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How to determine if a restriction orifice will experience cavitation ?

Earlier post "A refresh to Process Engineer on few phenomenons in restriction orifice" has
discussed briefly how restriction orifice (RO) works. Maximum velocity and minimum operating pressure is
expected at the vena contracta, just some short distance downstream of restriction orifice.

Careful review on the pressure profile, the upstream pressure is decrease to minimum and recover back to
downstream pressure. In the event fluid vapor pressure is just marginal lower than downstream
pressure, minimum pressure at vena contracta would probably lower than fluid vapor pressure.
Vapor condensation would result "implosion" and generates noise and severe vibration. This phenomena is
well known as cavitation.

One way to avoid cavitation in restriction orifice is to reduce pressure drop across RO so that the pressure
dip is maintained as high as possible. This results multiple restriction orifices to break the pressure drop in
several steps.

How to determine if a restriction orifice will experience cavitation ?

The following simple assessment method base on work done by Tullis & Govindarajan (1973) may be
used.
i) Determine Upstream Pressure (Pu), Downstream pressure (Pd) and Vapor pressure (Pv) base on
upstream temperature for conservatism

ii) Determine Cavitation level (Cl)

Cl = (Pd-Pv)/(Pu-Pd)
iii) Based on orifice-diameter ratio (beta), determine allowable Cavitation level (Cl,a) from following chart.

Source : Tullis & Govindarajan (1973)

iv) Cavitation will occur if Cl is less Cl,a, multiple ROs may require.

Restriction orifice is widely used in blowdown line to limit excessive flow to flare system. This is the best
location to experience cavitation from restriction orifice and can not be eliminated. Severe noise and
vibration is expected. Downstream piping may fail on severe vibration. Acoustic induced vibration
assessment shall be conducted to ensure BDV/RO downstream piping always provide high integrity to
resistance severe vibration cause by RO.
Related Topic
• Restrcition Orifice Used in Many Applications in Different Manners
• A refresh to Process Engineer on few phenomenons in restriction orifice
• Hydraulic Design Of Liquid with Pump Circuit - A revision kit...
• Hydraulic Design of Liquid Piping Systems - A revision kit...
• Why bypass Non-Return Valve (NRV) ?
• Is pressure drop increase with pipe schedule

A refresh to Process Engineer on few phenomenons in


restriction orifice

Restriction orifice is widely used to in Oil and Gas, Refinery and Petrochemical chemical plant. Make a
simple search on internet, you may find plenty of articles related to functionality, calculation and
specification of restriction orifice. The intention in this post is not to repeat what others has discussed in
details but as a refresher to those who already knew about it and inform those who still unclear or
misunderstood about restriction orifice.

What is restriction orifice ?


I have asked above question to young engineer with 2-3 years experience. The answer given by some of
them were ”To reduce pressure drop like control valve but with fixed opening”. It sounded correct. Fluid
passing restriction orifice with fixed opening and involve pressure drop across it. In my opinion, this is a
misconception on functionality. Restriction orifice is used to limit flow to required or expected flowrate
with the available differential pressure across.

How restriction orifice works ?


A fluid passing a fixed opening in restriction orifice, the fluid streamline will converge and squeeze through
the opening. As it pass the opening, the momentum will keep it continue converge for short distance and
diverge as the momentum is lost. The smallest cross sectional area between convergence and
divergence is the well known vena contracta (VC). The velocity at VC is at maximum due to minimum
cross sectional area for flow. Base on Bernoulli theorem, the pressure at VC is lowest.
As fluid passing the restriction orifice, converging towards vena contracta and diverge once it pass VC
results two observations. Velocity is increased till maximum at VC and decreased after it passed VC. On the
other hand, pressure is decreased till minimum at VC and increased to downstream pressure
(backpressure). The increased pressure from VC is called pressure recovery.

NON-Choked flow vs Choked Flow


When the differential pressure (dP) between restriction orifice upstream and downstream is low, the driving
force to put fluid passing the restriction flow is low. The velocity at VC is rather low and far below sonic
velocity. This flowing condition is normally known as Non-Choke Flow. As downstream pressure (Pd) is
decreased, this increased the differential pressure (dP). Higher driving force will push more fluid passing the
opening and velocity at VC is increase as well. The downstream pressure will decrease until a pressure
where velocity at VC is at Sonic velocity (Mach no=1), the downstream pressure is called Critical pressure
(Pc) and the flowing condition is called Choked flow. Further decrease in downstream pressure will NOT
affect the flow rate passing the restriction orifice as the velocity at VC already at it maximum (Ma=1).

Critical pressure
Critical pressure can be estimated based on absolute upstream pressure

where k is the specific heat ratio

Should flowrate increase if upstream pressure is increased at choked flow ?


As upstream pressure is increased, the fluid density will increase accordingly. It will reduce velocity at VC
and more mass is allowed to pass through the restriction orifice. Thus, increase in upstream pressure will
increase mass flow passing the restriction orifice but velocity at VC still maintaining at Ma=1.

Example
A pipe with a hole is a typical example of choked flow condition. The pipe internal pressure (Pu) is releasing
gas to atmosphere. As the atmospheric pressure is lower than the critical pressure, it is a choked flow
condition.
Now connect a small pipe to pipe at hole. There is frictional head loss on the small pipe, thus the pressure at
the outlet of hole (or backpressure to hole) is total of frictional pressure lose plus atmospheric pressure.
Nevertheless, the back pressure to hole is still below critical pressure, those there is no impact to flowrate.

If the pipe length of small pipe is increased, back pressure to hole will increase as well. It will increase upto
the critical pressure of the fluid. Now, it is at the limit of choked flow. Further increased in back pressure will
put the system in non-choked flow condition and flowrate will start to drop.

Above typically answer why choked flow is always occurred and flow rate is maintained constant although
flare backpressure fluctuate (with condition below critical pressure).

Summary
There are some concepts that a process engineer may needs to understand for restriction orifice :

• Restriction orifice is used to limit flow to required or expected flowrate with the available differential
pressure across.
• Vena contracta (VC) present just short distance downstream of restriction orifice
• Maximum velocity and minimum pressure at vena contracta (VC)
• Choked flow occurred when velocity at vena contracta (VC) reach sonic velocity (Ma=1). The
corresponding downstream pressure at choked condition called critical pressure.
• Increase in upstream pressure will increase mass flow passing the restriction orifice but velocity at
VC still maintaining at Ma=1

Related Topic
• How to determine if a restriction orifice will experience cavitation ?
• Restrcition Orifice Used in Many Applications in Different Manners
• Hydraulic Design Of Liquid with Pump Circuit - A revision kit...
• Hydraulic Design of Liquid Piping Systems - A revision kit...
• Why bypass Non-Return Valve (NRV) ?
• Is pressure drop increase with pipe schedule ?