Bernoulli's Principle Revisited

September 30, 2014

One of the most popular posts I have written deals with the question of whether Bernoulli's Principle is behind the operation of hydromechanical grease interceptors, as some have argued.

The specific point I was making in that post (Is Bernoulli's Principle Behind Grease Interceptor Performance?) is that there is no evidence that deliberately adding baffles to the interior of an interceptor (to create regions of higher and lower pressure) enhances grease separation.

Gravity differential separation works best in a laminar low-velocity flow environment.

Attempting to enhance the natural separation of liquids with differing specific gravities by incorporating regions of higher and lower pressure by means of internal baffles, doesn't even make sense.

It would be like hooking your car up to a team of horses to add some "horsepower."

I guess technically the horses add horsepower, but do you really think the car is going to go faster!

So why am I writing about Bernoulli's principle again?

Because, there is a proper application of Bernoulli's Principle in grease interceptor design.

Lets begin with a couple of basic concepts in fluid hydraulics.

Liquids are generally non-compressible, which means you cannot change the volume of a liquid by adding pressure. 

The 'conservation of mass' principle requires every bit of mass (volume of liquid) to be accounted for during a process.

Think of a water hose with a spray nozzle attached.  As you close the nozzle the stream tightens up and goes farther.

The tighter the stream the higher the velocity (the speed at which the liquid is moving).

Since neither the mass nor the volume can change under steady-flow conditions, the velocity must change to allow the mass and volume of liquid to move from the larger area in the hose through the smaller area in the nozzle.

When I was a boy, my brothers and I discovered the awesome power of the tight stream from a hose nozzle which could clean dirt and mud from almost anything.

We often tried to clean each others faces off with this same technique - which invariably led to an opportunity to sit quietly for a while to contemplate our "actions".

I took contemplate to mean ponder all the ways to blame my brothers for the trouble we were in, while plotting appropriate avenues of revenge. 

Anyway, what does this have to do with grease interceptors?

The same is true in reverse!

Think of the nozzle as being the waste piping connecting to a grease interceptor.  The volume and mass of liquid is constant but the velocity changes as the liquid moves from the pipe through the interceptor.

Good interceptor designs will take the mass and volume of water and distribute it throughout the cross-sectional area of the interceptor to reduce the velocity - the speed at which the volume is moving through the interceptor - allowing for gravity differential separation (The real difference between Gravity and Hydromechanical grease interceptors).

Now it may be easier to understand why adding baffles inside the interceptor would not make sense.

The baffles add an obstacle inside of the interceptor that the liquid must flow around.  Velocity increases as the liquid moves around the edges of the baffles and while there is an associated pressure drop, the increase in speed and turbulence more than compensate for the pressure drop making it more difficult for gravity differential separation to occur.


If you promise not to get mad, I'll demonstrate the point by comparing several PDI certified 20 gpm units to Schier's GB-20:

Yes, the Schier GB-20 holds more water than the other units.  That's why we are looking at lbs per gallon to compare each interceptor's efficiency in capturing and storing grease.  It simply illustrates that the baffles in these PDI certified units do not enhance the interceptors performance.

The Schier unit has no internal baffles - it's wide open. It does a better job of distributing the volume of liquid throughout the units cross-sectional area which reduces velocity and enhances separation.

So now you can rest easy - feel free to even snore a bit - knowing that Bernoulli's principle does figure into good grease interceptor design - just not the way you might have thought.

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