Title:
SLUDGE REMOVAL SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A sludge removal system for removing contaminants from a fluid storage tank. The sludge removal system includes a contaminant intake for receiving contaminants within the tank and a removal member for transporting the contaminants from the contaminant intake to the outside of the tank. The contaminant intake prevents the layer of contaminants or sludge from reaching a predetermined level within the tank. The contaminant intake is formed to define a plurality of perforations that can receive contaminants from the storage tank. Portions of the contaminant intake are in communication with the removal member via joint members, such as flexible or swivel joints. The joint members permit the portions of the contaminant intake to rotationally move between a first position distal to the bottom of the tank and a second position proximate to the bottom of the tank.



Inventors:
Burris, Steven Y. (Charleston, SC, US)
Perry IV, Charles A. (Cleveland, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/419350
Publication Date:
01/04/2007
Filing Date:
05/19/2006
Assignee:
Fuel Delivery Systems, LLC (Cleveland, GA, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B31/04
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NIESZ, JASON KAROL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
TROUTMAN PEPPER HAMILTON SANDERS LLP (ATLANTA, GA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A contaminant removal device for a tank with fluid, the tank having a bottom, the contaminant removal device comprising: a contaminant intake adapted to receive contaminants within a fluid tank; and a removal member having a first end and a second end, wherein the first end of the removal member is in communication with the contaminant intake and the second end of the removal member is in communication with an outside of the tank, and wherein the removal member is adapted for transporting contaminants between the contaminant intake and the outside of the tank.

2. The contaminant removal device of claim 1, wherein the contaminant intake is further adapted to prevent a top level of contaminants at the bottom of the tank from reaching a predetermined level within the tank.

3. The contaminant removal device of claim 2, wherein the contaminant intake is formed to define a plurality of perforations adapted to receive contaminants within the fluid tank.

4. The contaminant removal device of claim 3, wherein the contaminant intake further comprises at least one joint member in communication with the removal member and at least one portion of the contaminant intake, wherein the at least one joint member is adapted to allow the at least one portion of the contaminant intake to rotationally move between a first position distal to the bottom of the tank and a second position proximate to the bottom of the tank.

5. The contaminant removal device of claim 4, wherein the at least one joint member is further adapted to allow the at least one portion of the contaminant intake to extend along a contour of the bottom of the tank.

6. The contaminant removal device of claim 4, wherein the at least one joint member is a flexible joint.

7. The contaminant removal device of claim 4, wherein the at least one joint member is a swivel joint.

8. The contaminant removal device of claim 4, wherein the at least one portion of the contaminant intake is generally parallel to the removal member when in the first position and generally perpendicular to the removal member when in the second position.

9. The contaminant removal device of claim 8, wherein the at least one portion of the contaminant intake is in the first position when inserted into an opening on top of the tank and wherein the at least one portion of the contaminant intake is in the second position when located near the bottom of the tank.

10. The contaminant removal device of claim 8, wherein the removal member is further adapted to pivot between a third position proximate to a first side of the tank, a fourth position proximate to the middle of the tank, and a fifth position proximate to a second side of the tank opposite the first side, thereby moving the contaminant intake between the first side of the tank, the middle of the tank, and the second side of the tank.

11. The contaminant removal device of claim 8, wherein the removal member is further adapted to rotate about a central axis, wherein the central axis of the removal member is generally perpendicular to the bottom of the tank, thereby spinning the contaminant intake in a circular pattern along the bottom of the tank.

12. The contaminant removal device of claim 8, wherein the contaminant intake further comprises a plurality of contaminant extensions adapted to receive contaminants within the fluid tank, wherein the plurality of contaminant extensions are generally perpendicular to the contaminant intake.

13. The contaminant removal device of claim 4, wherein the at least one portion of the contaminant intake comprises: an outer tube having a proximal first end and a distal second end, and having a hollow interior; and an inner tube having a proximal first end and a distal second end, the inner tube being telescopingly disposed within the outer tube, wherein the proximal first end of the inner tube slides from the proximal first end of the outer tube to the distal second end of the outer tube.

14. The contaminant removal device of claim 1, wherein the second end of the removal member comprises a coupling member adapted to connect a suction device to the removal member.

15. The contaminant removal device of claim 1, wherein the contaminant intake further comprises a plurality of scrapers adapted to scrape contaminants from the bottom of the tank.

16. A sludge removal device for a fluid tank, the tank having a bottom, the sludge removal device comprising: a sludge intake having a form to define a plurality of perforations adapted to receive sludge within a fluid tank; a stand pipe having a first end in communication with a middle of the sludge intake and a second end in communication with an outside of the tank, wherein the sludge intake is adapted to prevent a top level of sludge at the bottom of the tank from reaching a predetermined level within the tank and wherein the stand pipe is adapted for transporting sludge between the sludge intake and the outside of the tank.

17. The sludge removal device of claim 16, wherein the sludge intake further comprises: a first flexible joint in communication with the stand pipe and a first portion of the sludge intake; and a second flexible joint in communication with the stand pipe and a second portion of the sludge intake, wherein the first flexible joint is adapted to allow the first portion of the sludge intake to rotationally move between a first position generally perpendicular to the bottom of the tank and a second position generally parallel to the bottom of the tank and wherein the second flexible joint is adapted to allow the second portion of the sludge intake to rotationally move between a third position generally perpendicular to the bottom of the tank and a fourth position generally parallel to the bottom of the tank.

18. The sludge removal device of claim 17, wherein the first portion of the sludge intake is in the first position and the second portion of the sludge intake is in the third position when the sludge intake is inserted into an opening on top of the tank and wherein the first portion of the sludge intake is in the second position and the second portion of the sludge intake is in the fourth position when the sludge intake nears the bottom of the tank.

19. The sludge removal device of claim 16, wherein the second end of the stand pipe includes a quick connection coupling for attaching a pump.

20. A sludge removal device for a fluid tank, the tank having a bottom, the sludge removal device comprising: a sludge intake having a form to define a plurality of perforations adapted to receive sludge within a fluid tank, wherein the sludge intake is adapted to prevent a top level of sludge at the bottom of the tank from reaching a predetermined level within the tank; a stand pipe having a first end in communication with a middle of the sludge intake and a second end in communication with an outside of the tank, wherein the stand pipe is adapted for transporting sludge between the sludge intake and the outside of the tank; at least one flexible joint in communication with the stand pipe and at least one portion of the sludge intake, wherein the at least one flexible joint is adapted to allow the at least one portion of the sludge intake to rotationally move between a first position generally perpendicular to the bottom of the tank and a second position generally parallel to the bottom of the tank; and a pump in communication with the second end of the stand pipe, wherein the pump is adapted to provide suction for the removal of sludge from within the tank.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims priority of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/682,659, filed 19 May 2005, the entire contents of which is hereby incorporated by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates, generally, to a system for filtering fluid and removing sludge within a storage container, and, in particular, to a sludge removal system for filtering fuel and removing sludge within a fuel storage tank.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The process of storing fuel can include a variety of problems related to retaining fuel quality. Fuel is an organic compound that reacts with air, water, and microbiological growth. It has a relatively short shelf-life and can degrade over time. Thus, when fuel is stored, contaminants often settle out from the fuel. Contaminants more dense than the fuel generally fall to the bottom of the storage tank and are often referred to collectively as sludge.

In order to maximize the usable volume of a storage tank, the fuel pick-up tube is often placed within a few inches of the bottom of the tank to ensure that the contaminants that settle upon the bottom are not drawn into the fuel pick-up tube. Having the pick-up tube near the bottom of the tank is desirable, because it allows more fuel to be withdrawn from the tank before the need to refill the tank. For example, positioning the fuel pick-up tube near the bottom of the tank can be critical for emergency power systems that run for long periods of time without having the tank refueled.

Over time, the layer of contamination on the bottom of the tank can build upward towards the pick-up tube and, consequently, contaminated fuel can be drawn from the tank. Such a result can adversely affect an engine utilizing the fuel. Adverse effects can include clogged filters, scorched injectors, complete engine failure, and other engine problems. If the layer of contamination on the bottom of the tank continues to rise, then the pick-up tube can itself become clogged, thus preventing fuel from being drawn from the tank.

Other storage tank features can contribute to fuel contamination problems. For example, most storage tanks are vented to the atmosphere to relieve pressure build-up. Yet, such venting can introduce moisture and airborne microorganisms into the tank, which eventually make their way to the bottom of the tank due to condensation and gravity. Microorganisms can grow and reproduce in this environment by living in the water while feeding on the fuel. Over time, an interface layer, which can be made up of a stringy, black mass of sediments, can form between the fuel and the water residing at the bottom of the tank. Additional sediments also form on the tank bottom from byproducts of the microorganisms' biological processes. As a result, the pH of the accumulated water decreases providing a corrosive environment. If left unchecked, layers of water and sludge can accumulate on the bottom, and eventually rise upward toward the middle of the storage tank.

Many storage tanks also include a return fuel line through which unused fuel is discharged back into the tank. The problem of suspended sludge accumulating near the bottom of the tank is compounded when fuel is dumped back into the tank through this line, because of an increased introduction of moisture and microorganisms into the tank.

Today's expensive fuel equipment has little tolerance for such dirty, contaminated fuel. For example, the orifices on injectors have become smaller to make engines more fuel-efficient. Consequently, the potential for injection wear and other complications is greater when fuel is delivered from a contaminated source. Moreover, due to the present practice of introducing chemicals to the fuel through the cracking process (to increase yield), current fuel types are more dynamic, and will precipitate particles that link together to form additional sludge. The National Fire Protection Association recognizes the potential for problems associated with contaminated fuel and has provided a standard that “fuel system design shall provide for a supply of clean fuel to the prime mover.” NFPA Standard 110, 7.9.1.2.

Various attempts have been made for reducing the previously identified problems associated with stored fuel. Drains have been introduced at the bottom of small storage tanks to evacuate sludge build-up. Larger tanks, however, are not routinely equipped with such drain plugs, because the plugs are often a source for leaks caused by the pressure of the fuel. Additionally, it is not practical to drain tanks that are full of fuel. Further, underground storage tanks cannot be accessed for drainage.

Valves can be provided, but cannot be located on the bottom of the tank, because the fuel pressure would interfere with the integrity of the seals. Valves that are located a certain distance (e.g., three inches) off the bottom of the tank will not adequately drain contaminants and sludge residing below the valve.

Water and other contaminants can be pumped off the bottom through wands that are sent to the bottom of the tank through an opening on top of the tank. Most wands, however, remain stationary and will not remove the sludge from the other end of the tank because of the angle at which the tank is positioned.

Fuel storage tanks are typically inspected and periodically cleaned to remove the build-up of contaminants. In addition, biocides or biostats can be added to the tank to destroy or inhibit the growth of microorganisms. Finally, filters can be installed and periodically changed. Because of budget constraints and differing maintenance philosophies, however, such measures are not always taken.

What is needed is a sludge removal system that will effectively remove contaminants resting on the bottom of the tank, while ensuring that the level of contaminants does not reach a level that would interfere with the pick-up tube. It is to such a device that the present invention is primarily directed.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Briefly described, in preferred form, the present invention is a sludge removal system for removing contaminants from the bottom of a fluid storage tank. The sludge removal system includes a contaminant intake for receiving contaminants within the tank and a removal member for transporting the contaminants from the contaminant intake to the outside of the tank. More specifically, the contaminant intake prevents the layer of contaminants or sludge from reaching a predetermined level within the tank, such that the predetermined level is generally the lowest level within the storage tank that a pick-up line will draw fluid. By keeping the level of contaminants from reaching the predetermined level, the pick-up line will draw desirable clean fluid, such as fuel, from the storage tank. The term fuel as used herein will be understood to mean natural or synthetic fluids that yield heat through combustion, including, but not limited to, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, and heating oil.

The contaminant intake is formed to define a plurality of perforations that can receive contaminants from the storage tank. The perforations can thus be sized, shaped, and located to provide beneficial contaminant removal. Additionally, portions of the contaminant intake are in communication with the removal member via joint members, such as flexible or swivel joints. The joint members permit portions of the contaminant intake to rotatably move between a first position distal to the bottom of the tank and a second position proximate to the bottom of the tank. The contaminant intake is in the first position, or collapsed position, when the sludge removal system is introduced to, or removed from, an opening, generally at the top of the tank. As the contaminant intake nears the bottom of the tank, the contaminant intake moves to the second position, or extended position, such that the contaminant intake is generally parallel to the bottom of the tank during the removal of contaminants.

Depending upon the shape and size of the storage tank, the contaminant intake can remain stationary, include a plurality of extensions, be moved from one side of the tank to another, or be rotated in a circular pattern to maximize the covered surface area of the bottom of a tank where contaminants are removed.

In another embodiment of the present invention, the containment intake can include a plurality of joint members allowing portions of the contaminant intake to effectively extend along a contoured (or not-flat) bottom of the storage tank. Further, the contaminant intake can comprise a plurality of slideable subportions that permit telescoping retraction and extension of the contaminant intake. Moreover, the contaminant intake can comprise a number of scraping members that scrape contaminants from the bottom of the tank and direct contaminants towards the perforations of the contaminant intake. Also, each outwardly extending end of the contaminant intake can comprise a flange and a coupling end cap to maintain the pressure within the contaminant intake necessary for the removal of contaminants within the tank.

The removal member can further include a coupling member so that a suction device or other pressure differential system can be connected to the removal member to facilitate the transporting of contaminants from within the tank to outside the tank. By reversing the pressure of the suction device, air can be pumped through the removal member and the contaminant intake to clean the sludge removal system and stir up contaminants at the bottom of the tank. Accordingly, the sludge removal system removes the majority of contaminants located near the bottom of the tank and, thus, provides the pick-up line with cleaner fuel from the storage tank.

A principle object of the present invention is to provide an innovative sludge removal system designed for removing contaminants from the bottom of a fluid storage tank.

Another object of the present invention is to provide an innovative sludge removal system designed to be easily installed in current fluid storage tanks.

Still another object of the present invention is to provide a contaminant intake that is easily introduced and removed from an opening of the fluid storage tank.

It is another object of the present invention to provide a contaminant intake that removes contaminants from the bottom of the fluid storage tank and ensures that the top level of the contaminants does not reach a predetermined level generally designated as the lowest level that a pick-up line draws fluid from the fluid storage tank.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide an effective sludge removal system that adequately removes contaminants from a substantial surface area of the bottom of a fluid storage tank and is adaptable to tanks of varying sizes and shapes.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a contaminant intake that effectively extends along a contoured bottom of a fluid storage tank.

These and other objects, features and advantages of the present invention will become more apparent upon reading the following specification in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1 illustrates a front sectional view of a sludge removal system utilizing a cylindrical storage tank in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a front sectional view of the embodiment of FIG. 1, wherein a contaminant intake is in a collapsed position.

FIG. 3 illustrates a front sectional view of a sludge removal system utilizing a spherical storage tank in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 4 illustrates a perspective view of a sludge removal system utilizing a rectangular storage tank with a flat bottom, wherein a perforated contaminant intake can move from a first position to a second and third position in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 5 illustrates a perspective view of a sludge removal system utilizing a rectangular storage tank with a flat bottom, wherein a perforated contaminant intake can rotate from an axis in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 6 illustrates a perspective view of a sludge removal system utilizing a rectangular storage tank with a flat bottom, wherein a perforated contaminant intake has a plurality of extension members in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIGS. 7A-7B, collectively known as FIG. 7, illustrate a front sectional view of a perforated contaminant intake including at least one flexible joint in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIGS. 8A-8B, collectively known as FIG. 8, illustrate a front sectional view of a perforated contaminant intake including at least one swivel joint in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIGS. 9A-9B, collectively known as FIG. 9, illustrate a front sectional view of a telescoping perforated contaminant intake in an extended position and a retracted position in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 10 illustrates a front sectional view of a perforated contaminant intake including a number of scraping members in accordance with preferred embodiments of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Referring now in detail to the drawing figures, wherein like reference numerals represent like parts throughout the several views, a sludge removal system 100 of FIG. 1 is used in conjunction with a storage tank 121, such as a cylindrical storage tank. The sludge removal system 100 is designed for removing contaminants S, such as sludge, from within the storage tank 121. Storage tank 121 can include a pick-up tube 130 for drawing fluid F out of the storage tank 121. Additionally, pick-up tube 130 can be used as a fluid replenishment line 130 for returning unused fluid F back into the storage tank 121. In many cases, fluid F will be fuel, and thus fluid replenishment line 130 would be, for example, a fuel replenishment line 130. With reference to FIG. 1, the pick-up tube 130 is shown protruding from the top of the storage tank 121, but can be located at other convenient locations about the storage tank 121.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, contaminants S rise above the floor of the storage tank 121 to a level indicated at Y. Fluid F fills the tank 121 to a level indicated as X. As shown, the depth of contaminants S has not reached the height above the floor of the tank of the intake of the pick-up line 130 indicated at H.

The sludge removal system 100 comprises a contaminant removal system 140 and a contaminant retrieval system 150, such that the contaminant retrieval system 150 is adapted to receive contaminants S at the bottom of the storage tank 121 and the contaminant removal system 140 is adapted to transport contaminants S from the contaminant retrieval system 150 to the outside of the storage tank 121 for proper disposal of the removed contaminants S. Together, the contaminant removal system 140 and the contaminant retrieval system 150 ensure that a top level Y of contaminants S does not reach a predetermined level H, which represents the lowest level of fluid F that is drawn by pick-up tube 130.

The contaminant removal system 140 includes a first end in communication with the contaminant retrieval system 150 and a second end in communication with the outside of the storage tank 121. More specifically, the first end of the contaminant removal system 140 can be in communication with the middle of the contaminant retrieval system 150, which is positioned generally perpendicular to the contaminant removal system 140 during the removal of contaminants S from the storage tank 121.

In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the contaminant removal system 140 comprises a removal member 103, a cam lock 127, and a coupling member 124. The removal member 103 generally includes a hollow core to allow for the transport therethrough of contaminants S from the contaminant retrieval system 150 to the outside of the storage tank 121. The removal member 103 can be a stand pipe or tube that is formed using a variety of suitable, non-corrosive materials including, but not limited to, plastic, carbon steel, rubber, aluminum alloy, and other appropriate material. The length of the removal member 103 depends on the size of the storage tank 121, but has a length sufficient preferably to reach from just above the top of the storage tank 121 to the bottom of the storage tank 121 when aligned vertically.

The coupling member 124, such as a quick-connection coupling, and the cam lock 127 are typically situated near the second end of the removal member 103 (e.g., outside the storage tank 121). The coupling member 124 is adapted to communicate with a suction device (not shown), such as a pump, and suction hose (not shown), such that the suction device provides a negative pressure to the removal member 103 thereby transporting contaminants S from the inside to the outside of the storage tank 121, while the suction hose can be utilized for providing the contaminants S retrieved from the storage tank 121 to a remote storage (not shown) for proper disposal. Additionally, the coupling member 124 is further adapted to communicate with a contaminate filter (not shown) for filtering contaminants from fluid F withdrawn from the storage tank 121, so that the filtered and cleaned fluid F can be returned to the storage tank 121 through an independent return line, such as fluid replenishment line 130. The cam lock 127 is configured to provide security and anti-tampering protection to the sludge removal system 100 being used within the storage tank 121.

Preferably, the contaminant retrieval system 150 comprises a contaminant intake 106 adapted to receive contaminants S from the bottom of the storage tank 121. For example, and not limitation, the contaminant intake 106 can be a suction pipe or tube that is formed using a variety of suitable, non-corrosive materials including, but not limited to, plastic, carbon steel, rubber, aluminum alloy, and other appropriate material. The length of the contaminant intake 106 depends on the size of the storage tank 121, but generally has a length sufficient to reach from one side of the storage tank 121 to the opposing side of the storage tank 121 when aligned horizontally along the bottom of the tank 121.

The contaminant intake 106 can comprise a flange 115 and a coupling end cap 118 positioned at each end of the contaminant intake 106, such that the coupling end cap 118 provides a temporary end and/or thrust relief for the contaminant intake 106, while the flange 115 ensures that the coupling end cap 118 does not detach from the contaminant intake 106 during periods of intense pressure. The suction device connected to the coupling member 124 of the removal member 103 creates sufficient negative pressure for removal of contaminants S and, when flow is reversed, creates sufficient positive pressure for cleaning the removal member 103 and the contaminant intake 106. Accordingly, the flange 115 and coupling end cap 118 assist to keep the pressure within the contaminant intake 106 at an appropriate level.

Additionally, the contaminant intake 106 can include a plurality of joint members 112, such as flexible joints or swivel joints, that are, typically, in communication with the removal member 103 and a portion of the contaminant intake 106. Each joint member 112 is adapted to allow a portion of the contaminant intake 106 to rotationally move between a first position distal to the bottom of the tank 121 and a second position proximate to the bottom of the tank 121. As is described in more detail below, the joint members 112 permit the portions of the contaminant intake 106 to adjust positions when necessary to facilitate various stages of operation of the sludge removal system 100.

The contaminant intake 106 can further comprise a contaminant passage system 160, such that the contaminant passage system 160 is adapted to allow contaminants S to pass from the bottom of the storage tank 121 into the contaminant intake 106. For example, and not limitation, the contaminant passage system 160 comprises a plurality of perforations 109 that allow contaminants S to enter into the contaminant intake 106 from the bottom of the storage tank 121. More specifically, the contaminant intake 106 can be formed to define the plurality of perforations 109, such that the perforations 109 are evenly spaced near, and linearly aligned with, the bottom of the contaminant intake 106. One skilled in the art will recognize that the perforations 109 can be of uniform or varying sizes suitable for the reception of contaminants S, without departing from the scope of the present invention.

In operation, the removal member 103 and contaminant intake 106 are lowered into the storage tank 121 through an opening located at the top of the storage tank 121. The removal member 103 and contaminant intake 106 are submerged into fluid F and lowered into a layer of contaminants S located at the bottom of the storage tank 121. The top layer Y of the contaminants S is located below the top layer X of fluid F, but above the bottom of the storage tank 121. Top layer Y of contaminants S is defined as a varying distance AD above the bottom of the storage tank 121 and depends on various factors such as type, size, and shape of tank 121, as well as the concentration of contaminants located at the bottom of the tank 121.

The portions of the contaminant intake 106 are positioned generally parallel to the bottom of the tank 121 during the removal of contaminants S. As the suction device connected to the removal member 103 via coupling member 124 begins to create a negative pressure within the removal member 103, contaminants S are drawn through the plurality of perforations 109 and into the contaminant intake 106. The removal member 103 then transports the contaminants S from the contaminant intake 106 to the outside of the tank 121 for proper disposal. Accordingly, the removal member 103 and contaminant intake 106 prevent the top layer Y of contaminants S from reaching the bottom (e.g., intake) of the pick-up tube 130 and, therefore, ensures that clean fluid F is drawn from the storage tank 121 through pick-up tube 130.

Typically, the sludge removal system 100 continues to remove contaminants S from the storage tank 121 until the top level Y of the contaminants S is below the predetermined level H or until all contaminants S are substantially removed from the bottom of the storage tank 121. Further, the removal member 103 and the contaminant intake 106 can be cleaned and/or can stir-up the contaminants S on the bottom of the tank 121 by reversing the applied pressure, such as blowing air into removal member 103 via coupling member 124.

The sludge removal system 100 is designed to function temporarily or permanently within standard storage tanks 121. Accordingly, the joint members 112 of the contaminant intake 106, as illustrated in FIG. 2, allow the portions of the contaminant intake 106 to be positioned generally parallel to the removal member 103, so that the sludge removal system 100 can be configured in a collapsed position when introduced into, or removed from, an opening at the top of the storage tank 121. As the sludge removal system 100 is lowered into fluid F within the tank 121, the joint members 112 of the contaminant intake 106, as illustrated in FIG. 1, allow the portions of the contaminant intake 106 to be positioned generally perpendicular to the removal member 103 and generally parallel to the bottom of the tank 121, so that the sludge removal system 100 can be configured in an expanded position to cover more surface area at the bottom of the storage tank 121 during the removal of contaminants S.

Although, preferably, the present invention is configured for cylindrical storage tanks 121 having a horizontal alignment, many standard storage tanks 121 include a variety of other shapes and sizes. One skilled in the art will recognize that changes in size, shape, and/or arrangement of the removal member 103 and the contaminant intake 106 may be necessary for each individual storage tank 121. The sludge removal system 100 can be configured to adapt to the differing shapes and sizes of standard storage tanks 121, as illustrated in FIGS. 3-6.

Depending upon the size and shape of the storage tank 121, the portions of the contaminant intake 106 may not always be positioned generally parallel to the bottom of the storage tank 121. To facilitate the use of storage tanks 121 with non-flat bottoms, such as the spherical storage tank 121 illustrated in FIG. 3, the joint members 121 of the contaminant intake 106 are further adapted to allow the portions of the contaminant intake 106 to extend along a contour of the bottom of the tank 121. Such a configuration permits the sludge removal system 100 to remove contaminants S that do not gravitate to the exact bottom of the storage tank 121.

Storage tanks 121 comprising a flat bottom, such as the rectangular storage tank 121 illustrated in FIGS. 4-6, provide a significant surface area for the collection of contaminants S. Unlike spherical or cylindrical storage tanks 121, contaminants S do not generally gravitate to a single point or line along the bottom of a rectangular storage tank 121. To prevent the top layer Y of contaminants S from reaching a predetermined level H within the rectangular storage tank 121, contaminants S must be removed from an adequate surface area of the bottom of the storage tank 121.

In another embodiment of the present invention, the removal member 103 can pivot or tilt at the opening located at the top of the rectangular storage tank 121. As the second end of the removal member 103 pivots in one direction, the first end of the removal member 103 moves in the opposite direction. FIG. 4 illustrates that as the removal member 103 pivots, the contaminant intake 106 can move from a first position A located in the middle of the storage tank 121 to a second position B located near one side of the storage tank 121 and then to a third position C located near the opposite side of the storage tank 121.

As the contaminant intake 106 moves from the first, second, and third positions A, B, C, the contaminant intake 106 can remove a substantial amount of contaminants S located along the entire bottom of the tank 121. One skilled in the art will recognize that the removal member 103 can be inserted further into the storage tank 121 as it pivots from the first position A to the second or third position B, C, to maintain the contaminant intake 106 along the flat bottom of the tank 121.

In yet another embodiment of the present invention, the removal member 103 comprises a joint member (not shown) that is adapted to allow the lower portion of the removal member 103 to pivot or tilt and, consequently allows the contaminant intake 106 to move between a first position A located in the middle of the rectangular storage tank 121 to a second position B located near one side of the tank 121 and then to a third position C located near the opposite side of the tank 121. Accordingly, the second end of the removal member 103 remains stationary, while the first end of the removal member 103 in communication with the contaminant intake 106 moves between the first position A, second position B, and third position C.

In still another embodiment of the present invention, the removal member 103, as illustrated in FIG. 5, comprises a central axis 403 situated lengthwise (e.g., vertically) through the middle of the removal member 103. During operation of the sludge removal system 100, the removal member 103 rotates (e.g., clockwise or counter-clockwise) along the central axis 403, thereby spinning the contaminant intake 106 in a circular pattern along the bottom of the rectangular storage tank 121. The rotation by the removal member 103 enables the contaminant intake 106 to remove contaminants S from a significant surface area of the bottom of the storage tank 121.

In another embodiment of the present invention, the contaminant intake 106 remains stationary, instead of moving along the bottom of the rectangular storage tank 121. As illustrated in FIG. 6, the contaminant intake 106 comprises a number of extension members 606, such that a first end of each extension member 606 is in communication with the contaminant intake 106 and the second end of each extension member 606 is directed outwardly from the contaminant intake 106. More specifically, each extension member 606 is positioned generally perpendicular to the contaminant intake 106 and extends outwardly towards one of two opposing sides of the storage tank 121.

The extension members 606 are extensions of the contaminant intake 106 and, therefore, are adapted to receive contaminants S from within the storage tank 121. For example, and not limitation, each extension member 606 can be a suction pipe or tube adapted to receive contaminants S from within the storage tank 121.

Each extension member 606 can comprise a flange 115 and a coupling end cap 118 (similar to that of the contaminant intake 106), which is generally positioned at the second end of the extension member 606. Further, each extension member 606 can include a number of joint members 112, such as flexible joints or swivel joints, which are typically in communication with the contaminant intake 106 and the first end of the extension member 606. Each joint member 112 is adapted to allow the extension members 606, or portions thereof, to adjust positions when necessary to facilitate various stages of operation of the sludge removal system 100. For example, the joint members 112 allow the extension members 606 to extend along a contour of the bottom of the tank 121.

Similar to the contaminant intake 106, each extension member 606 can be formed to define a number of perforations 109, such that each perforation 109 is adapted to receive contaminants S from the storage tank 121. The length of the extension members 606 can vary depending on tank shape and size, but each extension member 606 is generally long enough to cover the distance between the contaminant intake 106, typically positioned at the middle of the tank 121, and one of two opposing sides of the storage tank 121. Accordingly, the extension members 606 enable the contaminant intake 106 to maximize the surface area of the bottom of the rectangular storage tank 121 where contaminants S can be adequately removed by contaminant intake 106.

For example, and not limitation, the contaminant intake 106 comprises a plurality of extension members 606, wherein a subset of the extension members 606 extend outwardly toward a first side of the storage tank 121 and a subset of extension members 606 extend outwardly toward a second side, opposite the first side, of the storage tank 121. Again, the contaminant intake 106 and the extension members 606 remain stationary during operation, because an adequate surface area of the bottom of the storage tank 121 is covered by the contaminant intake 106 and the extension members 606.

To further assist in the configuration of the sludge removal system 100, each portion of the contaminant intake 106 can vary in form, as illustrated in FIGS. 7-10. As described above, each portion of the contaminant intake 106 generally communicates with the removal member 103 through a joint member 112. The joint member 112 is adapted to allow the portion of the contaminant intake 106 to rotationally move between a first position generally parallel with the removal member 103 and a second position generally perpendicular to the removal member 103 (e.g., parallel with the bottom of the storage tank 121).

As illustrated in FIG. 7A, a flexible joint 112 permits the portion of the contaminant intake 106 to rotationally move, for example, between zero and 180°, such that the portion of the contaminant intake 106 can be in a collapsed position when inserted into or removed from the opening located on top of the storage tank 121 and in an extended position when the contaminant intake 106 nears the top layer Y of contaminants S at the bottom of the storage tank 121. The contaminant intake 106 is in the collapsed position when the contaminant intake 106 is positioned generally parallel to the removal member 103 and is in the extended position when the contaminant intake 106 is positioned generally perpendicular to the removal member 103. The extended position generally provides the contaminant intake 106 with the greatest surface area for the removal of contaminants S from the bottom of the tank 121.

As shown in FIG. 7B, the portion of the contaminant intake 106 can comprise a plurality of subportions 706 and flexible joints 112, such that a flexible joint 112 is generally positioned between each subportion 706 of the contaminant intake 106. Accordingly, a subportion 706 of the contaminant intake 106 is in communication with another subportion 706 of the contaminant intake 106 through a flexible joint 112. Each flexible joint 112 permits each subportion 706 of the contaminant intake 106 to rotationally move with respect to each other subportion 706 of the contaminant intake 106. More specifically, the flexible joints 112 permit the portion of the contaminant intake 106 to more effectively extend along a contoured bottom of the storage tank 121, thus providing better coverage of the surface area of the bottom of the storage tank 121 during the removal of contaminants S.

The flexible joints 112 are sealed to ensure that contaminants S pass efficiently between the portion of the contaminant intake 106 and the removal member 103, as well as to ensure that contaminants S pass efficiently between the subportions 706 of the portion of the contaminant intake 106 during operation.

Instead of a flexible joint 112, the present invention, as illustrated in FIGS. 8A-8B, can comprise a number of swivel joints 112 that perform similar functionality as described above with reference to FIGS. 7A-7B. Similarly, the portion of the contaminant intake 106 can comprise a plurality of subportions 706, separated by swivel joints 112, which promote greater flexibility of the portion of the contaminant intake 106. Such flexibility permits the contaminant intake 106 to better extend along the contours of the bottom of the storage tank 121 and permits the contaminant intake 106 to be arranged in various configurations to optimize the removal of contaminants S from the storage tank 121.

As illustrated in FIGS. 9A-9B, a portion of the contaminant intake 106 can comprise a plurality of slideable subportions 906, such that a first slideable subportion 906 includes an outer tube having a hollow interior that is adapted to telescopingly receive a second slideable subportion 906 including an inner tube having a hollow interior and a slightly smaller diameter than the first slideable subportion 906.

Each slideable subportion 906 comprises a proximal first end and a distal second end, where the proximal first end of the second slideable subportion 906 is adapted to slide from the proximal first end of the first slideable subportion 906 to the distal second end of the slideable subportion 906 (e.g., the extended position) and where the proximal first end of the second slideable subportion 906 is adapted to slide from the distal second end of the first slideable subportion 906 to the proximate first end of the slideable subportion 906 (e.g., the retracted position). One skilled in the art will recognize that each subsequent slideable subportion 906 must have a slightly smaller diameter than the previous slideable subportion 906 to effectively slide within the hollow interior of the previous slideable subportion 906. Additionally, when the telescoping perforated contaminant intake 106 is in the retracted position, the perforations 109 of each slideable subportion 906 align to ensure that the contaminant intake 106 adequately receives contaminants S from the storage tank 121.

In operation, the telescoping perforated contaminant intake 106 is in the retracted position when introduced into the storage tank 121. Upon reaching the contaminants S on the bottom of the tank 121, the slideable subportions 906 of the contaminant intake 106 slide outwardly until the contaminant intake 106 is in the extended position. Depending on the size of the storage tank 121 or the contour of the bottom of the storage tank 121, the telescoping perforated contaminant intake 106 may not be able to fully extend, but will extend as far as possible to adequately cover the bottom of the storage tank 121. One skilled in the art will recognize that the slideable subportions 906 of the contaminant intake 106 can be activated through a mechanical device, such as a hydraulic piston, or though the positive and negative pressure provided by the pump (not shown).

The contaminant intake 106 can further comprise a number of scraping members 1003, as illustrated in FIG. 10, that are adapted to scrape contaminants S from the bottom of the storage tank 121. When the contaminant intake 106 is moved along the bottom of the storage tank 121, the scraping members 1003 loosen the contaminants S stuck to the bottom of the storage tank 121 allowing the contaminant intake 106 to more easily receive contaminants S for removal.

Each scraping member 1003 is generally aligned with a perforation 109 of the contamination intake 106, thus each scraping member 1003 directs loosened contaminants S towards the perforation 109 during operation. The scraping members 1003 can include, but are not limited to, brushes, scrapers, wedges, blades, or other appropriate abrasive materials capable of loosening contaminants S attached to the bottom of the storage tank 121.

Numerous characteristics and advantages have been set forth in the foregoing description, together with details of structure and function. While the invention has been disclosed in several forms, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that many modifications, additions, and deletions, especially in matters of shape, size, and arrangement of parts, can be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention and its equivalents as set forth in the following claims. Therefore, other modifications or embodiments as may be suggested by the teachings herein are particularly reserved as they fall within the breadth and scope of the claims here appended.