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Augmentation of Airlift Pump Performance with Tapered Upriser Pipe — an Experimental Study

E Anil Kumar, Non-member K R V Kumar, Non-member Dr A Venkata Ramayya, Non-member
The present study reports the improved performance of an airlift pump fitted with a tapered upriser pipe. The influence of various design parameters like size, taper angle of the upriser pipe, lift and submergence as well as that of operating parameters like air flow rate have been investigated to characterize the augmentation in performance vis-a-vis that of an airlift pump with uniform upriser pipe dia. To understand the mechanism behind the improved performance, the hydrodynamic investigations have been carried out to bring out the influence of the adverse pressure gradient (increasing area in flow direction) in the tapered upriser pipe on the two-phase flow regime transitions and slug flow parameters. Videographic measurements of the slug heights with perspex pipes with taper angles of 0°, 0.5° and 1° are reported and the role of hydrodynamics on airlift pump performance is discussed. The utility of stepped upriser pipes, made of short length PVC pipes of increasing dia, as a means of implementation of the tapered upriser pipe in practice is also explored. To facilitate the interpretation of the experimental results, a performance simulation study has also been carried out to bring out the influence of design and operating parameters.
Keywords: Airlift pump; Tapered upriser pipe; Slug flow regime; Hydrodynamics

NOTATION Co : drift flux profile constant in Stenning and Martin equation5 f Mg Ml : : : friction factor mass flow rate of air, kg/s mass flow rate of water, kg/s

and in bio-reactors and waste treatment installations providing excellent aeration of the pumped fluid 1. These pumps are ideal also for handling highly radioactive liquids because they require virtually no maintenance and can be treated as remote units2. Besides they are also being projected for usage in preventing icing on some high altitude and for use in combination with a wind turbine which can be placed at a windy site independent of the site chosen for the well3. Most of the work that has been done on airlifts involves the usage of a uniform size upriser pipe wherein optimization studies have been reported4-5, as well as flow regime mapping and modelling work6. Numerical predictions of the hydrodynamics of airlift with uniform upriser pipe also have been reported7. The potential of the airlift for fluid-solid handling has recently been reviewed by Zenz8. Even though tapered upriser pipes are known to be efficient, no information is available on the performance as well as on the hydrodynamics of such airlift configurations9-11. The present study is an attempt in this regard wherein, the effect of a tapered upriser pipe on airlift pump performance is experimentally assessed in comparison with that of an airlift using uniform diameter upriser pipe, and the correlation of the hydrodynamics of two-phase flow regime in tapered one to the enhanced performance is evaluated. EXPERIMENT The experimental testing has been done on the airlift pump with upriser pipes made of mild steel sheet, perspex sheet and PVC pipes. The cross-sections tested include square, circular and rectangular. Two taper angles of 0.5° and 1° have been IE (I) Journal—MC

INTRODUCTION Airlift pumps are simple devices consisting of a vertical riser tube partially immersed in the fluid to be pumped and into which air is injected at the base to produce an upward flow. The air-fluid mixture rises to the surface because it is lighter than the surrounding water. Even though this type of pumping has low efficiency, simplicity in construction and absence of mechanical moving parts are two very important advantages that make it useful for certain applications involving difficult pumping operations with corrosive and abrasive liquids or slurries where reliability and low maintenance are required. These include pumping sandy or salty waters, viscous liquids like hydro-carbons in oil industry, shaft and well drilling (the drillings being lifted by underground water), under-sea mining
E Anil Kumar, K R V Kumar were with the Centre for Energy Studies, Vellore Institute of Technology (DU), Vellore 632 014 and Dr A Venkata Ramayya presently is with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Technology, Jimma University, Jimma, PO Box 378, Ethiopia. This paper was received on November 10, 1999. Written discussion on this paper will be entertained till December 31, 2003.


The height of the drilled portion is 540 mm whereas the total height is 650 mm. 0.and placing it in the line sight of the camera. submergence and gas injection rate as well as design parameters like diameter of the upriser pipe etc. both equal to. a reliable predictive design equation is required and based on exhaustive comparative studies9. A video camera has been used to film the actual flow regime in airlift upriser pipe made of transparent perspex sheet. 2. submergence and diameter of the upriser pipe. The top portion of the mouthpiece has been reduced in size from 42 mm to 32 mm. the water flow rate is going to be automatically fixed. To simulate the performance of airlift pump. Tapered upriser pipes of 0. The video clips subsequently have been transferred to a personal computer through a digital camera for the analysis and the measurement of slug flow parameters as influenced by the size. there exists a unique one to one relationship between air and water flow rates.4 mm starting square crosssection. However. in the absence of the availability of such tapered pipes.5° and 1° taper as well as uniform size pipes (26 mm × 32 mm) have been utilized to record the flow structure at different air flow rates. the lift that can be obtained is shown in Figure 3. using an image processing software. These video recordings are made such that the actual air flow rate used is visible on the film by including it on a paper Vol 84. A schematic of the experimental set up used is shown in Figure 1. a scale is also included adjacent to the upriser pipe of the airlifts used in the filming. 42 mm in size has been employed and its details are also presented in Figure 1. It is seen that after a particular diameter.5 × 10–3 m3/s and for a submergence of 0. shape and taper angle of the airlift upriser. the lift obtained is maximum and at any other diameter the Figure 1 Experimental set-up employed with perspex made tapered upriser tubes of square cross-section. To facilitate the measurement of slug height. A mouthpiece made out of PVC pipe. stepped upriser pipes are assembled using PVC pipes of different diameters connected with appropriate coupling to result in an increased diameter in three discrete sizes. The air required has been taken from a two-stage reciprocating air compressor.7 mm rectangular perspex tube. one with size variation from 18.5° and 1° tapered perspex tubes with 25. 18. The different stepped upriser pipes. the simulated results are going to be useful in interpretation of the experimental results to be discussed in the next section. October 2003 Figure 2 Effect of upriser pipe diameter on liquid flow rate 115 . Stenning and Martin’s equation5 is selected and used in this study.75 mm to 32 mm and another with size variation from 32 mm to 60 mm are employed. Effect of Diameter of Upriser on Lift For a given value of water and air flow rates. VIDEOGRAPHIC STUDIES Videography has been employed to record the two-phase flow structure and to study the flow regime transitions involving annular type flow and slug flow. It had circumferential holes of 10 mm at a vertical pitch of 50 mm.653 m. It can be inferred from this that at a diameter of 12 mm. This brings out the importance of carrying out optimization of the performance of the pump. 26. made as per ASME specifications to measure the air flow rate into the airlift pump. Figure 2 shows the effect of increase in diameter on the water flow rate. for example.4 mm2 MS tube. No design equation is at present available for tapered upriser pipes. the water flow rate starts decreasing rapidly. if air flow rate is fixed. In addition to implement the tapered upriser pipe. The size of upriser pipes employed ranged from 25. The square section has been used to facilitate easy fabrication with perspex sheets of 3 mm thickness. Under these conditions. The water flow rate has been measured by using a collecting tank and a timer.75 mm PVC pipe and 32 mm PVC pipe. Effect of Diameter of Upriser Pipe on Water Flow Rate At steady state operation of the airlift pump for a given value of lift. via an orifice of 14 mm size. SIMULATION OF AIRLIFT PUMP PERFORMANCE A parametric study has been conducted to bring out the influence of various operating parameters like lift.7 mm × 31. through a regulator of 1/2 inch size.

even though this air flow rate gives maximum water flow rate. Effect of Submergence on Water Flow Rate For a given lift. The experimental observations on various upriser pipe configurations tested are listed in Tables 1-4.2 Air Flow Rate = 0. increasing the submergence level for the same diameter of the upriser pipe can increase the water flow rate.00003973 m3/s 1 Submergence = 6.015 m f = 0. submergence and the air flow rate. the optimized condition is lower than a lift value of 9 m since the maximum is not reflected here.5 m C o = 1. Effect of Lift on Water Flow Rate Figure 4 shows the effect of lift on the airlift pump output for a fixed value of diameter of upriser pipe. Thus.015 m Air Flow Rate (10 exp – 5m 3/s) Figure 6 Effect of gas injection rate on water flow rate Figure 4 Effect of lift on water flow rate performance of the airlift pump is below par.2 f = 0. This optimized operating condition has to be obtained by operating the airlift pump over a range of air flow rates and then fixing the air injection rate which gives maximum water flow rate. the efficiency of airlift pump is found to be maximum at a flow rate lower than this optimal air flow rate. an increased submergence level is always desirable and beneficial and as such is to be made use of as and where is possible. PVC Stepped Upriser Pipes The summary of the performance of airlift upriser made of PVC stepped pipe is presented in Tables 5 and 6 for lifts of 1. This shows an important characteristic of airlift pump operation wherein for a particular value of air flow rate only.008 Diameter = 0.015 m Lift = 10 m Co = 1.5 m Lift = 4. However. the dependence of water flow rate on air flow rate is given in Figure 6.5 (10 exp –5 m 3/s) Figure 5 Effect of submergence on water flow rate Figure 3 Effect of upriser pipe diameter on lift Water Flow Rate (10 exp – 5 m3/s) Submergence = 6. This reveals that as lift to be attained increases the water output reduces.15 m IE (I) Journal—MC .Submergence = 6. 116 Effect of Air Flow Rate on Water Flow Rate For a fixed value of lift. the water flow rate is seen to be maximum. submergence and diameter.00003973 m3/s Water flow rate (10 exp – 5m3/s) Water Flow Rate (10 exp – 5 m3/s) Diameter = 0.5 m Diameter = 0. the effect of submergence on water flow rate from pump is presented in Figure 5.008 Air Flow Rate = 0.2 f = 0. It can be gauged from this that when the lift is fixed. Here. diameter and air flow rate.5 m Water Flow Rate = 2. the experimental and videographic results are presented and discussed here. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Against simulated results discussed earlier.5 (10 exp –5 m3/s) Air Flow Rate = 2. The reason is on account of the interplay of various factors with the result that the losses are going to be minimum at the optimized condition.008 CO = 1. It is always preferable to operate the airlift pump at this air flow rate.

095 0.330 103 M* g Ml kg/s 0.276 0. square duct and Submergence : 1470 mm Rectangular Perspex Duct 1o Tapered Duct 1" MS Duct 0.5 o Tapered Duct Lift : 1150 mm Lift : 1500 mm M* g Ml kg/s 0. 32 mm 32 mm.254 0.665 4.75 mm.097 0.665 4. Pipe Stepped Pipe Stepped Pipe Pipe Lift : 1150 mm Lift : 1500 mm M* g Ml kg/s 0.056 0. 32 mm 32 mm.081 Ml kg/s 0.5° Submergence : 1120 mm Rectangular Perspex 1" MS Duct 0.093 0.75 mm.329 4.160 Ml kg/s 0.121 0.126 Ml kg/s 0.154 0. Uniform Pipe 18.245 4.184 Ml kg/s 0.119 0.Table 1 Airlift performance with uniform tubes and stepped tubes Submergence : 1470 mm 18.056 0.265 0.329 4.5 o Tapered Duct Airlift performance with rectangular duct.090 0.245 4.278 M* g Ml kg/s 0.048 0.157 0. Uniform 47 mm.089 0.256 0.122 0.143 0.245 4.135 103 103 kg/s 3. 18.053 Ml kg/s 0.075 0.158 Ml kg/s 0.945 Table 4 tapered Airlift performance with rectangular duct.121 Ml kg/s 0.254 0.245 4.059 0.164 kg/s 3.098 0.123 0. 60 mm.095 0.149 Ml kg/s 0.520 4.945 Vol 84. Uniform 47 mm.520 4.155 0.183 0.277 0. Uniform 25 mm. square duct and 0.183 0. October 2003 117 .149 0.75 mm.095 0.238 0.285 0.526 4.063 0.060 0.157 0.048 0.114 0.094 0.158 0.329 4.090 Ml kg/s 0.329 4.181 0.092 0.665 4.121 0.091 0.083 0.211 0.520 4. Stepped Pipe Stepped Pipe Pipe Table 3 Airlift performance with uniform tubes and stepped tubes Submergence : 1120 mm 18.127 0.181 0.142 0.665 4. 32 mm.263 Ml kg/s 0.263 0.091 0.7 mm.153 0. 25 mm.053 0.113 0. 60 mm.945 Table 2 tapered 103 kg/s 3.127 0.121 0.110 0.288 0.184 0.083 0.087 0.945 kg/s 3.002 Ml kg/s 0. 32 mm.

948 1. 60.5° Tapered Duct. 32.15 1.149 0.081 0. These observations can be explained by the fact that the water output of airlift reduces for higher upriser pipe diameter or a higher lift.09 × 103 with regard to the existence of a different kind of two phase flow structure in the tapered upriser pipe compared to the uniform size pipe. This tends to indicate that the liquid hold up is more in the case of the tapered duct. This again is in tune with the effect of submergence on airlift performance as outlined in the simulated results.12 0.5° duct compared to that of a rectangular cross-section duct of the same starting (base) size. it can be noticed here that the percentage improvement is seen to be lower at higher lifts. However.50 0.50 and 1.60 46.7 mm × 31.278 0. which again is inline with simulated trends given earlier.09 Table 8 Slug height measurement in airlift upriser pipes obtained from videography Mg × 103 3.948 4.135 Percentage Improvement for 0. cm 42 50 52 64 68 Slug Size for 0. This is on account of the higher lift compounded by a lower submergence which tends to reduce the water output as discussed in the case of simulated results. much larger air slugs) occasionally interspersed with air slugs.948 Table 6 Mg × 103 1.15 1.945 × 10–3 kg/s. even though in the case of 32 mm stepped pipe. mm Pipes 0. It can observed that the slug height is smaller in the case of 0. At the lower lift of 1.50 Airlift performance with stepped upriser pipe Lift. Two-phased Flow Structure in the Upriser Even though most often the operating regime in airlift pump falls under slug flow regime. at a higher flow rate of 4.75.5° Taper Square Tube Starting Size 1" 0. for uniform sized pipes change over occurs from bubbly.948 1. This is also substantiated for the higher lift of 1.77 mm2 Perspex 0.948 × 10–3 kg/s. Again. on account of experimental constraints. it is observed that. It is felt that the slug tends to become unstable in the case of the tapered ducts whereas in the uniform size duct at almost all of the air flow rates tested the flow regime observed resembled like that of annular with smaller water slugs (hence. it can be inferred from Table 2 and Table 4 that tapered upriser pipe water output changes substantially as the air flow rate is changed whereas the uniform size upriser pipe water output is found to be somewhat insensitive to air flow rates in the range tested. up to air flow rates of 4.263 0. the augmentation in performance is seen to be lower for the larger size of 32 mm.948 4.5° tapered upriser pipe affected substantial improvement in the water flow rate at all air flow rates used. Table 3 reveals that the performance of stepped upriser pipe with starting size of 32 mm is lower than that compared to the uni-form upriser pipe.5 m. m 32. m 1" Square MS Tube 26.158 Ml 32. mm Pipe 0.330 0. Tapered Upriser Pipes On perspex made rectangular cross-section duct of 26.665 × 10–3 kg/s.164 Percentage Improvement 25. only at higher flow rates there occurred an improvement in the performance level as is evident from Tables 5 and 6. The smaller improvement at higher lift of 1. 47.948 4. The actual percentage improvement in the water flow rate on account of these tapered upriser pipes is given in Table 7.5 m.521 4. In general. this type of flow is not Table 7 Mg × 103 Airlift performance with stepped upriser pipe Lift. The optimum air flow rate however is not determined in the present study.47 m for a lift of 1.7 mm2 129.15 m tested. However.052 Ml 18.75 mm as well as 32 mm. slug. mm Pipes 0. In addition. 0.948 Slug Size for Rectangular Duct.5 m.14 4. the improvement is observed only at higher air flow rates.53 50.15 m. This has got an important bearing 118 4.5 m can be attributed to the lower submergence level of 1. as is evident in Table 2.7 mm and another one inch square duct made of MS sheet are tested and compared with the performance of 0.5° tapered ducts are given in Table 8.7 × square 31. it can change from one operating regime to another depending air flow rates.5° Taper 1" 26.7 × 31.184 0.5° and 1° tapered upriser pipes.0 4. The slug height measurements in the uniform size and 0. However.089 Percentage Improvement 83. A comparison for 1.15 1. videographic studies have been carried out in this study to compare the hydrodynamics in uniform size and tapered pipes.12 m against 1.27 70.70 7. there seems to be improvement. However in the case of higher lift of 1.126 Ml 0.665 4.15 m lift shows that airlift with stepped upriser pipes result in substantial improvement in water output rate compared to the airlifts with uniform upriser pipe sizes of 18. In the absence of information regarding two-phase flow structure in tapered upriser pipes. mm Pipe 0.3 4. churn turbulent to annular flow regimes in that order6. 25. cm 18 19 25 30 31 IE (I) Journal—MC .Table 5 Mg Airlift performance with stepped upriser pipe Lift.85.245 4.330 4. The actual percentage improvement on account of stepped pipes over uniform size pipe is indicated in Tables 5 and 6. for an air flow rate of 4. m 18.

‘Explore the Potential of Airlift Pumps in the Multiphase Systems. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Financial support for this work from Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology during 1997-1999 is gratefully acknowledged. 1999. ie. vol 74. E Anil Kumar. August 16-19. vol 89. p 51. 3. 1968. August. 1977.’ ‘Handbook of Multiphase Systems’. 8. Journal of Engineering for Power. Seoul. D J Nicklin. REFERENCES 1. vol 4.noticed for tapered ducts. p 56. p 29.’ Transaction Instn Chemical Engineers. This favourable flow structure. 1980. 1963. ‘Modelling Flow Pattern Transitions for Steady Upward Gas Liquid Flow in Vertical Tubes. 7. 1996. ‘Theoretical Study on the Performance of Airlift Pumps. more liquid hold up and less air hold up or void fraction appears to be main reason for the augmentation in performance of pump with tapered upriser pipes achieved in the present study.’ McGraw Hill. ‘The Airlift Pump : Theory and Optimization. by G Hetsroni (ed). ‘Simulation of Airlift pumps for Deep Water Well. ‘An Analytical and Experimental Study of Airlift Pump Performance. M Giot. K R V Kumar and A Venkata Ramayya. p 345. 5. 1998. The water output in the case of tapered upriser pipes is observed to be more sensitive to the air flow rate than that for uniform sized pipes. 11.’ ASME Transactions.’ Can Journal of Chemical Engineering. Vol 84. A tapered pipe with increasing size seems to result in a higher water hold up.’ AIChE Journal. MC. K A Abed. 10. p 115. 1982. N N Clark and R J Dabolt. ‘Hydrodynamic Studies in Airlift Pumps with Tapered Upriser Pipes. ‘A General Design Equation for Airlift Pumps Operating in Slug Flow. 1986. A N Markatos and E Mitsailis.’ Proceedings of Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology.’ The Institution of Engineers (India). 9. which as such is beneficial for airlift. D Bornea and A E Bucker. 1999. vol 41. vol 26. ‘Effect of Adverse Pressure Gradient on Slug Flow in an Airlift Pump. p 448.’ Proceedings of Asian Pacific Confederation of Chemical Engineering Congress. P Madan. ‘Three-phase Flow. CONCLUSION Tapered upriser pipes with smaller taper angle are found to result in a higher improvement in the airlift performance. ‘Augmentation of Airlift Pump Performance. 6. vol 32. Washington. October 2003 119 . Y Taitel. F A Zenz. The slug height is found to be smaller in the case of tapered upriser pipes than for the uniform sized tubes.’ Chemical Engineering Progress. South Korea. p 202. July. A D Nenes. vol 77.’ Proceedings of Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology. but with smaller diameters where a better performance is noticed. A tapered upriser pipe can be implemented in practice by employing stepped upriser pipes in the successive size ranges. A H Stenning and C B Martin. p 106. Hemisphere. 1993. R Gopi and A Venkata Ramayya. 4. 2.’ AIChE Journal. D Venkatanarasaiah and A Vankata Ramayya.