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NASA Marshall Develops Faster Cheaper Fluid Flow Meter

The balanced flow meter is a new approach to regulating how much and how fast fluids move through a channel or pipe. Originally developed for the space shuttle program, the technology is being utilized by the gas and oil refining industries. Image credit: NASA/MSFC
by Staff Writers
Huntsville AL (SPX) Apr 5, 2006
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has patented a faster way to determine flow rates of liquids through channels or pipes. Marshall engineers said the device, called a balanced fluid-flow meter, provides 10 times the accuracy of standard orifice-based fluid-flow meters, resulting in significant cost-savings to industries such as gas and oil refinery.

"This technology can pay for itself in two weeks by reducing the amount of power needed to pump fluids through the meters and cutting the power costs to a company," said Anthony Kelley, a lead researcher with the center's Engineering Directorate.

The new approach to meter design improves on the older, standard orifice plates used extensively in refineries, chemical, power and pharmaceutical plants. Standard plates feature just one hole for fluid flow, but the balanced flow meter features multiple holes and requires less straight pipe to function.

"This is another outstanding example of our work with a variety of industries to move aerospace technology to the public and private sector, while supporting NASA's goal of improving life on Earth," said Sammy Nabors, with Marshall's Technology Transfer office.

Nabors said the technology should have a lasting positive impact in the gas and oil refinery industry, where it already is being used. The meter has no moving parts, making it more reliable, less likely to malfunction than older meters and less expensive to manufacture.

Other significant benefits include considerable noise reduction and the ability to be used in different systems without modifying the hardware. There are millions of standard orifice-plate installations worldwide, so replacement should not require major system overhauls.

Licensed in August 2003, the technology was developed by NASA and A+Flowtek of Kingwood, Texas, a small minority-owned business. It originally was designed for use in space shuttle main engines, where the liquid oxygen flow meter enabled better system monitoring.

Further development between NASA and A+Flowtek made this invention a viable, enabling technology in many commercial applications. Marshall's Technology Investment office conceived, created and tested the flow-meter technology as part of a NASA program to foster the development of emerging in-house technologies.

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