General Properties Of Loose And Granular Media

The physical properties of loose and granular media are important, both from the standpoint of the operation of the filtration device, but also from the standpoints of feeding and storing these materials in bins and silos. These considerations are equally important and quite pertinent to dry chemicals that are used as filtration aids (Chapter 3). In a general sense, loose solid matter is comprised of large numbers

The ratio of pmaJpmin can be as high as 1.52 depending on the material. Consequently, when bulk densities are reported it is important to note whether the value was determined under loose or tapped conditions, along with the mean particle size. Most literature values report an average bulk density that is representative of the material most often handled. Loose solids may be broadly characterized according to their bulk densities:

Light material Average Extra heavy pb < 600 kg/m3 600 <pb <2,000 kg/m3 pb > 2,000 kg/m3

of individual particles. The physical properties and forces of attraction which exist between individual particles have important effects on their flow behavior, as fluids flow around them, and in their stagnant states in bins and silos. With many materials there exists forces of attraction between individual and clusters of particles, and hence these materials are described as being cohesive, Ideal, loose solids have no forces of attraction between them. The properties of loose materials in contrast to fluids and composite solids are characterized by several parameters that must either be measured or known prior to specifying the equipment for handling them. The first of these parameters is the material's density, of which there are several related terms, namely bulk, particle and skeletal densities. The bulk density is the overall density of the loose material and includes the interparticle distance of separation. It is simply defined as the overall mass of the material per unit volume. A material's bulk density is sensitive to the particle size, the mean particle density, moisture content, and the interparticle separation distance (better known as the degree of solids packing or simply the packing density). It can be measured by simply pouring a weighed sample of the particles into a graduated cylinder, and from the volume occupied one determines the loose bulk density. By gently vibrating the container walls, the distance between particles decreases and hence, the volume decreases. The material thus becomes denser with time and its bulk density achieves some limiting value, pmax, known as the tapped or packed bulk density.

The loose bulk density (kg/m3) can be computed as:

where G,, G = weights of filled and empty cylinders, respectively V = internal volume of cylinder

Bulk density is related to particle density through the interparticle void fraction e in the sample.

The value of e varies between the limits of 0 and unity; however, many particles have a loosely poured voidage of approximately 0.4 to 0.45.

Particle density, pp, is the density of a particle including the pores or voids within the individual solids. It is defined as the weight of the particle divided by the volume occupied by the entire particle. Sometimes this is referred to as the material's apparent density.

The skeletal density, ps, also called the true density, is defined as the density of a single particle excluding the pores. That is, it is the density of the skeleton of the particle if the particle is porous. For nonporous materials, skeletal and particle densities are equivalent. For porous particles, skeletal densities are higher than the particle density.

Particle and skeletal densities are related through the following expression:

where pp = particle density ps = skeletal density pf = density of fluid within the pores of the solid £ = pore volume per unit mass of solids

When the particle pores are saturated with solids, £pf is negligible and the expression simplifies to the following:

Another property of importance is the pore volume. It can be measured indirectly from the adsorption and/or desorption isotherms of equilibrium quantities of gas absorbed or desorbed over a range of relative pressures. Pore volume can also be measured by mercury intrusion techniques, whereby a hydrostatic pressure is used to force mercury into the pores to generate a plot of penetration volume versus pres- sure. Since the size of the pore openings is related to the pressure, mercury intrusion techniques provide information on the pore size distribution and the total pore volume.

Moisture can significantly affect loose materials, particularly their flowability. Low temperatures, particle bridging, and caking can alter interparticle void fractions and cause dramatic changes in bulk density. Moisture becomes bound to solids because of mechanical, physicochemical, and chemical mechanisms. Moisture retained between particles and on their surfaces is strictly a mechanical mechanism. Physicochemical binding results when moisture penetrates inside particle pores because of diffusion and adsorption onto pore walls. Chemically bound moisture appears as hydrated or crystalline structures. The terms moisture or moisture content is used to denote the degree of liquid retained on and in solids.

Moisture is defined as the ratio of the fluid's weight retained by solids to the weight of the wet material:

W = (Gw - Gd)/Gw where Gw and Gd are the weights of the wet and absolute dry material, respectively. Moisture content, Wc, is the ratio of the moisture weight to the weight of absolute fry material:

Values of W and Wc can be expressed either as fractions or percentages. The presence of moisture tends to increase the relationship between moisture content and the density of loose or lump materials as follows:

For dusty and powdery materials:

where pm, p = densities of wet and dry loose materials, respectively pp = particle density pf = density of liquid filling the solid particle pores

In addition to the physical properties just described there are those properties which affect the flowability of the material. Specifically, these properties are the material's angle of repose, angle of internal friction, and the angle of slide.

The angle of repose is defined as the angle between a line of repose of loose material and a horizontal plane. Its value depends on the magnitude of friction and adhesion between particles and determines the mobility of loose solids, which is a critical parameter in designing conical discharge and feeding nozzles and in establishing vessel geometries. In all cases the slopes of such nozzles should exceed the angle of repose.

Materials can be roughly categorized according to their angle of repose as follow:

The angle of repose is the measured angle between a horizontal plane and the top of a pile of solids. The poured angle of repose is obtained when a pile of solids is formed, whereas the drained angle results when solids are drained from a bin. Figure 3 distinguishes between the two terms signifying the angle of repose. For monosized particles or particles with a relatively narrow particle size distribution, the drained and poured angles of repose are approximately the same. If however, the solids have a broad particle size distribution, then the drained angle can be higher than the poured angle. In general the lower the angle of repose, the more free flowing the material is.

Free Flowing Granules

Free Flowing Granules

Fair to Passable Flow of Powders

Cohesive Powders






Figure 3. Shows angle of repose for granular solids.



Figure 4. Illustrates angle of internal friction.

The angle of repose is sensitive to the conditions of the supporting surface; the smoother the surface, the smaller the angle. The angle may also be reduced by vibrating the supporting surface.

When handling slow moving materials having large angles of repose, well-designed, bunkers and hoppers are provided with highly polished internal surfaces and low amplitude vibrators. The angle is also sensitive to moisture. Specifically, moisture tends to increase the angle of repose. The variation of p with moisture content is likely due to the surface layer of moisture that surrounds each particle and surface tension effects which bind aggregates of solids together.

The angle of internal friction, a, is defined as the equilibrium angle between flowing particles and bulk or stationary solids in a bin. Figure 4 illustrates the definition. The angle of internal friction is greater than the angle of repose.

The angle of slide is defined as the angle from the horizontal of an inclined surface on which an amount of material will slide downward due to the influence of gravity. This angle is important in the sizing and operation of chutes and hoppers as well as pneumatic conveying systems. It provides a measure of the relative adhesiveness of a dry material to a dissimilar surface. This angle depends on the type or nature of solids, the physical and surface properties of equipment (e.g., roughness, cleanliness, dryness), the surface configuration (e.g., the degree of curvature), the manner in which solids are placed onto surfaces, and the rate of change of the slope of the surface during measurements.

Table 7 provides some literature reported measurements of the properties discussed for common filter media and aids as loose materials. You might try an experiment and measure the various angles. In developing your data base, obtain the measurements in triplicate, and calculate a standard deviation for each angle measurement.

Table 7. Physico-Mechanical Properties of Loose Materials


Angle of Repose (degress)

Friction Coefficient


Outside on Steel

Phosphate powder





Calcium chloride





Carbamide (powdered)





Superphosphate (granulated)





Superphosphate (powdered)















Sand (fine)





Coal (fine)





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