The Magnetrol® flow portal, flow.magnetrol.com, provides information about thermal mass flow meters and how they can improve the efficiency and safety of many processes. Periodically, MAGNETROL product manager Tom Kemme answers questions about flow meters in the portal’s Ask the Expert column. This week’s blog shares some recent Q&As.
Will thermal mass flow meters be affected by changes in the composition of gas (i.e. will they require recalibration every time the composition changes)?
Thermal mass flow meters measure a flow rate based on convective heat transfer. Fluid properties are some of the many factors that influence convection. Each gas has unique properties, which is why these flow meters are calibrated for a specific application. You would not want a meter calibrated for an air application placed into a natural gas application without recalibration or some type of field adjustment if applicable.
All gas mixes are not created equal. If you had a gas mix with high hydrogen content, a variation in hydrogen would have a much greater effect than typical variation in natural gas content. Hydrogen has a tendency to create more heat transfer than most gases. For natural gas, it is common to have some slight variation in composition between the calibration of the device and the application itself. However, the effect is minimal for slight changes in methane or ethane at different times of the year. Natural gas fuel flow is one of the most prevalent applications for thermal mass.
Based on our experience, the biggest cause of malfunction in flow meters is improper installation. If you do not install a flow meter per the manufacturer’s recommendation this will greatly influence the performance of the meter. For thermal mass, this includes proper straight run, depth into the pipe (insertion probes) and flow arrow alignment.
Each application presents unique difficulties for every flow meter technology, and each end user has unique needs. There is no exact answer as to when a recalibration would be needed for thermal mass flow, as it is application dependent. You do not always need recalibrations for variation in gas composition.
What role do thermal flow meters play in emissions monitoring applications?
Thermal flow meters are at the forefront in flow measurement for emissions reporting and energy management projects. The energy management arena spans many markets, including some of the largest in the oil & gas and power industries. Some popular applications include monitoring gas fuel flow to a combustion source to report SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions, stack (flue) gas flow in power plants as part of a continuous emissions monitoring (CEM) system of NOX (nitrous oxide) and SO2, and flares in a gas field that need to be reported to environmental authorities. These applications prove difficult for many flow meter technologies.
For example, in a flare application most of the time gas is not being flared off, but it needs to be measured in case of an event. The user will want to monitor the low flow of pilot gas keeping the flare lit. This requires a flow meter with a very high turndown with good low flow sensitivity, which is a limitation of some technologies, such as differential pressure flow meters.
Many operators are most concerned with measuring CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. However, with thermal flow meters we are increasingly finding applications with the need for methane measurement. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has more than 20 times the global warming potential as CO2. No longer can coalmines or landfills emit this directly to the atmosphere. If not flaring the gas off, the owners are beginning to capture it, treat it, and produce usable natural gas from it. Some facilities that emit landfill gas, or facilities that produce biogas, are involved in carbon credit programs or clean development mechanisms. Similar applications can be found in wastewater treatment plants where customers are reporting digester gas emissions and even capturing this gas to produce electricity and reduce energy costs. Thermal dispersion flow meter technology, such as the MAGNETROL Thermatel® TA2, has become well accepted in all of these markets.
For more information, or to ask Tom Kemme a question about thermal mass flow technology, visit flow.magnetrol.com.