Volume: 04, Issue: 20 05/31/2006 
The balanced flow meter is a new approach to regulating how much and how fast fluids move through a channel or pipe. Image credit: NASA/MSFC.
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A gas pump.  Image credit: For The Future Organization.
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An oil refinery. Image credit: The Tribune India.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
New Space Observations Poised to Save Lives from Floods & Landslides
Hamming It Up: Space to Kids Radio
Repairs & Experiments Focus of June 1 Spacewalk
Summer Space Events

Could NASA Technology Lead to Cheaper Gas?

A balance flow meter was developed by NASA and A+Flowtek of Kingwood, Texas, a small, minority owned business, for the Space Shuttle Program. It was designed for possible use in the space shuttle main engines, where a liquid oxygen flow meter enables better system monitoring. The technology was licensed in August 2003. Providing 10 times the accuracy of standard orifice-based fluid flow meters, the balanced flow meter results in considerable cost-savings to industries such as gas and oil refinery.

According to Anthony Kelley, a lead research engineer in the integrated systems health management and sensors branch of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, “This technology can pay for itself in two weeks by reducing the amount of power needed to pump fluids through the meters and cutting the power costs to a company.”

By improving on the design of the older, standard orifice plates – meters that regulate how much and how fast fluids move through a channel or pipe – which are used extensively in refineries, chemical, power, and pharmaceutical plants, the new approach allows fluids to flow through multiple holes instead of just one hole and requires less straight pipe to function.

“This is another outstanding example of how NASA technology is bringing day-to-day benefits directly to industries on Earth,” said Sammy Nabors, commercialization lead in Marshall’s Technology Transfer Program Office.

The new technology is more reliable since it has none of the moving parts that are in other metering systems. It can also be transferred to different systems without modifying the existing hardware and is much quieter than the older versions. With successful commercialization, the millions of standard orifice plate installations worldwide will be replaced with balanced flow meter plates.

Marshall Center’s Technology Investment Program conceived, created, and tested the balanced flow meter technology. Engineering Programs and Systems Office manages and fosters the development of emerging in-house technologies.

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