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Direct Mass Flow Meter: Coriolis versus Thermal Mass Flow Meters

by | on | in Measurement and Control of Natural Gas | 0 Comments

As part of our continuing series on gas flow meters, here we discuss those meters that directly measure mass flow, specifically Coriolis, and thermal mass flow meters.

Direct Mass Flowmeters

In our post, Natural Gas Flow Meter Types we mention that gas flow is computed as mass flow from volumetric meters, velocity meters, and inferential meters. A mass flow meter directly measures the mass of gas passing through the meter, so there are no computations, nor extra equipment, such as pressure and temperature devices, needed to determine mass flow.

There are two direct mass flow meters worthy of discussion when measuring gas.

  1. Coriolis flow meters
  2. Thermal mass flow meters

Do you need a gas flow meter?


Coriolis flowmeters provide a direct mass flow measurement based upon the deflection force of the fluid moving through a vibrating tube; there is no need to compensate for temperature, pressure, and density.


These meters highly accurate, highly reliable with high turndown capabilities and are unaffected by flow profile, even down to very-low flow rates. They can measure a mixture of gases, unknown gases, and fluids moving between gas-liquid states. The meters are custody transfer approved. Once installed, the Coriolis flow meters require little maintenance as there are no moving parts. While historically, Coriolis flowmeters were used more for smaller (4" and less) lines, there have been significant strides from manufacturers now offering flowmeters for 6" and above lines.


Coriolis meters are costly to purchase and install, though they have a low cost of ownership over its lifespan. In larger line sizes, typically above 4" the costs become prohibitive. While they are very accurate for liquids, gas flow measurement can be challenging because of the gas' low density and may be unsuitable in applications of low flow, low pressure or where there is a pressure drop across the meter.

Thermal Mass Flow Meter

Sage Prime inline body thermal mass flow meterPictured here is the Sage Prime inline-style thermal mass flow meterThermal mass flow meters measure the mass flow based on heat transfer from a heated element. The meter injects heat into the gas stream and measures how quickly the warmth disperses, and this value is proportional to the mass flow. As the Coriolis meter, with mass flow measurement, additional pressure and temperature correction are not required. The thermal mass flow meter provides acceptable accuracy and repeatability and is easy to install.

With thermal mass flow measurement, there is the need for sufficient upstream and downstream straight run to achieve a fully developed flow profile. As a rule of thumb, a straight run distance of 20 upstream pipe diameters and ten downstream pipe diameters are needed (depending on the disturbances). Some manufacturers, such as Sage Metering sell flow conditioners to create a uniform flow profile when sufficient straight run is a challenge.


Among the advantages of the thermal mass flow meter is that they have a relatively low cost versus the Coriolis meter. They also have excellent low-flow sensitivity and can measure some gases that the Coriolis meter cannot because the gas density could be too low. Some applications thermal mass flow meters excel in include stack gas flow measurement, emission monitoring, and because the meters are available in insertion-style, by using multiple meters, the meter can handle large size pipes or ducts that become cost prohibitive for the Coriolis meters.


Of course, the thermal mass flow meter is not as accurate as the Coriolis meter, though some, like the Sage meter, can achieve an accuracy of +/- 0.5% of Full Scale +/- 1% of reading. The meter is not approved for custody transfer, and cannot measure steam flow. Lastly, the user must know the gas composition to measure the gas.

If you are looking of a gas flow meter, keep in mind, 4 Things to Consider Before Selecting a Gas Flow Meter Technology.

Blog posted from 12450 W Cedar Dr, Lakewood, CO 80228, USA View larger map
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About The Author

Tom is a former engineer for Xcel Energy, where he designed gas meter and regulator applications. He has also worked for mechanical contractors and engineering firms approving gas meters and regulators in various applications. He currently manages the Linc Energy Meter and Regular Department and is working on flare gas measurement.


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