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SUPER-WATER is a chemical that is added to the water of an abrasivejet or waterjet to focus the cutting stream, increase cutting speed, and reduce wear of high pressure components. Traditionally it has been used with great benefit for high-pressure cleaning and water-only cutting applications.

Before getting too technical, you may want to read Interview with a SUPER-WATER user for a brief overview of what it might do for you.

Contents of this page

SUPER-WATER—A brief background

Written by W. Glenn Howells, Ph.D. Berkeley Chemical Research, Inc (the seller of SUPER-WATER). Edited by Carl Olsen

When Carl Olsen asked me to write what he described as an Executive Summary about SUPER-WATER, I immediately answered “Yes, that would be fine: I’ll be pleased to.” But later, after giving the idea more consideration, I thought to myself “No, Glenn—that’s not what you or your readers really want or need.” In the past, the term “Executive Summary” for me has meant writing an article for non-technical people in simplistic terms and hoping in some magical way that they’d cotton on to the technical subject I was describing. Consequently, I thought it would be preferable to write an article with the above title.

When, in 1974, I first developed SUPER-WATER for Chevron, USA. I was consulted as a chemist. Later, when the WaterJet Technology Association was founded at the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1983, I distinctly remember looking around at the founding members and realizing that I was the only one in the group with postgraduate training in chemistry. Most of the other co-founders were engineers of one type or another with a definite preponderance of mechanical engineers. Now looking back again, I realize that there are two very different aspects of waterjetting. One is the engineering side of the subject and this, in my estimation, has received the lion’s share of attention not only in terms of research—whether fundamental or applied—but with respect to commercial advancement.

But what of the other aspect, namely consideration of the very medium—water—which is used? Water is a chemical, but most often in our industry it is only regarded as a fluid which requires filtration, softening, treatment by reverse osmosis or other techniques which render it incapable of inflicting damage on the high pressure equipment. It might be considered by some as a necessary evil.

But, wait a minute. Water is a chemical, chemicals can be modified to better suit their applications, can be converted by chemical or physical reaction or interaction with other chemicals to totally alter their structure and behavior.

So this is the point at which I wish to start my description of SUPER-WATER.

Plain ordinary water can exist as ice, liquid or as a vapor. In the form of a vapor it is shapeless or in physical-chemical terms, it has no structure. As ice however it clearly possesses structure—in snowflakes this structure is exquisite.

But what of liquid water, does it have structure? Well, and this may be a surprise to those of us who have never given this consideration much or any thought—yes, it most definitely has well defined, and also in a sense, exquisite structure.

In these days of bioengineering and related specialties we hear of amino acids, proteins, RNA, DNA and so forth. What all of these compounds have in common is the capability of hydrogen bonding.

Even two adjacent molecules of water are joined together by a hydrogen bond and we needn’t trouble ourselves here to explain why that occurs. But just as in snowflakes this means that water has perhaps not shape, but certainly structure.

There is ample evidence that clusters of water molecules exist either in groups of three or six or more—especially if they are next to a waterwet surface.

The very reason that water is a liquid, while hydrogen sulfide is a gas is a direct result of hydrogen bonding.

The question that then obviously arises is how can we as waterjetters take advantage of this structure. Well, we do. But there are ways of increasing this structure.

Waterjets have an inherent property of losing their jet coherence shortly after leaving a nozzle. This happened in the original water cannons used in California to literally wash away hills and mountains to disclose and capture the gold, it occurs with fire hoses when fire fighting, and even with the ubiquitous garden hose.

So ideally we would like to offset this jet divergence. Certainly this would produce more efficient cutting. Instead of a diffuse water spray developing at close standoff distances we would like to have a uniform coherent jet possibly of infinite length.

And that is what SUPER-WATER gives. The jet is so coherent that it will remove the bark from a tree at a distance of 40-feet.

This vivid example of jet coherence in removing bark was carried out by Professor David A. Summers at the University of Missouri-Rolla.

This logically takes us back to 1983 where the WJTA was founded. Above, I mentioned looking around and seeing mostly engineers. But not all engineers are created equal and as I know very well most (no, not all) engineers know as little chemistry as I know engineering.

But there are at least two engineers who, as did I, realized that jet coherence was not entirely controlled by the mechanical engineering and design of nozzles. No, indeed there was another way. Alter the chemistry of the water.

Emeritus Professor Norman Franz of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada filed a patent in the early 1970’s for a polymeric chemical which when dissolved in water furnished a coherent jet.

Professor Franz’s work paralleled and preceded the studies conducted by me at Chevron USA—the internet wasn’t here back then!

Professor David Summers also conducted work with water-soluble polymers while doing his PhD studies at the University of Leeds, UK.

All three of us, independently, realized the unique advantages of polymer inclusion in the waterjetting system. However I feel confident in stating that Berkeley Chemical Research, Inc. has the most complete history of accomplishment with this technique.

SUPER-WATER not only increases cleaning efficiency by two to 50 times as reported by Chevron USA, but it yields similar advantages in cutting, drilling, and surface preparation. It performs equally well in air, under submerged conditions, and with or without abrasives whether introduced as a suspension or by the commonly used Venturi technique.

It more effectively and efficiently cuts a wide range of materials from soft foams to granite. Further details are posted on the internet in two review papers that I published in 1990 and 1999.

Interview and discussion with Dr. Howells

The following interview of Dr. Howells was conducted by Carl Olsen .

“Would you consider SUPER-WATER something mostly for water-only cutting and cleaning, or do you think there are big advantages to abrasive machining also?

Very definitely there are big advantages in all applications.

SUPER-WATER improves cleaning by two to 50 times. Similar improvements are achieved in drilling, cutting—with or without abrasives—and in air or under submerged conditions.

A presentation at the 2001 WJTA Conference (Minneapolis) entitled Reducing abrasive consumption by using SUPER-WATER for Venturi abrasivejet cutting by Howells & Imlay, gave comparisons of cutting one-inch (2.5 cm) thick materials with abrasive introduced by the Venturi technique when using 0.2% SUPER-WATER instead of plain water.

Compared to plain water use of SUPER-WATER, at the same cut speeds, substantially reduces abrasive consumption rates and decreases cut taper.

Edge cut quality is either maintained or improved depending upon the substrate.

The 25 to 30% reduction in abrasive consumption has economic importance especially when considered in conjunction with the 38% cost reduction in operating and maintaining intensifiers and the 31% reduction in horsepower requirement when using SUPER-WATER.

How do I inject SUPER-WATER into my system?

SUPER-WATER, as sold, is in the form of a water-in-oil emulsion. The internal water phase contains the polyacrylamide. In order to use the product, the emulsion has to be broken or—more exactly—inverted to an oil-in-water emulsion. This absolutely necessitates the use of specific types of injection systems which, placed after the filter, accurately meter the requisite amount of SUPER-WATER into the water stream.

(Filters also cause elongational shearing of macromolecules, leading to a reduction in molecular weight and a parallel reduction in effectiveness)

A brief description of the meaning of “elongational shearing” might be useful. In solution the macromolecular molecules of SUPER-WATER and their associated aggregates of water are coiled although they might adopt some measure of linearity under conditions of flow. During centrifugal pumping or in passage through filters the hydrogen-bonded aggregates of water would be “stripped away” exposing the carbon-carbon backbone. The backbone whilst being elongated would be readily accessible and shearing by carbon-carbon bond scission will occur.

The diluted SUPER-WATER then flows through a static mixer—in which complete and uniform emulsion inversion is ensured—to the main stream of the waterjetting fluid. Prior to use, SUPER-WATER requires five to six minutes to become fully hydrated. The active ingredients in SUPER-WATER are, as mentioned previously, macromolecular with a molecular weight ranging from 16 to 18 million, so the bonding of water molecules (or hydration) takes a finite time. This is because each monomeric unit of polyacrylic acids and of polyacrylamides bonds 13 to 14 molecules of water. Obviously, this aggregation of polymer and water cannot take place instantaneously because it must proceed by formation of sequential layers of the 13 to 14 water molecules.

The hydration can be achieved in either a holding tank or a length of low pressure tubing. Suitable lengths of tubing, calculated on the basis of Lombari’s work, are available from Berkeley Chemical Research, Inc.

The preferred injection systems are non-electrical proportional liquid dispensers available from DOSATRON INTERNATIONAL Inc., Clearwater, Florida, U.S.A. or Weber Lubrifiants, Sa., Rixheim, Cedex, France. These DOSATRON units are now used with SUPER-WATER in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.

What is the initial cost to install a “SUPER-WATER” system for abrasivejet cutting?

Note: The prices given are from the late 1990’s and are no longer accurate. They are given to provide a general idea of cost. Contact the distributor for current pricing.

The DOSATRON International Inc. DI 16 non-electric proportional liquid dispenser costs $320.00 FOB, Clearwater, Florida and the TAH model 050-62 ¾-inch FNPT 14-stage static mixer from Court and Thomas Wingert Company costs $85.00 FOB Hayward, California. With these one needs, for the hydration for six minutes at 70º F (21° C), a suitable length of garden hose—as used by Dr. Mohamed Hashish at Flow International and Mr. Renato Lombari at Soheil Mosun Ltd., Toronto, Canada—or a bank of polyvinyl chloride tubing as used by Mr. Vince Imlay of Waterjet Inc., Columbus, Indiana.

Mr. Imlay has already installed two such systems at other locations and consulted with the Biltrite Corporation, Ripley, Mississippi on installing a unit with which it has had very great success.

Mr. Jim Price, Industrial Manufacturing Manager of Biltrite Corporation, writes (17):

Dear Dr. Howells,

We very much appreciate your assistance in resolving our problems with our water jet cutters. Your recommendation that we use SUPER-WATER proved to be exactly what we needed.

“By using SUPER-WATER we were able to cut two layered sheets (three in some instances) instead of only single sheet: and without appreciable loss in cutting speed. This had the impact of at least doubling our output per machine hour.

“The quality of the cut product was also enhanced. For certain products, water spots from the untreated* city water represented a quality problem in that it adversely affected the adhesives used in subsequent processes at the customer level. SUPER-WATER eliminated this problem.

*”Untreated” in this context means without SUPER-WATER.

Mr. Imlay is now consulting for Procter and Gamble and Ingersoll Rand on the use of SUPER-WATER as well as on robotic control for various companies in the Mid West.

Both Messrs. Lombari and Imlay are using SUPER-WATER with abrasives and have expressed a willingness to talk with you. Mr. Lombari who directs abrasivejet cutting, which is carried out on a 24-hour a day basis, has reported the following materials are cut with 0.2% SUPER-WATER and Barton garnet:

  • 304 stainless steel
  • Duplex stainless steel
  • Aluminum 6061-T6
  • Titanium
  • Yellow brass
  • Clear float glass
  • Laminated glass
  • Slate
  • Blue tempered steel
  • Hot and cold rolled steel
  • Marble
  • Acrylic
  • Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene

What is the cost/hour of super water that is used when cutting?

This may be calculated for specific flow rates from knowledge that at 0.1% SUPER-WATER it costs 3.3 cents/gallon (after dilution by 1,000 times from the concentrated form in which it is sold) and at 0.3% SUPER-WATER it costs 10 cents/gallon (after dilution by 333 times from the concentrated form in which it is sold).

Thus if one were using 0.5 gpm at 0.3% it would cost: 10 cents x 0.5 x 60 = $3.00/ hour.

I notice that it reduced the maintenance on the intensifier by quite a bit. I guess it acts kind of like an additional lubricant of sorts. How does it improve the life of other components such as mixing tubes and jewels?

The reduction in maintenance and operating costs for an intensifier are shown below:

Lombari found that relative to plain water, SUPER-WATER:

  1. Improves the quality of cut: that is, no subsequent sanding is required saving $15,000 annually in labor costs.
  2. Increases cutting speed by 30% to 200% giving an estimated annual production increase of $420,000 in receivables.
  3. Reduces intensifier operating and maintenance costs by 38%. (From $11.12/hr in 1993 to $6.86/hr in 1996 is a reduction of $4.26/hr). The annual operating savings are $1,025.

Lombari (25) reports that for an annual expenditure of $200.00 for SUPER-WATER, Decoustics, Toronto, Canada achieves a return on investment (ROI) of 2,000 to 1. This application, which is for cutting fiberglass acoustic panels ranging from 1/8-inch (3.2-millimeters) to 4-inches (101.6-millimeters) thick, gives an unambiguous demonstration of the economic advantages of using SUPER-WATER in ultra-high pressure waterjet cutting.

You are correct that SUPER-WATER does act as a lubricant or friction reducer. Friction reduction, also known as drag reduction, is a very widely studied phenomenon. Dr. Jack W. Hoyt, Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California at San Diego spent his entire professional life studying and publishing on drag reduction. He determined, using a turbulent flow rheometer, that even at a concentration of 9 ppm (a concentration of 0.0009%) SUPER-WATER had a drag reduction of 20%. This was the most effective drag reducer Dr. Hoyt had ever examined.

Furthermore Zublin and Cobb reported that SUPER-WATER at 50 ppm (concentration of 0.005%) brought about a 54% drag reduction at a flow rate of 20 gpm through 7,175-feet (2.2 km) of 0.085-inch (2 mm) coiled tubing.

It is this drag reduction which is responsible for extending the lifetime of diamond nozzles by 2.8 to 6.0 times. These data were reported by the U.S. Shoe Company where Mr. Imlay was the first person to use SUPER-WATER in ultra-high pressure precision cutting.

I have no specific data on the extension in lifetime of mixing nozzles but am confident someone will report on this advantage in the future.

Q #6: What kind of increase in cutting speed can one expect when ABRASIVEJET machining ?

The following is taken from Ultra-high pressure precision jet cutting using SUPER-WATER” by W. G. Howells, Vincent L. Imlay, Renato Lombari and Daniel Weber. Published in Proceedings of the International Composites EXPO 99, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 10, 1999, and presented by Mr. Lombari.


In the interim, while awaiting ASJ commercial development, other methods of combining SUPER-WATER and abrasives are being used.

Venturi-inducted abrasive waterjetting (AWJ) is the current standard in the industry. Three separate phases exist in the AWJ process—one solid, one liquid and one gaseous. As pointed out previously this “standard” method suffers from having to bring about effective momentum exchange between a liquid and an abrasive in the presence of a gas phase.

However distinct improvements result when SUPER-WATER is used instead of plain water in the standard AWJ method.

  • For example SUPER-WATER, used with 100 grit copper slag as an abrasive, cuts laminated glass (13/16 inch thick) aluminum (¼ inch thick) and stainless steel (up to 1-inch in thickness) 20% faster than with copper slag/plain water. This higher production costs 90 cents/ hour for the SUPER-WATER.

Weber has determined that SUPER-WATER used in the “standard” Venturi abrasive technique provides a better quality of cut and a narrower kerf. It also substantially reduces abrasive consumption when cutting either 304 L stainless steel or aluminum.

  • 304 L stainless steel (10 millimeters thickness) can be cut at 143 mm/per minute with 80 mesh (Australian) Barton abrasive. (Pressure: 43,000 psi, fluid flow rate: 1.85 L/minute, nozzle diameter: 0.25 mm, stand-off: 4 mm). 16 Kg/hour of abrasive was used with 0.3% SUPER-WATER but plain water required 30 Kg/hour of abrasive. This 47% decrease in abrasive consumption was accompanied by a smaller kerf and better cut quality.
  • At WATERJET AB, Ronneby, SWEDEN, aluminum (thickness 25 mm) is cut at 67.5mm/minute with 80 mesh Quality GANEX. (Pressure: 50,400 psi, fluid flow rate: 1.80 L/minute, sapphire nozzle: 0.25 mm, focusing tube diameter: 1.05 mm, stand-off distance: 3 mm). 200/250 grams/minute of abrasive was used with 0.3% SUPER-WATER but plain water required 400/500 grams per minute.

This 50% decrease in abrasive consumption was accompanied by a better cut quality [21].

  • More recently Weber has reported that Carlosa SA, Wavre (near Neuchatel), Switzerland, more precisely drill Baccarat crystal with 120 mesh abrasive and SUPER-WATER than with abrasive and plain water at 43,000 psi and at a stand-off distance of 5 mm using a nozzle of 0.8 mm diameter.

What kind of improvement in surface finish, taper, or tolerance can be expected, if any, when abrasivejet machining? Does it reduce the kerf width abrasivejet cutting?

These questions are answered by the above quote from Ultra-high pressure precision jet cutting using SUPER-WATER” by W. G. Howells, Vincent L. Imlay, Renato Lombari and Daniel Weber. Published in Proceedings of the International Composites EXPO 99, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 10, 1999.

In addition. however. and this relates directly to a statement by you on your web site:

“For example, SUPER-WATER reduces the wetting of substrates (1), as would be expected from a jet in air characterized, as shown in Figure 1, by distinct coherence and an essential absence of spray.

This same figure is included on our web site as Figure 3.

(The diameters and lengths of the jets and nozzle housing shown in Figure 1 are 34% less than actual size. Thus the orifice container is 1.125-inches in diameter, the inset diamond nozzle has an internal diameter of 0.01-inch and the photographed length of both jets is actually 6.9-inches).

I am sure you will be interested to know that this photograph (by the late) Richard H. Hollinger—inventor in my mind of the first real*** abrasive suspension jet (ASJ)—shows a suspension of abrasive in SUPER-WATER. You will appreciate that a jet which can be focused out to 6.9 inches (and more actually) provides a far superior cut quality.

*** I refer to it in this way to differentiate it from the BHR Group’s abrasive slurry. Slurry from use in chemistry implies a level of instability in contrast to a suspension which has considerably more stability.

Comparison photo of Super-Water and plain water jets

Do you have a “Kit” that you supply, all ready to go, or do you need to do a lot of custom plumbing to install such a system? And how much space is required?

I don’t have a kit that I can supply. Certainly Vince Imlay could do so as he has already for others. The amount of space would depend on whether you wished to have it as a stand alone unit or installed on an adjacent wall. Vince could give you the full details on these points.

    Super Water Diagram

    Diagram of typical super-water installation

What kind of maintenance and upkeep is required by the user?

When I visited Mr. Lombari at Decoustics in Toronto, Canada where he conducted his work on acoustic fiber glass I posed that same question. Pointing to the DOSATRON unit, he commented essentially none. The unit was covered in cobwebs, which even if it didn’t present a totally wholesome sight certainly attested to its independence of operation.

What effects does the chemical have on the environment? Is it biodegradable or toxic?

This is a (very long) quote from my Houston paper, SUPER-WATER jetting applications from 1974 to 1999, Proceedings of the 10th American Waterjet Conference, August 14-17, 1999 (Houston, TX), pp. 363-380.


The usual safety precautions employed during hydroblasting (often called waterblasting and in countries, other than the USA, hydrablasting) are appropriate for ultra-high pressure precision cutting with SUPER-WATER.

Because of its incisive cutting ability, SUPER-WATER must be handled with very great care both from the standpoint of the equipment being used and operator exposure.

The OSHA Material Safety Data Sheet for SUPER-WATER describes general precautions but it should be noted that upon appropriate dilution (i.e., 0.1 to 0.3%) the properties, apart from flow characteristics, closely approach those of water.

Neither polyacrylamide nor polyacrylic acid, or combinations, are listed in the EPA Consent Decree (37), and neither are they in the list of chemicals described as being carcinogenic.

  • SUPER-WATER is biodegradable and does not foul oxidation ponds.
  • The chemical oxygen demand of SUPER-WATER is 706 g/L (at a use concentration of 0.1% it is 0.7 g/L) and the biological oxygen demand is 87 g/L (at 0.1% it is 0.09 g/L).
  • The LC 50/96 hr is 53 ppm (Rainbow Trout) and 84 ppm (Blue Gill Sunfish). The acute oral toxicity (rat) is 10 ml/Kg and the dermal toxicity LC 50 (rabbit) is also 10 ml/Kg.
  • Code of Federal the Register Conformations. SUPER-WATER conforms to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as amended in 1958 and 1960, specifically Chapter 21 CFR, Section 176.110 as a component of paper and paperboard in contact with food and Section 175.105 as a component of adhesives in contact with food. Other SUPER-WATER components conform to CFR 21, Sections 178.3400 and 178.3650.
  • Because SUPER-WATER is a “non-regulated material, liquid, cleaning compound, NMFC 48580 class 55,” it is shipped by truck, ship, and air—including UPS.

Can you flush it down the sewer?

You can indeed.

Mr. Lombari discharges it into the Toronto sewage system after removing abrasive with a series of baffles.

Mr. Wilhelmi has approval for its use in a World Heritage Area in Queensland.

Additionally you will be interested to know that in 1990 the East (San Francisco) Bay Municipal Utilities District used 9 million pounds of polyacrylamide (the same substance as SUPER-WATER) in its sewage treatment facilities.

Polyacrylamides are environmentally benign as can be appreciated from the following (excerpted from an as yet unpublished paper by me):

(f) General safety

Finally, with reference to the benign environmental impact of polyacrylamides, it is important to point out they are now being used extensively in agriculture.

This author (W.G.H.) coordinated a research program between universities and industrial companies (28) on soil conditioners.

Consequently, it is personally interesting to note that linear anionically charged polyacrylamides of high molecular weight (a category which includes SUPER-WATER) have now received widespread approval as soil conditioners in much of the western U.S.A.

Since 1995, over 200 articles have appeared on this application and it has been described “as possibly the most successful soil conservation practice ever developed for furrow irrigation.” In 1997 over 600,000 acres were treated in the USA.

28. W. G. Howells, L. Kravetz, D. Loring, C. D. Piper, B. W. Poovaiah, E. C. Seim, V. P. Rasmussen, N. Terry and L. J. Waldron, “The Use of Nonionic Surfactants for Promoting the Penetration of Water into Agricultural Soils.” Proceedings of the World Surfactants Congress, Munich, West Germany, May 1984.

Are there any health risks or other dangers associated with using it?

I’ve essentially answered this question above. On the product label it is stated:


What other advantages/disadvantages are there with not using Super Water?


Because it reduces required horsepower by 31%.

Because of the drag reduction, equipment will run cooler.

Because of the “macromolecular bombardment” effect, which I haven’t discussed here, but is the third critical step in the series of drag reduction, jet collimation and substantially increased power density on any substrate, one achieves much better results in every application than with plain water.

Because of the absence of spray, there is a diminished tendency for a SUPER-WATER jet to wet substrates. In the case of multi-levels of substrate, this lack of wetting precludes fluid entering the space between adjacent layers. Consequently there is no fluid between the layers that, on evaporation, would give rise to water spotting.

The following example can be used to appreciate this decrease in wetting by a SUPER-WATER jet:

With its incisive cutting ability, SUPER-WATER successfully removed 20,000 sq. ft. of adhesive-attached cork from a concrete ceiling. By contrast, plain waterjet fluid, with its inevitable associated spray, was completely absorbed by the 8-inch thick layer of cork which was virtually unaffected and remained in place.

Parenthetically, Prof. David Summers has removed bark from a tree 40-feet away.


The (very minimal) initial cost of setting up the injection and hydration system but as determined by Mr. Lombari the ultimate ROI makes this cost insignificant.

More information

W. Glenn Howells, Ph.D.
Berkeley Chemical Research, Inc.
P. O. Box 9264
Berkeley, California 94706-0264
Telephone: (510) 526-6272
Fax: (510) 525-2375
Web site: http://www.berkeleychemical.com
E-mail: WGlennHowells@webtv.net

SUPER-WATER jetting applications from 1974 to 1999, Proceedings of the 10th American Waterjet Conference, August 14-17, 1999 (Houston, TX),

Be sure to read the Interview with a SUPER-WATER user , for a brief overview of what it might do for you.

Weber Lubrifiants sa
Post box 46
68171 Rixheim cedex France
Phone 333-89-65-40-70 fax 333-89-44-90-06
www.weberlub.com (in French)
(European distributor of SUPER-WATER from Berkeley Chemical Research. )

Also, there is more contact information on the Berkeley Chemical Research Web Site.

Pre-packaged complete systems

Berkeley Chemical Research , Inc., now has a “SUPER-WATER Injection and Hydration System.”

These systems, already installed and successfully operating throughout the USA, are for using SUPER-WATER in waterjet and abrasivejet operations. The systems are custom built according to the maximum flow rate required (up to three gpm) and offer a convenient alternative to self assembled units.

Price is around $4,500.00.