Impellers Influence Clogging & Efficiency

In construction, mining and wastewater applications, pump choice is critical.

Written by:
Kristen Gurick, Ola Hällgren, Mike Ramos & Pete Snow, Xylem, Inc.
February 27, 2014

Solids-handling capability is an important aspect of every jobsite and differs as much as any other factor in dewatering applications. Specifying the diameter of the solids is not the only factor to consider in pump selection. Another key factor is the type of solids being pumped. Typically, types include compressible solids (such as stringy sewage, bags and rags) and non-compressible solids (standard hard solids such as rocks).

Solids-Handling Applications

Solids handling is an important consideration anytime the water being pumped is not clean water. In construction applications, solids are often rocks, bricks, sticks and stones. Whenever demolition or building occurs, these materials may end up in the liquid being pumped on the jobsite. In mining applications, all these materials are possibly included, as well as fine rocks and fine abrasive material.

In municipal (water and wastewater) applications, the solids often include materials left behind by people working on the project. This can include many different items, but commonly includes stringy materials—such as trash, rags and large debris. Often, a pump that is capable of passing a certain diameter of solid cannot handle this stringy material because it winds around the impeller vanes and can cause clogging. However, the solid diameter of stringy material at a jobsite is often not as large as one would assume because these solids are compressible (think tennis ball versus cue ball).

How Pumps Pass Solids

A standard dewatering pump is capable of high volumes and medium-to-high head. These pumps pass large solids, up to five inches. These solids can include rocks, stones and bricks, like those discussed in construction applications.

During a 10-year storm event, 15 solids-handling pumps, which are capable of pumping 3.5-inch, non-compressible solids, bypass a wastewater treatment plant’s flow.

The stringy solids that can occur in municipal applications can clog pump impellers. For those applications, a project should use an open-impeller pump. Closed impellers made of high chrome are often used to pump fluids with smaller solids. The solids pass through the impeller, which is the hardest material in the pump, instead of passing over the wear plate and eventually wearing this component.

Impeller Benefits

When considering construction applications, review the project’s pump impeller needs. An open or semi-open impeller, with an adjustable wear plate, offers more room for non-compressible solids to pass. Pumps with this impeller type are able to handle solids up to five inches in diameter, reducing the risk of clogging because of non-compressible solids. The open impeller design also means that these pumps can be used in a wide range of applications from water and wastewater to drilled muds and industrial fluids.

Cast steel is the best material of construction for open impellers because it provides excellent impact resistance when passing non-compressible solids, such as rocks. An open impeller, with a cutter vane, may not have large open passages like typical automatic self-priming pumps. However, for compressible solids, this type impeller can pull stringy solids through and pass them when other pumps may clog.

Comparison of sustained efficiency over time of conventional pumps versus non-clog, open-impeller cutter vane pumpsA comparison of sustained efficiency over time of conventional pumps versus non-clog, open-impeller cutter vane pumps

In applications with smaller solids, a closed impeller is another type to consider. A closed impeller is better equipped to handle abrasives—such as fine rocks and abrasive materials encountered in mining applications. Additionally, velocity can be a strong component of pump system design in mining applications, in which pumping includes slurries and non-compressible solids.

When considering a pumping application, keeping the product moving and avoiding clogging is paramount. Therefore, end users should always review the nature of the project’s solids before deciding on a pump design. They should determine if the solids are compressible (stringy sewage) or non-compressible (rocks, construction trash). For non-compressible solids, the open-impeller design (in which the leading edge of the impeller vanes do not terminate at the eye) allows for greater handling when coupled with an adjustable wear plate.

However, when pumping stringy sewage and compressible solids, a cutter-style, two-vane impeller, with vanes that terminate at the eye, will shred stringy material and eliminate the clogging often associated with sewage pumping.

Effects on Efficiency

Efficiency depends on the impeller design, although open impellers and those with cutter vanes share similar efficiencies. Pumps with impellers and cutter vanes are capable of running continuously over time without clogging. Considering the type of application (water velocity, sizing pipe correctly, etc.) is important rather than only considering the straight hydraulic efficiency.


Cahaba Media Group

See also:

Upstream Pumping

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