Saturday, September 30, 2017

Basics of Continuous Level Measurement

Continuous Level Measurement
Many industrial processes require the accurate measurement of fluid or solid (powder, granule, etc.) height within a vessel. Some process vessels hold a stratified combination of fluids, naturally separated into different layers by virtue of differing densities, where the height of the interface point between liquid layers is of interest.

A wide variety of technologies exist to measure the level of substances in a vessel, each exploiting a different principle of physics. This chapter explores the major level-measurement technologies in current use.

Level gauges (sightglasses)

Level gauges are perhaps the simplest indicating instrument for liquid level in a vessel. They are often found in industrial level-measurement applications, even when another level-measuring instrument is present, to serve as a direct indicator for an operator to monitor in case there is doubt about the accuracy of the other instrument.


Perhaps the simplest form of solid or liquid level measurement is with a float: a device that rides on the surface of the fluid or solid within the storage vessel. The float itself must be of substantially lesser density than the substance of interest, and it must not corrode or otherwise react with the substance.

Hydrostatic pressure

A vertical column of fluid generates a pressure at the bottom of the column owing to the action of gravity on that fluid. The greater the vertical height of the fluid, the greater the pressure, all other factors being equal. This principle allows us to infer the level (height) of liquid in a vessel by pressure measurement.


Displacer level instruments exploit Archimedes’ Principle to detect liquid level by continuously measuring the weight of an object (called the displacer) immersed in the process liquid. As liquid level increases, the displacer experiences a greater buoyant force, making it appear lighter to the sensing instrument, which interprets the loss of weight as an increase in level and transmits a proportional output signal.


Echo level (radar)
Echo level (radar)
A completely different way of measuring liquid level in vessels is to bounce a traveling wave off the surface of the liquid – typically from a location at the top of the vessel – using the time-of-flight for the waves as an indicator of distance, and therefore an indicator of liquid height inside the vessel. Echo-based level instruments enjoy the distinct advantage of immunity to changes in liquid density, a factor crucial to the accurate calibration of hydrostatic and displacement level instruments. In this regard, they are quite comparable with float-based level measurement systems. Liquid-liquid interfaces may also be measured with some types of echo-based level instruments, most commonly guided-wave radar. The single most important factor to the accuracy of any echo-based level instrument is the speed at which the wave travels en route to the liquid surface and back. This wave propagation speed is as fundamental to the accuracy of an echo instrument as liquid density is to the accuracy of a hydrostatic or displacer instrument.


Weight level
Weight level measurement
Weight-based level instruments sense process level in a vessel by directly measuring the weight of the vessel. If the vessel’s empty weight (tare weight) is known, process weight becomes a simple calculation of total weight minus tare weight. Obviously, weight-based level sensors can measure both liquid and solid materials, and they have the benefit of providing inherently linear mass storage measurement. Load cells (strain gauges bonded to a steel element of precisely known modulus) are typically the primary sensing element of choice for detecting vessel weight. As the vessel’s weight changes, the load cells compress or relax on a microscopic scale, causing the strain gauges inside to change resistance. These small changes in electrical resistance become a direct indication of vessel weight.


Capacitive level
Capacitive level measurement
Capacitive level instruments measure electrical capacitance of a conductive rod inserted vertically
into a process vessel. As process level increases, capacitance increases between the rod and the vessel walls, causing the instrument to output a greater signal. Capacitive level probes come in two basic varieties: one for conductive liquids and one for non- conductive liquids. If the liquid in the vessel is conductive, it cannot be used as the dielectric (insulating) medium of a capacitor. Consequently, capacitive level probes designed for conductive liquids are coated with plastic or some other dielectric substance, so the metal probe forms one plate of the capacitor and the conductive liquid forms the other.


Certain types of nuclear radiation easily penetrates the walls of industrial vessels, but is attenuated by traveling through the bulk of material stored within those vessels. By placing a radioactive source on one side of the vessel and measuring the radiation reaching the other side of the vessel, an approximate indication of level within that vessel may be obtained. Other types of radiation are scattered by process material in vessels, which means the level of process material may be sensed by sending radiation into the vessel through one wall and measuring back-scattered radiation returning through the same wall.

To download an excellent continuous level selection guide follow this link.

Content above abstracted from “Lessons In Industrial Instrumentation”
by Tony R. Kupholdt under the terms and conditions of the
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Measuring H2S in CO2 Bottling Gas

OMA H2S Analyzer
OMA H2S Analyzer 
Reprinted with permission from Applied Analytics

Prior to filling, beer bottles are purged with CO2 to remove air and protect the taste against oxidation. In the fermentation process, yeast consumes sugar and expels a large amount of CO2 which can be "reclaimed" and used for this bottle purging purpose. Unfortunately, fermentation often also produces toxic, odorous sulfides which can foam up into the piping and contaminate the reclaimed CO2.

In order to continue using the great resource of CO2 byproduct yet avoid contaminating the bottled beer with foul-smelling toxins, the reclaimed gas is run through sulfide removal skids. However, sulfide breakthrough can occur if the gas does not spend enough time in the scrubber. Employees are sometimes tasked with sniff-testing the reclaimed CO2 , but this is an unhealthy practice and is too discrete to vigilantly prevent product contamination.

An automatic, continuous analysis solution is required in order to immediately divert contaminated CO2 from use in bottling as well as provide feedback control for the sulfur removal processing time.

The OMA H2S Analyzer is used to continuously measure concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and dimethyl sulfide (DMS) in the fermentation byproduct gas. This system uses a full-spectrum UV-Vis spectrophotometer to detect the absorbance of sulfides in the reclaimed CO2 stream, an ideal method as CO2 has zero absorbance in the UV spectrum. The OMA provides fast response alarms to high-concentration threshold which allows immediate diversion of contaminated CO2.

For this application, the OMA is typically multiplexed to automatically cycle analysis between multiple sampling points. This maximizes system value by allowing one unit to monitor the raw fermentation gas entering the reclamation system, gas coming off the acid aldehyde scrubbers, and the bottling gas coming off of the sulfur removal beds -- all with sample stream switching at user-defined intervals.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Use of Process Analyzers in Fossil Fuel Plants

Steam Power Plant
Steam Power Plant
In spite of all efforts concerning energy savings and efficiency, the growing world population and the aspired higher 'standard of living' will lead to a further in- crease of world energy demand. In this context, almost half of the primary energy demand will continue to be covered by solid fuels, particularly by coal, until 2020 and many years beyond.

This results in the challenge to power plant engineering to implement this increasing energy demand by using new technologies and applying the highest possible conservation of the limited resources of raw materials and the environment.

This includes new materials for higher operating temperatures and, therefore, higher efficien- cies of the power plants, as well as combined power plants that drastically reduce the share of unused waste heat or improved methods for reducing emissions.

Optimizing processes without delay, designing flexible operating conditions, improved use of the load factor of new materials and safely controlling emissions of toxic substances are all tasks that require the use of powerful measurement techniques. For this purpose, devices and systems of process analytics per- form indispensable services at many locations in a power plant.

In spite of all the alternatives, the undiminished increasing world energy demand also makes the expansion of energy recovery from fossil fuels necessary. However, the use of new materials and technologies further increases the efficiency of power plants and further reduces environmental pollution from the emission of toxic substances.

In this context, process analytics plays an important role: It determines reliable and exact data from the processes and thereby allows for their optimization.

Take a moment to review the document below, or if you prefer,  download the "Use of Process Analyzers in Fossil Fuel Plants" PDF file here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Differential Pressure Transmitters and Inferential Measurement

Differential Pressure Transmitter
Differential Pressure Transmitter
Differential pressure transmitters are utilized in the process control industry to represent the difference between two pressure measurements. One of the ways in which differential pressure (DP) transmitters accomplish this goal of evaluating and communicating differential pressure is by a process called inferential measurement. Inferential measurement calculates the value of a particular process variable through measurement of other variables which may be easier to evaluate. Pressure itself is technically measured inferentially. Thanks to the fact numerous variables are relatable to pressure measurements, there are multiple ways for DP transmitters to be useful in processes not solely related to pressure and vacuum.

An example of inferential measurement via DP transmitter is the way in which the height of a vertical liquid column will be proportional to the pressure generated by gravitational force on the vertical column. The differential pressure transmitter measures the pressure exerted by the contained liquid. That pressure is related to the height of the liquid in the vessel and can be used to calculate the liquid depth, mass, and volume. The gravitational constant allows the pressure transmitter to serve as a liquid level sensor for liquids with a known density. A true differential pressure transmitter also enables liquid level calculations in vessels that may be pressurized.

Gas and liquid flow are two common elements maintained and measured in process control. Fluid flow rate through a pipe can be measured with a differential pressure transmitter and the inclusion of a restricting device that creates a change in fluid static pressure. In this case, the pressure in the pipe is directly related to the flow rate when fluid density is constant. A carefully machined metal plate called an orifice plate serves as the restricting device in the pipe. The fluid in the pipe flows through the opening in the orifice plate and experiences an increase in velocity and decrease in pressure. The two input ports of the DP transmitter measure static pressure upstream and downstream of the orifice plate. The change in pressure across the orifice plate, combined with other fluid characteristics, can be used to calculate the flow rate.

Process environments use pressure measurement to inferentially determine level, volume, mass, and flow rate. Using one measurable element as a surrogate for another is a useful application, so long as the relationship between the measured property (differential pressure) and the inferred measurement (flow rate, liquid level) is not disrupted by changes in process conditions or by unmeasured disturbances. Industries with suitably stable processes - food and beverage, chemical, water treatment - are able to apply inferential measurement related to pressure and a variable such as flow rate with no detectable impact on the ability to measure important process variables.