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Separation of solid-liquid suspensions


with ultrasonic acoustic energy
ARTICLE in WATER RESEARCH OCTOBER 1997
Impact Factor: 5.53 DOI: 10.1016/S0043-1354(97)00088-2

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Pergamon
PII: S0043-1354(97)00088-2

War. Res. Vol. 31, No, 10, pp. 2543 2549, 1997
1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0043-1354/97 $17.00 + 0.00

SEPARATION OF SOLID-LIQUID SUSPENSIONS WITH


ULTRASONIC ACOUSTIC ENERGY
M. C. BEKKER, J. P. MEYER*, L. PRETORIUS and D. F. VAN DER MERWE
Research Groap for Cooling and Heating Technology, Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing
Engineering, Rand Afrikaans University, Laboratory for Energy, P.O. Box 524, Auckland Park, 2006,
Republic of South Africa
(Received December 1995; accepted in revised form March 1997)

Abstract--A theoretical and experimental study was carried out to investigatethe possibility of separating
solid-liquid suspensions of water and talcum powder, as well as in a process cooling water system, by
means of a standing ultrasonic acoustic wave. Separation was successfullyachieved with suspensions of
water and talcum powder. The separation of suspended solids from the process cooling water was
unsuccessful owing to the extremely small sizes of the suspended solid particles. 1997 Elsevier
Science Ltd
Key words--acoustic, standing waves, separation, suspension, sound waves, transducer, ultrasonic

NOMENCLATURE
diameter of particles (mm)
velocity of sound in water (m/s)
E = energy density of the acoustic field (Nm/m3)
F(po/ p, ) density fi~ctor
f = frequency (Hz)
h= reference position measured from node or
antinode (m)
K(k)2/n amplitude factor
k = 2rt/wavelength (m ~)
P = radiation pressure (N)
r..~. radius of particles (mm)
T = time per~tod for movement of a particle to a
node or antinode(s)
U ~ particles velocity (m/s)
2 = wavelen~;th (mm)
/t= viscosity (kg/m.s)
po density of fluid (kg/m3)
p l ---= density of particles (kg/m3~
a_~_
e~

INTRODUCTION
Fouling of suspended solids on equipment in
process cooling water causes severe heat losses and
high maintenance activities.
Numerous solid-qiquid separation methods have
been applied to remove or decrease the effect of
suspended solids ill process cooling water systems.
These methods include centrifuging, sand filtration,
sedimentation, etc. However, the suspended solids
content in cooling water systems, after the mentioned
separation methods have been applied individually or
combined, is still high, owing to the ever-changing
physical properties of the suspensions. An alternative

*Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed


[Fax: + 2711 489 2466].

method of removing the suspended solids from the


cooling water system needed to be investigated.
The use of acoustic energy to separate solid-liquid
suspensions was investigated. Not much work had
been done in the past on this topic, and from
literature it was learned that most work was done on
the dewatering of specific substances. In the
dewatering of substances, electric energy was used in
addition to acoustic energy. (Muralidhara et al.,
1988). This type of separation is referred to as EAD
(Electro-acoustic Dewatering). Acoustic energy, in
combination with filtration processes, was also
investigated to a large extent in the past (Bongert,
1976; Kowalski et al., 1987; Swamy et al., 1983),
specifically for the reduction of the moisture content
of sludges. Only one patent was registered (Furedi,
1977) to remove solids from water by acoustic energy
only. To form a basis of the principles of acoustic
separation, two co-authors (Beard and Muralidhara,
1985) provided some insight into some mechanisms
that influence the physical separation process. Oakley
et al. (1954) investigated the use of the propagation
of waves in water at ultrasonic frequencies and
applied it on three public health engineering
problems. It dealt with the effect of the vibrations on
the aeration of water, on bacteria and algae, and on
the sedimentation of suspended solids.
This study concentrates only on the use of standing
acoustic waves to achieve separation.
The basic principles, background and mathematical description of acoustic waves, with special
emphasis on standing waves, were investigated. The
hydrodynamic behaviour and movement of particles
were investigated separately, and the synergistic
behaviour of applied acoustic energy and hydrodyn-

2543

2544

M.C. Bekker et al.

amic effects were then studied. The behaviour of


small particles in suspension, under the influence of
an acoustic wave, was based initially on the findings
of King (1934), which were used as basis for the sizing
of acoustic separation equipment.

In any separation application it is important to know


at what rate the separation of the solid-liquid
suspension will take place. An equation was derived
(King, 1934) from which the time period for
movement of a solid particle, from an arbitrary
position to a node or antinode, can be calculated:

THEORY

T = (2/V)F(po/p, )K(k)2/~z

A standing wave is formed when a sinusoidal wave


is reflected by a fixed point and the resulting motion
gives no evidence that there are two waves travelling
in opposite directions (Lighthill, 1990). This fixture
results then in the forming of nodes and antinodes as
shown in Fig. 1. At the nodes a very low energy level
occurs and. particle velocity is close to zero. At the
antinodes the opposite occurs and high energy and
velocity levels is the result. These phenomena are very
important and form the backbone of acoustic
separation.
When an acoustic wave is introduced into a
suspension, the force acting on a spherical particle is
referred to as the radiation pressure (King, 1934) and
is given below:

where K(k)2/~ is the amplitude factor. Calculations


proved that the time period for movement of a
particle from an arbitrary position to a node or
antinode is almost instant (less than a second),
depending on the density ratio.
It was calculated that, for a suspension of water
and talcum powder with particle size 10#m and
density ratio 1.1, an acoustic transducer with a
frequency of 32 kHz will be required to achieve
proper separation.

P = 2na2(ka)sin(2kh)F(po/pOE

(1)

where
k = 27t/2
In order to move a particle through a fluid a force is
required to overcome the viscous force. This force is
also called the Stokes' force, attributed to Sir George
Stokes who first formulated it in the 1850s, and is
described in detail by Landau and Lifshitz (1987), as
well as Happel and Brenner (1983). The Stokes' force
is given below:
F=6n~ru

(2)

By setting equation (1) equal to equation (2), the


wavelength can be calculated. With the wavelength
known the frequency required from the acoustic
transducer can be calculated from the equation (3):
f=c/2

ANTINODES

(3)

or LOOPS

Fig. 1. Illustration of the position and occurrence of nodes


and antinodes in a standing acoustic wave.

(4)

EXPERIMENTS

The first series of experimental work was done to


establish a workable acoustic separation process, the
second series to measure the effectiveness of
separation under different conditions and the third
series to test different suspensions under established
optimum conditions.
No special equipment was designed or manufactured for the experiments. All experiments were
carried out with available equipment. The experimental set-up consisted of a function generator, an
amplifier, oscilloscope, a glass tube (20 mm diameter,
150 mm long) with flat bottom and a piezoelectric
transducer.
Two transducers were used during the execution of
the experimental work, a 41-kHz and a 36-kHz
transducer. The piezoelectric transducers were the
limiting equipment. The transducers were not
specifically manufactured for the experimental work
owing to cost. Both transducers were limited to a
maximum of 12V input voltage. Owing to the
temporal availability of both transducers, the first
series of experiments was done with the 41-kHz and
the rest of the experiments with the 36-kHz
transducer. A schematic layout of the experimental
set-up is shown in Fig. 2.
The piezoelectric transducer was glued onto the
flat-bottomed glass tube. The glass-tube/transducer
assembly was fitted in a vertical position to a stand.
The function generator output splits, with the one
end connected to the amplifier input, and the other
end connected to the oscilloscope channel number 1.
The amplifier output was connected to the transducer
and a tie-off from the transducer was connected to the
oscilloscope channel number 2. The glass tube was
filled with water up to a level of 44 ram. All the
equipment was switched on. The function generator
was pre-set to a frequency of 41 kHz and an
amplitude of 0.3 V. All the equipment was switched
off. A small quantity of talcum powder was added to

Separation with ultrasonic acoustic energy

2545

..----q
Glass tube
with suspension
t
I

1
J

I~

~w,=c~1
Amplifier

Piezoelectric transducer

I
Functiongenerator Oscilloscope

Fig. 2. Experimental set-up.

the water and the suspension stirred. All the


equipment was switched on again.
With a small adjustment to the frequency, clear
separation of the solid(powder)/liquid(water) suspen-

sion could be observed, as illustrated in Fig. 3. As


discussed, nodes and antinodes are formed at every
half wavelength in a standing wave. When separation
takes place at a specific frequency the solid particles

STANDING WAVE
td

:i~.d~.~~

SuSI~nsion level
_

~ q " ~ l . . - ' , , I / " . H. " ~ : b / '..k.' l I


"~ & v o ~ , l g g s

"I

Fig. 3. The formation of separation levels and the measurement of wavelengths.

2546

M . C . B e k k e r et al.

will accumulate either at the nodes or antinodes


depending on the density ratio. The areas where the
solid particles accumulate can clearly be seen, with
the naked eye, in the form of white "rings". These
"rings" are referred to as "separation levels". In this
case the accumulations were at the antinodes because
the density of the powder is less than that of water.
With the above the first objective, namely to
establish a workable acoustic separation process with
available equipment, was achieved.
With a basic separation process established, an
experiment was carried out to compare experimental
results to some elementary calculations used with
acoustic waves in water. The distance between every
separation level reflects half a wavelength and can be
measured. From the measured distance between two
separation levels the wavelength can be calculated
from equation (3) and the velocity of sound can be
calculated. The same experimental set-up was used.
The glass tube was filled with different levels of the
powder-water suspension. The first fill was up to a
level of 25 mm and tested. The second fill was up to
a level of 48 mm, the third up to 71 ram, etc. The
frequency was adjusted after every fill until clear
separation could be observed. The number of
separation levels was counted in each case and listed
in Table 1. Since powder is less dense than water,
separation takes place at the antinodes. Therefore,
when two separation levels are counted it means one
wavelength is formed as illustrated in Fig. 3. The
sound velocity was calculated in each case and
compared. The results from the experiment are given
in Table 1.
The velocity of sound in pure water is 1 478 m/s
(Sears et al., 1982). The results obtained in the last
column of Table 1 are in the region of this figure,
which shows that the experimental work correlates
acceptably enough with the theory to continue with
further work on the established set-up.
The glass tube was filled again with the suspension,
clamped in a horizontal position and a frequency was
applied as in the previous experiments. Separation
again occurred and the powder started to settle out
at the separation levels, forming "powder rings" at
the bottom of the tube at intervals equal to the
applied wavelength.
The above experiments formed the first series of
experiments in which a workable acoustic separation
process was established with available equipment.

Table 1. Results from measured wavelengths and calculated wave


speed
Suspension
level
(mm)
25
48
71
92
121
152

Frequency
(kHz)

Separation
levels

Wavelength
(mm)

44.2
42.2
43
42.2
41.2
39.9

2
3
5
6
8
9

25
32
28.4
30.7
30.3
33.8

Wave
speed
(m/s)
105
350
221
549
246
348

In the second series of experiments a fixed ratio of


powder to water was prepared to carry out controlled
tests to quantify the effect of flow and acoustic power
on the effectiveness of separation. For these experiments a piezoelectric transducer with an optimum
frequency of 36 kHz was used. The experimental
set-up was modified to cater for the flow of
suspensions through the separation section. The
modification consists of the introduction of an inlet
and an outlet nozzle to which the suspension supply
source, in this case the suspension container, and
outlet sample bottle were connected. A schematic
layout of the revised set-up and procedure is
explained below and shown in Fig. 4.
A 25-1itre glass container was filled with a fixed
concentration of powder-water (1.2 g/litre powder)
suspension and placed at an elevated position. A
magnetic stirring device was placed at the bottom for
continuous mixing of the suspension to ensure a
uniform concentration. The container was coupled to
the same glass tube used before in a horizontal
position via a rubber tube, and flow was controlled
with a tube clamp. The outlet was routed to a sample
bottle.
Filter papers were numbered, dried in a laboratory
drying oven and weighed. Each numbered filter was
allocated to a specific sample to be taken.
Before initializing the separation equipment, a
control sample was taken in order to calibrate the
suspension. A sample of 17 ml of the suspension was
taken and filtered through the dried filter paper. The
filtered paper was dried again and weighed. The net
mass difference was divided by the sample volume to
get the concentration of the sample. The result of this
calibration test agreed with the original make-up
suspension of 1.2g/litre. The accuracy of the
concentration measurement was sufficient for this
type of experiment; if higher accuracy is required the
concentration could be measured turbidimetrically.
Although it might have been easier to measure
suspension concentrations turbidimetrically, such
equipment was not available to the authors.
All the separation equipment was activated and the
experiments commenced.
Samples were taken approximately every 30 s from
the glass tube outlet in sample bottles of 17 ml each.
The samples were filtered and the filtered samples
were dried again for a minimum of 4 h. The filter
samples were weighed again and the difference in
mass was tabled. From this information the
concentration at the outlet was calculated, since the
sample volumes were known. From the results it
could be seen whether separation took place and
whether any solids were contained in the glass tube
at the separation levels.
Initially the effect of the voltage applied to the
separation effectiveness was measured. A fixed flow
rate of 16.7ml/s was established and different
voltages were applied. Tests were repeated with 2, 4,
6, 8, 10 and 12 V. The maximum allowable input

Separation with ultrasonic acoustic energy

2547

25 litm
Suspension contoiner

:~

Hose

Magnetic s#mng

Clamp
r~.~,,~

Rubber hole

Piezoelectric transducer
coupled to signal generator
Glass tube w~n
inlet end ou~et

+?

ii
.,+,

. . . . . . . . . . i!i~
ii

Sample bollle

Fig. 4. Experimental set-up to establish flow through the separating equipment.

voltage for the transducer is 12 V (it must be noted


that acoustics are generally measured in voltages as
output from transducers, therefore explaining the use
of volt instead of watts).
The results from the experiments indicated that
separation did take place and that the separation
process does indeed work. The best results were with
the voltage amplitude set at 12V. A graphical
summary of the res,lts is given in Fig. 5,

1.5
1.4
1.3
1.2
z 1.1
O
i1
< 0.9

wP
0,8
w
zu 0.7
oO 0.6
0.5

2:

10

12

AMPLITUDE (volts)

Fig. 5. Separation concentration at applied voltage.

From the comparison it is clear that maximum


separation took place with an amplitude of 12 V
and with an average concentration of 0.683 g/litre,
which reflects a separation effectivity of 43%
when compared to the original concentration of
1.2g/litre. However, a high voltage does not
necessarily mean better separation., Depending on the
solids' characteristics, agglomeration can be disturbed, due to shear stress, at certain voltages, which
could explain the uneven trend in Fig. 5. This
phenomenon was also experienced by Muralidhara
et al. (1988).
For further experimental work, 12 V was used in
all cases since it is the amplitude at which the best
results were obtained, although it may not be the
optimum value, and experiments with higher voltages
would have been preferred.
The rate at which the suspension flows through the
separation glass tube could influence the effectivity of
separation. The next series of experiments investigated the effect of flow rate (all in the laminar flow
region). The voltage was fixed at 12 V and the same
procedures as previously used were followed to
measure the initial and final concentration levels at
different flow rates.
From the results obtained in these experiments it
was clear that the best separation took place at the
lowest flow of 2.5 ml/s, with an average concentration

2548

M.C. Bekker et

al.

0.7

~0.6
E
,~0.5
Z
0 0.4
I-~0.3

~0.2
o

~0.1
o
0

2.5

i o

16.7

FLOW RATE (rrgsec)


Fig. 6. Separation concentration at different flow rates.

level of 0.425 g/litre (65% separation). A graphical


summary of the results is given in Fig. 6.
From these experiments it was clear that the most
effective separation takes place at the lowest possible
flow.
From the second series of experiments it was clear
that the most effective separation, for the available
equipment, was at an amplitude of 12 V and as low
as possible flow rate.
In the third series of experiments the optimum
separation settings, as were found in the first and
second series of experiments, were applied to effluents
from a process cooling water system. These effluents
were process cooling water, cooling water blow-down
and ash water.
The experiments were carried out following the
same procedure as previously where the concentrations were established before and after separation.
The separation of process cooling water was
complicated by the size of the suspended solids.
Suspended particles in the cooling water are
extremely small in size and can hardly be seen. The
filtration process, to measure the solids' concentration, takes twice as long as with the powder
suspension due to the particles that block the pores
of the filter paper. The filter paper pore size is
approximately 0.1/am and is generally used in similar
applications in water research laboratories.
The suspension concentration of process cooling
water was measured at 1.696 g/litre average. The
flow rate was set at 2.5ml/s and 12V applied.
Samples of 25 ml were taken and the suspension
concentration at the outlet was measured again. The
results proved that effectively no separation took
place. This could be because of the fact that the solids
in suspension are too fine to be concentrated at the
separation points in the glass tube. The solids are in

fact so small that they can hardly be observed with


the naked eye.
The same procedures as before were followed with
cooling water blow-down and again the results were
"disappointing", as effectively no separation took
place. The average measurement even showed an
increase in concentration and the question arose
whether there was maybe a concentration at a
separation point which "came loose" and went
through at a high concentration level.
With ash water, again no separation took place. As
with the above two suspensions the suspended solids
could hardly be seen with the naked eye, owing to the
extremely small sizes.
The third and final series of experiments proved to
be disappointing, in the sense that virtually no
separation took place in any of the tested substances.
The highest applied voltage was used and a very low
flow of 2.5ml/s was maintained. The lack of
separation can be due to the extremely small sizes of
the suspended particles, in some cases so small that
they could hardly be observed visually.
CONCLUSION
From the experiments, it is evident that solidliquid separation can be achieved by means of a
standing acoustic wave.
Separation takes place at the nodes or antinodes,
dependent on the density ratio. If the solids are less
dense than the fluid, the solid particles accumulate at
the antinodes and vice-versa. The actual distances
between the separation levels compare well with the
theoretical distances, which confirm the practical
application of the experimental apparatus.
With a 36-kHz piezoelectric transducer and a
control suspension of water and talcum powder, the

2549

Separation with ultrasonic acoustic energy


best separation results were achieved at a voltage
amplitude of 12 V and a flow rate of 2.5 ml/s. A
separation effectivity of 65% was achieved under
those conditions.
The 2.5-ml/s was the lowest measurable flow rate
that could be achievext. It could be possible to achieve
even better separation results with lower flow rates.
The 12-V amplilmde was the highest possible
voltage that could be applied through the transducer.
However, higher voltage does not necessarily mean
better separation. A too high voltage can break up
agglomerated partic]les at the separation levels owing
to imposed covibration. The optimum separation
voltage may differ between suspensions and care must
be taken when selecting the voltage amplitude.
Separation of solid-liquid suspension in a cooling
water system proved to be unsuccessful due to the
very small sizes of t:he solids in suspension. In order
to migrate the solids towards the nodes or antinodes,
higher voltage amplitude should be experimented
with. As the particle sizes decrease it becomes more
"difficult" to move the particles through the fluid,
owing to the increased effect of fluid viscosity and
smaller exposure area for acoustic force. Higher input
voltage should assist in overcoming the viscous, or
Stokes' force, in the fluid.
From the theoretical and experimental studies it is
clear that the selecl:ion of separation equipment is
vital to achieve efl'ective separation. Not enough
information is currently available to optimize

acoustic separation equipment selection, and extensive research could still be done.
REFERENCES

Beard R. E. and Muralidhara H. S. (1985) Mechanistic


Considerations of Acoustic Dewatering Techniques,
Ultrasonic Symposium.
Bongert W. (1976) Method and means for separation of
liquids from a mixture of solids and liquids. U.S. Patent
No 3,970,552.
Furedi P. (1977) Apparatus and method for removing fine
particles from a liquid medium by ultrasonic waves. U.S.
Patent No 4,055,491.
Happl J. and Brenner H. (1983) Low Reynolds Number
Hydrodynamics. Kluwer Academic,
King L. V. (1934) Proceedings of the Royal Society of
London, Vol. CXLVII. Harrison & Sons, London.
Kowalski E., Chmura K. and Bien J. (1978) Ultrasonics in
the dehydration of sludge. Ultrasonics 16, 183-185.
Landau L. D. and Lifshitz E. M. (1987) Fluid Mechanics,
2nd edn, Vol. 6, Course of Theoretical Physics, Pergamon
Press,
Lighthill J. (1990) Waves in Fluids. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, UK.
Muralidhara H. S., Senapati N. and Beard R. (1988)
Electro-acoustic dewatering (EAD) a novel approach for
food processing and recovery. Sep. Sei. Teehnol. 23,
2143-2158.
Sears F. W., Zcmansky M. W. and Joung H. D. (1982)
University Physics, Edition 6, Addison-Wesley,
Swamy K. M., Rao A. R. K. and Narasimhan K. S. (1983)
Acoustics aids dewatering. Ultrasonics 21, 280-286.
Oakley H. R., Philpott J. A. and Abdaila Z. B. (1954) The
use of ultrasonic vibrations in public health engineering.
Proc. Inst. Civil Engrs (Part III) 3(1), 283-288.