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Detecting and Controlling Water in


Marianne Duncanson, ExxonMobil
Tags: water in oil, oil analysis, contamination control
Moisture is considered a chemical contaminant when suspended or mixed with lubricating oils. It
presents a combination of chemical and physical problems for the lubricant and machinery,
respectively. The potential problems, states of existence and methods for measuring moisture
are discussed here.
Effects of Water on Equipment and Lubricants
The effects of water are insidious. Failure due to water contamination may be catastrophic, but it
may not be immediate. Many failures blamed on lubricants are truly caused by excess water.
The following are some of the effects of water on equipment:
horter component life due to rust and corrosion
!ater etching"erosion and vaporous cavitation
#ydrogen embrittlement
$xidation of bearing babbitt
!ear caused by loss of oil film or hard water deposits
Rust and Corrosion
!ater attac%s iron and steel surfaces to produce iron oxides. !ater teams up with acid in the oil
and corrodes ferrous and nonferrous metals. &ust particles are abrasive. 'brasion exposes
fresh metal which corrodes more easily in the presence of water and acid.
Water Etching
!ater etching can be found on bearing surfaces and raceways. It is primarily caused by
generation of hydrogen sulfide and sulfuric acid from water(induced lubricant degradation.
)rosion occurs when free water flashes onto hot metal surfaces and causes pitting.
Vaporous Cavitation
If the vapor pressure of water is reached in the low(pressure regions of a machine, such as the
suction line of a pump or the pre(load region of a *ournal bearing, the vapor bubbles expand.
hould the vapor bubble be subsequently exposed to sudden high pressure, such as in a pump
or the load +one of a *ournal bearing, the water vapor bubbles quic%ly contract ,implode- and
simultaneously condense bac% to the liquid phase. The water droplet impacts a small area of
the machine.s surface with great force in the form of a needle(li%e micro(*et, which causes
locali+ed surface fatigue and erosion. !ater contamination also increases the oil.s ability to
entrain air, thus increasing gaseous cavitation.
Hydrogen Embrittlement
#ydrogen embrittlement occurs when water invades microscopic crac%s in metal surfaces.
/nder extreme pressure, water decomposes into its components and releases hydrogen. This
explosive force forces the crac%s to become wider and deeper, leading to spalling.
ilm !trength Loss
&olling element bearings and the pitch line of a gear tooth are protected because oil viscosity
increases as pressure increases. !ater does not possess this property. Its viscosity remains
constant ,or drops slightly- as pressure increases. 's a result, water contamination increases
the li%elihood of contact fatigue ,spalling failure-.
The effects on lubricating oil can be equally harmful:
!ater accelerates oxidation of the oil
0epletes oxidation inhibitors and demulsifiers
May cause some additives to precipitate
1auses 2003 antiwear additive to destabili+e over 4567F
1ompetes with polar additives for metal surfaces
"a#imum Recommended Water Concentrations
$il, unless it is dried, contains some dissolved water. Figure 4 shows the amount of dissolved
water that can be found in I$ 886 paper machine oil and I$ 98 turbine lubricant before it
turns cloudy.
igure $% Dissolved Water as a unction of &emperature
in 'aper "achine Oil and &urbine Oil
Table 4 helps determine the relative life of mechanical equipment versus the amount of water in
the lubricant. To use the chart, estimate the current moisture level in the system along the y(
axis, move toward the right to the target moisture level. The top of the chart gives the estimate
of how much the life of the oil is extended. For example, by reducing moisture from 8,:66 ppm
to 4:; ppm, machine life is extended by a factor of :.
Life E#tension actor
ppm ( ) * + , - . / $0
:6,666 48,:66 ;,:66 <,:66 9,48: 8,:66 8,666 4,:66 4,666 =58
8:,666 ;,8:6 9,8:6 8,8:6 4,:;9 4,8:6 4,666 =:6 :66 9>4
46,666 8,:66 4,966 >66 ;8: :66 <66 966 866 4:;
:,666 4,8:6 ;:6 <:6 949 8:6 866 4:6 466 =5
8,:66 ;8: 98: 88: 4:; 48: 466 =: :6 9>
4,666 8:6 496 >6 ;9 :6 <6 96 86 4;
:66 48: ;: <: 94 8: 86 4: 46 5
8:6 ;9 99 89 4; 49 46 5 : <
466 8: 49 > ; : < 9 8 8
&able $% "oisture Life E#tension "ethod
&ests for Water in Oil
The guidelines in Table 4 help only if it is %nown how much water is in the oil. There are several
qualitative and quantitative tests to determine water content. The easiest one to perform is a
simple visual test. 'n I$ ;5 turbine lubricant was observed at room temperature with
controlled amounts of water. Table 8 shows the results of the test.
1mount of 2ater3
1ppearance of oil
6 ?right and clear
466 Trace of translucent ha+e
866 light translucent ha+e
8:6 Translucent ha+e
:66 $paque ha+e
$paque ha+e with slight water
drop out
&able (% Visual Chec4 of Water in &urbine Oil
?ear in mind that several factors can affect the cloudy or ha+y appearance of the oil. First, as
the oil sits, it will clear up and the oil may become supersaturated. econd, dye and dar%(color
oil can mas% cloudiness.
Visual Crac4le &est
' test that can be performed on(site is the crac%le test. It is a quic% control test that is performed
by heating the oil in a small metal pan using a ?unsen burner or hot plate. It is heated rapidly to
46671 and the technician listens carefully for the number of pops or crac%les. It is not run on
ha+y oil unless there is a doubt as to whether the ha+iness is caused by water or some other
@oria has copyrighted the following technique for running a visual crac%le test. #ere are the
instructions from the !eb site at
Maintain surface temperature on a hot plate of 9667F ,49:71-.
Aiolently agitate oil sample ,such as in a paint sha%er- to achieve homogenous
suspension of water in oil.
/sing a clean dropper, place a drop of oil on the hot plate.
If no crac%ling or vapor bubbles are produced after a few seconds, no free or emulsified water is
If very small bubbles ,6.: mm- are produced but disappear quic%ly, approximately 6.6: percent
to 6.4 percent water is present.
If bubbles approximately 8 mm are produced, gather to center of oil spot, enlarge to about <
mm, then disappear, approximately 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent water is present.
For moisture levels above 6.8 percent, bubbles may start out about 8 to 9 mm then grow to <
mm, with the process repeating once or twice. For even higher moisture levels, violent bubbling
and audible crac%ling may result.
The method is not quantitative. #ot plate temperatures above 9667F induce rapid scintillation
that may be undetectable. The method does not measure the presence of chemically dissolved
water. 0ifferent base stoc%s, viscosities and additives will exhibit varying results. 1ertain
synthetics, such as esters, may not produce scintillation. &efrigerants and other low boiling(
point suspensions may affect results. False positives are possible with entrained volatile
solvents and gases.
!earing protective eyewear and long sleeves is suggested, and the test should be performed in
a well(ventilated area.
Calcium Hydride &est
' convenient way to determine water concentration in the field is by using a calcium hydride test
%it ,Figure 8-. !ater reacts with solid calcium hydride to produce hydrogen gas, which is directly
proportional to the amount of water present in the sample. The water content of the sample is
measured by the increase in pressure in a sealed container. These test %its are reported to be
accurate down to :6 ppm free or emulsified water.
igure (% Calcium Hydride &est 5it
'll of the water must come into contact with the calcium hydride. Aiscous oils physically prevent
water from mixing with calcium hydride whereas polar additives chemically attract water
molecules to hold the water in solution.
On6line !ensors
There are several on(line sensors that measure water while equipment is operating ,Figure 9-.
igure )% On6line 7mpedance6type
"oisture !ensor
ome sensors measure the temperature and relative water saturation of petroleum and
synthetic fluids and fuels. ' probe senses water at a representative point of the system. The
devices change capacitance as water concentration increases and decreases. &esults are read
as percent water saturation. 'nother technology monitors the humidity in the sump or reservoir
headspace ,Figure <-. &elative humidity of the headspace air has been found to correlate to
lubricant moisture levels.
igure *% On6line Headspace
"oisture !ensor
?y monitoring water content below the saturation level, these units allow action to be ta%en prior
to the formation of free water, thus preventing problems such as additive depletion, oil oxidation,
corrosion and reduced lubricating film thic%ness.
Temperature changes affect saturation. 'n oil with 866 ppm water may be suitable for use at an
operating temperature of 4567F, but if the equipment cools down to ;67F, saturated water can
be released as potentially damaging free water. Testing the oil in(service and correcting for
temperature allows operators to discover and correct water problems before they reach the
stage where water drops out.
$ne drawbac% of saturation meters is that temperature, additives, contaminants and wear
particles affect saturation point. In addition, saturation meters are unable to quantify water
content accurately when water is above the saturation point, typically 866 to ;66 ppm for
industrial oils. 0espite these limitations, saturation meters can be a useful trending tool to
determine moisture, provided they are used frequently and routinely.
'nother sensor technology is based on the absorption of infrared light ,Figure :-.
igure +% !ingle6channel 7nfrared
"oisture !ensor
$ne channel measures the amount of water in the oil while the other is a reference channel.
The infrared absorption is determined from the difference between these two channels at the
target spectral band for water. This absorption, using a calibration curve, is used to estimate the
amount of water in the oil sample as traditionally presented in ppm or percent. 'ccording the
manufacturer, it will read concentrations to two percent water.
Buantitative tests for water include Carl Fischer, water by distillation and FTI&. Carl Fischer
,Figure ;- is accurate from 4 ppm to 466 percent and is relatively quic% and inexpensive. The oil
sample is titrated with a standard Carl Fischer reagent until an end(point is reached. The
difference in test methods is based on the amount of sample used for the test and the method
used to determine the titration end(point.
igure ,% Coulometric 5arl ischer
&itration 1naly8er
'TM 04=<<, a volumetric method, is reliable and precise, but there can be reproducibility
problems at low water concentrations ,866 ppm or less-. oaps, salts from wear debris and
sulfur(based additives react with the Carl Fischer and can give a false positive. In fact, a new,
clean, dry antiwear ,'!- or extreme pressure ,)3- oil may give a reading of as much as 866 to
966 ppm.
'TM 0;96<, a coulometric titration method ,Figure ;-, is more reliable than 04=<< at low
water concentrations and is less prone to interference effects, although again, '! and )3
additi+ed oils can show as much as 466 ppm of water.
The most reliable method is 'TM 0;96<. The oil sample is heated under a vacuum so that
any water present in the sample evaporates. !ater vapors are condensed and dissolved into
toluene, which is then titrated. ?ecause the additives and other interfering contaminants remain
in the oil, the condensed water in the toluene is a true indication of water present in the sample.
Water by Distillation
!ater by distillation measures the amount of water boiled off in a special still ,Figure =-.
igure -%
"ethod for
Figure 7. Distillation Method for
Determining Moisture Levels
The classic method for determining water(in(oil is the 0ean and tar% distillation method ,'TM
0>:-. This test method is fairly cumbersome and requires a comparatively large sample to
ensure accuracy, which is why it is rarely used in production(style oil analysis labs today.
's the oil is heated, any water present vapori+es. The water vapors are then condensed and
collected in a graduated collection tube, such that the volume of water produced by distillation
can be measured as a function of the total volume of oil used. It can detect between :66 ppm
and 8: percent water.
ourier &ransform 7nfrared
FTI& can be an effective method for screening samples containing in excess of 4,666 ppm of
water, provided a correct new oil baseline is available for spectral subtraction. #owever, due to
its limited precision and comparatively high detection limits, FTI& is not adequate in many
situations where precise water concentrations below 4,666 ppm or 6.4 percent are required.
Control of Water !ources
@ow that the amount of water in the oil has been determined, how does one control itD
First, control the source of water contamination. Following are common sources of water into
lubricating oil and suggestions on how to control them:
Manage new oil properly.
/se desiccant breathers or other tan% headspace protection.
'void shafts, fill ports and breathers when washing down machines.
'void high(pressure sprays around seals if possible.
Maintain steam and heating"cooling water system seals.
3eriodically inspect rotary steam *oints for lea%sE replace seals and"or correct alignment
as appropriateE install flinger flanges to direct steam away from labyrinth seals.
&epair heat exchanger lea%s.
3revent washdown water from entering vents and reservoir covers.
3roperly install and seal covers and hatches.
!atch for condensation caused by cold water lines located close to a hot reservoir.
Futter water to divert flow away from reservoir hatches.
Install secondary seals or A(rings on critical systems.
/se and maintain high(quality shaft and wiper seals.
3revent contamination from conden(sation by using a bladder(type breather on vents.
Install desiccant air breathers on vents
3revent water from entering new oil by storing drums indoors. If they must be stored
outdoors, %eep them in a shed or under a tarp, or store them on their sides.
Install a vapor extractor or fan to remove humidity from large reservoirs.
3eriodically drain water from low points in system.
Moisture can be an insidious problem for the equipment operator. !ith general precautions to
prevent contamination, and an appropriate understanding of the methods for and a plan to
detect the presence of moisture in mechanical systems, the deleterious effects of moisture can
be avoided. 1oupled with an effective moisture removal approach, lubricant and machine life
may be extended appreciably, providing the equipment operator with one more lever to use in
the pursuit of reliability.
Editor9s :ote;
This article was originally published in the Gubrication )xcellence 866: 1onference
3roceedings, @oria 1orporation.
Troyer, 0. HThe Aisual 1rac%le ( ' @ew Twist to an $ld Technique.I Practicing Oil Analysis
maga+ine, eptember($ctober 4>>5.