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Ultrasonic flowmeter revenues expected to top $1.25 billion by 2027

Jan. 31, 2024
Flow Research found the oil and gas industry including refining accounted for more than 60% of worldwide revenues for inline ultrasonic flowmeters in 2022

The worldwide ultrasonic market is projected to grow at a 6.9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from worldwide revenues of $900 million in 2022 to $1.26 billion by 2027, according to a new research study, “The world market for ultrasonic flowmeters,” 7th edition, by Flow Research.

In the few decades since they were introduced, ultrasonic meters have gone from being mistrusted to being the fastest-growing flowmeter technology in the world. The oil and gas (O&G) industry is the largest consumer of ultrasonic flowmeters by far, and is responsible for much of their rapid adoption and growth. Flow Research found the O&G industry including refining accounted for more than 60% of worldwide revenues for inline ultrasonic flowmeters in 2022.

The study reports the role of ultrasonic flowmeters in the oil and gas industry depends heavily on oil prices, which were severely depressed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but recovered in 2021, and strengthened in 2022 to $80-100 per barrel before dropping to $70-80 for much of 2023. However, pent-up demand starting in 2022 kept O&G markets in recovery and growth mode throughout 2023, despite inflation and the impact of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Flow Research adds this period of growth in oil production favored the flowmeter market, especially ultrasonic, Coriolis, turbine, differential pressure and positive displacement meters.

New energy research frontiers

The study also found that ultrasonic suppliers are exploring ways to tackle issues that come with measuring oil and gas. These include measuring wet gas and overcoming the effects of contamination, flow disturbances from blockages in the line and buildup inside the pipe, lack of adequate straight run, and problems with costly false alarms. Many ultrasonic meters now incorporate innovative path arrangements, self-verification, enhanced diagnostics, and other features to provide greater accuracy, as well as a clearer and more timely view of what’s happening with meters in the field.

Ultrasonic meters also play a major role as the world shifts from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. They’re also being considered for increased use in the renewable energy market, which includes measuring biogas, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen derived from renewable natural gas (RNG) and synthetic fuels. In addition, hydrogen’s physical properties are different from other gases including natural gas, so flowmeter suppliers are adapting to those differences, and figuring out ways for ultrasonic meters to accurately measure hydrogen blends. In fact, some ultrasonic flowmeter manufacturers offer meters that measure hydrogen and are exploring how to best measure hydrogen and hydrogen blends.

“Ultrasonic flowmeters will play a pivotal role in flow measurement as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. Not only can they easily and accurately measure the flow of refined fuels and natural gas, but they are also in the vanguard when it comes to measuring hydrogen and natural gas with hydrogen blends,” says Dr. Jesse Yoder, president of Flow Research. “Natural gas remains a more environmentally friendly source of energy than coal and oil. Despite the attractiveness of renewable energy, it will take years to replace oil and natural gas, given the world’s growing need for energy. Whatever energy sources are chosen, ultrasonic flowmeters will be there to meet the measurement need.

Inline, clamp-on and insertion sub-markets

The overall ultrasonic flowmeter market is divided among three mounting types—inline (spoolpiece), clamp-on and insertion—which varying according to their performance and applications.

Inline flowmeters best fit custody-transfer applications. They have three or more paths, and are capable of high accuracy. Inline meters are mounted by cutting the pipe, and have a meter body that’s mounted inline with the pipe. Ultrasonic transducers that send signals across the pipe are mounted on the meter body. Ultrasonic meters measure the difference between the time it takes for the signal to travel across the pipe when traveling with the flow and against the flow, and use this difference to compute flowrate. Multipath inline meters can have from three to as many as 18 different paths. Much of the high accuracy and diagnostic capabilities of inline meters come from these multiple paths, while data from them is analyzed by advanced software.

Clamp-on meters have some important advantages, too. Their transducers are strapped onto the outside of a pipe, meaning they don’t interact with the fluid being measured. They’re also highly portable (though some are fixed), meaning they can be moved from one pipe measurement to another. This makes them ideal for check-metering applications. One disadvantage of clamp-on meters is that the pipe wall can attenuate the signal, causing a less accurate measurement. Due to this and other factors, clamp-on meters can’t achieve the same level of accuracy as most inline meters.

Insertion meters have transducers that are inserted into an existing pipe. This gives them an advantage over inline meters, since they eliminate the cost of a meter body. Insertion meters are widely used for flare and stack gas measurement. They provide an economical way to measure flow in large pipes, especially ones where an inline meter would be impractical. Their lower cost and ease of installation add to their versatility. Insertion ultrasonic meters are important at a time when end-users and regulatory bodies are paying more attention than ever to carbon dioxide emissions.

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.