Environmental Pollution Sensors

Oil floating on water forms a mechanical barrier between the air and water, preventing oxygenation and killing oxygen-producing vegetation on the banks of streams. By coating the gills of fish, these materials prevent breathing and cause fish to suffocate. Therefore, ships and municipal and industrial waste treatment plants must monitor outfalls and control oil removal to prevent oil-bearing wastes from entering natural waves. Continuous monitors are available to detect any hydrocarbon floating on the surface of water.

Oil in the water is equally undesirable. It contributes to the BOD and can also be toxic to aquatic biota, fish food in water, and fish themselves. Optical detection methods for both types of contamination require regular, conscientious maintenance for continuous, reliable performance. The capacitance approach for monitoring oil film thickness on water appears to require less maintenance but is limited to detecting floating oil. Environmental engineers must evaluate each application separately considering the limited capabilities of available instrumentation.

On-Off Oil-on-Water Detector

This device (an application of nephelometry) detects a visible oil (hydrocarbon) slick on fresh or salt water. It consists of two parts: a sensing head and a controller. The sensing head, in an explosion-proof housing supported on pontoons, floats on the body of water. An S-shaped baffle directs flowing water past the sensing head. A beam of light is focused through a lens onto the water's surface. Reflected light is refocused by a second lens onto a photocell. In the absence of oil on the water, minimum light reflection occurs. In the presence of floating oil, the reflected light intensity increases.

Measurement is based on the difference between the reflected light photocell output and a reference photocell measuring light source output. Alarm functions and an output signal proportional to reflected light intensity are available from the controller.

Oil-Thickness-on-Water Detector

The device just described measures the presence or absence of oil floating on water. The oil-thickness-on-water detector measures the oil layer thickness. It consists of a floating sensing head connected by shielded cable to a remote controller. The sensor measures the thickness of an oil layer on water by capacitance measurement (see Figure 7.9.12).

FIG. 7.9.12 Parallel-plate capacitor detecting the thickness of an oil layer on water.
FIG. 7.9.13 Oil-in-water detector.

The inverse capacitance is proportionate to the oil thickness. The circuit generates a dc voltage in proportion to the inverse capacitance, which is in direct proportion to the oil thickness and is available for remote transmission. The sensor depends on the large differential in dielectric constants between oil and water for its operation. Manufacturers claim that the sensor is not confused by emulsified sludge, which has a large dielectric constant, or by oily froth, which cannot pass under the float.

Oil-in-Water Detector

When a contaminated water sample stream is irradiated with UV waves at a peak intensity of 365 nm, the oil contaminant emits visible radiation. This radiation can be measured by a photocell. Visible radiation increases with increasing concentrations of the fluorescent substance. The relationship between the concentration and the visible radiation emitted is substantially linear in low concentrations (below 15 X 10~6). In higher concentrations, some non-linearity occurs as a result of a saturation effect.

The most common measurement method is to pass a sample through the sensing head in an upflow direction (see Figure 7.9.13). The head is equipped with two windows set at right angles that minimize the intensity of direct radiation from the source striking the photocell and also reduce the multiple scattering of visible radiation effect. Optical filters at the incident and emergent windows (not shown) reduce this effect to a negligible level.

To detect the oil concentration in water, a falling-stream-type detector is also available. With this device, the sample stream is shaped into a rectangle and falls through the viewing field of the UV beam and the photocell. Efficient optical filtration is important to overcome the unavoidable effects of the direct reflection of incident radiation from the surface of the shaped stream.

UV Oil-in-Water Analyzer

Figure 7.9.14 shows the sampling system of a continuous oil-in-water analyzer used to monitor steam condensate, recycled cooling water, and refinery or offshore drilling effluents. This system uses a single-beam, dual-wavelength UV analyzer, superior to the single-wavelength designs because it compensates for variations in sample's sediment content, turbidity, algae concentration, or window coatings. The cell operates according to Beer's law, which relates oil concentrations to UV energy absorption by the fixed-length cell. The UV measuring band is centered at 254 nm, and the readings are sensitive to 0.1 ppm with a range of 0 to 10 ppm and provide a 90% response in 1 sec.

The automatic-zero feature of the instrument is provided by sending sample water to both the measurement and zeroing sides of the conditioning system. When the sample is in the measurement mode, it is sent through a high-speed, high-shear homogenizer, which disperses all suspended oil droplets and oil adsorbed onto foreign matter so that the sample sent to the analyzer becomes a uniform and true solution.

Once an hour, the analyzer is automatically rezeroed. In this mode, the sample water is sent through a filter that removes all oil and after sparging, the sample water is sent to the analyzer. This oil-free, zero-reference sample still contains the other compounds found in the measurement sample and therefore can be used for zeroing out this background.

Radio-Frequency (Microwave) Sensors

When a cup of water and oil is placed in a microwave oven, the water heats up, while the oil does not. This occurs because shortwave radio-frequency energy is absorbed more efficiently by water than oil. In the radio-wave detector, the transmitter produces fixed-frequency and con

FIG. 7.9.14 UV oil-in-water analyzer with automatic-zero feature. (Courtesy of Teledyne Analytical Instruments).
FIG. 7.9.15 Radio-wave oil-water interface detector probe. (Courtesy of Agar Corp.)

stant-energy waves. The more energy is absorbed by the process fluid (the more water in the mixture), the lower the voltage at the detector. The advantages of this design, compared to capacitance systems, include a wider range (0 to 100%), lower sensitivity to buildup, insensitivity to temperature and salinity variations, and suitability for higher temperature operations (up to 450°F or 232°C).

Radio-wave, oil-in-water sensors are available as probetype sensors for water-oil interface control. A typical application is the free-water knockout (see Figure 7.9.15), where the probe is installed horizontally at one-third of the diameter from the bottom and is set to open the water dump valve when the emulsion concentration drops below 20% oil (80% water). In this way, the emulsion (rug layer) builds up above the probe, while only clean water is dumped. The probe can also provide a 4- to 20-mA

transmitted output signal that signals the water concentration within an error of 5%.

An available portable tank profiler also uses the same principle of operation. Here, the radio-wave element supported by a tape, is lowered into the tank, which can be 100 ft (30 m). As the sensor is lowered, it measures both the interface location (within an error of 0.12 in or 3 mm) and the emulsion concentration throughout the tank from 0 to 100% within an error of 1%.

A water-in-oil monitoring probe is also available, which can detect water concentration over a 0 to 100% range within an error of 0.1% in tanks or pipelines. All these devices are available in explosion-proof construction and with digital displays.

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