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An overview of pneumatic
conveying systems and
performance

1.1 INTRODUCTION
Pneumatic conveying involves the transportation of a wide variety of dry
powdered and granular solids in a gas stream. In most cases the gas is normally
air, however, where special conditions prevail (e.g. risk of explosion, health, fire
hazards, etc.), different gases are used.
This introductory chapter has been written to provide the reader with an
overview and a practical insight into pneumatic conveying technology. More
specific aspects pertaining to the complex phenomenon which takes place during
the pneumatic transport of solids are discussed in subsequent chapters.

1.2 WHY PNEUMATIC CONVEYING?


The concept of pipeline transportation of fluids is by no means modern. The
history of its use dates back to antiquity. The Romans, for instance, used lead
pipes for water supply and sewerage disposal, whilst the Chinese conveyed
natural gas through bamboo tubes. The record of pipeline transportation of
solids in air is more recent with the inception of fans to activate the first
pneumatic conveying in 1866.
The first large scale application of pneumatic conveying was the vacuum
conveying of grain in the late 19th century. By the mid 1920s, negative and
positive pressure conveying of grain was common. Since that time the practice
of pneumatic conveying has grown enormously and has extended to cover a
wide variety of particulate solids. A survey carried out by the British Hydro-
dynamics Research Association [1] showed that between 1971 and 1977 the
pneumatic conveying market in Britain grew by an order of magnitude and
that during the one year period 1977 to 1978 a further 50% increase in the sales
of equipment for pneumatic conveying systems was recorded.

R. D. Marcus et al., Pneumatic Conveying of Solids


© R.D. Marcus, L.S. Leung, G.E. Klinzing and F. Rizk 1990
2 An overview of pneumatic conveying systems and performance

1.2.1 Advantages of a pneumatic conveying system


Pneumatic conveying offers the user the following advantages:
1. Dust free transportation of a variety of products.
2. Flexibility in routing-can be transported vertically and horizontally by the
addition of a bend in the pipeline.
3. Distribution to many different areas in a plant and pick-up from several areas.
4. Low maintenance and low manpower costs.
5. Multiple use-one pipeline can be used for a variety of products.
6. Security-pipelines can be used to convey high valued products.
7. Ease of automation and control.
1.2.2 Disadvantages of a pneumatic conveying system
Offset against the advantages, there are certain disadvantages which include:
1. High power consumption.
2. Wear and abrasion of equipment.
3. Incorrect design can result in particle degradation.
4. Limited distance.
5. By virtue of the complex flow phenomena which take place, there is a
requirement for high levels of skill to design, operate and maintain systems.
Because of the high power consumption, pneumatic transportation systems
are generally more suited to the conveyance of fine particles over shorter
distances (up to a few hundred metres). The majority of existing systems have
capacities within the range of 1 to 400 tonnes per hour over distances less than
1000 m with average particle size less than 10 mm.
The limitations are usually economic rather than technical. However, the
economic factor is changing and recent developments have ensured the
transportation of materials at lower energies. Recent applications include the
conveyance of up to 40 mm coal [2] in a single lift over 300 m vertical and a
small number of long distance pneumatic conveyors [3] transporting various
materials over distances up to 3000m.
With the growing increase in sophistication of pneumatic conveying systems,
potential applications are increasing all the time. Thus for the transportation
of solid materials, pneumatic conveying should be considered as a prime option
and should be evaluated against other modes of solid transportation.

1.3 WHAT CAN BE CONVEYED?


The range of materials suitable for pneumatic conveying is extensive. Virtually
all powders and granular materials can be conveyed. Table 1.1 is a partial list
of materials which have been successfully conveyed pneumatically. The list is
by no means exhaustive. Rocks of up to 70 mm in size, live chickens and finished
manufactured parts of unusual geometry have been conveyed. Generally, the