Turbine Meters

Measuring fluid flow with turbine meters

A turbine flowmeter consists of a multi-bladed wheel mounted in a pipe along an axis parallel to the direction of fluid flow in the pipe. The flow of fluid past the wheel causes it to rotate at a rate which is proportional to the volume flow rate of the fluid. This rate of rotation has traditionally been measured by constructing the flowmeter such that it behaves as a variable reluctance tachogenerator. This is achieved by fabricating the turbine blades from a ferromagnetic material and placing a permanent magnet and coil inside the meter housing. A voltage pulse is induced in the coil as each blade on the turbine wheel moves past it, and if these pulses are measured by a pulse counter, the pulse frequency and hence flow rate can be deduced. In recent instruments, fiber optics are also sometimes used to count the rotations by detecting reflections off the tip of the turbine blades.


Provided that the turbine wheel is mounted in low-friction bearings, measurement accuracy can be as high as 0.1%. However, turbine flowmeters are less rugged and reliable than flow-restriction-type instruments, and are badly affected by any particulate matter in the flowing fluid. Bearing wear is a particular problem and they also impose a permanent pressure loss on the measured system.


Turbine meters are particularly prone to large errors when there is any significant second phase in the fluid measured. For instance, using a turbine meter calibrated on pure liquid to measure a liquid containing 5% air produces a 50% measurement error. As an important application of the turbine meter is in the petrochemical industries, where gas/oil mixtures are common, special procedures are being developed to avoid such large measurement errors. The most promising approach is to homogenize the two gas/oil phases prior to flow measurement.


Turbine meters have a similar cost and market share to positive-displacement meters, and compete for many applications, particularly in the oil industry. Turbine meters are smaller and lighter than the latter and are preferred for low-viscosity, high-flow measurements. However, positive-displacement meters are superior in conditions of high viscosity and low flow rate.


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