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Vortex Breakers in Practice

By Jim Gregory and Katy Lentz, Fluor Corp. |

When vortex formation limits outflow from a tank, consider a disc-type vortex breaker Chemical engineers have long said that, while it is easy to get liquid into a tank, it can be difficult to get liquid out. Large line sizes or high-pressure pumps can fill tanks at any desired rate. Tank drainage rates, in contrast, are strictly limited by vortex formation. High-powered pumps cannot increase the drain rate because a vortex extends into the outlet nozzle and blocks the flow. The vortex is caused by the Coriolis effect. Coriolis forces and the resultant vortex formation are widely misunderstood because they are not well described in chemical engineering textbooks or other information sources. The Wikipedia entry for Coriolis force actually includes a Simpsons TV show episode as a reference. As a result, some explanation is in order. Coriolis force, like centrifugal force, is sometimes referred to as a “fictitious” or “pseudo” force. This does not mean these forces are in any way unreal. It just means that they derive from changes in our frame of reference, rather than from matter and energy, which give rise to forces like gravitation and electromagnetism. Coriolis force causes a moving object to deflect in the horizontal…
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