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The definition of NPSHA is simple: Static head + surface pressure head - the vapor pressure of

your product - the friction losses in the piping, valves and fittings.

But to really understand it, you first have to understand a couple of other concepts:

Cavitation is what net positive suction head (NPSH) is all about, so you need to know a

little about cavitation.

Vapor Pressure is another term we will be using. The product's vapor pressure varies with

the fluid's temperature.

Specific gravity play an important part in all calculations involving liquid. You have to

be familiar with the term.

You have to be able to read a pump curve to learn the N.P.S.H. required for your pump.

You need to understand how the liquid's velocity affects its pressure or head.

It is important to understand why we use the term Head instead of Pressure when we

make our calculations.

Head loss is an awkward term, but you will need to understand it.

o You will have to be able to calculate the head loss through piping, valves and

fittings.

You must know the difference between gage pressure and absolute pressure.

Vacuum is often a part of the calculations, so you are going to have to be familiar with

the terms we use to describe vacuum.

Cavitation means cavities or holes in liquid. Another name for a hole in a liquid is a

bubble, so cavitation is all about bubbles forming and collapsing.

o Bubbles take up space so the capacity of our pump drops.

o Collapsing bubbles can damage the impeller and volute. This makes cavitation a

problem for both the pump and the mechanical seal.

Vapor pressure is about liquids boiling. If I asked you, "at what temperature does water

boil ?" You could say 212° F. or 100° C., but that is only true at atmospheric pressure.

Every product will boil (make bubbles) at some combination of pressure and temperature.

If you know the temperature of your product you need to know its vapor pressure to

prevent boiling and the formation of bubbles. In the charts section of this web site you

will find a vapor pressure chart for several common liquids.

Specific gravity is about the weight of the fluid. Using 4°C (39° F) as our temperature

standard we assign fresh water a value of one. If the fluid floats on this fresh water it has

a specific gravity is less than one. If the fluid sinks in this water the specific gravity of the

fluid is greater than one.

Look at any pump curve and make sure you can locate the values for head, capacity, best

efficiency point (B.E.P.), efficiency, net positive suction head (NPSH), and horse power

required. If you cannot do this, have someone show you where they are located.

Liquid velocity is another important concept. As a liquid's velocity increases, its pressure

(90° to the flow) decreases. If the velocity decreases the pressure increases. The rule is :

velocity times pressure must remain a constant.

"Head" is the term we use instead of pressure. The pump will pump any liquid to a given

height or head depending upon the diameter and speed of the impeller. The amount of

pressure you get depends upon the weight (specific gravity) of the liquid. The pump

manufacturer does not know what liquid the pump will be pumping so he gives you only

the head that the pump will generate. You have to figure out the pressure using a formula

described later on in this paper.

Head (feet) is a convenient term because when combined with capacity (gallons or

pounds per minute) you come up with the conversion for horsepower (foot pounds per

minute).

"Head loss through the piping, valves and fittings" is another term we will be using.

Pressure drop is a more comfortable term for most people, but the term "pressure" is not

used in most pump calculations so you could substitute the term "head drop" or "loss of

head" in the system. To calculate this loss you will need to be able to read charts like

those you will find in the "charts you can use" section in the home page of this web site.

They are labeled Friction loss for water and Resistance coefficients for valves and

fittings.

Gage and absolute pressure. Add atmospheric pressure to the gage pressure and you get

absolute pressure.

Vacuum is a pressure less than atmospheric. At sea level atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi.

(760 mm of Mercury). Vacuum gages are normally calibrated in inches or millimeters of

mercury.

To calculate the net positive suction head (NPSH) of your pump and determine if you are going

to have a cavitation problem, you will need access to several additional pieces of information:

The curve for your pump. This pump curve is supplied by the pump manufacturer.

Someone in your plant should have a copy. The curve is going to show you the Net

Positive Suction Head (NPSH) required for your pump at a given capacity. Each pump is

different so make sure you have the correct pump curve and use the numbers for the

impeller diameter on your pump. Keep in mind that this NPSH required was for cold,

fresh water.

A chart or some type of publication that will give you the vapor pressure of the fluid you

are pumping. You can find a typical vapor pressure chart in the "charts you can use"

section in the home page of this web site

If you would like to be a little more exact, you can use a chart to show the possible

reduction in NPSH required if you are pumping hot water or light hydrocarbons. I will

cover this subject in great detail in another paper.

You need to know the specific gravity of your fluid. Keep in mind that the number is

temperature sensitive. You can get this number from a published chart, ask some

knowledgeable person at your plant, or or take a reading on the fluid using a hydrometer.

Charts showing the head loss through the size of piping you are using between the source

and the suction eye of your pump. You will also need charts to calculate the loss in any

fittings, valves, or other hardware that might have been installed in the suction piping.

You can find these charts in the "charts you can use" section in the home page of this web

site

Is the tank you are pumping from at atmospheric pressure or is it pressurized in some

manner? Maybe it is under a vacuum ?

You need to know the atmospheric pressure at the time you are making your calculation.

We all know atmospheric pressure changes through out the day, but you have to start

somewhere.

The formulas for converting pressure to head and head back to pressure in the imperial

system are as follows:

o pressure = pounds per square inch

o head = feet

You also need to know the formulas that show you how to convert vacuum readings to

feet of head. Here are a few of them:

To convert surface pressure to feet of liquid; use one of the following formulas:

Pounds per square inch x 2.31 / specific gravity = feet of liquid

Millimeters of mercury / (22.4 x specific gravity) = feet of liquid

There are different ways to think about net positive suction head (NPSH) but they all have

two terms in common.

NPSHR (net positive suction head required)

NPSHR (net positive suction head required) is defined as the NPSH at which the pump total head

(first stage head in multi stage pumps) has decreased by three percent (3%) due to low suction

head and resultant cavitation within the pump. This number is shown on your pump curve, but it

is going to be too low if you are pumping hydrocarbon liquids or hot water.

Cavitation begins as small harmless bubbles before you get any indication of loss of head or

capacity. This is called the point of incipient cavitation. Testing has shown that it takes from two

to twenty times the NPSHR (net positive suction head required) to fully suppress incipient

cavitation, depending on the impeller shape (specific speed number) and operating conditions.

To stop a product from vaporizing or boiling at the low pressure side of the pump the NPSHA

(net positive suction head available) must be equal to or greater than the NPSHR (net positive

suction head required).

As I mentioned at the beginning, NPSHA is defined as static head + surface pressure head - the

vapor pressure of your product - loss in the piping, valves and fittings .

In the following paragraphs you will be using the above formulas to determine if you have

a problem with NPSHA. Here is where you locate the numbers to put into the formula:

Static head. Measure it from the centerline of the pump suction to the top of the liquid

level. If the level is below the centerline of the pump it will be a negative or minus

number.

Surface pressure head. Convert the gage absolute pressure to feet of liquid using the

formula:

o Pressure = head x specific gravity / 2.31

Vapor pressure of your product . Look at the vapor pressure chart in the "charts you can

use" section in the home page of this web site. You will have to convert the pressure to

head. If you use the absolute pressure shown on the left side of the chart, you can use the

above formula

Specific gravity of your product. You can measure it with a hydrometer if no one in your

facility has the correct chart or knows the number.

Loss of pressure in the piping, fittings and valves. Use the three charts in the "charts you

can use" section in the home page of this web site

o Find the chart for the proper pipe size, go down to the gpm and read across to the

loss through one hundred feet of pipe directly from the last column in the chart.

As an example: two inch pipe, 65 gpm = 7.69 feet of loss for each 100 feet of

pipe.

o For valves and fittings look up the resistance coefficient numbers (K numbers) for

all the valves and fittings, add them together and multiply the total by the V2/2g

number shown in the fourth column of the friction loss piping chart. Example: A

2 inch long radius screwed elbow has a K number of 0.4 and a 2 inch globe valve

has a K number of 8. Adding them together (8 + 0.4) = 8.4 x 0.6 (for 65 gpm) = 5

feet of loss.

In the following examples we will be looking only at the suction side of the pump. If we were

calculating the pump's total head we would look at both the suction and discharge sides.

Let's go through the first example and see if our pump is going to cavitate:

Given:

Gage pressure =The tank is at sea level and open to atmospheric pressure.

Liquid level above pump centerline = 5 feet

Piping = a total of 10 feet of 2 inch pipe plus one 90° long radius screwed elbow.

Pumping =100 gpm. 68°F. fresh water with a specific gravity of one (1).

Vapor pressure of 68°F. Water = 0.27 psia from the vapor chart.

Specific gravity = 1

NPSHR (net positive suction head required, from the pump curve) = 9 feet

NPSHA = Atmospheric pressure(converted to head) + static head + surface pressure head - vapor

pressure of your product - loss in the piping, valves and fittings

Atmospheric pressure = pressure x 2.31/sg. = 14.7 x 2.31/1 = 34 feet absolute

Gage pressure = 0

Vapor pressure of 68°F. water converted to head = pressure x 2.31/sg = 0.27 x 2.31/1 =

0.62 feet

Looking at the friction charts:

o 100 gpm flowing through 2 inch pipe shows a loss of 17.4 feet for each 100 feet

of pipe or 17.4/10 = 1.74 feet of head loss in the piping

o The K factor for one 2 inch elbow is 0.4 x 1.42 = 0.6 feet

Adding these numbers together, 1.74 + 0.6 = a total of 2.34 feet friction loss in the pipe

and fitting.

NPSHA (net positive suction head available) = 34 + 5 + 0 - 0.62 - 2.34 = 36.04 feet

The pump required 9 feet of head at 100 gpm. And we have 36.04 feet so we have plenty to

spare.

Example number 2 . This time we are going to be pumping from a tank under vacuum.

Given:

Atmospheic pressure = 14.7 psi

Liquid level above pump centerline = 5 feet

Piping = a total of 10 feet of 2 inch pipe plus one 90° long radius screwed elbow.

Pumping = 100 gpm. 68°F fresh water with a specific gravity of one (1).

Vapor pressure of 68°F water = 0.27 psia from the vapor chart.

NPSHR (net positive suction head required) = 9 feet

NPSHA = Atmospheric pressure(converted to head) + static head + surface pressure head - vapor

pressure of your product - loss in the piping, valves and fittings

Static head = 5 feet

Gage pessure pressure = 20 inches of vacuum converted to head

o inches of mercury x 1.133 / specific gravity = feet of liquid

o -20 x 1.133 /1 = -22.7 feet of pressure head absolute

Vapor pressure of 68°F water = pressure x 2.31/sg. = 0.27 x 2.31/1 = 0.62 feet

Looking at the friction charts:

o 100 gpm flowing through 2.5 inch pipe shows a loss of 17.4 feet or each 100 feet

of pipe or 17.4/10 = 1.74 feet loss in the piping

o The K factor for one 2 inch elbow is 0.4 x 1.42 = 0.6 feet

Adding these two numbers together: (1.74 + 0.6) = a total of 2.34 feet friction loss in the

pipe and fitting.

NPSHA (net positive suction head available) = 34 + 5 - 22.7 - 0.62 - 2.34 = 13.34 feet. This is

enough to stop cavitation also.

For the third example we will keep everything the same except that we will be pumping

180° F. hot condensate from the vacuum tank.

The vapor pressure of 180°F condensate is 7 psi according to the chart. We get the specific

gravity from another chart and find that it is 0.97 sg. for 180° F. Fresh water.

NPSHA = Atmospheric pressure(converted to head) + static head + surface pressure head - vapor

pressure of your product - loss in the piping, valves and fittings

NPSHA (net positive suction head available) = 34 + 5 - 22.7 - 16.7 - 2.34 = -2.74 feet.

A negative NPSHA is physically impossible because it implies that the friction losses

exceed the available head and that cannot happen. The rule when pumping a boiling fluid

is: The NPSHA equals the Static Suction Head minus the Suction friction head because

the suction surface pressure and the vapor pressure equalize one another. The absolute

pressure in the tank is 34 -22.7 = 11.3 ft. The vapor pressure of the condensate in the tank

converts to 16.7 ft of head (see above) so the condensate is boiling /flashing and reaching

a state of equilibrium.

When pumping a boiling liquid, the Static Head must exceed the Suction Friction Head

(2.34 feet) by the amount of NPSH Required (9 feet) or: (9 ft. + 2.34 feet = 11.34 feet.)

We can do this by raising the level in the suction tank an additional 6.34 feet to get the

11.34 feet required (6.34 feet + 5 feet existing = 11.34 feet)

In some instances you could reduce the Suction Friction Head to get the same result, but

in this example there is not enough friction head available to reduce.

This example also allows you to shortcut NPSHA calculations any time you are pumping

from a tank where the liquid is at its vapor pressure. Oil refineries are full of these

applications.

If you are given the absolute and vapor pressures in psia, and you forgot how to convet to feet of

head; you can use the following formula, providing you know the specific weight of the liquid

you are pumping :

pressure, Pa, expressed in psia.

Pvpa = Vapor pressure expressed in psia.

W = Specific weight of liquid at the pumping temperature in pounds per cubic foot.

Sultan Laram

Head of Engineering

SEEF-Limited

E-mail: s_laram@seef.com.qa

Office: 4773131 Fax: 4293524

Mobile: 5517557 / 6004002

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