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Title:
MULLING DEVICE AND METHOD FOR TREATING BULK MATERIAL RELEASED FROM PORTABLE CONTAINERS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/160283
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
In accordance with presently disclosed embodiments, systems and methods for efficiently managing bulk material are provided. The disclosure is directed to systems and methods for efficiently combining additives into bulk material being transferred about a job site. The systems may include a support structure used to receive one or more portable containers of bulk material, and a mulling device disposed beneath the support structure to provide bulk material treatment capabilities. Specifically, the mulling device may facilitate mixing of coatings or other additives with bulk material that is released from the portable containers, as well as transfer of the mixture to an outlet location.

Inventors:
HUNTER, Timothy, Holiman (275919 East Co. Rd 1740, Duncan, OK, 73533, US)
LEWIS, Bryan, John (1205 S. 27th, Duncan, OK, 73533, US)
SURJAATMADJA, Jim, Basuki (1105 Timbercreek Drive, Duncan, OH, 73533, US)
Application Number:
US2016/022489
Publication Date:
September 21, 2017
Filing Date:
March 15, 2016
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INC. (3000 N. Sam Houston Parkway E, Houston, TX, 77032-3219, US)
International Classes:
B01F7/08; B01F3/12; B01F13/10; B62D63/08; B65D88/26; B65D90/12
Domestic Patent References:
WO2012017444A12012-02-09
Foreign References:
US5149192A1992-09-22
US20030159310A12003-08-28
US6491421B22002-12-10
US20040008571A12004-01-15
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CATE, Avery et al. (Baker Botts LLP, 910 Louisiana StreetHouston, TX, 77002, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A system, comprising:

a support structure for holding at least one portable container of bulk material at an elevated position; and

a mulling device disposed beneath the support structure, wherein the mulling device comprises:

an opening for receiving bulk material from the at least one portable container disposed on the support structure;

at least one inlet for introducing additives into the bulk material within the mulling device; and

at least one mulling component for mixing the additives with the bulk material; and

an outlet where the bulk material combined with the additives is discharged from the mulling device.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the support structure and the mulling device are integrated into a trailer unit.

3. The system of claim 1, further comprising a blender disposed adjacent to the mulling device, wherein the blender comprises a mixing compartment for mixing additional liquid additives into the bulk material to generate a treatment fluid.

4. The system of claim 3, wherein the support structure and the mulling device are positioned proximate the blender such that the mulling device outputs the bulk material combined with the additives directly into the mixing compartment of the blender.

5. The system of claim 1, further comprising a liquid additive pump integrated into the support structure or the mulling device and coupled to the at least one inlet of the mulling device.

6. The system of claim 1 , wherein the support structure comprises a positioning system for receiving and holding the at least one portable container at a specific location on the support structure.

7. The system of claim 1 , wherein the support structure comprises a flow regulation mechanism for controlling an amount of bulk material released from the at least one portable container.

8. The system of claim 1 , wherein the at least one mulling component is oriented horizontally.

9. The system of claim 1, wherein the mulling device comprises multiple inlets disposed at different longitudinal positions along the mulling device for introducing different additives. 10. The system of claim 1, wherein the at least one mulling component comprises at least one mulling screw having different patterns of threads or grooves at different longitudinal positions along the mulling device.

11. The system of claim 1 , wherein the at least one mulling component comprises two mulling screws with interlocking threads or grooves formed thereon.

12. The system of claim 1, wherein the mulling device comprises a shrouded section at an outlet end to enable operation of the mulling device as a progressive cavity pump.

13. A method, comprising :

feeding bulk material from one or more portable containers directly into a mulling device disposed beneath a support structure;

introducing additives into the mulling device;

combining the additives with the bulk material via the mulling device; and

transferring the bulk material combined with the additives to an outlet location via the mulling device.

14. The method of claim 13, further comprising outputting the bulk material combined with the additives directly from the mulling device into a hopper of a blender.

15. The method of claim 13, further comprising outputting the bulk material combined with the additives directly from the mulling device into a mixing compartment of a blender.

16. The method of claim 13, further comprising combining the additives with the bulk material via the mulling device to generate a treatment fluid, and outputting the treatment fluid from the mulling device directly to a pump.

17. The method of claim 13, wherein the additives comprise at least one additive selected from the group consisting of: a coating substance, a wetting substance, a gelling agent, a diverter, a friction reducer, and a surfactant.

18. The method of claim 13, further comprising combining a first additive with the bulk material at a first longitudinal location of the mulling device, and combining a second additive with the bulk material at a second longitudinal location of the mulling device.

19. The method of claim 13, further comprising regulating a flow of the bulk material from the one or more portable containers disposed on the support structure into the mulling device.

20. The method of claim 13, further comprising feeding the bulk material from the one or more portable containers into the mulling device via gravity.

Description:
MULLING DEVICE AND METHOD FOR TREATING BULK MATERIAL RELEASED

FROM PORTABLE CONTAINERS

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present disclosure relates generally to transferring and treating dry bulk materials and, more particularly, to a mulling device for treating bulk material released from portable containers.

BACKGROUND

During the drilling and completion of oil and gas wells, various wellbore treating fluids are used for a number of purposes. For example, high viscosity gels are used to create fractures in oil and gas bearing formations to increase production. High viscosity and high density gels are also used to maintain positive hydrostatic pressure in the well while limiting flow of well fluids into earth formations during installation of completion equipment. High viscosity fluids are used to flow sand into wells during gravel packing operations. The high viscosity fluids are normally produced by mixing dry powder and/or granular materials and agents with water at the well site as they are needed for the particular treatment. Systems for metering and mixing the various materials are normally portable, e.g., skid- or truck- mounted, since they are needed for only short periods of time at a well site.

The powder or granular treating material is normally transported to a well site in a commercial or common carrier tank truck. Once the tank truck and mixing system are at the well site, the dry powder material (bulk material) must be transferred or conveyed from the tank truck into a supply tank for metering into a blender as needed. The bulk material is usually transferred from the tank truck pneumatically. More specifically, the bulk material is blown pneumatically from the tank truck into an on-location storage/delivery system (e.g., silo). The storage/delivery system may then deliver the bulk material onto a conveyor or into a hopper, which meters the bulk material through a chute into a blender tub.

Recent developments in bulk material handling operations involve the use of portable containers for transporting dry material about a well location. The containers can be brought in on trucks, unloaded, stored on location, and manipulated about the well site when the material is needed. The containers are generally easier to manipulate on location than a large supply tank trailer. For certain wellbore treatments, it can be desirable to pre-mix additives (e.g., coatings, liquid additives) into the bulk material on location prior to the material being provided to a blender. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For a more complete understanding of the present disclosure and its features and advantages, reference is now made to the following description, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a schematic block diagram of a bulk material handling system having a mulling device suitable for treating and transferring bulk material from a portable container to a blender unit, in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure;

FIG. 2 is a schematic block diagram of a bulk material handling system having a mulling device suitable for treating and transferring bulk material from a portable container to a pump, in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure;

FIG. 3 is a schematic side view of a portable support structure having a mulling device used to treat and route bulk material to an output location, in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a mulling device that can be incorporated into a support structure, in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure; and

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of an outlet of the mulling device of FIG. 4, in accordance with an embodiment of the present disclosure.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Illustrative embodiments of the present disclosure are described in detail herein. In the interest of clarity, not all features of an actual implementation are described in this specification. It will of course be appreciated that in the development of any such actual embodiment, numerous implementation specific decisions must be made to achieve developers' specific goals, such as compliance with system related and business related constraints, which will vary from one implementation to another. Moreover, it will be appreciated that such a development effort might be complex and time consuming, but would nevertheless be a routine undertaking for those of ordinary skill in the art having the benefit of the present disclosure. Furthermore, in no way should the following examples be read to limit, or define, the scope of the disclosure.

Certain embodiments according to the present disclosure may be directed to systems and methods for efficiently managing bulk material (e.g., bulk solid or liquid material). Bulk material handling systems are used in a wide variety of contexts including, but not limited to, drilling and completion of oil and gas wells, concrete mixing applications, agriculture, and others. The disclosed embodiments are directed to systems and methods for efficiently combining additives into bulk material while transferring the bulk material about a job site. The systems may include a support structure used to receive one or more portable containers of bulk material, and a mulling device disposed beneath and coupled to the support structure to provide bulk material treatment capabilities. Specifically, the mulling device may facilitate mixing of coatings or other additives with bulk material that is released from the portable containers, as well as transfer of the mixture to an outlet location. The disclosed techniques may be used to efficiently handle any desirable bulk material having a solid or liquid constituency including, but not limited to, sand, proppant, get particulate, diverting agent, dry-gel particulate, and others.

In currently existing on-site bulk material handling applications, dry material (e.g., sand, proppant, gel particulate, or dry-gel particulate) may be used during the formation of treatment fluids. In such applications, the bulk material is often transferred between transportation units, storage tanks, blenders, and other on-site components via pneumatic transfer, sand screws, chutes, conveyor belts, and other components. Recently, a new method for transferring bulk material to a hydraulic fracturing site involves using portable containers to transport the bulk material. The containers can be brought in on trucks, unloaded, stored on location, and manipulated about the site when the material is needed. These containers generally include a discharge gate at the bottom that can be actuated to empty the material contents of the container at a desired time.

The disclosed material handling system provides an efficient method for transferring bulk material from these transportable containers and conditioning the material by mulling the bulk material with one or more additives before it is delivered to a blender, mixer, or pump. The material handling system may include a support structure designed to receive and hold at least one portable container of bulk material at an elevated position, and a mulling device disposed beneath and coupled to the support structure. The mulling device is used to combine the bulk material that is discharged from the removable containers with additives to coat or otherwise condition the material. The term "mulling" may refer to a process of mixing dry elements (e.g., dry bulk material) with a wetting substance or coating substance (semi-dry or semi-wet). The mulling device is also used to transfer the treated bulk material to an output location, such as into a blender or a pump. The mulling device and the support structure may be integrated into a trailer frame for easy mobility.

By incorporating a mulling device into the support structure, the disclosed material handling system may allow for conditioning of the bulk material (e.g., dry proppant) prior to wetting the bulk material in a mixing tub of a blender. This conditioning may include an application of coatings (e.g., SandWedgeTM, FinesWedgeTM, resin coatings, etc), gelling agents, diverters, friction reducers, surfactants, or other liquid additives to the bulk material. In some embodiments, the mulling device may facilitate all the conditioning/wetting of the bulk material used to generate a treatment fluid for use in a downhole environment. As a result, the treatment fluid may be output from the mulling device directly to a fluid pump, instead of a blender.

The disclosed support structure may provide an elevated location for one or more bulk material containers to be placed while the proppant (or any other bulk material used in fluid mixtures at a job site) is transferred from the containers to the mulling device. The support structure may elevate the bulk material containers to a sufficient height above the mulling device and a blender or pump inlet such that the bulk material can be routed from the containers directly through the mulling device and into the blender or pump inlet. This may eliminate the need for any subsequent pneumatic or mechanical conveyance of the bulk material (e.g., via a separate mechanical conveying system) from the containers to the blender or pump. This may improve the energy efficiency of bulk material handling operations at a job site. In addition, the combined support structure and mulling device may simplify the operation of transferring bulk material, reduce material spillage, and decrease dust generation.

Turning now to the drawings, FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a bulk material handling system 10. The system 10 includes a container 12 elevated on a portable support structure 14 and holding a quantity of bulk material (e.g., solid or liquid treating material). A mulling device 16 is disposed beneath and coupled to the support structure 14. The mulling device 16 may utilize one or more mulling screws (not shown) to combine bulk material from the container 12 with additives while advancing the bulk material toward an outlet 17.

In some embodiments, the portable support structure 14 may include a frame 18 for receiving and holding the container 12, and a gravity feed outlet 20 for directing bulk material away from the container 12. The outlet 20 may be coupled to and extending from the frame 18 to direct bulk material from the container 12 directly into the mulling device 16. The outlet 20 may utilize a gravity feed to provide a controlled, i.e. metered, flow of bulk material from the container 12 into the mulling device 16. In other embodiments, the support structure 14 may function just as a frame for receiving and supporting the container 12, and the container 12 may selectively dispense bulk material directly into the mulling device 16 via gravity.

Regardless of how the bulk material enters the mulling device 16, the mulling device 16 may combine the bulk material with one or more additives provided to the mulling device 16 while also transferring the combined mixture of bulk material and additives to another component positioned at the outlet 17 of the mulling device 16. The additives mixed into the bulk material via the mulling device 16 may include, for example, coatings (SandWedgeTM, FinesWedgeTM, resin coatings, etc.) other gelling agents, diverters, friction reducers, surfactants, or other liquid additives. In some embodiments, the mulling device 16 may be used to generate "liquid sand", which is a thick mixture of sand (bulk material) suspended in gel (additive).

In some embodiments, the system 10 may include one or more pumps 22 used to draw liquid additive from a fluid supply container 24 that is not directly supported with the support structure 14 and the mulling device 16. The pumps 22 may be integrated into the same structure as the support structure 14 and the mulling device 16. As those of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate, inlets for additives introduced into the mulling device may comprise more than the one input flow line illustrated in FIG. 1.

The mulling device 16 may provide a controlled, i.e. metered, flow of bulk material (combined with other additives) to another component disposed at the outlet 17 of the mulling device 16. In FIG. 1 , for example, the mulling device 16 may transfer the combination of bulk material and additives to a blender unit 26. Once the bulk material has been mulled, the mulling device 16 may discharge the bulk material combined with additives into the blender unit 26 to be further mixed with additional liquid to form a final treatment fluid or slurry.

In some embodiments, the blender unit 26 may include a hopper 28 and a mixer 30 (e.g., mixing compartment). The blender unit 26 may also include a metering mechanism 32 for providing a controlled, i.e. metered, flow of bulk material from the hopper 28 to the mixer 30. The metering mechanism 32 may be an auger or similar device that lifts the bulk material mixture from the hopper 28 into a relatively large mixer 30. In other embodiments, the blender unit 26 may not include the hopper 28. Instead, the system 10 may be designed such that the mulling device 16 provides bulk material directly into the mixer 30 of the blender unit 26. That way, the blender unit 26 does not require additional power for operating an auger or similar metering mechanism 32. This arrangement also reduces the amount of equipment on site, since the hopper 28 and metering mechanism 32 are not required. Further, providing the bulk material mixed with additives directly from the mulling device 16 to the mixer 30 may reduce or eliminate a source of dust on location from the hopper and elevated auger. In addition, transferring the bulk material with additives via horizontally oriented mulling screws is a more efficient use of energy than metering the bulk material upward into an elevated mixer.

Wetting substances such as water or other liquid additives may be supplied to the mixer 30 (e.g., mixing compartment) through a fluid inlet 34. As those of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate, the fluid inlet 34 may comprise more than the one input flow line illustrated in FIG. 1. The water or other liquid additives may be mixed with the already pre- combined bulk material/additives mixture to produce (at an outlet 36) a treatment fluid. This treatment fluid may include, for example, a fracing fluid, a mixture combining several types of proppant, proppant/dry-gel particulate mixture, sand/sand-diverting agents mixture, cement slurry, drilling mud, a mortar or concrete mixture, or any other fluid mixture for use on location. The outlet 36 may be coupled to a pump for delivering the treatment fluid to a desired location (e.g., a hydrocarbon recovery well) for a treating process.

As shown in FIG. 2, other embodiments of the disclosed system 10 may utilize the mulling device 16 to mix and transfer a combination of bulk material and additives directly to a pump 70. In such instances, the mulling device may introduce all the desired additives and a sufficient amount of liquid into the bulk material to form the final treatment fluid or slurry. Thus, the mulling device 16 may perform the functions that would otherwise be performed by a separate blender unit (e.g., 26 of FIG. 1). A mulling device 16 may output the process ready treatment fluid or slurry directly into the pump 70 (e.g., high pressure pump), which then pumps the treatment fluid to a desired location (e.g., a hydrocarbon recovery well) for a treating process.

It should be noted that the disclosed system 10 of FIGS. 1 and 2 may be used in other contexts as well. For example, the bulk material handling system 10 may be used in concrete mixing operations (e.g., at a construction site) to dispense aggregate from the container 12 through the mulling device 16 (adding other aggregate, coatings, or liquid additives) and into a final concrete mixing apparatus (mixer 30). In addition, the bulk material handling system 10 may be used in agriculture applications to dispense grain, feed, or seed from containers 12 into a mulling device 16 for combination with fertilizers, coatings, and/or other additives.

It should be noted that the disclosed container 12, support structure 14, and mulling device 16 of FIGS. 1 and 2 may be utilized to condition bulk material for use in a variety of treating processes. For example, the disclosed systems and methods may be utilized to provide proppant materials into fracture treatments performed on a hydrocarbon recovery well. In other embodiments, the disclosed techniques may be used to provide other materials (e.g., non-proppant) for diversions, conductor-frac applications, cement mixing, drilling mud mixing, and other fluid mixing applications.

As illustrated, the container 12 may be elevated above an outlet location via the support structure 14. The support structure 14 is designed to elevate the container 12 above the level of the mulling device 16 (and a blender/pump inlet) to allow the bulk material to gravity feed from the container 12 to the mulling device 16. This way, the container 12 is able to sit on the support structure 14 and output bulk material directly into the mulling device 16 via a gravity feed.

Although shown as supporting a single container 12, other embodiments of the support structure 14 may be configured to support multiple containers 12. The exact number of containers 12 that the support structure 14 can hold may depend on a combination of factors such as, for example, the volume, width, and weight of the containers 12 to be disposed thereon.

In any case, the container(s) 12 may be completely separable and transportable from the support structure 14, such that any container 12 may be selectively removed from the support structure 14 and replaced with another container 12. That way, once the bulk material from the container 12 runs low or empties, a new container 12 may be placed on the support structure 14 to maintain a steady flow of bulk material to the mulling device 16 and ultimately an outlet location. In some instances, the container 12 may be closed before being completely emptied, removed from the support structure 14, and replaced by a container 12 holding a different type of bulk material to be provided to the mulling device 16.

A portable bulk storage system 38 may be provided at the site for storing one or more additional containers 12 of bulk material to be positioned on the frame 18 of the support structure 14. The bulk material containers 12 may be transported to the desired location on a transportation unit (e.g., truck). The bulk storage system 38 may be the transportation unit itself or may be a skid, a pallet, or some other holding area. One or more containers 12 of bulk material may be transferred from the storage system 38 onto the support structure 14, as indicated by arrow 39. This transfer may be performed by lifting the container 12 via a hoisting mechanism, such as a forklift, a crane, or a specially designed container management device.

When the one or more containers 12 are positioned on the support structure 14, discharge gates on one or more of the containers 12 may be opened, allowing bulk material to flow from the containers 12 into the outlet 20 of the support structure 14 and/or directly into the mulling device 16. The mulling device 16 may then mix additives into the bulk material while transferring the mixture directly into a blender, pump, or other output device.

After one or more of the containers 12 on the support structure 14 are emptied, the empty container(s) 12 may be removed from the support structure 14 via a hoisting mechanism. In some embodiments, the one or more empty containers 12 may be positioned on another bulk storage system 38 (e.g., a transportation unit, a skid, a pallet, or some other holding area) until they can be removed from the site and/or refilled. In other embodiments, the one or more empty containers 12 may be positioned directly onto a transportation unit for transporting the empty containers 12 away from the site. It should be noted that the same transportation unit used to provide one or more filled containers 12 to the location may then be utilized to remove one or more empty containers 12 from the site.

The bulk material may be discharged from the container 12 by the force of gravity upon opening a discharge gate (not shown) on the container 12. The support structure 14 may include a flow regulating mechanism 40 to control or regulate the flow of bulk material from the container 12 into the mulling device 16. In some embodiments, the flow regulating mechanism may be incorporated into the gravity feed outlet 20 of the support structure 14. In the illustrated embodiment, the flow regulating mechanism 40 may include a metered hopper that controls the rate of bulk material being discharged from the container 12 directly into the mulling device 16. Other types of flow regulating mechanisms 40, such as a flow control valve, may be incorporated into the support structure 14 to facilitate controlled flow of bulk material into the mulling device 16. Incorporating the flow regulating mechanism 40 into the support structure 14 (as opposed to the container 12) allows the container 12 to be fairly simple to construct and operate. That way, the interchangeable containers 12 may be used to simply output bulk material by the force of gravity, while the support structure 14 includes more complex components to meter or automate the flow of bulk material from the containers 12.

The support structure 14 may include other features as well. For example, actuators

(not shown) may be disposed on the support structure and selectively controlled to actuate a discharge gate of the container 12 disposed on the support structure 14 between an open and closed position. In some embodiments, the support structure 14 may be equipped with sensing equipment and indicators (such as lights) for providing a visual indication of the presence, weight, or open/closed status of a container 12 disposed in a given location on the support structure 14. In the illustrated embodiment, the support structure 14 may include a positioning system for receiving the container 12 into a desired location on the support structure 14. The positioning system may include a plurality of alignment pins 42 (as shown), cradles, or any other desirable type of positioning system for ensuring that the container 12 is disposed in a correct position to deliver the bulk material contents of the container 12 to the mulling device 16.

FIG. 3 illustrates an embodiment of the material handling system 10 having the support structure 14 and the mulling device 16. The support structure 14 is generally disposed above and coupled directly to the mulling device 16. As shown, the support structure 14 and the mulling device 16 may be integrated into a specialized trailer unit 90. As mentioned above, the mulling device 16 may be used to combine multiple types of bulk materials (e.g., proppant), dry gel, surfactant, friction reducers, diverters, liquid additives, and other substances. Although not shown, one or more liquid additive pumps (e.g., 22 of FIGS. 1 and 2) may be added to the trailer unit 90 to draw fluid from separate fluid supply containers (e.g., 24 of FIGS. 1 and 2) into the mulling device 16.

In the illustrated embodiment, the support structure 14 may be designed to receive multiple containers 12. Specifically, the support structure 14 may include a frame sized to receive and support up to four portable containers 12. Although shown as supporting four containers 12, other embodiments of the support structure may be configured to support other numbers (e.g., 1 , 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, or more) of containers 12. The exact number of containers 12 that the support structure 14 can hold may depend on a combination of factors such as, for example, the volume, width, and weight of the containers 12 to be disposed thereon. The support structure 14 may include a flow regulating mechanism 40 (such as a flow control valve) corresponding to each container receiving position on the support structure 14. In addition, each container receiving position on the support structure 14 may feature alignment pins 42 or some other type of positioning system for receiving/positioning the containers 12 on the support structure 14. As mentioned above, the positioning systems may ensure that the containers 12 discharge bulk material directly into a corresponding flow regulating mechanism 40 and, ultimately, the mulling device 16.

The mulling device 16 may include one or more mulling screws 96, which are described in greater detail below. The mulling screws 96, as illustrated, are generally oriented horizontally. One or more containers 12 may discharge bulk material into the mulling device 16 from above, as shown by arrows 98. Rotation of the mulling screws 96 may combine bulk material received from the one or more containers 12 with additives that are pumped or otherwise introduced into the mulling device 16. In addition, rotation of the mulling screws 96 transfers the bulk material mixed with additives horizontally toward the outlet end 17 of the mulling device 16, as shown by arrow 100. The bulk material and additive mixture exits the mulling device 16 (at the outlet 17) and moves directly into an adjacent blender unit, pump, or other piece of equipment on location.

It should be noted that, in some embodiments, it may be desirable to combine multiple different types of bulk material together via the mulling device 16. To that end, one or more of the containers 12 may hold a first type of bulk material, while another one or more containers 12 hold a second type of bulk material. The flow regulating mechanisms 40 for the different containers 12 may be specifically controlled to output a desired ratio of the first type to the second type of bulk material into the mulling device 16. The mulling device 16 may then mix the two (or more) types of bulk material, along with any desired additives, for transfer and output to another component on location.

In the illustrated embodiment, the trailer unit 90 includes wheels 92 for enabling transportation of the connected support structure 14 and mulling device 16 to and from a desired location (e.g., well site). In the illustrated embodiment, a front end 94 of the trailer unit 90 may be designed to lift up and hook onto a trailer hitch of a transportation vehicle. Once the trailer unit 90 is transported to the site, the front end 94 may be lifted off the transportation vehicle and the trailer unit 90 may be lowered directly to the ground, without the use of a hoisting mechanism (e.g., forklift, crane, etc.). The support structure 14 and mulling device 16 may be integrated into other types of mobile trailer units 90 as well.

Having the support structure 14 and mulling device 16 integrated into a mobile trailer unit 90 may improve the reliability of the various components that make up the support structure 14 and increase the life of the unit. This is because shock from movement of the relatively large support structure/mulling device about a site can lead to undesirable operation of the support structure components. With the support structure 14 and mulling device 16 integrated into the trailer unit 90, the shock due to loading/unloading the support structure 14 and mulling device 16 is minimized.

In some embodiments, the trailer unit 90 may include an air suspension system or other components to reduce shock on the support structure 14 during transportation of the trailer unit 90 (e.g., traveling along a road). The suspension system may help to isolate the electronics and controls of the support structure 14 and/or mulling device 16 from shock loading during transportation of the support structure trailer unit 90 along the road.

FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrate a more detailed embodiment of the mulling device 16 that may be utilized in the disclosed bulk material handling system 10. It should be noted that the specific design of the mulling device 16 will depend on the type of bulk material that is being processed through the system as well as the amount of wetting liquid or liquid additive introduced into the mulling device.

The mulling device 16, as shown, may include an opening 130 at the top for receiving bulk material from one or more portable containers (12 of FIG. 3) disposed on the support structure (14 of FIG. 3). As shown, the upper opening 130 may be relatively large to accommodate a relatively heavy flow of bulk material discharged from the containers 12. The opening 130 provides access to a cavity 132 formed in the mulling device 16. In the illustrated embodiment, the cavity 132 is bounded by four side walls 134 and a bottom surface 136 of the mulling device 16. Bulk material may be dropped into the cavity 132 through the top opening 130 under a force of gravity, as shown by arrow 138.

The mulling device 16 may also include one or more inlets 140 for introducing additives into the mulling device 16. These inlets 140 may be formed in one or more side walls 134 of the mulling device 16 to route liquid or other additives into the cavity 132 (arrows 142) for mixing with the bulk material. In other embodiments, however, the inlets 140 for additive materials may be formed in the bottom surface 136 of the mulling device, or the additives may be discharged into the cavity 132 via the upper opening 130 similar to the bulk material. In still other embodiments, combinations of these entry methods may be used for introducing additives into the mulling device 16.

In the illustrated embodiment, the mulling device 16 utilizes a pair of mulling screws 96 to mull the bulk material with the additives to form a mixture. In other embodiments, different numbers or arrangements of mulling screws 96 may be used to condition the bulk material and transfer the bulk material/additive mixture to an outlet location. The mulling screws 96 may be specifically shaped to include interlocking threads or grooves 146 to pick up and mull the particles of bulk material that have been released into the cavity 132. The threads/grooves 146 may be any desirable thickness to accommodate the type of bulk material and additives being combined and transferred through the mulling device 16. The mulling screws 96 may work to massage the coating, liquid, resin, or other additives into the bulk material so that the additives cover the surface of every bulk material particle. That way, no large clumps of wet additive (or dry bulk material) will exit the mulling device 16.

At an outlet 150 or discharge end of the cavity 132, the mulling device 16 may include a shrouded section 152. The shrouded section 152 may include an elongated section of side wall 134 that the mulling screws 96 extend through to push the bulk material out of the cavity 132. This shrouded section 152 may enable the discharge end 150 of the mulling device 16 to function as a progressive cavity pump (or extruder). Bulk material that enters the shrouded section 152 through the grooves in the mulling screws 96 is forced into a compacted space and metered steadily through the outlet 150. A speed of the screws 96 may be controlled to meter the mixture of bulk material and additives out of the mulling device 16 at a desired rate.

The mulling screws 96 may be controlled to rotate in opposite directions (arrows 148) from one another so that the bulk material and liquid additives are effectively moved through and combined in the central region of the mulling device 16. The threads/grooves 146 on the mulling screws 96 may be oriented at a diagonal, as shown, so that as the mulling screws 96 rotate they push the bulk material/additive mixture toward the outlet 150 of the cavity 132.

In some embodiments, the mulling device 16 may be divided into multiple sections along its longitudinal axis. For example, the mulling device 16 may include multiple inlets 140 for introducing additives into the mulling device 16, the inlets 140 being disposed at different positions along the total length of the mulling device 16. This allows the mulling device 16 to mix different additives into the bulk material at different points as the bulk material is transferred through the mulling device 16 toward an outlet. In some embodiments, for example, a first inlet 140 (or pair of inlets 140) may introduce a first additive into the mulling device so that the mulling screws 96 mull the bulk material until it is coated in the first additive. At a further longitudinal position, a second inlet 140 (or pair of inlets 140) may introduce a second additive into the mulling device so that the mulling screws 96 mull the bulk material until a layer of the second additive forms over the first additive coating on the bulk material.

In other embodiments, different types of mulling screws 96 may be utilized at different longitudinal locations along the mulling device 16. For example, the mulling screws 96 may be designed with different patterns of threads/grooves 146 at the different longitudinal locations. In other embodiments, different longitudinal sections of the mulling device 16 may feature different numbers of mulling screws 96 used to mull the bulk material with the various additives.

In some embodiments, the mulling device 16 may be designed with a single cavity 132 extending the entire length of the mulling device 16. In other embodiments, the mulling device 16 may be divided into multiple longitudinal sections that each include a designated cavity 132 similar to the one illustrated in FIGS. 4 and 5. For example, the mulling device 16 used in the system of FIG. 3 may include four different cavities 132 formed therein, one beneath each of the portable container locations. The mulling screws 96 may extend through each of the cavities 132 along the length of the mulling device 16.

Other types, arrangements, and variations of components (e.g., cavity, opening, inlets, mulling screws, shrouded sections, etc.) may be utilized in the mulling device 16 to combine bulk material from the elevated portable containers 12 with fluid and other additives.

Although the present disclosure and its advantages have been described in detail, it should be understood that various changes, substitutions and alterations can be made herein without departing from the spirit and scope of the disclosure as defined by the following claims.