.  This requirement sets the minimum operating level of the tank.  The normal operating level is typically set 150 mm (6") above the minimum level.  The high level is typically set 150 mm (6") above the normal operating level.  These levels provide sufficient flexibility in operation such that the level in the tank can vary but alarms and nterlocks will not be activated all the time.

There must be sufficient volume in the tank between the high operating level and the freeboard to accomodate the runback volume of the system.   Setting the operating levels in the tank fixes the height available for runback.   In a vertical tank, the diameter is set so the height of the cylinder equals the volume of the runback.  In a horizontal tank, the length is set so that the runback can be accomodated in the required height.

Level Measurement

There are many options available for level measurement in an acid pump tank.   The choice will depend on several factors such as cost, reliability, accuracy, etc.

Bubbler

Bubbler type instruments are used in many existing plants and are still specified for new plant applications.  The instrument consists of a bubbler tube which is inserted into the tank and extends nearly to the bottom of the tank.  Instrument air enters the top of the tube and bubbles out the bottom of the tube.  A certain air pressure will be required to overcome the liquid head in the tube to allow air to bubble out the bottom of the tube.  The air pressure required is measured by a pressure transmitter and the pressure reading can be converted to a level measurement.  For the instrument to work properly, there must be a constant flow of air or bubbles out the bottom of the tube, hence the name bubbler.

The ‘high side’ of the pressure transmitter measures the pressure in the bubbler tube.  The transmitters ‘low side’ is piped to the vapour space of the pump tank.  This compensates for the fact that the pump tank may be operating under a negative or positive pressure depending on the design of the plant.

Bubblers are generally quite reliable but problems may be encountered with the operation of the instrument.

  • The instrument will stop working on loss of instrument air supply
  • The bubbler tube must be corrosion resistant.  Any holes in the bubbler tube will cause a false level reading.
  • Fluctuations in the pump tank vapour space pressure may cause false level readings.
  • Air flow to the bubbler must be constantly checked to ensure sufficient air is being delivered to the bubbler tube.

Capacitance

The capacitance level transmitter measures the dielectric constant values which are present in all materials to determine exact changes in liquid level.  The probe is made up of two electrode plates and a guard wire which are completely encapsulated in PTFE.  When liquid rises or falls against the probe, the dielectric material in the medium bridges the signal across the active and ground plates to complete the circuit.   The change in capacitance value is converted by the processing electronics into a proportional 4 to 20 mA signal output.  Capacitance level measurement works best with conductive liquids greater than 100 µS and/or non-conductive liquid greater than 20 dielectric constant units.

Radar

Use of radar type instruments in acid pump tanks for level measurement is relatively new.  The instrument is mounted in a nozzle in the top of the tank.  A radar signal is emitted from the instrument, travels to the surface of the liquid and is reflected back to the instrument.  The time it takes for the signal to travel the distance from the instrument to the liquid surface and back again is converted to a level reading.

One major advantage of this type of instrument is that no part of the instrument contacts the liquid.  The instrument should operate trouble free as long as the part of the instrument that is exposed to the vapour space is corrosion resistant.

Actual experience with this type of instrument shows that it is operates reliably most of the time.  However, there are times when the instrument reading would fluctuate wildly for no apparent reason.   The result would be that the level control valve would sometimes open fully causing the pump tank level to decrease resulting in a low level and loss of pump flow and flow over the tower.  These wild fluctuations would sometimes occur when the plant was shutdown and only acid flow over the towers was being maintained. 

It was surmised that with the plant shutdown, the pump tanks were no longer being vented back to the inlet of the drying tower and the accumulation of acid mist/SO3 in the pump tank vapour space was causing interference with the instrument.