Saturday, April 25, 2015

Waterjetting 32c - more tests with polymers

In the last post on this topic I pointed out that one of early drivers to the use of long-chain polymers in water came from the reduction in friction that it provided to fluid flow through long pipes. In many instances this has been the driving force for the selling of the product, and in industries such as oil well drilling and fracking the reduction in friction down long relatively small diameter drilling pipe has been a significant selling argument.

The cohesion of the jet, once it leaves the nozzle, is a secondary consideration in overall economics, yet in some applications, such as the cleaning of down-hole completion screens, the ability of a polymer-laden waterjet to penetrate through the pressurized fluid in an oil well to reach and clean the screen has been the main reason that the market developed.


Figure 1. Improved jet power underwater when polymer is added (after Zublin)

One of the first steps to be addressed was the practical considerations as to how we got the polymer into fluid that made up the jet stream. The original polymer that I used was polyethylene oxide (Polyox) which was marketed in the form of small prills of chemical. The problem that we were then faced with is that, when these are just dumped into a container full of water, that the outer edge of each prill soaked up some water, became gel-like and adhesive, and stuck to the next particle, in a way that made a large collective lump that was very difficult to dissolve into the surrounding water flow. Even when the particles were fed in slowly into a fluid mixer the particles initially tended to concentrate in one layer of liquid, which only slowly dispersed into the main body of the fluid. That concentrated polymer has a number of interesting properties.


Figure 2. Lifting a thick concentration of polymer from a bucket by hand.

For example it can be thick enough that one can grab it with one's fingers and lift it that way out of the bucket, as the picture above shows, or it can cause a unique problem in a mixing tank.

The polymer can wind up around the mixing paddle shaft and work its way up the shaft until it hits the retaining screw at the top. It then piles up at this point until it reaches a critical mass, when a tendril can be thrown out of the tank, through the centrifugal force exerted through rotation of the paddle shaft. The tendril falling outside the tank falls to the floor, which is lower than the fluid in the tank, and thus the concentrated layer of polymer is drawn up the inside of the tank, over the side and down the outside of the tank since it is still attached to the escaping tendril. The result clearly showed that liquid could flow uphill, when pulled by the cohesion inherent in the high concentration polymer.

This, in turn, gives either a disadvantage (if you are using this in a factory) or an advantage to the use of the polymer. The reason comes from the fluid nickname – Slippery Water.” The addition of the polymer, while reducing friction in the pipe, also reduces it between a person’s shoe and the floor, and thus it becomes a hazard in the workplace, since it increases the risk of slipping. It has the impressive title Anti Traction Mobility Denial System . We used to call it Banana water, but that seems to have faded from use.

The need to reach the very low concentrations of polymer that are all that is necessary to enhance jet cutting required a better way of mixing, The recommended answer was to briefly suspend the particles in a suspension of isopropyl alcohol (swirling it in a cup worked well) and then dumping it into the tank in a way that ensured that the individual prills were distributed away from one another. And while this worked, it was somewhat cumbersome and worked well only when mixing up individual batches of water – useful in a laboratory but not so much in a factory that must operate steadily for a full shift.

A number of different chemical liquid additives, most particularly polyacrylamides and derivatives of guar gum, have been tested, with the original work (carried out with the help of Dr Jack Zakin) being carried out in special section of the Baxter Springs plant where we could photograph jets at one-millionth of a second in order to study their structure. To do that we set the system up so that the jet was back-lit, so that we could determine how solid the core jet was, and used a high-speed strobe to illuminate the jet for the short-time needed to freeze the jet motion, leaving the camera shutter open for that time. This meant that the room was totally dark, and since the tests were carried out in the middle of summer, it made for an interesting couple of weeks.


Figure 3. Improved cohesion of a 30,000 psi jet when polymer is added (lower picture) the jet range shown in the picture is about 8 inches.

We also ran a pressure transducer across the different jets, at different standoff distances, so that, for the most promising additives, we could measure the differences in impact pressure and jet cohesion as the transducer moved away from the nozzle. The results were reported in the Proceedings of the 3rd ISJCT with the different chemicals tested ranked according to their ability to improve jet cohesion and reduce jet spread.


One of the problems with some of the additives is that they are temperature sensitive, and the jet was coming from the nozzle at temperatures between 95 and 115 deg Fahrenheit (it was a hot summer and the water reservoir was not chilled). This was not recognized at the time, and it did have some impact on the performance of some of the chemicals, which also showed a tendency to rapidly age once mixed, due to the storage conditions. Nevertheless the results showed that while Polyox was the best compound, there were liquid alternatives that also were effective, and the technology has since switched to liquid additives of which I will have more to say next time.

Zublin, C.W., "Water Jet Cleaning Speeds - Theoretical Determinations," 2nd U.S. Water Jet Conference, Rolla, MO, May, 1983, pp. 159 - 166.
Zakin, J.L., Summers, D.A., The Effect of Visco-Elastic Additives on Jet Structure," paper A4, 3rd International Symposium on Jet Cutting Technology, Chicago, IL, May, 1976, pp. A4-47 - A4-66.

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