Interface Measurement

When detecting the interface between two liquids, the measurement can be based on the difference of densities, dielectric constants, electric or thermal conductivities, opacity, or the sonic and ultrasonic transmittance of the two fluids. Environmental engineers should base their measurement on the process property with the largest step change between the upper and lower fluids. If, instead of a clean interface, a rag layer (a mix of the two fluids) exists between the two fluids, the interface detector cannot change that fact (it cannot eliminate the rag layer); but if properly selected, the interface detector can signal its beginning and end and thereby measure its thickness.

Interface level switches are usually ultrasonic, optical (Figure 7.6.18), capacitance, float, conductivity, thermal, microwave, or radiation designs. The ultrasonic switch described in Figure 7.6.19 uses a gap-type probe installed at a 10-degree angle from the horizontal. At one end of the gap is the ultrasonic source, at the other end is the receiver. As long as the probe is in the upper or lower liquid, the detector receives the ultrasonic pulse.

When the interface enters the gap, the pulse is deflected, and the switch is actuated. This switch can detect the interface between water and oil or other hydrocarbons, such as vinyl-acetate. If the thickness of the light layer rather than the location of the interface in the tank is of interest, the ultrasonic gap sensor can be attached to a float as shown in Figure 7.6.20.

Continuous measurement of the interface between two liquids can be detected by d/p transmitters if P1 is detected in the heavy liquid and P2 in the light liquid. In atmospheric vessels, three bubbler tubes can achieve the same interface measurement. The configuration shown in Figure 7.6.21 is appropriate for applications where the density of the light layer is constant and the density of the heavy liquid is variable. In these differential pressure-type systems, the movement of the interface level must be large enough to cause a change that satisfies the minimum span of the d/p transmitters. If the difference between the dielectric constants is substantial, such as in crude oil desalting, capacitance probes can also serve as continuous interface detectors.

On clean services, float- and displacer-type sensors can also be used as interface level detectors. For float-type units a float density heavier than the light layer but lighter than the heavy layer must be selected. In displacer-type sensors, the displacer must always be flooded, the upper connection of the chamber must be in the light liquid layer, and the lower connection must be in the heavy liquid layer. In this arrangement, the displacer becomes a density sensor. Therefore, the smaller the difference between the densities of the fluids and the smaller the range within which the interface can move, the larger displacer diameter will be required. Displacer density can be the same or more than that of the heavy layer.

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