2.4 Level Measurement

Level of liquid in a vessel should be maintained above the exit pipe because if the vessel empties the exit flow will become zero, a situation that would upset downstream processes and could damage pumping equipment that requires liquid.  Also, the level should not overflow an open vessel nor should it exit through a vapor line of a closed vessel, which could disturb a process designed for vapor.  In addition, level can influence the performance of a process; the most common example is a liquid phase chemical reactor.  Level is usually reported as percent of span, rather than in length (e.g., m). Level sensors can be located in the vessel holding the liquid or in an external “leg” which acts as a manometer.  When in the vessel, float and displacement sensors are usually placed in a “stilling chamber” which reduces the effects of flows in the vessel. 

Float The float of material that is lighter than the fluid follows the movement of the liquid level.   The position of the float, perhaps attached to a rod, can be determined to measure the level.  

Displacement:  By Archimedes principle, a body immersed in a liquid is buoyed by a force equal to the weight of the liquid displaced by the body.  Thus, a body that is more dense than the liquid can be placed in the vessel, and the amount of liquid displaced by the body, measured by the weight of the body when in the liquid, can be used to determine the level. 

Differential pressure:  The difference in pressures between to points in a vessel depends on the fluids between these two points.  If the difference in densities between the fluids is significant, which is certainly true for a vapor and liquid and can be true for two different liquids, the difference in pressure can be used to determine the interface level between the fluids.  Usually, a seal liquid is used in the two connecting pipes (legs) to prevent plugging at the sensing points. 

Capacitance : A capacitance probe can be immersed in the liquid of the tank, and the capacitance between the probe and the vessel wall depends on the level. By measuring the capacitance of the liquid, the level of the tank can be determined.

For an excellent in-depth discussion of level sensors, select this button to be directed to a site on the WWW and select Volume 4.

Link to Level Transactions

 Table 4.   Level sensors 

Sensor Limits of Application Accuracy Dynamics Advantages Disadvantages
float up to 1 m - - -can be used for switches -cannot be used with sticky fluids which coat the float
displacement 0.3-3 m - - -good accuracy

-limited range

-cost of external mounting for high pressures

differential pressure essentially no upper limit - -

-good accuracy

-large range

-applicable to slurries with use of sealed lines

-assumes constant density

-sealed lines sensitive to temperature

capacitance up to 30 m - -

-applicable for slurries

-level switch for many difficult fluids

-affected by density variations