The effect of gas on multi-stage mixed-flow centrifugal pumps
The production from an oil reservoir is a mixture of liquids (oil and water) and gas, and is often maintained by using a pump placed in the well to ensure a continuous flow to the surface. Electrical Submersible Pumps consist of stacked centrifugal pump stages, each comprising a bladed impeller (rotating part) and diffuser (stationary part). In multiphase conditions, the gas tends to accumulate in the impeller, severely reducing the pressure produced by the pump. Radial-flow pumps operate in a plane perpendicular to their rotation axis, while mixed-flow pumps are characterised by a lower meridional angle (generally 40 to 80 degrees), and are generally better at handling gas-liquid mixtures. We first describe the impact of gas on the whole pumping system, from the reservoir to the storage facility, and give context to the subject. The available literature shows that the size of the gas bubbles present in the fluid is critical to the pump performance. A transparent, full-scale pump was built in order to explore the flow features in single and multiphase flows. Laser Doppler Velocimetry and high speed imaging in single phase flow showed a high turbulence level in the wake of the impeller blades, and recirculation cells at low flow rates. In gas-liquid conditions, we demonstrated that the bubble size varies within a pump stage, as break-up occurs at the impeller tip, and coalescence is dominant in the diffuser, especially because of recirculation. The first impeller acted as a mixer, and at moderate to high gas fractions (10 to 30%), the flow patterns at the stage level alternated between bubbly and radially separated flows. Finally, a dispersed-gas model was developed to predict the pressure rise in a mixed-flow pump impeller under gas-liquid conditions. This model based on the forces acting on a single spherical gas bubble, was implemented with a simplified, parametric representation of the flow field in a mixed-flow impeller. In the meridional direction, the Coriolis force opposes the centrifugal force and the adverse pressure gradient. Both forces tend to retain the gas bubble within the impeller. The relative magnitude of the drag force strongly depends on the maximal bubble diameter, which was determined as a function of the flow conditions and used to calculate the gas velocity through the impeller. This method resulted in a better agreement with the experimental data than a one-dimensional two-fluid model where the gas phase follows the same path as the liquid. We used the dispersed-gas model to give quantitative evidence that low blade and meridional angles reduce the gas accumulation and the associated performance degradation.