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Pneumatics: A New Solution to Handling Frac Sand using Established Technology

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This article discusses the ability of pneumatic conveying to meet and exceed the needs of the frac sand and proppant conveying market.

 Dense Phase Conveyor by Nol-Tec

Demand for frac sand has never been higher and its use continues to grow. There are increasing requirements on sand quality and quantity, as well as growing concerns about workplace and environmental safety. These concerns, and the need to keep ownership costs low, are opening the door to new solutions to the challenges of conveying frac sand, resin coated sands, and ceramics. Mechanical conveying has been the “go to” process, but it’s time to take a look at a different, but firmly established, technology for frac sand conveying – pneumatics.

Nol-Tec Systems is an industry expert in dense phase pneumatic conveying, with over 30 years of experience in system design and installation. Nol-Tec specializes in working with challenging bulk materials, especially those that are particularly fragile, friable, or abrasive. Conveying industrial sand has been part of Nol-Tec’s expertise for many years. Currently, there are hundreds of Nol-Tec designed systems in the world that handle sand, using the confirmed success of dense phase pneumatic conveying.


Material Characteristics

There are many different types of sand having a variety of characteristics. However, the most common sand (silica) is approximately 100 lbs/cubic ft. and is a round, granular particle. The material is neither cohesive (sticks to itself) nor adhesive (sticks to environment). Most importantly, sand is highly abrasive which can lead to accelerated component wear if subjected to the right conditions (i.e. sand blasting).


Nol-Tec’s Approach

A dense phase pressure system is the most common design approach by Nol-Tec to convey sand. Dense phase pressure utilizes low volume, high pressure air to move the material, unlike dilute phase pressure conveying, which utilizes high volume, low pressure. Dense phase systems steadily move the product in the convey line at a controlled velocity. These lower velocities lead to reduced system component wear and a high level of product integrity. 


Nol-Tec’s Sand Systems – Quick Hitter Facts

Here’s a brief example of the range of system types that Nol-Tec has designed over the years:

  • Oldest installed sand system – 30 years (1984) – foundry silica sand truck fill system
  • Highest temperature sand system – 500º F (2006) – power generation sand and ash system
  • Heaviest sand handled – 149 lbs/cubic ft. (2001, 2004) – fiberglass facility blending system
  • Highest capacity sand system – 50 ton/hr (2014) – frac sand facility dense conveying system
  • Lowest capacity sand system – 200 lbs/hr (2002) – foundry dense phase transfer system
  • Longest sand convey run – 1,200 ft. (2001); glass facility dense phase transfer system
  • Highest moisture content in sand convey system – 100% saturated


Industries Served

Nol-Tec has been involved in several different industries and processes handling sand. Among them include:

  • Building products – truck unload, dense phase pressure, blending, and weighing/batching
  • Fiberglass – railcar unload, blending, dust collection and dense phase pressure
  • Foundry – truck fill and unload, dense phase pressure (over 50 systems in foundry industry alone)
  • Frac sand – dense phase pressure


Confirmed Successes

Nol-Tec’s extensive testing methodology, as well as countless hours of field experience, has proven that our systems can tackle the challenges of conveying frac sand with pneumatics. To learn more about the advantages of pneumatic conveying offers over mechanical conveying, please be sure to see our FAQs: Frac Sand Conveying.

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This article was authored by Mitch Lund and Michael Thiel of the Technical Services Group, Nol-Tec Systems in Lino Lakes, MN. For more information, please contact Nol-Tec or our frac sand conveying page.