Centrifugal Pump vs. Positive Displacement Pump: What’s the Difference?

Pumps are essential devices used in a wide range of industries to move fluids from one place to another. Two of the most commonly used types of pumps are centrifugal pumps and positive displacement pumps. Although both pumps serve the same purpose, they operate on different principles, and understanding the differences between the two is crucial in choosing the right pump for your application.

Centrifugal Pumps

Centrifugal pumps are an intriguing variety of dynamic pump that utilizes an impeller to generate a centrifugal force that propels fluid. The impeller is set to rotate at high speeds, thereby creating an area of lower pressure at the core of the impeller that actively draws in the fluid toward the pump. The pumped fluid is then expelled through the discharge outlet.

When it comes to types, there are two primary categories of centrifugal pumps: single-stage pumps and multi-stage pumps. As the name suggests, single-stage pumps utilize only a single impeller and tend to be employed for applications that require low pressure. Meanwhile, multi-stage pumps utilize two or more impellers and are used in high-pressure situations.

Centrifugal pumps offer several advantages over positive displacement pumps. They tend to be more efficient overall, as well as capable of handling a diverse range of flow rates and pressures. Additionally, they are less expensive to manufacture. Nevertheless, centrifugal pumps also possess certain drawbacks, such as limited suction lift capability, suboptimal performance when flow rates are low, and relatively high maintenance costs.

How Centrifugal Pumps Work

The intricate workings of centrifugal pumps are rooted in their ability to convert mechanical energy derived from a motor or engine into kinetic energy that then catalyzes the generation of pressure and propelling fluid. At the heart of the pump lies a rotating impeller encased within a volute or casing. The impeller harnesses centrifugal force to coerce the fluid towards the casing’s periphery, thereby creating a central zone of low pressure. In turn, this induces the fluid to enter the impeller’s eye before the centrifugal force ejects it out of the discharge nozzle.

Centrifugal pumps boast a diverse range of applications that demand high flow rates and low to moderate pressure, including HVAC systems, irrigation, and water supply. Their popularity is attributed to their ease of installation, operation, and maintenance. However, their Achilles heel is their inaptitude for handling high-viscosity fluids, as they necessitate a certain volume of fluid flow to dissipate heat and avoid overheating. Moreover, in comparison to positive displacement pumps at low flow rates, they exhibit lower efficiency levels.

Positive displacement pumps

Positive displacement pumps are an intriguing type of pump that operates by confining a predetermined amount of fluid within a chamber and then propelling it out through a discharge outlet in a manner that is defined by their ability to manifest a high degree of perplexity. The positive displacement pump group can be generally split into two distinct subcategories, namely, reciprocating pumps and rotary pumps.

Reciprocating pumps use either a piston or a diaphragm to establish a fixed volume that is saturated with fluid before it is subsequently expelled from the chamber. Rotary pumps, on the other hand, utilize various mechanisms such as gears, lobes, or screws to establish an analogous fixed volume that is then filled with fluid and ultimately expelled from the chamber.

Positive displacement pumps provide several benefits over their centrifugal counterparts, including but not limited to their ability to manage high-viscosity fluids, maintain a constant flow rate, and endure high-pressure situations. Nevertheless, they do have their fair share of drawbacks, which must be acknowledged, such as higher expenses, restricted flow rates, and more intricate maintenance obligations, all of which result in a heightened degree of burstiness within the text.

How Positive Displacement Pumps Work

Positive displacement pumps are a kind of fluid transfer device that works ingeniously by trapping fluid in a particular cavity or chamber. The fluid is then sent to the discharge side of the pump after it has been trapped. A vacuum must be created on the suction side of the pump for the fluid to enter the cavity. It is then transferred to the discharge side, where it is forcibly ejected from the pump.

Positive displacement pumps come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its advantages and drawbacks. Examples include reciprocating pumps, rotary pumps, and peristaltic pumps. These pumps, for instance, are skilled at handling fluids with high viscosities, fluids that are shear sensitive, and fluids that contain solid or particle debris. Positive displacement pumps may generate high pressure at relatively low flow rates and are noticeably more efficient than centrifugal pumps at low flow rates.

Positive displacement pumps are, however, significantly more complicated and expensive than centrifugal pumps, so this should be taken into consideration. Also, they require more frequent maintenance to guarantee proper operation. Despite this, positive displacement pumps provide more advantages than disadvantages, especially in applications where the aforementioned special qualities are essential.

Positive displacement pumps and centrifugal pumps compared

Positive-displacement pumps and centrifugal pumps have quite different operating principles. Positive displacement pumps move fluid by trapping a specific amount of it in a chamber and then forcing it out through a discharge outlet, whereas centrifugal pumps employ an impeller to create a centrifugal force that moves the fluid.


Positive displacement pumps contain more moving components, while centrifugal pumps have fewer moving parts and a simpler design. Hence, centrifugal pumps are typically simpler to maintain and fix.

Efficiency: Centrifugal pumps are more efficient at high flow rates, but their efficiency drops as the flow rate decreases. Positive displacement pumps, on the other hand, are more efficient at low flow rates and can maintain a relatively high level of efficiency throughout their operating range.

Fluid Handling Capabilities

Centrifugal pumps can handle low-viscosity fluids like water, light oils, and chemicals. Positive displacement pumps are better suited for handling shear-sensitive fluids like emulsions and suspensions as well as high-viscosity fluids like honey, molasses, and slurries.

Pressure and Flow Rate

Centrifugal pumps are made to operate at low to moderate pressures and high flow rates. On the other hand, positive displacement pumps are flexible and can produce high pressure at relatively modest flow rates.

Comparison table between centrifugal pumps and positive displacement pumps:

Criteria Centrifugal Pumps Positive displacement pumps
Flow rate High flow rate, low pressure Low flow rate, high pressure
Viscosity Best for low-viscosity liquids Best for high-viscosity liquids
Efficiency More efficient for high-flow rate applications More efficient for low flow rate applications
Maintenance Fewer moving parts, a simpler design, and easier to maintain and repair More moving parts, intricate design, and more complex maintenance and repair
Cost Typically less expensive than positive displacement pumps Typically more expensive than centrifugal pumps
Applications Ideal for water and thin liquids, HVAC systems, and low-pressure industrial applications Ideal for high-pressure industrial applications, thick and viscous liquids, and food processing

Viscosity and shear sensitivity

Because centrifugal pumps need a certain amount of fluid flow to cool the impeller and prevent overheating, they are not appropriate for handling high-viscosity fluids. Shear-sensitive fluids, such as polymers and biologics, can also be damaged by them. Positive displacement pumps produce a gentle pumping motion, making them more suited for handling high-viscosity fluids and fluids that are sensitive to shear.

Cost and upkeep

Centrifugal pumps typically cost less to operate and maintain than positive displacement pumps. Due to their precise construction, positive displacement pumps are more expensive, complex, and maintenance-intensive than centrifugal pumps.

Uses and Industries

Centrifugal pumps are frequently used in systems that need low to moderate pressure and large flow rates, such as irrigation, HVAC systems, and water delivery. Positive displacement pumps are frequently used in industries including oil and gas, chemical processing, and food and beverage processing that need high-pressure and precision metering.

Choosing the Right Pump for Your Application

When selecting a pump for your application, several factors need to be considered, such as the type of fluid, flow rate, pressure, viscosity, and temperature. The following are some common applications and pump selections:

  • Water supply and irrigation: Centrifugal pumps are commonly used for water supply and irrigation due to their high flow rates and low to moderate pressure.
  • Chemical processing: Positive displacement pumps are commonly used for chemical processing due to their ability to handle high-viscosity and shear-sensitive fluids.
  • Food and beverage processing: Positive displacement pumps are commonly used for food and beverage processing due to their gentle pumping action and ability to handle viscous fluids.
  • Oil and gas: Positive displacement pumps are commonly used in oil and gas processing due to their ability to handle high pressure and precise metering.


As we come to an end, it behooves us to take a nuanced look at the benefits and disadvantages of both centrifugal pumps and positive displacement pumps, as their use in each given circumstance depends on a variety of factors. It is vital to remember that positive displacement pumps are better suited for applications that call for low flow rates and higher viscosities, whereas centrifugal pumps are often more effective in high flow rate circumstances.

Numerous factors must be taken into account when choosing a pump, including but not limited to flow rate, pressure, viscosity, maintenance needs, and cost. One can make an informed and wise choice that is catered to the particulars of the intended application by thoroughly comprehending the differences between these two different types of pumps.

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