Gauge and Differential Pressure Transmitters as Level Sensors for Liquids

white oil tanks white gasoline tanks in sunlight row of the top of silver tanks

Gauge and differential pressure transmitters are reliable, cost effective instruments to measure the hydrostatic level of liquids, such as water or fuel, in vented or sealed tanks.

Illustration of vented tank with a gauge pressure transmitter measuring the level on P1 and venting to atmosphere through the cable

For a vented tank, the pressure transmitter should be mounted to the bottom. Typically, the transmitter will be threaded into the outlet line of the tank, a side bung, or flange. Since a pressure transmitter provides a linear output signal, e.g. 4 to 20mA signal from zero pressure to the full scale pressure, the level can be monitored based on the liquid density and the height of the tank. The actual shape of the tank is only needed when a customer uses the liquid level to calculate volume.

For Example:
Density of water at 4°C = 1
Height of tank = 35 feet = 420 inches
27.68 inches of water column = 1 PSI
(420 inches / 27.68 inches of water column) x density of 1 = 15.17 PSI

Here, the height of the tank is converted into a measurement range. Since the pressure cannot exceed the height of the tank while considering the density of the liquid, the user can measure the maximum amount of signal for the specified range.

Illustration of vented tank with a differential pressure transmitter measuring the level

The only difference between a gauge and differential pressure transmitter in this example is that the differential pressure transmitter will have P2 vent to the atmosphere, where the gauge pressure transmitter will typically have a tube within the cable to allow for changes to barometric pressure. The vent tube of the gauge pressure transmitter should be protected from humidity, especially if there are wide temperature changes between the liquid and atmosphere. This is typically accomplished by venting the sensor inside a control box that is protected with desiccant or by applying a desiccant filter to the end of the vent tube.

The selection of the output signal is always application specific. 4 to 20mA output signals are most common in monitoring applications that require long distance transmissions. The current can be read at the controller without signal loss for hundreds of feet. The downside is that the sensor will require more power and more importantly, current. For either battery powered or solar powered applications, voltage output signals are ideal. Typically, the solar panel will be located close the pressure sensor, so there is no signal loss caused by the resistance in cable.

Illustration of sealed tank with a differential pressure transmitter

Sealed tanks, such as LNG storage tanks, are required to be sealed from the atmosphere. Under this condition, a differential pressure transmitter should be used to calculate the difference in pressure between the top and the bottom of the tank. P1 of the differential would be installed at the bottom of the tank. A pipe connected to P2 would be connected to the top of the tank. When full, the differential pressure will be the maximum output signal. As the tank level is reduced, P2 will increase and the differential pressure will decrease along with the output signal.

Gauge Pressure Transmitters for Liquid Level

tank mount pressure transducer

The AST44LP Intrinsically Safe Low Pressure Transmitter can be installed externally to measure the level of a tank. The AST44LP series is Class I Division 1 intrinsically safe for Groups C and D with an approved barrier. With measurement ranges from 0 to 1 and up to 15 PSIG, this voltage or 4-20mA output signal pressure transmitter is a cost effective level measurement solution with a variety of configurations.

explosion proof transmitter

The AST46DS explosion proof pressure transmitter with a display operates on the same principles as the AST44LP. It is available in pressure from 1 PSI, but can be ordered in pressures up to 20,000 PSI and approved for explosion proof and non-incendive areas. The AST46DS is designed with a voltage or 4-20mA output signal. The voltage version can operate with a low supply voltage and offers the lowest current consumption of any product. The pressure sensor is available with 316L stainless steel as a standard as well as Inconel or Hastelloy C276 as options.

Differential Pressure Transmitters for Liquid Level

AST5100 differential pressure transmitter

The AST5100 Differential Pressure Transmitter is an excellent solution for low pressure differential measurements for external tank monitoring. With pressure ranges starting at 0 to 5 inches of water column, the AST5100 can be used to monitor the level of sealed and vented tanks; it also offers the accuracy and resolution to be installed on bubbler systems for level measurement.

AST5300 differential pressure transducer

The AST5300 Explosion Proof Differential Pressure Transmitter is manufactured for high line pressure and low differential pressure measurement applications. Featuring a 1500 PSI maximum line pressure, the AST5300 can be used in pressurized sealed tanks requiring accurate level measurement.

AST5400 differential pressure transducer

The AST5400 Differential Pressure Transducer can be used to monitor level in both sealed and vented tanks. Featuring AST’s new digital electronics, the AST5400 DP offers excellent performance at a competitive price for pressure ranges of 0-10 to 5,000 PSID with a 15 to 1 turndown ratio.

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