Chris King
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You would think that measurements of mass flow would be expressed in units of mass, such as grams/hour, milligrams/second etc. Most users, however, think and work in units of volume. That’s OK, at least when we are talking about the same reference conditions. Let me start with an example:

Mass versus Volume

Imagine you have a cylinder of 1 liter, which is closed by means of a moveable piston of negligible weight. This cylinder contains 1 liter of air at ambient pressure, approximately 1 bar. The weight of this volume of air at 0°C is 1.293 g, this is the mass.

When we move the piston half way to the bottom of the cylinder, then the contained volume of air is only ½ liter, the pressure is approximately 2 bar, but the mass hasn’t been changed, 1.293 g; nothing has been added, or left out.

According to this example, mass flow should actually be expressed in units of weight such as g/h and mg/s. Many users, however, think and work in units of volume. This not a problem, provided conditions under which the mass is converted to volume are agreed upon.

Using density in converting mass flow to volume flow

In order to use density in converting mass flow to volumetric flow, we must pick a set of specific pressure and temperature conditions at which we use the density value for the gas.

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The conditions that are agreed upon contain various references, normal reference and standard reference, available in European or American style. What is de difference?

Normal reference, European style

Following the ‘European’ definition, a temperature of 0°C and a pressure of 1,013 bar are selected as ‘normal’ reference conditions, indicated by the underlying letter “n” in the unit of volume used (mln/min or m3n/h). The direct thermal mass flow measurement method is always based on these reference conditions unless otherwise requested.

An example conversion to volumetric units using Normal reference conditions: The mass flow meter indicates 100 g/h of Air flow. • Density Air (@ 0°C) = 1.293 kg/m3 • X ln/m Air = 100 g/h / (60 minutes x 1.293 kg/m3) • Flow = 1.29 ln/m Air

Standard reference, European style

Alternatively, a temperature of 20°C and a pressure of 1,013 bar are used to refer to ‘standard’ reference conditions, indicated by the underlying letter ‘s’ in the unit of volume used (mls/min or m3s/h).

An example conversion to volumetric units using Standard conditions: The mass flow meter indicates 100 g/h Air flow. • Density Air (@ 20°C): 1.205 kg/m3 • X ls/m Air = 100 g/h / (60 minutes x 1.205 kg/m3) • Flow = 1.38 ls/m Air

If the prefix ‘s’ has been used, it refers to the American style.

Standard reference, American style

According to the ‘American’ definition the prefix ‘s’ in sccm, slm or scfh refers to ‘standard’ conditions, 101.325 kPa absolute (14.6959 psia) and temperature of 0°C (32°F).

Please be aware of the reference conditions when ordering an instrument. ‘Normal’ and ‘Standard’ can be relative to each customer.

Why is this important? Because mixing up these reference conditions causes an offset in what the customer expects to see by greater than 7%!

Learn more about the technologies of Bronkhorst and read more about the Mass Flow Theory

Table with the normal- and standard references, divided into European- and American style

Normal vs standard conditions

Chris King
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Anhydrous Ammonia Control for Nitrogen Oxides Reduction

As a technique to reduce the level of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) in boiler or furnace exhaust gases, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) has been around for years. SCR is a technology which converts Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) with the aid of a catalyst into diatomic Nitrogen (N2) and Water (H2O). A reductant agent is injected into the exhaust stream through a special catalyst. A typical reductant used here is Anhydrous Ammonia (NH3).

A customer of Bronkhorst, who has been selling and servicing boilers and pumps for commercial and industrial applications for over 50 years, had been using a mass flow controller (MFC) which was not reliable and robust enough for the application and thus their customers were suffering from poor ammonia measurement and control.

Selective Catalytic Reduction example

Why use mass flow measurement in Ammonia Control?

Some NOx reduction systems are liquid ammonia based, and others are gas based ammonia. Whatever the state of the ammonia in the NOx reduction system Bronkhorst can offer accurate ammonia measurement and control. Systems in the field today are using the MASS-STREAM (gas), IN-FLOW (gas) and Mini CORI-FLOW (liquid) to accurately control the ammonia being injected into the exhaust gas stream so that proper reaction takes place without ammonia slip. Ammonia slip is when too much ammonia is added to the process and it is exhausted, un-reacted, from the system; effectively sending money out the exhaust stack.

There are very strict federal and state air quality regulations that specify the allowable level of NOx which can be released into the atmosphere and there can be very heavy fines if those levels are exceeded. The company needs to provide their customers with a reliable and robust solution. The application demands a robust and repeatable mass flow controller that is at home in industrial environments.

What kind of Mass Flow Meter or Controller can be used here?

In the NOx reduction system serviced by our customer the mass flow controllers are used to control the flow of anhydrous ammonia (ammonia in gas state) into the exhaust gas of a boiler or furnace where it is adsorbed onto a catalyst. The exhaust gas reacts with the catalyst and ammonia which converts the Nitrogen Oxides into Nitrogen and Water.

Bronkhorst recommended a mass flow controller – from the MASS-STREAM series - using the CTA (Constant Temperature Anemometer) technology which is ideal to avoid clogging in potentially polluted industrial gas applications.

MASS-STREAM mass flow meter

Let me explain a bit about the working principle of this kind of mass flow controller and why it is suitable for an application like this.

The CTA (Constant Temperature Anemometer) principle is essentially a straight tube with only two stainless steel probes (a heater and a temperature sensor) in the gas flow path. A constant temperature difference between the two probes is maintained with the power required to do so being proportional to the mass flow of the gas. This means the MASS-STREAM is less sensitive to dirt, humidity, or other contaminants in the gas, as compared to a by-pass type flow meter that relies on a perfect flow split between two paths. The thru-flow nature of the CTA technology is ideal to avoid clogging in potentially polluted industrial gas applications. The straight flow path and highly repeatable measurement and control capability, combined with the robust IP65 housing, allows the MASS-STREAM to thrive in tough applications.

  • Watch our video animation, explaining the functions and features of the Bronkhorst Mass Flow Meters and Controllers for gases using the CTA principle.
  • Check out the top 5 reasons why to use mass flow controllers with CTA measurement.
  • Want to stay up to date on new flow solutions? Would you like to receive every month the latest tips in your inbox?

James Walton
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Thermal mass flow instruments that make use of a bypass (capillary bypass or bypass sensor) are what most people have in mind when they think of thermal mass flow instruments. What are the differences?

In instruments based on the thermal principle, power is applied to heat the sensor tube. Accordingly the temperature of the tube is measured at two points. With no flow measured, the temperature differential between the two points will be zero.

When the flow increases, the temperature at the first measuring point will decrease, as fluid carries away the heat. At the same time the temperature at the second measuring point will increase as the fluid carries heat to it. More flow will result in a greater temperature differential and this temperature differential is proportional to the mass flow.

Another technology used to measure mass flow is CTA (Constant Temperature Anemometry). In a CTA (through flow, straight tube) instrument there are two measurement “probes” inserted into a straight tube flow path. The first “probe” both heats and measures the temperature of the fluid, as the second “probe” measures the temperature of the fluid.

Again, as the gas flow increases the gas will carry heat from the first measuring point to the second one. In a CTA, however, the power is varied to keep the temperature between the two measuring points constant, and it is this power level that is proportional to the mass flow.

Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages which generally are application specific.

A clean, dry gas application where higher accuracy is as important as repeatability, may be a better application for a bypass instrument like the Bronkhorst EL-FLOW series.

An application with a dirty or slightly moist gas, or where lower accuracy but high repeatability and robustness is required, may be a better application for a CTA instrument like the Bronkhorst MASS-STREAM™ series.

Curious about using a thermal Mass Flow Meter or Controller? Or the top 5 reasons why we use Mass Flow Meters with CTA measurement?.

For more information, please visit our website

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Nicolaus Dirscherl
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Following on our previous blog, ‘Top 5 reasons to use Mass Flow Meters (MFM) and controllers (MFC) with thermal inline CTA measurement’, we now focus on the measurement principle of these mass flow meters using inline CTA measurement (Constant Temperature Anemometry).

King’s Law and CTA meters

The working principle of these CTA flow meters and controllers is based on King’s Law. King’s Law can be attributed to L.V. King, who in 1914 published his famous King’s Law, mathematically describing heat transfer in flows. He used a heated wire immersed in a fluid to measure the mass velocity at a point in the flow. This can be described by the following formula:

  • P = P0 + C · Φmn
  • P: Heater power
  • P0: Heater power offset at zero flow
  • C: Constant (device-dependent)
  • Φm: Mass flow
  • n: dimensionless figure (type 0.5)

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Wheatstone bridge and CTA meters

According to King’s Law, the greater the velocity of the gas across the probes, the greater the cooling effect. The electronics are realized with a Wheatstone bridge, which is an electrical circuit used to measure an unknown electrical resistance by balancing two legs of a bridge circuit, one leg of which includes the unknown component. Its operation is similar to the original potentiometer.

The two probes of the CTA sensor act as the legs of the Wheatstone bridge and as the heater probe is cooled by the fluid, the resistance of the probe is decreased and more energy is required to maintain the temperature difference.
The CTA sensor is aiming to keep this temperature difference (delta-T) between the two probes at a constant level. The flow rate and the heater energy required to maintain this constant delta-T are proportional and thus indicate the mass flow of the gas. The actual mass flow rate is calculated by measuring the variable power required to maintain this constant temperature difference as the gas flows across the sensor.

Video explaining the operating principle of a Mass Flow Meter based on CTA measurement

Video explaining the operating principle of a Thermal Mass Flow Controller