Remember high school chemistry?  During your nap, the teacher taught the other students “The concentration of the hydrogen ion is a measure of the acidity or basicity of a solution.  We express the concentration of the hydrogen ion in terms of the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration.  This is called the pH of a solution.”  Guess what? Operators don’t need to know this to have good pH control!  If you have a system that is too complicated, re-think it or replace it. There are more options today than ever before.

What is it?  pH is the measure of the activity of Hydrogen ions in the solvent.  pH is “power of Hydrogen”.

Pure water has a pH of 7.  An acid has a pH less than 7.  A base (alkaline) has a pH greater than 7.

How a pH electrode works.  The glass in a pH electrode attracts hydrogen ions.  A simple explanation of what happens is that all of the positively charged hydrogen ions create a sizable positive charge around the electrode.  The reference electrode is in neutral pH so, between the two electrodes, there is a charge imbalance.   It is that charge imbalance that gets measured. Unlike chlorine analyzers that measure current, pH requires measuring voltage.  That requires a voltmeter.  Much of the operation of a pH analyzer is that of a voltmeter.

Three components of the pH sensor are designed with specific functions:

  1. The sensor body is built for chemical compatibility and mounting considerations.
  2. The glass bulb must be compatible with the process liquid, pH swing and temperature.
  3. The reference junction is chosen by size, thickness and quantity, based on the pH range, temperature, pressure, and aggressiveness of the process.

Sensor selection changes with the application.  For plating and wastewater applications, differential pH sensors generally last longer.  Old salt-bridge junctions can be replaced.

Pharmaceutical batch processes often require insertion-style sensors that can work at high temperatures for a short period of time.

Insertion style sensor

pH Control & Measurement is used in wastewater neutralization, process control, or drinking-water or waste-water permit compliance sensor selection is key.  We provide unique sensors for each of these three types of water:   Clean – Dirty – Aggressive Process.

  1. Clean Water Processes include: filtered water used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, power generation, food production, potable water, reverse osmosis for water filtration, boiler feed water and boiler condensate
  2. Dirty Water Applications are where sensors can be coated, but the electrode is unharmed. These include municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants, food manufacturers, and other industrial facilities. The coating may be sticky or a sludge.
  3. Aggressive Process Water includes parts wasting, plating, metal finishing, chemical production, and refineries. Often, these are hard coatings that crystallize on the sensor.

Here are some questions for pH sensor selection.

  1. How much chemistry will be added?
  2. Will the chemistry be monitored, blended, pumped, or a combination of the three (pH control)?
  3. What does the process look like? 

Good pH Control Consists of (1) a sensor that is chemically compatible with the process, (2) a strong output signal, (3) integral cable that uses proper shielding as recommended by the manufacturer, (4) a controller with easy-to-program functions and outputs required to activate a pump or output to a control system, (5) off-the-shelf replacement parts, (6) a reliable blending and chem feed system, (7) people you can talk to who want to make it work right the first time.

pH Control Sensor

pH Maintenance & Calibration

pH Analyzers should be calibrated at least monthly using two of three buffer solutions- pH 7, with 4 or 10.  (Every operator does this, right?)  When calibrating, note the efficiency/slope of the probe. Hopefully, it remains above 90%. If the efficiency drops below 90% there are three possible causes:

  1. The electrode is dirty and needs cleaning. In most cases, a soaking in vinegar for a few hours does the job. If there is a build-up, then, brushing the electrode with a soft brush should precede the soaking. If the build-up is from a biofilm, an oxidizing solution, such as bleach, will clean it up.
  2. The reference solution needs to be replaced. It costs only pennies for fresh reference solution – a good reason replace it at each calibration.
  3. Buffer solution is old or expired. Buffer solution that has been left open for more than a month is past its “expiration date.”

A simple pH loop is easier to install, maintain and troubleshoot.

Now that’s something we can understand!  Want to hear more of the story?

Contact: Murphy & Dickey, 630-655-1080.