Cavitation - Chemical Engineering Applications

Chemical Engineering Applications

In industry, cavitation is often used to homogenize, or mix and break down, suspended particles in a colloidal liquid compound such as paint mixtures or milk. Many industrial mixing machines are based upon this design principle. It is usually achieved through impeller design or by forcing the mixture through an annular opening that has a narrow entrance orifice with a much larger exit orifice. In the latter case, the drastic decrease in pressure as the liquid accelerates into a larger volume induces cavitation. This method can be controlled with hydraulic devices that control inlet orifice size, allowing for dynamic adjustment during the process, or modification for different substances. The surface of this type of mixing valve, against which surface the cavitation bubbles are driven causing their implosion, undergoes tremendous mechanical and thermal localized stress; they are therefore often constructed of super-hard or tough materials such as stainless steel, Stellite, or even polycrystalline diamond (PCD).

Cavitating water purification devices have also been designed, in which the extreme conditions of cavitation can break down pollutants and organic molecules. Spectral analysis of light emitted in sonochemical reactions reveal chemical and plasma-based mechanisms of energy transfer. The light emitted from cavitation bubbles is termed sonoluminescence.

Hydrophobic chemicals are attracted underwater by cavitation as the pressure difference between the bubbles and the liquid water forces them to join together. This effect may assist in protein folding.

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