Hydrocyclone Separator

By 28 July 2015

Hydrocyclone separators, sometimes called enhanced gravity separators, use centrifugal force to remove oil droplets from oily water. As shown in Figure 7-16, static hydrocyclone separator consist of the following four sections: a cylindrical swirl chamber, a concentric reducing section, a fine tapered section, and a cylindrical tail section. Oily water enters the cylindrical swirl chamber through a tangential inlet, creating a high-velocity vortex with a reverse-flowing central core. The fluid accelerates as it flows through the concentric reducing section and the fine tapered section. The fluid then continues at a constant rate through the cylindrical tail section. Larger oil droplets are separated out from the fluid in the fine tapered section, while smaller droplets are removed in the tail section. Centripetal forces cause the lighter-density droplets to move toward the lowpressure central core, where axial reverse flow occurs. The oil is removed through a small-diameter reject port located in the head of the hydrocyclone separator. Clean water is removed through the downstream outlet.

Vortoil hydrocyclone separator

Static hydrocyclone separator require a minimum pressure of 100 psi to produce the required velocities. Manufacturers make designs that operate at lower pressures, but these models have not always been as efficient as those that operate at higher inlet pressures. If a minimum separator pressure of 100 psi is not available, a low-shear pump should be used (e.g., a progressive cavity pump) or sufficient pipe should be used between the pump and the hydrocyclone separator to allow pipe coalescence of the oil droplets. As is the case with flotation units, hydrocyclone separator do not appear to work well with oil droplets less than 10 to 20 microns in diameter.

Performance is chiefly influenced by reject ratio and pressure drop ratio (PDR). The reject ratio refers to the ratio of the reject fluid rate to the total inlet fluid rate. Typically, the optimum ratio is between 1 and 3%. This ratio is also proportional to the PDR. Operation below the optimum reject ratio will result in low oil removal efficiencies. Operation above the optimum reject ratio does not impair oil removal efficiency, but it increases the amount of liquid that must be recirculated through the facility. The PDR refers to the ratio of the pressure difference between the inlet and reject outlets and the difference from the inlet to the water outlet. A PDR of between 1.4 and 2.0 is usually desired. Performance is also affected by inlet oil droplet size, concentration of inlet oil, differential specific gravity, and inlet temperature. Temperatures greater than 80°F result in better operation.

Although the performance of hydrocyclone separators varies from facility to facility (as with flotation units), an assumption of 90% oil removal is a reasonable number for design. Often the unit will perform better than this, but for design it would be unwise to assume this will happen. Performance cannot be predicted more accurately from laboratory or field testing because it is dependent on the actual shearing and coalescing that occurs under field flow conditions and on impurities in the water, such as residual treating and corrosion chemicals and sand, scale and corrosion products, which vary with time.

Hydrocyclones are excellent coalescing devices, and they actually function best as a primary treating device followed by a downstream skim vessel that can separate the 500 to 1,000 micron droplets that leave with the water effluent. A simplified P&ID for a hydrocyclones eparator is shown in Figure 7-17.

P&ID for a typical hydrocyclone system.

Advantages of static hydrocyclone separators include: (1) they have no moving parts (thus, minimum maintenance and operator attention is required), (2)their compact design reduces weight and space requirements when compared to those of a flotation unit, (3) they are insensitive to motion (thus, they are suitable for floating facilities), (4) their modular design allows easy addition of capacity, and (5) they offer lower operating costs when compared to flotation units, if inlet pressure is available.

Disadvantages include the need to install a pump if oil is available only at low pressure and the tendency of the reject port to plug with sand or scale. Sand in the produced water will cause erosion of the cones and increase operating costs.