Center of Applied Sciences and Technological Development, National University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico
Institute of Biotechnology, National University of Mexico, Cuernavaca, Mexico
ixing is a very common operation in the process industries, usually performed by
mechanical agitation. Accurate methods are necessary for the estimation of the net
power draw to the fluid (the only relevant for process results). This paper reviews
the literature of the last 35 years on the methods for measuring power draw in stirred tanks
and fermentors (during actual cultures) of sizes ranging from laboratory to industrial scale.
Overall, very few papers report details on the techniques. The majority of the information
comes from reports in which power consumption measurements were only a technique and
where this specific methodology is in general poorly described. Depending upon the principle
of measurement, four main techniques have been reported: electric, calorimetric, reaction
torque and strain. The advantages and disadvantages of the methods are discussed, some
new data from the authors’ laboratory are provided and the potential of new techniques is out-
Keywords: power consumption; mixing; fermentation; agitation; tanks; torque.
Stirred vessels are among the most commonly used pieces
of equipment in the chemical and biochemical processes.
They are used for the homogenization of single or several
phases. There are at least two kinds of agitation commonly
employed in stirred vessels: pneumatic and mechanical.
The former type uses an air stream in order to achieve
bulk mixing. The latter method is based on the use of rotat-
ing impellers driven usually by electrical motors.
A chemical process could be performed in a tank
with mechanical agitation. A fermentor can be considered
as a very sophisticated and specialized mixing tank
suitable for sterilization processes and with all the services
required for maintaining the biological activity (e.g. air,
temperature, pH).
Power draw is a very important variable in chemical
and bioprocess engineering. It is defined as the amount
of energy necessary in a period of time, in order to generate
the movement of the fluid within a container (e.g. bio-
reactor, mixing tank, chemical reactor, etc.) by means of
mechanical or pneumatic agitation.
The costs associated with power draw contribute signifi-
cantly to the overall operation costs of industrial plants.
Therefore, it is desired that the mixing process is performed
efficiently and with a minimum expense of energy required
to achieve the objective established a priori (Bader, 1987).
Power draw influences heat and mass transfer processes,
mixing and circulation times. Power draw has been used
as a criterion for process scale-up and bioreactor design
(Charles, 1985). Commonly, it is referred as the volumetric
power draw (P=V).
Volumetric power draw determines the overall mass
transfer coefficient in gas–liquid systems, according to
the following general equation:
a ¼ K

where k
a corresponds to the volumetric mass transfer coef-
ficient (h
), V
is the superficial gas velocity (m h
) and
K is proportionality constant. The performance and bio-
reactor scale-up requires the precise determination of the
parameters involved in equation (1). Regarding the volu-
metric power draw, only the power draw to the fluid is rel-
evant in terms of process results. This means that the power
consumed by the motor and gearbox as well as the energy
losses due to friction, although important for the economy
of the process, should not be considered for process design
or scale-up. These energy expenses could represent an
important percentage of the overall power input (Bader,
Correspondence to: Dr E. Galindo, PO Box 510-3, Cuernavaca, Mor.
62250 Mexico.
# 2004 Institution of Chemical Engineers
Trans IChemE, Part A, September 2004
Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 82(A9): 1282–1290
Since the 1950’s, several systems have been developed
for the quantification of the power draw to the fluid by agita-
tion equipment. Considerable improvements in such systems
have been achieved towards more precise measurements.
However, apart from the review by Brown (1997), there
have been no reports in the open literature reviewing the
methods of power draw measurements and documenting
the most relevant new and improved techniques.
The most frequently used techniques for the evaluation
of the power draw in stirred tanks and fermentors use watt-
meters, ammeters, calorimeters, dynamometers, torque-
meters and systems based on strain gauges. In this work,
the principles of measurements of these systems will be
briefly revised, and their advantages and disadvantages
will be highlighted.
Electrical Measurements
The first techniques used for power draw measurements
in stirred tanks were based on electrical measurements
performed directly in the motor by wattmeters and ammeters
(Brown, 1997). Depending on the motor used, electrical
measurements can be of two different types: direct or alter-
nating current. For the case of direct current motors (DC),
the power draw by an electrical motor is simply the product
of the supplied voltage (E) and the current intensity (I)
(Brown, 1997). Power draw in these systems could be prop-
erly measured by means of an ammeter, as well as directly by
a wattmeter. However, it should be taken into account that, in
laboratory-scale tanks, losses occurring in the agitation
system can be very important, accounting for as much as
high as 70% of the total power supply. Figure 1 shows an
example from our own laboratory, in which the power
draw by an agitation system (using a DC motor), in the
absence of fluid (i.e. in air) was measured in a 1 l tank and
for agitation speeds between 100 and 600 rpm. Clearly, the
losses (in bearings, seals and the motor itself) can be
higher than that drawn to the fluid. A reliable measurement
was obtained only at the maximum stirring speed tested
(600 rpm).
Practically, at the industrial level, all the tanks are
equipped with alternating current (AC) motors (Oosterhuis
and Kossen, 1981; Nienow et al., 1994). In these motors,
the voltage oscillates between positive and negative
values; therefore, the current cannot be kept constant by
circuit impediment. If the current is measured as in direct
current motors, an ‘apparent current’ is obtained. There-
fore, the true power draw can be measured only by a watt-
meter. The ratio of true power to apparent power is known
as the power factor.
Most electrical motors work under low power factors
) for low loads and under values of 0.8–0.9 for full
load (Brown, 1997; Nienow et al., 1994). Three-phase
motors are commonly used for power higher than 1.5 kW
(2 hp). In such a case, the power draw (P) can be
obtained by the following expression:
P ¼
Usually the power factor at full load is a technical spe-
cification of the motor. However, one of the main difficul-
ties is the calculation of the power factor (P
) for different
loads. Therefore, significant inaccuracy can result if the
power draw is calculated using equation (2).
Another parameter to consider is the efficiency of the
motor, which relates the output power to the input power.
The manufacturer usually specifies how the efficiency
factor varies according with the load (Nienow et al., 1994).
In addition to the inaccuracies mentioned above regard-
ing the determination of power factor and efficiency, as
well as in the measurement of voltage and current intensity,
other considerations about this method of power draw esti-
mation have to be made. Mixing equipment consumes
power in its four basic subunits: the motor, the gearbox
(if any), the seal (if any) and the fluid contained in the
mixing tank. As pointed out by King et al. (1988), electrical
measurements can be a suitable methodology for direct cur-
rent motors, provided the power losses occurring in the
motor and in the agitation system are known and subtracted
from the total power draw. This can be done by decoupling
the motor from the gear reducer, operating the equipment in
air and measuring the current and the voltage.
It is important to point out that, at the industrial level, in
the majority of cases electrical measurement of the power
drawn by the motor is the best alternative. The size of indus-
trial fermentors makes the installation of other devices such
as dynamometers practically impossible, and, on the other
hand, the high cost of the installation of strain gauges and
torque transducers limits their industrial use (Oosterhuis
and Kossen, 1981). Examples of papers in which electrical
measurements have been used for power input determi-
nation include that of Oosterhuis and Kossen (1981), who
reported measurements of power draw in a bioreactor of
about 25 m
, and that of Asai and Kono (1982), who
measured the power draw and the volumetric mass transfer
coefficient in four fermentors, ranging from 1 to 100 m
capacity. However, little detail was given concerning the
methodology of power draw measurements.
Nienow et al. (1994) carried out measurements of power
draw in a 19 m
fermentor. One of the main contributions
Figure 1. Power drawn measurements by electrical means in a small (1 l)
stirred tank using dual impellers of different geometry. RR7, two Rushton
turbines (D=T ¼ 0.7). P7 þR7, pitched blade turbine plus Rushton turbine
(D=T ¼ 0.7). A7 þR7, Lightnin A-310 impeller plus a Rushton turbine
(D=T ¼ 0.7). 2R3, two Rushton turbines (D=T ¼ 0.3).
Trans IChemE, Part A, Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2004, 82(A9): 1282–1290
of this paper is the implementation of a technique to
evaluate the mechanical vibration and torque fluctuations
due to instabilities in flow patterns. In addition, power
draw measurements were done on-line, using a wattmeter,
based on the electrical power demand. This is one of the
few papers in which the measurement technique is
described in detail. Firstly, they measured—for a wide
range of agitation speeds—the energy losses of the agita-
tion system by covering the bottom static bearing with
water. This value (with no load) was subtracted from the
measurements done with the fluid. Later, a correction was
made by considering the efficiency of the motor
(94–95% according to the equipment manufacturers) for
loads higher than 50% of the designed maximum. Under
lower loads, the efficiency is slightly lower. These authors
conclude that the measurement of power draw by electrical
means can be used to get accurate power (P) and power
number (Po) data in industrial fermentors. This conclusion
is supported by the fact that constant power numbers were
obtained in the turbulent regime, the reproducibility of the
power data obtained and because the slope of plots of N vs
P was very close to the expected value of 3.0.
Table 1 summarizes the main advantages and disadvan-
tages of the estimation of power draw by electrical
Calorimetric Measurements
The power draw in a stirred vessel can be determined
also by calorimetric measurements, in which an energy
balance must be made. In a typical arrangement, several
thermistors are placed in the vessel. The number of ther-
mistors and their position in the tank are important consid-
ering that temperature must be taken as the average of the
temperatures registered by the thermistors. One advantage
of using this technique is that the losses due to friction in
bearings and other mechanical devices can be neglected.
Oosterhuis and Kossen (1981) determined the power
consumed to produce the fluid movement by an energy bal-
ance. An increase in the fluid temperature was measured
under non-gassed conditions. The power was calculated
according to the following expression:
P ¼ VrC
where P is the power, V is the bioreactor volume, r is
the fluid density, C
is the specific heat (kJ kg
dT is the variation on temperature (K) and dt is the time
The authors performed a heat balance demonstrating that
heat losses across the vessel wall were less than 1% of the
total power input. The determination of the temperature
change with time was performed using thermistors con-
nected to a chart recorder. The variation (dT=dt) was linear
during the time the experiments were carried out.
Bourne et al. (1981a–c) developed a calorimetric tech-
nique which involves the measurement of the temperature
difference between the bulk liquid and the jacket wall as
a function of time, using a heat flow calorimeter. The
power used to cause liquid mixing was obtained assuming
that the power dissipated by the agitator was entirely used
for heating the fluid within the vessel. This method was
employed to quantify the power input of anchor and
Pflauder agitators in a 1 l calorimeter.
Carreau et al. (1992) performed several power measure-
ments using a calorimetric technique for a screw impeller
system. This system employed a draft coil, which acts as
heat exchanger and draft tube. The power draw to the
fluid was quantified by a calorimetric method. The energy
balance equation for the mixing system is:
¼ P þQ
where mc
is the calorific capacity and 1, a, c and w are
indexes corresponding to the liquid in the vessel, the agita-
tor, the draft coil material and the water within the draft
coil, respectively. Heat accumulation at the Plexiglas
vessel walls was assumed as negligible. P is the power dis-
sipated by the viscous forces and Q
is the rate of the heat
transfer to the environment. In that paper, very little detail
was given to the actual technique.
In general, power measurements by heat balances are not
common. Many aspects should be considered in the bal-
ance, i.e. the heat transfer to the fluid by the draft coil or
the jacket, the heat of reaction (systems where chemical
or biochemical reactions could occur), the power dissipated
by viscous effects, the heat transfer to the environment, the
heat generated by air bubble breakdown at the bulk liquid,
etc. Thus, the expression developed to obtain the power
draw to the fluid is complicated due to all the factors that
should be taken into account. On the other hand, high sen-
sitivity thermistors are required. They should be placed
at several points of the vessel or fermentor to register the
variations in temperature, to 0.18C (Carreau et al., 1992).
Signal amplifiers with several channels and high sensitivity
are indispensable. Furthermore, the thermal homogeneity
should be quick enough and heat losses to the environment
have to be minimized. In addition, the position where the
thermistors are placed within the vessel should be evaluated
carefully, because the responses must be representative of
flow conditions. Moreover, the presence of these sensors
can alter the flow patterns, especially for small volume
tanks (laboratory and bench scale). Table 2 summarizes
the advantages and disadvantages of calorimetric measure-
ments in the determination of power draw in stirred vessels.
Table 1. Advantages and disadvantages of motor electrical measurements.
Electrical measurements
Advantages Disadvantages
It is a simple method The total power is obtained,
therefore the power due to
losses must be discounted
Little instrumentation is required It is not easy to determine the
losses due to friction of
bearings and the gearbox
High investment is not required At laboratory and bench scale,
friction losses can represent
up to 70% of total power
Good option for DC systems in
which power factor is not
Efficiency and power factor
must be determined as a
function of motor load
Trans IChemE, Part A, Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2004, 82(A9): 1282–1290
1284 ASCANIO et al.
An alternative way of measuring the power draw in
mixing tanks is by the use of dynamometers. The working
principle of these devices is based on Newton’s third law
(Holland and Chapman, 1966) and can be described as fol-
lows: the agitator impairs a mechanical force to which the
liquid contained in the tank presents resistance. This liquid,
in turn, produces a torque upon the impeller, which is
transmitted to the motor through the shaft. The reaction
torque tends to cause that the vessel freely rotates on its
supports, in the same direction of that of the impeller.
This allows the torque to be measured as a force
transmitted to a calibrated platform, through a mechanical
coupling. From these measurements, the power draw can
be computed as follows:
P ¼ FBv (5)
where P is the power draw (watts), F is the force applied
(N), B is the lever arm (m) and v is the angular velocity
). The angular velocity is:
v ¼ 2pN (6)
where N is the stirring speed (s
In practice, a portion of the reaction torque is due to fric-
tion in bushings, bearings or shaft seals. This value should
be carefully evaluated and subtracted from the measure-
ments, in order to obtain only the power draw to the fluid
(Holland and Chapman, 1966).
One of the main disadvantages of this method is that, in
many cases, the high costs of these devices preclude their
use on an industrial scale (Brown, 1997). It is also compli-
cated (when not impossible), as the scale is larger, to design
dynamometers allowing the weight of industrial scales
apparatus to be supported. However, apart from the con-
siderations made for the industrial scale, dynamometers
represent one of the best options for power draw in the
range 5–15 kW (Brown, 1997), which is typical of fermen-
tors at bench and pilot scale, in which volumetric power
draw ranges from 6 to 8 kW m
(Sittig, 1982).
Basically, using a dynamometer, the torque applied to
the shaft is that transmitted by the fluid to the tank. Accord-
ing to Nienow and Miles (1969), one of the most important
aspects in the design of a dynamometer is its ability to
cover a wide range of torque values. Additional design
requirements are: low friction, high flexibility, spinning
stability and proper support of the tank and its contents
on a hydraulic or pneumatic bearing (where the torque is
transmitted to the tank by the fluid).
Dynamometers can be coupled directly to the motor
(Nocentini et al., 1988), to the shaft as well mounting the
tank upon the dynamometer (Nienow and Lilly, 1979;
Machon et al., 1985; Sa´nchez et al., 1992). This latter
type of dynamometer holds the tank weight and that of
its contents, which are mounted on either a hydraulic or
pneumatic bearing.
There are very few papers documenting in detail the
mechanical design of dynamometers based on pneumatic
bearings used at the bench scale. Nienow and Miles
(1969) were the first to publish a paper on the mechanical
design of an air bearing which supports a mixing tank.
This dynamometer was used for the measurement of torques
ranging from 5 Â 10
to 2 N m. The authors reported low
cost, high flexibility and high accuracy for the device. The
requirements of high spinning stability and practically no
friction were achieved using an air bearing and a horizontal
holder having a given thrust in the vertical direction. The
torque was measured by the displacement of the tank with
respect to its original position, using a calibrated spiral
spring whose displacement was a function of the load. In
order to cover a wide range of torque values, a number of
springs (of different rigidity) were used. The paper describes
in detail the mechanical design and the performance of the
air bearing. Rese´ndiz et al. (1991) described an improved air
bearing dynamometer constructed with conic supports. One
of the main differences with the device reported by Nienow
and Miles (1969) is the conicity of the pneumatic base,
which was introduced in order to obtain axial and radial
thrust in the same plane, with the main purpose of giving
higher stability to the tank mounted upon the bearing. The
torque transmitted from the impeller to the liquid can be
measured when the tank freely floats and tries to spin if
no restrictions are applied. The torque is measured through
a lever arm and the force is measured with a commercial
load cell. The pneumatic bearing allows the free rotation
of the tank. The torque due to the friction was determined
to be as low as 4 Â 10
N m, which is negligible for the
common range of working torques. Patin˜o et al. (1996)
reported the development of an improved pneumatic bear-
ing, which is constructed with two complementary conical
parts with a 408 angle. One difference with respect to that
reported by Rese´ndiz et al. (1991) concerns to the number
of air outlets, 12 in this case, which allows operation with
lower inlet pressures and higher stability. On the other
hand, this bearing allows higher loads to be used, so that
larger tanks can be supported.
Generally speaking, dynamometers allow accurate
measurements of the power draw to the fluid, provided
the losses of the agitation system (determined basically
by running the equipment with no load) are considered
and subtracted. Data from dynamometers are restricted to
the total power draw by the agitation system, in which
more than one impeller can be mounted (Machon et al.,
1985; Rese´ndiz et al., 1991) and they do not allow evalu-
ation of the power draw by each impeller individually.
Dynamometers based on pneumatic bearings are the most
frequently used, although there are examples of hydraulic
bearings (Vra´nek et al., 1990) as well as oil-lubricated
Table 2. Advantages and disadvantages of calorimetric measurements.
Calorimetric measurement
Advantages Disadvantages
It is a high precision technique Relationships to determine the
power draw are complicated
Losses due to friction need not be
High sensitivity instrumentation
and thermistors are required
Thermal insulation is needed in
order to avoid or reduce energy
Thermistors’ position within the
tank is important. They can
alter the flow pattern
Trans IChemE, Part A, Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2004, 82(A9): 1282–1290
ones (Machon et al., 1985; Machon and Vlcek, 1985). In
such papers, the torque necessary to prevent the free rotation
of the tank (with respect to its vertical axis) was reported. The
experiments were performed at bench scale and no infor-
mation was given regarding the possible friction losses.
Dynamometers coupled to helical springs have been built
and used at the laboratory scale. Such a device rotates
together with the agitation shaft. Torque readings are cali-
brated with the help of a stroboscope (Brown, 1997).
Although this type of dynamometer is simple and inexpen-
sive, the additional instrumentation required is expensive.
Table 3 summarizes the main advantages and disadvan-
tages of using dynamometers in the determination of
power draw in stirred vessels.
Owing to its great variety of applications and the range of
torque that can be measured, the torquemeter is widely used
at the industrial level as well as in research laboratories.
Torquemeters can be adapted for measurements of torque,
velocity, force=weight, pressure and flow (Himmelstein,
1994), for the evaluation and control of motors, pumps,
compressors, transmissions, gear boxes, dynamometers,
etc., as well as for computing data of power, efficiency
and energy. The torque range that can be covered is from
5 N m to 325 kN m (EEL Ltd, 1994). However, measure-
ments, using commercial torquemeters, of the order of
0.01 Nm have been reported (Bo¨hme and Stenger, 1988).
A torquemeter is a device with a transducer or a load cell
and an indicator or signal amplifier. The transducer is
coupled to the shaft by means of rigid or flexible couplings.
Whenever a small torque is applied to the shaft, the strain
generates a change in the electrical resistance of the
gauges, producing an electrical signal that is directly pro-
portional to the torque applied.
A number of papers have reported the use of commercial
torquemeters for the determination of power draw. Serrano-
Carreo´n and Galindo (1997) used such a system to conduct
experimental research into the extent of mixing achieved
by a number of impellers configurations using high vis-
cosity fluids. In other works, the total power input to the
fluid by the agitation system was evaluated, including sys-
tems with multiple impellers (Bo¨hme and Stenger, 1988;
Shamlou and Edwards, 1985; Smith et al., 1987; Abrardi
et al., 1990). Bo¨hme and Stenger (1988) used three torque-
meters with different sensibilities (T
¼ 0.2, 1 and 5 Nm,
respectively) and this is one of the few works in which tor-
quemeters have been used to determine very small torques
values, covering a lower range than that established by the
manufacturer. Likewise, Tanguy et al. (1992) reported the
measurements of torques between 0.03 and 0.24 N m,
using a commercial torquemeter mounted on the agitation
shaft. Using the same technique, Brito De la Fuente et al.
(1991) reported torques from 0.01 to 2.8 N m. Work
conducted in our laboratory (as reported partially by
Godoy-Silva et al., 1997) used a commercial torquemeter
to determine the power draw in a 10 l fermentor. Using
a voltmeter, it was possible to increase the measurement
precision of the order of 33-fold with respect to the conven-
tional output of the commercial instrument. This array was
able to measure torques up to 2.82 N m with a 0.0226 N m
resolution. A tachometer having a resolution of 1 rpm was
used in this work, so that the system could detect a power
draw as low as 0.00237 W. Furthermore, work carried out
in a 500 l tank (as reported partially by Serrano-Carreo´n
and Galindo, 1997) indicated that the highest uncertainty
of experimental measurements carried out with the torque-
meter was 10% for the lowest torques (5.65 N m). The stan-
dard deviation of measurements could be neglected. The
range of torques measured was from 5.65 to 226 N m, for
an interval of agitation speeds from 6 to 240 rpm.
Table 4 summarizes the main advantages and disadvan-
tages of the estimation of power draw in stirred vessels
by use of torquemeters.
Strain Gauges
The measurement of the power draw by means of strain
gauges and telemetry has been widely employed for
systems of multiple impellers. This technique can be used
practically at every scale (Brown, 1997). It consists in the
installation of the strain gauges on the agitation shaft,
which allows determination of the strain of the material
under a known stress. The first group developing the
strain gauges and telemetry technique was that of Nienow
at the University of Birmingham (UK) (Chatwin and
Nienow, 1985). A more detailed description of these tech-
niques is presented below.
Strain gauges are considered as a specific class of trans-
ducers, which transforms a mechanical strain into an equiv-
alent electrical signal. This kind of transducer is usually
fitted to the agitation shaft (Measurements Group Inc.,
1988). The signal transmitter can be placed at a convenient
distance and connected to the transducer by a cable for the
conduction of electric signals. The strain gauge consists of
a sensing element, a base, an adhesive and several protector
Table 4. Advantages and disadvantages of torquemeters.
Advantages Disadvantages
Wide torque range (10
Nm) depending on the
torquemeter sensitivity
In multiple agitation systems,
the independent power of
each impeller cannot be
Little instrumentation is
Table 3. Advantages and disadvantages of dynamometers.
Advantages Disadvantages
Good option for bench and
pilot scale
High investment mounting
Wide torque range can be
Usual loads cannot be supported
at industrial level
Precision measurements
can be carried out taking
into account the losses
Power distribution for each
impeller cannot be determined
in multiple agitation systems
Trans IChemE, Part A, Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2004, 82(A9): 1282–1290
1286 ASCANIO et al.
coatings (Chatwin and Nienow, 1985), which allows the
shaft to be used immersed in a liquid.
Some of the advantages of strain gauges over any other
kind of transducer are its small size, excellent linearity
over a wide stress range, low thermal effects, high stability
with time, relative low cost and short response time
(Noltingk, 1985). However, strain gauges can suffer ther-
mal degradation in applications at high temperature, the
output signals are weak, a special installation procedure
is required and problems of signal drift with respect to
zero can be present (Noltingk, 1985).
In order to pick the signal from the strain gauges, a cir-
cuit needs to be mounted, a problem that can be solved
using telemetry or a slip ring. This system has been suc-
cessfully proved for picking the signal generated by the
strain gauges (Chatwin and Nienow, 1985). Basically, a
telemetry system consists of the following instrumentation:
(a) a transmitter which produces an oscillation with a fre-
quency proportional to a resistance change in the strain
gauge; (b) an aerial reception unit, mounted very near to
the transmitter with no contact; (c) a channel selector;
and (d) an amplifier, which transforms the frequency
signal into a voltage which is amplified in order to be regis-
tered with a processing system (i.e. recorder).
Table 5 summarizes the advantages and disadvantages
when strain gauges and telemetry systems are used in
order to determine power draw in stirred tanks.
Measurements in mixing vessels with multiple impellers
Kuboi and Nienow (1982) were the first to report the use
of strain gauges and telemetry to measure the power draw
in systems with two impellers. Measurements of the total
(two impellers systems) and single power draw were con-
ducted. The system used for these observations has been
described well by Kuboi et al. (1983). Later, Hudcova
et al. (1989) carried out studies in order to measure the
independent power draw in a two impellers system.
Two strain gauges were mounted on the agitation shaft.
The first strain gauge was fitted between the impellers
and the second one over the upper impeller, then the
upper gauge measured the torque due to both impellers,
and the lower gauge the torque due to the lower impeller.
The strain gauge signal was transmitted by a telemetry
system. The response signal had linear behaviour up to
25 N m. Each impeller was calibrated by known weights
and an arm lever.
Armenante and Li (1993) measured the power draw by
each of three impellers in order to determine the role of
each impeller, to reach complete suspension of solids in a
mixing vessel at pilot scale. The power draw was measured
by a strain gauge system mounted on the shaft, making it
possible to measure the independent power draw by each
impeller. A receiver and an amplifier were used to get the
signal from strain gauges. Armenante and Chang (1998)
later reported the determination of the power consumption
in stirred vessels with multiple disc turbines and also with
pitched-blade turbines (Armenante et al., 1999). The
system used was based on hollow aluminium tubes with
strain gauges mounted above the impellers. The gauges
were electrically connected to a signal conditioner=ampli-
amplifier system via a slip ring assembly. The authors
claim that their system has a reproducibility of +5%.
A typical static calibration of a system with three Rushton
turbines is shown in Figure 2. In this case, a tangential
load in each impeller was applied. Highly linear response
signals for each sensor vs applied torque were obtained.
Figure 2 shows data from our laboratory in which it is
demonstrated that, for a single impeller, the position of
the impeller influences the gauge signal output. The
middle gauge was affected more by torsion applied above
and below it. This implies that the calibration cycle
should be carried out applying torque on the three agitators.
When using multiple impellers, provided some torque was
applied, the magnitude above the gauge did not influence
the output signal (Ascanio et al., 1995).
Measurements in fermentors (in situ)
Power draw measurements in situ require special
attention when fermentations are carried out, because the
equipment must be sterilized. Therefore, strain gauges
must be carefully installed, preferably in a hollow shaft,
in order to avoid mechanical unbalancing due to the
groove machining along the agitation shaft in which
cables transmitting the gauge signal are fitted. A typical
array of such a system is shown in Figure 3.
Table 5. Advantages and disadvantages of strain gauges and telemetry
Strain gauges and telemetry systems
Advantages Disadvantages
Independent power measurements
in multiple impeller system can
be carried out
Considerable additional
instrumentation is required
System can be sterilized,
therefore the power draw in a
fermentation process can be
A rotational circuit to pick the
gauge’s signal is required, then
its mounting is complicated
Losses due to friction do not need
to be considered because the
measurement is done beneath
the seals and bearings
The gauge mounting is a critical
point for the good performance
of the system
It is possible to make
measurements in a range
between 10
and 10
N m
Frequent maintenance is required
Figure 2. Static calibration of a system with three Rushton turbines. Effect
of the position of the impeller upon gauge signal output.
Trans IChemE, Part A, Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2004, 82(A9): 1282–1290
A system based on strain gauges mounted on a hollow
shaft was first reported by Nienow et al. (1989). This
system can be sterilized, and therefore it has been possible
to carry out accurate measurements of power draw during
actual fermentation processes (Xueming et al., 1991;
Torrestiana et al., 1991; Amanullah et al., 1998). This equip-
ment was used for the measurement of power draw under
aerated and non-aerated conditions in a 150 l fermentor for
12 months. Even after 20 sterilization cycles, the results
obtained were the same as those reported in the literature.
The technique allowed the evaluation and comparison of
different fermentation conditions and impeller types in
terms of several performance parameters such as final
product (xanthan gum) concentration, mixing quality and
energy usage.
A sterilizable system for the in situ measurement of
power draw in a 350 l bioreactor has been mounted and
characterized in our pilot plant. This system consists of
two torsion strain gauges mounted in a load cell between
the agitation shaft and the mechanical seal of the fermentor,
so that the measurement only corresponds to the power
draw to the fluid. It is important to point out that mechan-
ical seals absorb power, especially at small and laboratory
scales. This power draw can generally be neglected on
large and industrial-size systems. In order to characterize
the system response, a static calibration was carried out
by applying certain loads in tangential direction. Results
of this characterization before and after two sterilization
cycles are shown in Figure 4. Dynamic tests were
carried out in a pilot fermentor (T ¼ 0.69 m) by agitating
water as the working fluid with a Rushton turbine (D=T ¼
0.43). Power numbers (Po) vs. Reynolds number (Re)
before and after two sterilization cycles were very
Special Devices
Hall effect devices
An attractive method for the direct and independent
measurement of power draw in a pilot plant fermentor
was suggested by Cohen and Gaden as described by Bar
(1987). A pre-calibrated spring is bolted at one end to the
impeller shaft and at the other to the turbine. The rotation
of the shaft is transmitted to the turbine via the spring.
When rotating, there will be an angular deflection of the
turbine with respect to the shaft, the magnitude of which,
with the aid of Hall effect devices (small magnetically
actuated switches), can be determined. Each turbine is
magnetized with a small magnet and induces a signal in a
stationary Hall effect device inside the fermentor. As a
reference point, another Hall effect device outside the
fermentor is used to monitor the rotation of the shaft.
The signals from the two Hall effect devices are visualized
on an oscilloscope. The phase difference between the two
signals can be corrected by moving the external (shaft)
Hall effect device through an angle which is equal to the
deflection of the turbine.
According to Cohen and Gaden (as described by Bar,
1987) the advantages of using the Hall effect devices in
the determination of power draw in a fermentor are: (1)
direct power measurement for each impeller under actual
fermentation conditions and fully developed fluid
dynamics; (2) fully sterilizable components (including the
Hall effect device); (3) minimal frictional losses between
impeller and the shaft; and (4) absence of rotating circuitry
unlike strain gauges. On the other hand, the instrumentation
required (i.e. oscilloscope, Hall effect devices, etc.) makes
its implementation rather expensive and its use on an indus-
trial scale seems unfeasible, mainly because of the size of
the spring that would be required. This technique appears
to be suitable for pilot plant fermentors; nevertheless,
after the publication of the idea, no papers documenting
its use have appeared in the literature.
Photoelastic coating method
Photoelastic stress analysis is a powerful full-field non-
contact optical method for determining stresses and load
paths in components or structures. The technique utilizes
an effect known as bi-refringence. This means that, when
a transparent material, referred to as a photoelastic coating,
is stressed and observed under polarized light, interference
fringes are formed which coincide with lines of shear stress.
A photoelastic coating is a thin, transparent plastic of uni-
form thickness which, when bonded to the surface of a test
Figure 3. A typical arrangement of power drawn measurement system in
a fermentor.
Figure 4. Characterization of a power drawn measurement system based
on strain gauges before and after sterilization.
Trans IChemE, Part A, Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2004, 82(A9): 1282–1290
1288 ASCANIO et al.
part and viewed with polarized light, produces a full-field
indication of the strains present in that surface under load
from which stress can be inferred.
This technique has been used by Hasegawa (1994) to
determine the torque during the milling of a metal plate.
In that case, large torque values have been obtained consid-
ering that the system has been used in machining processes
where the power necessary to remove material is very high.
However, if a detection system and the devices used to
measure the beam irradiance fraction are highly sensitivity
components, small torque values can be measured. Such
a system was implemented in our laboratory and prelimi-
nary results have been published (Ascanio et al., 1998).
The system consisted of a He–Ne laser as illumination
source, an optical array and a transparent acrylic agitation
shaft containing the laser beam. Although this system
allows measurement of torque values less than 0.01 N m,
the optical array must be carefully aligned and calibrated.
In the case of metallic agitation shafts, special attention
must be paid when gluing the photoelastic coating. This
ensures that the torque submitted to the shaft are the
same as that received by the coating.
The different methods for measuring power consumption in
stirred vessels reported in the literature in the last 35 years
have been reviewed. Although electrical measurements are
the simplest and most widely used method on a large scale,
care must taken at laboratory and bench scale to discount
friction losses. High-precision measurements are obtained
using calorimetric techniques; however, the setup used for
the measurement as well as the relationships to determine
the power draw to the fluid are complicated. The use of
dynamometers and torquemeters offers a good alternative
over a wide range of torque for highly accurate determi-
nations. However, major investment is required for both
techniques and the independent power consumption in mul-
tiple impellers system cannot be obtained. New, non-inva-
sive techniques are available for specific applications.
B lever arm, m
C distance between impellers, m
specific heat, J kg
t time increment, s
T temperature, 8C
D turbine diameter, m
F force, kg
I current intensity, A
a volumetric mass transfer coefficient, h
K proportionality constant
m mass, kg
calorific capacity, kJ kg
M torque, Nm
N agitation speed, s
P power draw, W
power factor
Po power number
total power draw to the system, W
Q rate of heat transfer
Re Reynolds number
T tank diameter, m
V volume, m
v voltage, V
superficial gas velocity, m h
Greek symbols
a exponent in equation (1)
b exponent in equation (1)
D increment
r density, kg m
v angular velocity, s
a agitator
c coil
max maximum
l liquid
s superficial gas
w water
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The authors dedicate this contribution to Professor Alvin W. Nienow
(University of Birmingham, UK) on the occasion of his retirement.
Professor Nienow did pioneering work in developing experimental
power draw measurements systems for stirred tanks and he is an authority
in many fields of mixing. The skilled technical support of Mario
Caro (Pilot Plant, Institute of Biotechnology, UNAM) in the construction
and operation of some of our power draw measurement systems is
acknowledged with thanks.
The manuscript was received 29 March 2004 and accepted for
publication after revision 24 June 2004.
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1290 ASCANIO et al.