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Section 600

SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK


Schlumberger
Dowell

Hydrocyclones

January 1998
Page 1 of 16

Hydrocyclones
1 Introduction .........................................................................................................................2

2 Principle of Operation.........................................................................................................2

3 Performance Parameters....................................................................................................4
3.1 Cone Diameter ..............................................................................................................5
3.2 Plastic Viscosity.............................................................................................................6
3.3 Feed Head.....................................................................................................................6
3.4 Underflow Diameter .......................................................................................................8
3.4.1 Spray Discharge...................................................................................................8
3.4.2 Rope Discharge ...................................................................................................8

4 Desanders.......................................................................................................................... 10
4.1 Recommended Desanders .......................................................................................... 10

5 Desilters............................................................................................................................. 10
5.1.1 Recommended Desilters.................................................................................... 12

6 Sizing Hydrocyclone Manifolds........................................................................................ 12

7 Operating Guidelines........................................................................................................ 13

8 Troubleshooting................................................................................................................ 15

9 Summary............................................................................................................................ 16
FIGURES
Fig. 1.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 5.

Hydrocyclone operating principles................................................................................3


Cone efficiency. ...........................................................................................................4
Sensitivity to plastic viscosity. ......................................................................................6
Sensitivity to feed head. ...............................................................................................7
Rope flow operation characteristics..............................................................................9

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Section 600
January 1998

SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK

Hydrocyclones

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Fig. 6. Amoco near optimum core efficiency. ......................................................................11


Fig. 7. Estimated discard rates..............................................................................................11
Fig. 8. Typical hydrocyclone manifold. ..................................................................................13
TABLES
Table 1 Effect of Variables on Hydrocyclone Performance......................................................5
Table 2 Cone Capacity............................................................................................................5

1 Introduction
Although the shale shaker is considered the primary solids removal device
on the rig, hydrocyclones are a cost-effective method of removing many of
the fine solids missed by the shaker in unweighted muds. In some
formations, the solids are too fine for the shakers to remove; hydrocyclones
must be relied upon to remove the majority of the solids. In these instances,
the shaker protects the hydrocyclones from oversize particles which may
cause plugging. Because the hydrocyclone has no moving parts, it can be a
very reliable piece of solids removal equipment when correctly operated and
maintained.

2 Principle of Operation
Think of a tornado inside a bottle and you have a rudimentary idea of how a
hydrocyclone operates. Fig. 1 illustrates the basic concepts of hydrocyclone
operating principles. Mud enters the feed chamber tangentially at a high
velocity provided by pump pressure. As the mud spirals downward through
the conical section, centrifugal force and inertia cause the solids to gravitate
towards the wall. The solids settle according to their mass, a function of both
density and volume. Since the density range of drilled solids is normally quite
narrow, size has the largest influence on settling. The largest particles will
settle preferentially.
As the cone narrows, the innermost layers of fluid turn back toward the
overflow creating a low pressure vortex in the center of the cone. This low
pressure area causes air to be pulled in from the underflow outlet. Correctlyoperating cones should exhibit a slight vacuum at the cone underflow. The
air and cleaned fluid then report to the overflow through the vortex finder.
The purpose of the vortex finder is to prevent some of the feed mud from
short-circuiting directly into the overflow.
Solids with sufficient mass cannot make the turn back towards the overflow
because of their momentum and continue out the underflow. Maximum cone
wear usually occurs at or near the underflow exit, where velocities are the
highest. In cones having a balanced design whole mud losses out the
underflow are slight. Only the solids and bound liquid will report to the
underflow. If the solids are too fine to be removed by the cyclone, no liquid
should be discharged. Unbalanced hydrocyclones will discharge mud
without the presence of solids in the mud.

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Section 600
SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK
Schlumberger
Dowell

Hydrocyclones

January 1998
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Fig. 1. Hydrocyclone operating principles.


Note: The dark ribbon indicates the path taken by the mud and solids entering the cone. The
smaller light ribbon shows the exit path of the cleaned fluid and fine solids.

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SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK

Hydrocyclones

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Because fine solids have more specific area (surface area per unit volume)
than large particles, the amount of liquid removed per pound of solids is
higher with fine solids than with coarse solids. Therefore, the difference
between the feed and underflow density is not a reliable indicator of
hydrocyclone performance. Fig. 2 shows the relationship between underflow
density and cone efficiency for an unweighted mud. Observe how overall
cone efficiency decreases as underflow density increases.

Fig. 2. Cone efficiency.


Note: Decreasing underflow diameter to improve dryness impairs cone efficiency.

3 Performance Parameters
Oilfield hydrocyclones are available in cone diameters ranging from 1 in. to
12 in. Hydrocyclones were first used to reduce the API sand content (solids
larger than 74 microns). Hence the term desander. By convention,
hydrocyclones with diameters of 6 in. or larger are labeled as desanders.
As the benefits of smaller, more efficient hydrocyclones became apparent,
the term desilter was coined to reflect the smaller silt-sized particles these

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Section 600
SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK
Schlumberger
Dowell

January 1998

Hydrocyclones

Page 5 of 16

smaller cones could remove. Hydrocyclones with diameters of less than 5 in.
are usually called desilters. However, these terms are not based on any
particular performance standard. Separation efficiency varies widely among
hydrocyclones classified as desilters.
Amoco Production Research has investigated the operational and geometric
design factors affecting hydrocyclone performance. Over 500 tests were
conducted using bentonite and ground silica slurries. The effect of these
variables on cone performance are summarized in Table 1. Selected
variables are discussed below.

Table 1 Effect of Variables on Hydrocyclone Performance


Major Effect

Minor Effect

Cone Diameter

Feed Solids Concentration (at constant PV)

Feed Solids Distribution

Yield Point

Plastic Viscosity

Inlet Type

Feed Head

Cylinder Length

Cone Angle

Vortex Finder Length

Underflow Diameter

3.1 Cone Diameter


Cone diameter is the main factor in determining processing capacity,
provided the basic design is sound. Larger cone diameters have higher
throughput capacity and generally display inferior separation performance.
Individual cone capacity guidelines are listed in Table 2.

Table 2 Cone Capacity


Cone Size,
inches

Cone Capacity,
gpm @ 75 ft head

20

3 (Amoco)

50

50

75

100

125

10

500

12

500

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January 1998

Hydrocyclones

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3.2 Plastic Viscosity


Hydrocyclone performance is extremely sensitive to the plastic viscosity of
the feed mud. Fig. 3 shows the effect of plastic viscosity on median
separation size (d50) for a constant underflow solids concentration using a
3-in. hydrocyclone. Note how the median separation size increases rapidly
with plastic viscosity from an initial 20 micron cut at PV=6 cp to 50 microns
at PV=24 cp.

Fig. 3. Sensitivity to plastic viscosity.


Note: Hydrocyclone performance declines with increasing plastic viscosity.

3.3 Feed Head


Feed head, or feed pressure, affects hydrocyclone performance as shown in
Fig. 4. Insufficient head reduces fluid velocity within the cone and adversely
affects separation efficiency. Excessive head will cause premature wear and
increased maintenance cost.

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Dowell

Hydrocyclones

January 1998
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Head is related to pressure and fluid density by the hydrostatic pressure


equation:
P = 0.052 x H x rmud
where P is the feed pressure in psi, 0.052 is a gravitational constant, H is the
head in ft, and rmud is the fluid density in lb/gal.
Since most hydrocyclones require 75 ft of head, the required pressure for a
given mud density can be approximated by:
P = 4 x rmud
Specific head requirements for most hydrocyclones are provided in Appendix
F, Equipment Specifications. A centrifugal pump is used to feed the
hydrocyclones because it provides a relatively constant head at a given flow
rate. However, correct sizing of the pump is critical to ensure that sufficient
head is available at the desired flow rate. Refer to the section on centrifugal
pumps for a more detailed discussion on sizing and selecting centrifugal
pumps for this application.

Fig. 4. Sensitivity to feed head.


Note: This example, for a 3-in. cone, illustrates the importance of maintaining sufficient
feed head.
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January 1998

SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK

Hydrocyclones

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3.4 Underflow Diameter


As underflow diameter is reduced, fewer solids will have sufficient mass (and
momentum) to be discharged. The discharge will be dryer at the expense of
separation efficiency. The appearance of the discharge gives a good
indication of cone performance.

3.4.1 Spray Discharge


A normally-operating cone should have an umbrella-shaped discharge of
liquid and solids. The solids spiraling downward and out the cone bottom
with their associated liquid are said to be in spray discharge. The inside
stream moving up toward the overflow at high velocity will pull air with it in
the vortex. This causes a slight vacuum to occur in the very center of the
cone. The air is replaced by air drawn up through the center of the underflow
opening as shown in Fig. 1.
Therefore, the presence of spray discharge and a slight vacuum in the center
of the underflow opening is a good indication of a properly operating
hydrocyclone.

3.4.2 Rope Discharge


If the solids concentration is high, there may not be room for all of the
downward moving solids to exit the underflow. This causes an undesirable
condition known as rope discharge so-called because of the shape of the
underflow stream (Fig. 5).
In rope flow, the solids back up near the exit and decelerate. The underflow
density is very high, since the liquid volume is severely reduced and only the
largest particles will exit the cone. Exit velocities are low; the solids will
appear to be falling out of the underflow nozzle. Many of the solids will not be
able to exit the cone and will return with the liquid in the overflow. High cone
wear will occur in the lower region of the cone.
Corrective action consists of opening up the underflow and making sure the
opening is clear. If the problem still occurs, this is an indication that the
solids loading needs to be reduced by adding more hydrocyclones. If the
problem is with the desilter, ensure that the desander is operating and that
the shakers are running the finest screens possible.

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Section 600
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Dowell

Hydrocyclones

January 1998
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Fig. 5. Rope flow operation characteristics.


Note: This condition should be avoided; try increasing the underflow opening size.
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Hydrocyclones

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4 Desanders
With the improved fine screening capability of shale shakers, the need for
desanders has diminished. The primary role of the desander should be to
reduce solids loading to the desilter cones in unweighted water-based muds.
Desanders are recommended when the shakers are unable to screen down
to 100 microns (140 mesh U.S. Sieve), or when large hole diameters are
drilled at 100 ft/hr or faster.
Considering that 75 microns is probably the best performance that can be
expected from a desander cone, one might conclude they would have an
application in weighted muds as well. This is generally not the case.
Hydrocyclones separate solids based on their mass and the density
difference between the solid particles and the fluid. Since barite's specific
gravity is substantially higher than drilled solids, it will tend to be
preferentially removed by hydrocyclones. Also, as shown in Fig. 3, the higher
plastic viscosities normally associated with weighted muds will greatly
reduce the desander's efficiency.
Desander underflows are normally quite dry and abrasive and should be
discarded directly. When processing expensive muds, the underflow may be
routed to a centrifuge to recover the liquid, provided the solids are not
abrasive and the underflow is diluted with whole mud before centrifuging.
Another option is to screen the desander underflow down to 200 mesh
(74 microns) to remove the larger, abrasive solids before processing with the
centrifuge.

4.1 Recommended Desanders


Ten-inch diameter desander cones are recommended. They provide the best
combination of separation and capacity. The larger 12-in. cones usually
cannot make a fine enough cut to be economic. Smaller cones are limited in
flowrate and may deteriorate more quickly in abrasive conditions.

5 Desilters
Desilters should be used on all unweighted, water-based muds. They are not
recommended for use on weighted muds since barite will be lost. When
using expensive muds, process the desilter underflow with a centrifuge.
APR has developed a 3-in. hydrocyclone which is up to 50% more efficient
than some existing oilfield desilters. Fig. 6 shows the improvement in
performance over a typical 50 gpm, 4-in. cone.
The Amoco-designed, 3-in. cone is not a balanced cone; it will discharge
fluid even when no solids are present. In many cases, this cone's underflow
should be processed by a centrifuge. The economics of centrifuging the
underflow should be checked using the SECOP program. Estimated discard
rates per cone are plotted as a function of underflow diameter in Fig. 7. Size

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Section 600
SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK
Schlumberger
Dowell

Hydrocyclones

January 1998
Page 11 of 16

the centrifuge for the calculated underflow rate. Run the cones intermittently
on unweighted mud when no centrifuge is available.

Fig. 6. Amoco near optimum core efficiency.


Note: The 50 gpm Amoco-designed 3-in. cone exhibits greatly improved
performance over a typical 4-in. cone at the same flowrate.

Fig. 7. Estimated discard rates.


Note: Use this chart to estimate underflow rates from the Amoco-designed
3-in. cone.
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January 1998

SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK

Hydrocyclones

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Since the underflow opening of the 3-in. cone is smaller than a typical 4-in.
cone, it is more susceptible to plugging. Ensure that all of the mud is finescreened or run an efficient, properly installed desander ahead of the 3-in.
cones.
Desilters can also be used in certain weighted mud applications to reduce
the barite loading to the centrifuge thereby improving its efficiency in barite
recovery mode (see Chapter 8, Centrifuges). Here, the underflow of the
desilter cones are returned to the active system and the overflow is fed to the
Barite Recovery centrifuge. The upper limit for this application is generally
limited to mud densities of 15 ppg or less due to viscosity and solids content
limitations or cone performance. Use only enough 3-in. hydrocyclones to
match the feed rate to the centrifuge. Blank off the remaining cones. Use the
largest underflow nozzle diameter available to prevent plugging or rope flow.

5.1.1 Recommended Desilters


MPE 3 in. (15 Cone)
MPE 3 in. (10 Cone)
These Amoco-designed cones are recommended because of their superior
performance. They will provide the separation performance of a 2-in. cone at
the flowrate of a typical 4-in. cone.

6 Sizing Hydrocyclone Manifolds


For properly routed hydrocyclones, the minimum number required can be
estimated by:
No. of Cones Required =

Maximum Circulation Rate x 1.1


Single Cone Flow Rate

This equation does not consider solids loading. If penetration rates in excess
of 100 ft/hr are anticipated, the number of cones should be increased.
Specific head requirements and flow capacities for each cone are listed in
Appendix F, Equipment Specifications. Table 2 may be used to estimate the
flow capacity of each cone operating at 75 ft of head.
Hydrocyclones are normally provided in banks of 8, 10, 12 and 16 cones per
manifold (Fig. 8). Increase the required number of cones to one of these
standard manifold sizes.

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Section 600
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Hydrocyclones

January 1998
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Fig. 8. Typical hydrocyclone manifold.


Note: This is an inline manifold. Circular manifolds are also common.

7 Operating Guidelines
1.

Operate enough hydrocyclones to process over 100% of the circulation


rate or to handle the maximum solids loading rate.

2.

The hydrocyclone overflow should be discharged to a compartment


downstream from the feed compartment. Use bottom equalization
between compartments.

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SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK

Hydrocyclones

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3.

Mechanically stir all hydrocyclone removal and discharge compartments


to ensure uniform feed. Mud guns should not be used because they can
reduce hydrocyclone efficiency by bypassing a portion of the mud.

4.

Do not allow cones to operate with plugged apexes or inlets.

5.

Spray discharge at the cone underflow is desired. Rope flow will cause
premature wear and is less efficient. Rope flow indicates that either
more hydrocyclones or finer shaker screens are required or that the
underflow apex size is too small.

6.

Because 2-in. cones are extremely susceptible to plugging, consider


using the 3-in. cone instead. It has twice the capacity and equivalent
performance.

7.

Do not bypass the shale shaker or operate with torn screens.

8.

The hydrocyclone manifold should be located above the mud level in


the active system to prevent accidental loss of mud by siphoning when
the cones are not operating.

9.

Replace flanged-type hydrocyclones with the quick-connect type to


improve servicing time.

10. Replace worn, malfunctioning cones immediately. If no spares are


available, remove the cone and blank off the feed and outlet lines.
11. Have a working pressure or head gauge on the manifold feed inlet.
12. Install a siphon breaker on the overflow manifold exit.
13. Size suction and discharge piping to provide flow velocities in the range
of 5-10 ft/sec. Refer to Chapter 9, Centrifugal Pumps & Piping.
14. Use one centrifugal pump per hydrocyclone manifold.

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Section 600
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Schlumberger
Dowell

January 1998

Hydrocyclones

Page 15 of 16

8 Troubleshooting
Symptoms

Probable Causes

One or more cones are


discharging - others OK.

not

Plugged at feed inlet or outlet - remove cone


and clean out lines.

Some cones losing whole mud in a


stream.

Backflow from overflow manifold, plugged


cone inlet.

High mud loss, conical shape in


some cones - others normal.

Low inlet velocity due to partially plugged inlet


or cone body.

Repeated plugging of apexes.

Too small underflow


shaker or torn screens.

High mud loss, all cones, weak


stream, conical shape.

Low feed head-check obstruction, pump size


and rpm, partially-closed valve, solids settling
in feed line, frozen lines.

Cones at discharge end discharge


poorly with a dryer stream.

Strong vacuum in manifold discharge line,


usually occurs with long drop into pits - install
antisiphon tube.

Cone discharge
varying feed head.

Air or gas in feed, too small feed lines, air from


upstream equipment discharge.

is

unsteady,

opening,

bypassed

Motor protection fuses blow.

Required input horsepower is higher than


rated horsepower of motor - check for tees
bypassing
mud,
additional
equipment,
manifolding.

Low impeller life.

Cavitation in the pump - flow rate is too high need larger lines.
Suction line blockage - check for obstructions.

Mud percent solids continues to


increase.

Solids removal is insufficient, solids may be


too fine to remove, insufficient cones to match
drilling rate - add cones.

Cones are discharging a heavy,


slow-moving stream.

Cones are overloaded - use larger apex size,


insufficient cones to match drilling rate - add
more cones.

High mud losses.

Cone opening is too large - reduce size or


consider centrifuging underflows.

Aerated mud downstream


hydrocyclone overflow return.

of

Viscous mud, return line ends above fluid level


in tank - route hydrocyclone overflow into
trough to allow air to break out.

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SOLIDS CONTROL HANDBOOK

Hydrocyclones

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9 Summary

Hydrocyclones separate solids from fluid by using centrifugal force to


cause solids to be settled from the fluid. There are no moving parts.
Centrifugal force is created by the conversion of centrifugal pump head
into a high velocity stream spiraling within the cone. Solids concentrate
in proportion to their mass near the wall of the cone and are discharged
at the bottom of the cone in the underflow. Clean fluid and fine solids
are returned through the top of the cone in the overflow.

Cone diameter, cone angle, underflow diameter, feed head, and plastic
viscosity have the largest effect on hydrocyclone performance.

Hydrocyclones will produce a relatively wet discharge compared to


shale shakers and centrifuges. Underflow density is not a good indicator
of cone performance. Finer solids will have more associated liquid and
the resultant density will be lower than with coarse solids.

Provide enough hydrocyclones to process at least 110% of the


circulation rate, more if high penetration rates are expected.

Use desanders in unweighted mud when the shakers are unable to


screen down to 140 mesh (100 microns). The role of the desander is to
reduce solids loading to the downstream desilter. Ten inch diameter
desander cones are recommended; they provide the best combination
of separation and flow capacity.

Use desilters on all unweighted, water-based muds. The recommended


Amoco-designed 3-in. cone is up to 50% more efficient than typical 4-in.
cones. This cone is an unbalanced design and will discharge a very wet
underflow. Process the underflow with a centrifuge to recover fluid, if the
economics warrant.

Installation and operating guidelines, along with a troubleshooting guide


are included in this chapter.

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