Ultrasonic Flow Measurement and Diagnostic Advancements

by | Sep 15, 2009 | Downstream Hydrocarbons, Industry, Measurement Instrumentation, Oil & Gas

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Social Marketing Leader

I saw in my Sound Off blog RSS feed that Dan Hackett, part of Emerson’s Daniel Measurement and Control business, did a podcast interview with Walt Boyes. The 25-minute podcast is on some new Daniel Ultrasonic flow measurement technology being introduced at the upcoming Emerson Exchange.

Dan starts by describing how these critical ultrasonic flow measurements work. I thought Dan’s explanation was more understandable than my Guadalupe River rafting analogy in an earlier post. If there’s no flow, the time it takes the ultrasonic pulse to travel across the pipe from one side upstream to the other side downstream and back is the same. As the flow increases, the time difference between the travel across the pipe each way increases–since one way the pulse goes with the flow and the other way it goes against the flow.

Dan described how some of the Daniel liquid and gas ultrasonic flow meters have 4 measurement paths to get different measurements at different points to integrate an average flow. The average axial velocity multiplied by the area of the pipe gives the uncorrected volume flow rate through the ultrasonic flow meter.

He described how these critical meters are used primarily in custody transfer applications. For those not familiar with the term, custody transfer is like the cash register where the possession of feedstocks, intermediates, and finished products changes hands between companies, governments, or countries. The measurements must be highly accurate and agreed to by both parties.

As Walt pointed out in one of his questions, ultrasonic flow measurement, because of low-pressure drop and high turndown capability, can handle a wide range of applications from very high temperatures to very high pressures. Dan described an application in gas measurement where this technology was being applied. Offshore and onshore gas production measure high-pressure natural gas–usually at the custody transfer point with the gas distribution pipelines. High volume consumers of natural gas, such as power plants and aluminum producers will meter the incoming natural gas. Also, many municipal districts measure the incoming natural gas before it goes into their distribution systems for the area businesses and residences.

For liquid custody transfer, crude oil production and processing are typical applications for ultrasonic flow measurement. Dan mentioned that right now it’s mainly used in the feedstock and finished products areas of refineries, and less so in the process itself, where other flow measurement technologies are typically applied. In a refinery, the custody transfer surrounding the incoming crude and the refined products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, and kerosene are good applications for ultrasonic flow measurement. A final application Dan notes was liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities where the incoming natural gas is measured and also in regasifiers where the liquid is converted back to high pressure gas for final distribution.

The new ultrasonic flow meter transducer being shown at the Emerson Exchange extends the temperature and viscosity range to address more applications like the heavy crudes found in the oil sands and oil shales. Typically, conditioning processes were required to reduce viscosity and or temperature, which add operational costs to the custody transfer measurement process.

One of the big enhancements Dan mentioned was on the software side, where diagnostics now embedded expert knowledge to identify conditions such liquid fractions in gas and pipeline deposit layer buildup. In oil & gas applications, the first case helps spot expensive liquid condensate giveaway. Accumulated buildup inside of pipes impacts the integrity of the custody transfer measurements. When these diagnostics are connected to the Daniel CUI 5 or AMS Device Manager software, operators and maintenance personnel are notified of a problem immediately and offered suggestions for corrective action. The CUI 5 baseline viewer provides a consolidated view for monitoring performance within pre-set ranges.

I found the podcast to be 25 minutes well spent as well as the recent email newsletter in getting up to speed on the latest developments in ultrasonic flow measurement and good application fits.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.