How Does Specific Gravity Affect The Consistency of a Slurry?

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You will often hear the term “Specific Gravity” or “SG” associated with slurry. It is indeed a useful method of describing the slurry but it can also be very misleading if you don’t know the specific gravity of the solid and fully understand how it can affect the consistency of the slurry. SG also has a significant impact on centrifugal pump horsepower consumption, making it a critical part of pump motor sizing calculations.

Specific Gravity is quite simply the ratio of the weight of a substance to the weight of water. To establish a numerical value for any substance you take the weight of a known volume of the substance and divide it by the weight of water in that same volume. For example, the weight of one cubic foot of solid granite is 168 lbs, and the weight of water per cubic foot is 62.4 lbs. Granite’s SG is therefore 168/62.4 or 2.7. The graphic below illustrates the same calculation done using metric units with a sample size of one cubic meter.

As you can see the units of measure are irrelevant as long as they remain consistent and the sample volume for the substance in question is consistent with the sample size used for the baseline (water).

The phrase “solid granite” is underlined in an earlier paragraph. The key word here is solid. Materials that have air gaps come with a slight complication. If we look at the illustration below using sand or gravel made from granite the issue becomes clear.

Using simple math, dry sand made of granite appears to have a SG of 1.9, far different than the SG of 2.7 for solid granite.  The difference of course is the air gaps between the grains of sand. These gaps must be allowed for in any calculation and we use a term referred to as “bulk ratio” or “bulk density” to compensate.  (See a previous article for details on bulk ratio or bulk density.)

Fortunately, most slurry pumping applications do not contain entrained air. As such it is easy to measure the SG and use the value to help describe the type/consistency of the slurry. For example, if we were to take a plastic bucket filled with a sand slurry weighing in at 55 lbs and then fill the same bucket with water and find its weight is 41 lbs, then the SG of the sand slurry is 55/41 or 1.34.

In any given volume, the total weight of the suspended solid is the factor that yields the numerical SG.  Since this total weight is based on both the SG of the solid and the concentration of the solid, caution must be used when relying solely on the slurry SG to visualize the consistency of a given slurry.

For example; a heavy concentration of spruce wood pulp slurry would have an SG of less than one but could be thick enough to walk on. A light slurry of steel mill scale may have an SG of 1.3 but look like dirty water.

It is clear that the SG of a slurry is based on two factors, those being the SG of the solid and the volume or concentration of solids. As the example above illustrates it would be important to quote at least one of these two factors in conjunction with the SG value to provide a clear picture of the consistency of the slurry.

In addition to helping to describe a specific slurry, knowing the SG of a slurry is critical when sizing motors for centrifugal pumps. Fortunately, the math is super simple.  To establish the HP required on slurry just multiply the HP required on water by the SG of the slurry.

Enough for today.  Be sure to look for an upcoming article on the concentration of solids by weight or volume and how that relates to SG.