52 Australian Bulk Handling Review: May/June 2011

By Peter Wypych
General Manager, Bulk Materials Engineering Australia, Faculty of Engineering, University of Wollongong
he pneumatic conveying of powders and granular bulk ma-
terials has been in existence for over 100 years. In more re-
cent times, different modes of dense-phase have been developed
to take advantage of the different behavioral properties of bulk
materials and also to meet the increasingly demanding require-
ments of industry in the areas of system reliability, product qual-
ity control and energy efficiency.
To the novice end-user, engineer, designer or consultant, it
may be a daunting task to determine which mode is best for a
particular product and application. Some information in the lit-
erature, such as the dense-phase classification diagram shown
in Figure 1, may prove useful in shortlisting some of the options
or possibilities.
However, care should be taken in using such generalised dia-
grams. For example, it should be noted that Figure 1 was devel-
oped mainly for the powders and granules handled and conveyed
in the (plastics) chemical industry. Also, most of the other bulk
materials found in industry tend to have a relatively wide particle
size distribution (that could span at least 2 of the dense-phase cat-
egories or zones shown in Figure 1). The main aim of this paper is
to summarise and describe each popu-
lar mode of pneumatic conveying and
clarify the link between bulk material
properties and pneumatic conveying
performance, as indicated in Figure 1.
References to suitable feeding systems
also are included.
Traditional pneumatic conveying is
based on the simple concept of provid-
ing sufficient air to entrain, suspend
and transport particles along the pipe-
line, as indicated in Figure 2. Several
terms are employed to describe this
mode of flow, such as dilute-phase,
lean-phase or suspension-flow. Many
different feeders can be employed for
dilute-phase pneumatic conveying sys-
tems, such as venturis, rotary valves,
screw pumps and blow tanks. The fol-
lowing different modes of dense-phase
conveying, also referred to as non-sus-
pension flow, have been developed to
improve product quality and system
reliability and also expand the future
potential of pneumatic conveying.
Figure 1. Dense-Phase Classification Diagram [1] for Conventional Pipelines: Group A (fluidised dense-phase, FDP); Group B
(troublesome in dense-phase); Group C (cohesive powders, possible FDP); Group D (low-velocity slug-flow, LVSF).
Modes of pneumatic conveying:
which one is best?
53 Australian Bulk Handling Review: May/June 2011
Fluidised dense-phase
luidised dense-phase, Figure 3, is considered often as the
most reliable and efficient method of conveying certain
powders or fine granular bulk solids over distances ranging
from only a few metres up to 2 km. It takes advantage of the
fluidisation and air retention properties of the bulk material
[2]. Group A materials, as shown in Figure 1, are generally
the best candidates for this mode of conveying (e.g. cement,
fly ash, pulverized coal, soap powder, skim milk powder, lead
dust, powdered limestone, flour). The suitability of a given
material to this mode of conveying and the best types of feed-
er for these systems (e.g. blow tank), including optimal operat-
ing conditions and the method of air injection [3], usually are
determined by test work and experience.
Low-velocity slug-flow (LVSF)
This mode of dense-phase pneumatic conveying [4], see Fig-
ure 4, has been developed to allow friable and/or granular
products to be conveyed with extremely low levels of particle
damage (e.g. sugar, wheat, barley, skim milk powder, poly pel-
lets, peanuts, milled grain, semolina, muesli, powdered and
granulated coffee, sand grinding media) and also system dam-
age (e.g. bend wear). These bulk materials are usually located
in the Group D category shown in Figure 1. However, it should
be noted many other Group D materials, especially those with
a wide particle size range such as crushed coal and iron ore,
cannot be conveyed under LVSF conditions.
Some typical LVSF results obtained on sugar, poly pellets,
wheat and duralina have been presented previously [5,6]. Due
to the extremely high levels of concentration that occur dur-
ing transportation, the subsequent operating conditions de-
pend quite strongly on the nature and physical properties of
the material being conveyed. It is important for this reason
that large-scale pneumatic conveying tests be carried out prior
to the design or selection of suitable equipment. The main fea-
tures of this technology that allow friable or easily damaged
products to be transported in this manner are listed below.
• The average material transport velocity can be controlled
and maintained easily between 0.25 and 4 m/s (depending
on degradation/throughput requirements). Even products,
such as granulated sugar, have been conveyed successfully
without even scratching the crystal surface.
• Due to material characteristics (e.g. permeability) and the
relatively low velocities that are used, the conveying cycle
can be stopped and restarted at any time.
• Due to the high volumetric concentration of product in-
side the pipeline, reasonable conveying rates still can be
obtained despite the relatively low velocities that are used
for transport.
• There is very little inter-particle movement in the full-bore
moving slugs and hence, segregation effects are also avoid-
ed (even around bends). This aspect was confirmed in two
cases studies, where milled/mixed grains (with particles
Figure 3. Fluidised dense phase (FDP).
Figure 2. Dilute phase (suspension flow).
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54 Australian Bulk Handling Review: May/June 2011
of different size and density) and muesli (with rolled oats,
sugar, coconut, sultanas, and etcetera) were conveyed suc-
cessfully in low-velocity slug-flow.
Low-velocity plug-flow
At first glance, as indicated in Figure 5, this mode of flow [4]
appears similar to LVSF. However, the main differences are
that LVPF does not produce a stationary layer of material and
also is suited to more cohesive or sticky powders, such as full-
cream milk powder, drinking chocolate and cocoa powder.
Usually, a plug-forming method or device is employed at the
feeder (e.g. blow tank, rotary valve) to ensure stable plugs are
generated along the pipeline. The advantages and features of
this mode of dense-phase are similar to those listed previously
for LVSF.
Bypass conveying
A relatively unique range of gritty bulk materials (e.g. alumina,
poly powder, fine sand, coarse fly ash) are troublesome in any of
the above modes of dense-phase and can cause severe plugging,
pipe vibrations and/or pressure surges in conventional pipeline
systems. These bulk materials usually are located in the Group B
category shown in Figure 1. Although these materials usually dis-
play good fluidisation behavior, they also de-aerate quite quickly
(especially compared with the powders suited to FDP) and gen-
erate high friction forces when allowed to build up inside the
pipeline. Hence, it is usually necessary to employ dilute-phase
for such materials and also purge the pipeline prior to any shut-
down operation.
However, by employing specially designed bypass technol-
ogy, it is still possible to convey such materials in dense-phase.
Various types of bypass technology are available [7], such as
multi-point injection, external bypass and internal bypass, as
shown in Figure 6. The main concepts involved with this tech-
nology are controlling the length of material build-up along
the pipeline and preventing the conveying air from being
forced through this material. Blow tanks are usually employed
for such bypass conveying systems.
Single-slug conveying
This dense-phase mode involves the transportation of a limited
batch of material per conveying cycle, Figure 7. A detailed de-
scription of this method of transport together with typical per-
formance results has been presented by Wypych and Arnold
[8]. It can be used to transport granular materials (e.g. crushed
coal, sand, grains, diamond ore aggregate, petroleum coke,
food products, bone char) over relatively short distances (e.g.
up to 200 m).
Note: the materials suited to LVSF also can be conveyed
successfully in single-slug mode, but this would result in in-
efficient conveying performance. Single-slug conveying is no
longer considered as the brute-force technology of pneumatic
conveying. In fact, the following advantages now are realized.
• Average conveying velocities are relatively low (e.g. 3 to
6 m/s). In dilute-phase, the same material may need to be
transported at 20 to 40 m/s, depending on the size and den-
sity of the particles.
• Consequently, system erosion (e.g. pipe, bends) is minimised.
• For a large range of materials, the only alternative is dilute-
phase – producing high rates of erosion and product degrada-
tion. That is, the other modes of dense-phase are not possible.
Extrusion flow
Occasionally, it may be beneficial to maintain the total convey-
ing pipeline full of material and produce an extrusion mode of
flow, Figure 8. Usually, specially designed blow tank feeders
are employed for this purpose. Some successful applications
of this technology include the extrusion flow of:
• Meat lumps for canned dog food, where the product basically
is conveyed in the form of a long sausage along the pipeline;
• Chopped fish chunks and gravy, as well as whole fish pieces
and gravy, for canned cat food;
• Artificially formed meat lumps and gravy for canned pet food.
Other possible applications include the transportation of sof-
tened grains, vegetables, etcetera for food processing and can-
ning operations. It is important to emphasise that:
• The dilute-phase option would cause excessive damage to
such products;
• These types of material are not suited to most of the other
dense-phase options.
• The single-slug mode of conveying could be used for such
materials, but would be relatively inefficient in terms of con-
veying capacity and maintaining a constant product velocity
along the pipeline (especially if the length and/or diameter
of pipeline are significant).
• Mechanical pumps can be used for these applications
but may cause excessive damage to the particles – a
properly designed blow tank feeder is preferred.
Air-assisted gravity conveying
Air-assisted gravity conveying [9] is a dense-phase mode of
pneumatic conveying. In fact, it is actually one of the most
efficient modes of dense-phase due to its relatively high
solids loadings, low conveying velocities and low specific
air power requirements. For example, a Roots-type blow-
er or even a centrifugal fan is only required, as opposed
to a compressor that quite often is selected for the other
modes of dense-phase. The coarse end of Group A and the
Figure 6. (At top) internal bypass and (below) external bypass.
Figure 7. Single-slug conveying.
Figure 4. Low velocity slug flow (LVSF).
Figure 5. Low velocity plug flow (LVPF).
fine end of Group B materials should be good candidates for this
mode of pneumatic conveying. Conveying capacities as high as
1000 tonnes per hour over 300 m have been achieved with this
mode of dense-phase.
Dilute-phase systems are quite common in industry but in many
instances can produce a wide range of unique problems, such
as wear, product damage, segregation and relatively high power
consumption. Different modes of dense-phase (non-suspension
flow) have been developed mainly to eliminate/minimise these
problems and hence, expand the future potential of pneumatic
conveying. Due to the product being the dominant phase in dense-
phase conveying, test work and experience usually are necessary
to confirm dense-phase suitability, accurate operating conditions
and product quality. The dense-phase classification diagram is use-
ful in providing an initial indicator of dense-phase suitability.
1. G. Dixon, Plastics Pneumatic Conveying and Bulk Storage,
Chapter 2. Applied Science Publishers, London, 1981.
2. N.J. Mainwaring and A.R. Reed, Bulk Solids Handling, Vol. 7,
No. 3, 1987, pp. 415-425.
3. O.C. Kennedy, P.W. Wypych and P.C. Arnold, The effect of
blow tank air injection on pneumatic conveying performance,
Pneumatech 3, Jersey, Channel Islands, U.K., 1987.
4. P.W. Wypych and G. Hauser, Design considerations for low-
velocity conveying systems & pipelines. Pneumatech 4, Glasgow,
Scotland, 1990.
5. P.W. Wypych, P.C. Arnold and W.R. Armitage, Developing new
methods for the pneumatic transport of bulk solids through pipe-
lines, Chemeca, Sydney, 1988.
6. R. Pan, B. Mi and P.W. Wypych, Pneumatic conveying charac-
teristics of fine & granular bulk solids, KONA Powder and Parti-
cle, No. 12, 1994, pp. 77-85.
7. J. Klintworth and R.D. Marcus, A review of low-velocity pneu-
matic conveying systems, Bulk Solids Handling, Vol. 5, No. 4,
1985, pp. 747-753.
8. P.W. Wypych and P.C. Arnold, Plug-phase pneumatic transpor-
tation of bulk solids and the importance of blow tank air injec-
tion, Powder Handling and Processing, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1989, pp.
9. S.J. Ashenden, A.N. Pittman and M.S.A. Bradley, An economic
assessment of air assisted gravity conveying as an alternative to
pneumatic conveying. 5th Int. Conf. on Bulk Materials Storage,
Handling and Transportation, Newcastle, Australia, 1995.
Contact: Peter Wypych, email – wypych@uow.edu.au
Figure 8. Extrusion flow.
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