ChemiCal engineering www.Che.Com oCtober 2009
This technol-ogy measures the difference in transittime of pulses that travel from a down-stream transducer to the upstreamtransducer, compared to the time fromthe upstream transducer back to thedownstream transducer. While thistechnology is accurate and acceptedby AGA (American Gas Assn.) for thecustody transfer of natural gas, thesuitability of this technology for mea-suring the flow of natural gas to in-dividual combustion sources within afacility becomes questionable, consid-ering the relatively low velocities, andmore importantly, the high cost of thisdevice compared to other technologyoptions. (Note that AGA also acceptsorifice plate, turbine and Coriolis flow-meters.) Flowrate is measured at theactual operating conditions, requiring pressure and temperature to obtainmass flow. Some ultrasonic flowmeterswill require a higher pressure (for in-stance, some units require a minimumof 150 psi operating pressure).
Coriolis mass flowmeters.
Corio-lis flowmeters provide a direct mass-flow measurement by measuring thedeflection of a vibrating tube. This is atrue mass flowmeter, as it is insensi-tive to changes in pressure, tempera-ture, density or gas composition. TheCoriolis flowmeter is very accurate,with high turndown capabilities.Coriolis flowmeters often requirethe pipe size to be reduced in orderto obtain the desired range measure-ment. While suitable for measuring flow to individual combustion sources,this approach becomes rather expen-sive and is rarely used for the in-plantmeasurement of natural gas.
Thermal mass flowmeters.
hermalmass flowmeters (Figures 1, 2 and 4)provide an inferred measurement of the mass flow of the gases passing through them. Specifically, thermalmass flowmeters measure heat trans-fer that is caused as the molecules(hence, the mass) of gas flow past aheated surface. The relationship be-tween heat transfer and mass flowis obtained during the calibration of the instrument.In addition to providing a mass flowmeasurement without the need for ad-ditional devices to correct for pressureand temperature (as is required withthe other flowmeters, with exception of Coriolis devices), thermal flowmetersalso provide the following advantages:
. A thermalmass flowmeter will easily measureflowrates that are much lower thanthose that can be measured using orifice plates or vortex flowmeters.This permits a thermal flowmeter tobe retrofitted into existing naturalgas pipes using a simple NPT (na-tional pipe thread) thread or flangeconnection on the pipe. This simpli-fies installation compared to otherflowmeters, which may require areduction in the pipe size in order toobtain the desired rangeability
. A range of 100-to-1 is easily obtainedwith a thermal mass flowmeter.Some combustion systems may havea high natural-gas firing rate during initial warm-up operation and then,once the desired temperature hasbeen obtained, the flowrate of thegas is typically reduced to maintainthe desired operating temperature. A thermal mass flowmeter can eas-ily handle this range, which may bedifficult to obtain with other tech-nologies
An insertiondevice permits simplicity of install-ing the flowmeter using NPT con-nection, flange, compression fitting or even a complete retractable probeassembly. Using a “hot tap” permitsthe user to install the flowmeterwithout having to shut down theoperation. The insertion design alsopermits the use of the same instru-ment in different pipe sizes. Someuse the insertion probe as a semi-portable instrument and reconfig-ure the transmitter for the differentpipe sizes
There is virtu-ally no pressure drop when using a thermal mass flowmeter. This isadvantageous in low-pressure ap-plications where other technologieswould consume operating pressureToday, thermal mass flowmeters fromdifferent manufacturers rely on differ-ent methods of operation and sensordesigns. All methods accomplish thesame thing, which is to provide a massflow measurement. A cutaway of a typical sensor isshown in Figure 5. The sensor con-sists of two elements, one providing a temperature measurement of thegas, with the other element heated tomaintain a desired temperature dif-ference between the two RTDs (resis-tance temperature detectors). Somemanufacturers use self-heated RTDs,while others use a separate heater.Because there is a heated element incontact with the natural gas, the usershould ensure that the temperaturerise of the sensor is less than the autoi-gnition temperature of natural gas, andthat the instrument has all appropri-ate agency approvals for use in haz-ardous areas.With this design, the electronicsmaintain a desired temperature dif-ference between the two pins. At noflow, there is little heat loss and ittakes little energy to maintain the de-sired temperature difference. As flow increases, heat is trans-ferred from the heated sensor into
In thisinstallation o a thermalmass fowmeter in a 6-in.pipe, the device measuresand totalizes the fow onatural gas to a combus-tion source such as aboiler, heater, urnace orother combustion unit
Ther-mal mass fowmeters include a sensor such as the oneshown here. It consists o two pins. Each has an RTD. Onehas a heater and the other has a mass-balancing elementto ensure equal thermal mass between the two pins. Asmall temperature dierence is maintained between thetwo RTDs. The amount o power applied to the heater tomaintain this temperature dierence is then used to obtaina mass fow measurement