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Bulk Modulus

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sumption that hydrau-

lic fluid is incompress-

ible, the fact remains:

All fluids have some de-

gree of compressibility.

Granted, fluid compress-

ibility may be neglected

in systems that do not

require tight control of

response and where op-

erating pressure and fluid

volume are moderate.

However, when apply-

ing high pressure to a

large volume of fluid, a

significant amount of en-

ergy can be expended to

compress the fluid es-

sentially squeezing the

fluids molecules closer together.

The result can be delayed response a loaded

actuator may not move until upstream fluid has

been compressed, and the energy stored in the fluid

may cause the actuator to continue moving after its

control valve has closed. Bulk modulus is a property

that indicates the compressibility of a fluid. With

many of todays hydraulic systems operating at

pressures 5000 psi and higher, ignoring bulk modu-

lus can compromise response time of a system.

Applied pressure should directly affect the ac-

tion of the system rather than compress the fluid.

What is bulk

modulus,

By Herman F. George and Allan Barber

The Lubrizol Corp., Wickliffe, Ohio

SYSTEM DESIGN

You should consider bulk

modulus of a hydraulic fluid if

position, response time, and

stability are critical.

and when is it Important?

0707HP34-39.indd 34 8/7/07 3:34:28 PM

This is why it is so important to de-

sign systems with as little fluid as

possible beween the control valve

and the actuator.

What is bulk modulus?

Most substances diminish in vol-

ume when exposed to a uniform,

externally applied pressure. A typi-

cal plot of volume, V, versus pres-

sure is shown in Figure 1. The curve

shows that volume of the fluid, V,

is a function of applied pressure,

P, compressibility of the fluid, k, and

initial volume of the fluid, V

0

:

V = f (P, V

0

, k)

V

0

= initial volume, in

3

, l, or m

3

P = pressure, psig, Pa, or bar

k = compressibility, usually negative,

in.

2

/lb

(V-V

0

) V = specific volume, com-

monly used for x-axis

The term bulk modulus usually

means the reciprocal of compressibil-

ity and defines the slope of the curve

when plotted against specific volume,

Figure 1. Because specific volume is

dimensionless, units of bulk modulus

are the same as pressure psig (bar,

Pa, N/m

2

). Thus, the bulk modulus is

a measure of resistance to compress-

ibility of a fluid. A flat slope signifies a

fairly compressible fluid having a low

bul k modu-

lus. A steep

s l ope i ndi -

cates a stiff, or

only slightly

compressible

fluid.

Defining bulk modulus

The plot in Figure 1 is not a straight

line, so its slope changes from point to

point. Two common methods are used

to define the slope, or bulk modulus

1

:

Secant bulk modulus is the product

of the original fluid volume and the

slope of the line drawn from the origin

to any specified point on the plot of

pressure versus specific volume (the

slope of the secant line to the point).

Mathematically, secant bulk modu-

lus, B

S

, is:

B

S

= (V

0

P) (V

0

V)

Tangent bulk modulus is the prod-

uct of fluid volume at any specified

pressure and the derivative of fluid

pressure with respect to volume at that

point (the slope of the tangent line to

the point). Mathematically, tangent

bulk modulus, B

T

, is:

B

T

= V

0

(dP/dV)

Before giving some typical values

for bulk moduli, we must take one

P

o

w

e

r

l

o

s

s

h

p

/

i

n

.

3

o

f

c

y

l

i

n

d

e

r

v

o

l

u

m

e

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Time sec

0.1 0.5 1.0 2.0

50,000 psi

100,000 psi

200,000 psi

300,000 psi

Bulk modulus

Figure 2. Power lost at 3000 psig for 1 in.

3

of cylinder volume over

time for various bulk moduli.

Figure 3. Power

lost at 3000 psig

for 1 in.

2

of piston

area and 10-in.

stroke during short

time intervals

for various bulk

moduli.

Bulk modulus is a measure

of a fluids resistance to com-

pressibility.

Figure 1. Increasing the pressure applied to a fluid

decreases its volume.

P

r

e

s

s

u

r

e

P

a

P

1

P

2

Volume m

3

V

2

V

1

V

0

The pressure is on volume

SYSTEM DESIGN

Compressing fluid wastes power

Time sec

0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04

P

o

w

e

r

l

o

s

s

h

p

/

i

n

.

2

o

f

p

i

s

t

o

n

a

r

e

a

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

50,000 psi

100,000 psi

200,000 psi

300,000 psi

Bulk modulus

The larger the size, the greater the effect

0707HP34-39.indd 36 8/7/07 3:37:56 PM

more variable into consideration,

namely, temperature.

Temperature and bulk modulus

Temperature is important because

as fluid compresses its temperature

rises. As the temperature rises, the

fluid attempts to expand, which, in

turn, creates additional pressure. This

can occur rapidly or slowly. Com-

pressing the fluid very slowly allows

generated heat to dissipate. This bulk

modulus is called isothermal (con-

stant temperature) bulk modulus. Adi-

abatic or isentropic bulk modulus oc-

curs by compressing the fluid rapidly

and measuring the pressure even

though it results from both compres-

sion and thermal expansion.

Because we are concerned with

rapidly moving, tightly controlled

systems, most hydraulic applications

are considered isentropic. Therefore,

most of the bulk moduli discussed

here are isentropic. Table 1 shows

values of isentropic secant modulus

for some typical hydraulic fluids at a

fixed pressure and temperature.

Effect of air on bulk modulus

Designers should be cautious before

using published bulk modulus values.

The values usually are determined by

M

i

n

i

m

u

m

p

o

w

e

r

a

t

1

0

0

H

z

h

p

0

6

12

18

24

30

B = 50,000

B = 100,000

B = 300,000

Hp = 1.75 Q

Flow gpm

5 10 15 20

Figure 4. Power loss to total system power available.

laboratory meth-

ods that take spe-

cial precautions

to degas the fluid

before it is trapped

and compressed.

However, hydrau-

lic fluids typically

become aerated in

use. Aeration has

a significant effect

on bulk modulus

because air is much

more compressible

than oil. George

Totten

2

discusses

estimating the ef-

fects of air in oil on compressibility

and bulk modulus. Also, realize that

the solubility of air in fluids increases

with pressure. Air dissolved in a fluid

at high pressure can form bubbles

when pressure drops a phenomenon

that can cause cavitation.

Predicting bulk modulus

Several sources are available for

predicting the bulk modulus of hy-

draulic fluids

2,3

.

Volume lost in pumps and ac-

tuators The output of a pump or

the positional relationship of mas-

ter and slave cylinders varies with

the bulk modulus of the fluid. In

the case of pumps, the percentage

volume loss in the output is seen as

a loss of horsepower. For master-

slave cylinders, the volume loss is

seen as a reduced stroke from the

slave.

Stopping a moving load If a cyl-

inder moves a load at a uniform veloc-

ity (that is, constant flow to the cylin-

der), the cylinder has momentum that

the fluid and the system must absorb

when a valve controlling upstream and

downstream flow is suddenly closed.

The downstream fluid pressure will

rise from some nominal value to some

Isentropic bulk

modulus, psi

Temperature,

F

%

of air

268,000

250,000

149,000

163,000

106,000

80

80

80

180

180

0.0

0.1

1.0

0.0

1.0

Table 2. Raising the temperature of commercial hydraulic fluid

by 100 F alone reduces its bulk modulus to 61% of its room-

temperature value. Introducing 1% air by volume reduces the

bulk modulus to 55% of its room temperature value. If these two

conditions occur simultaneously, the net effect is to reduce the

bulk modulus by 67%.

SYSTEM DESIGN

Fluid type

Isentropic secant

bulk modulus

at 20 C

and 10,000 psi

Water glycol

Water-in-oil emulsion

Phosphate ester

ISO 32 mineral oil

500,000 psi

333,000 psi

440,000 psi

260,000 psi

Table 1. Values of isentropic secant modulus for typical hydraulic

fluids at a fixed pressure and temperature.

Power loss relationships

0707HP34-39.indd 38 8/7/07 3:38:14 PM

peak pressure as energy is absorbed.

Assuming the cylinder and hydraulic

lines to be rigid, and a linear rise in

pressure, the fluids bulk modulus will

determine peak pressure. Thus, for a

specific maximum pressure, the stiffer

the fluid, the less energy is absorbed

and the less overshoot. Fluids with

higher values of bulk modulus have

less energy absorption and less piston

overshoot, which translates to better

position accuracy.

Fast load reversals Because

most fluids are compressible, the fluid

in an actuator must be compressed be-

fore the cylinder or piston will move

a load. In other words, an amount of

fluid equal to the compressed volume

must be added to an actuator before

a load will move. Because this pro-

cess does not do useful work, it is lost

work:

W

L

= f d

where W

L

= lost work

f = force

d = distance

Distance refers to an increment of

cylinder stroke, so:

W

L

= P V

0

where P = change in pressure

V = change in volume (increment

of stroke piston area)

But V = P (V

0

B), so:

W

L

= (P

2

V

0

) B

To calculate lost power, divide

by time:

W

L

= (P

2

V

0

) (B

t

6600)

Because power loss can be signifi-

cant at higher pressure ranges, let us

examine a typical 3000 psig system,

that is, P = 3000 psi.

hp

l

= (1363 V

0)

(B t)

It is now possible to plot lost horse-

power versus time for 1 in.

3

of cylin-

der volume for various bulk moduli,

Figure 2. Lost power increases as cyl-

inder size increases and response time

decreases.

Figure 3 illustrates lost power ver-

sus response rate for various bulk

moduli. The loss in power may look

relatively small until we consider an

average cylinder. If we assume a bulk

modulus of 200,000 psi, a response

of 100 Hz, and a stroke of 10 in., the

power loss is 6.75 hp / in.

2

of ram area.

Figure 4 relates power loss to total

system power available. For example,

a 3000-psi, 3.8-gpm system that can

supply 6.75 hp cannot move a load at

100 Hz with a 1-in.

2

piston because

all the power is used in compressing

the fluid.

Resonance of hydraulic systems

The natural frequency of a spring-

mass combination is:

= (1 2) (kg)

1/2

W

Where: = frequency, Hz

W = weight, lb

k = spring rate, lb/in., and

g = acceleration due to gravity, 32.2

ft/sec

2

.

To equate this to a hydraulic sys-

tem, we only need to substitute bulk

modulus for spring rate. Thus, a low

modulus also lowers the natural fre-

quency of a system. For example, if

1% air content changes the bulk mod-

ulus by 50%, its natural frequency de-

creases by 30%. This greatly reduces

the stability of the system.

Why bulk modulus is

important

We can conclude, then, that the ab-

solute value of the bulk modulus of

a fluid can seriously affect system

Aeration has a significant effect on

bulk modulus because air is much

more compressible than oil.

performance in relation to position,

power level, response time, and sta-

bility. Two factors that figure promi-

nently in the control of bulk modulus

are fluid temperature and entrained

air content. For example, Table 2

shows that raising the temperature of

commercial hydraulic fluid by 100

F alone reduces its bulk modulus to

61% of its room-temperature value.

Table 2 also indicates that introduc-

ing 1% air by volume reduces the

bulk modulus to 55% of its room

temperature value. If these two con-

ditions occur simultaneously, the net

effect is to reduce the bulk modulus

by 67%.

In view of todays requirements

for higher power and response time,

it is more important than ever to

pay attention to bulk modulus.

References:

1. ASTM D6793 Standard Test

Method for Determination of Isother-

mal Secant and Tangent Bulk Modu-

lus, ASTM International, West Con-

shohocken, Pa.

2. Handbook of Hydraulic Fluid Tech-

nology, edited by George E. Totten,

Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2000.

3. Hydraulic Fluid Power Petro-

leum Fluids Prediction of Bulk

Moduli, ANSI.NFPA T2.13.7 R1-1997

(R2005) National Fluid Power Asso-

ciation, Milwaukee.

The Lubrizol Corporation

29400 Lakeland Blvd.

Wickliffe, Ohio 44092

www.lubrizol.com

Copyright 2007 by Penton Media, Inc.

0707HP34-39.indd 39 8/7/07 3:38:37 PM

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