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# Calculating and Applying K-Values

By
Abdulreda Al-Saygh and Mahmood Moshfeghian
Department of Chemical Engineering
University of Qatar, Doha, Qatar
And
School of Chemical Engineering
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT

Several methods for determination of K-values were reviewed and sample results are presented. Several
case studies were presented to demonstrate their application. Based on the VLE calculations results, for
light hydrocarbon systems, an equation of state should be used and for polar systems, an activity
coefficient model is recommended.

Introduction
Modeling and design of many types of equipment for separating gas and liquids such as flash
separators at the well head, distillation columns and even a pipeline are based on the phases present
being in vapor-liquid equilibrium. The criteria for thermodynamic equilibrium between vapor and liquid
phases are equality of temperature in both phases, equality of pressure in both phases, and equality of
fugacity of each component in both phases. The mathematical expression for the last equality in terms
of the fugacity of component i, is written as:
(1)
Equation (1) is the foundation of vapor-liquid equilibrium calculations, however, we rarely use it
in this form for practical applications. For calculation purposes, Equation (1) is transformed to a more
commonly used expression:
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(2)
In Equation (2), K
i
is called the vaporliquid equilibrium constant. Equ. (2) is also called "Henrys law"
and K is frequently referred to as Henrys constant. For the more volatile components in a mixture the
K-values are greater than 1.0, whereas for the less volatile components they are less than 1.0.
Depending on the system under study, any one of several approaches may be taken to determine
K-values. Obviously, experimental measurement is the most desirable; however, it is expensive and
time consuming. Alternatively, there are several graphical or numerical tools that can be used for
determination of K-values. This paper presents a history of the development of many of those graphical
methods and numerical techniques.
In general K-values for all components in a mixture are function of the pressure, temperature,
and composition of the vapor and liquid phases present. The components making up the system plus
temperature, pressure, composition, and degree of polarity affect the accuracy and applicability, and
hence the selection, of an approach to estimating the K values. The widely used approaches are K-value
charts, Raoults law, the - approach and the - approach [1-5]. The last two approaches involve
using an equation of state.

Methods for Determining K-Values

K-Value Charts
There are several forms of K-value charts. One of the earliest forms of the K-value charts for
light hydrocarbons is presented in reference [1]. In these charts, K-values for individual components are
plotted on the ordinate as a function of temperature on the abscissa with pressure as a parameter. In
each chart the pressure range is from 10 psia to 1000 psia and the temperature range is from 40 F to 500
F.
Early high pressure experimental work revealed that, if a hydrocarbon system of fixed overall
composition was held at constant temperature and the pressure was increased, the K-values of all
components converged toward a common value of unity (1.0) at some high pressure. This pressure was
termed the Convergence Pressure of the system and has been used to correlate the effect of
composition on K-values. Plotting this way permits generalized K-values to be presented in a moderate
number of charts.
In more recent publications [2], the K-values are plotted as a function of pressure on the abscissa
with Convergence Pressure and temperature as parameters.
In order to use these charts, one should determine the Convergence Pressure first. The
determination of convergence Pressure is a trial-and-error procedure. Illustrative example calculations
can be found elsewhere [6].
In 1958, for computer use, these K-Value charts were curve fitted to the following equations by
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academic and industrial experts collaborating through the aegis of the Natural Gas Association of
America [7].
(3)

Raoults Law
Raoults Law is based on the assumptions that the vapor phase behaves as an ideal gas and the
liquid phase is an ideal solution. Under these conditions the fugacities are expressed as
(4)
(5)
Substituting from Equations (4) and (5) into Equation (1) gives
(6)
The vapor pressure may be read from a Cox chart or calculated from a suitable equation in terms of
temperature. A typical Cox chart can be found in reference [8]. The Antoine [5] equation is
recommended for calculating vapor pressure.
Complex vapor pressure equations presented by Wagner [5], even though more accurate, should be
avoided because they should not be used to extrapolate to temperatures beyond the critical temperature
of each component. Also, Raoults law is applicable to only to low-pressure systems (up to about 50
psia) and to systems in which the components are very similar such as benzene and toluene. This
method is simple but it suffers when the temperature of the system is above the critical temperature of
one or more of the components in the mixture. At temperatures above the critical point of a component,
one must extrapolate the vapor pressure, which frequently results in erroneous K-values. In addition,
this method ignores the fact that the K-values are composition dependent.

Correlation Method
As mentioned earlier, determination of K-values from charts is not suitable for computer
calculations. Therefore, scientists and engineers have developed numerous curve fitted expressions for
calculation of K-values. However, these correlations have limited application because they are specific
to a certain system or applicable over a limited range of conditions. Some of these are polynomial or
exponential correlations in which K-values are expressed in terms of pressure and temperature. One of
these correlations presented by Wilson [9], is:
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(7)
This correlation is applicable to low and moderate pressure, up to about 3.5 MPa (500 psia), and the K-
values are assumed to be independent of composition.

- Approach
The - approach is based on using an Equation Of State (EOS). The fugacity of each
component is determined by using an EOS. The same EOS describes both phases. The - approach is
a powerful tool and it is relatively accurate if used appropriately. This approach is widely used in
industry for light hydrocarbon and non-polar systems. In this approach the fugacities are expressed by
(8)
(9)
Substitution of fugacities from Equations (8) and (9) in Equation (1) gives
(10)
In equation (10), fugacity coefficients must be determined from a generalized chart or calculated using
an EOS. In order to calculate the fugacity coefficients for a mixture by an EOS, the mole fractions in
both phases are needed in addition to pressure and temperature. Normally not all of these variables are
known. Therefore, calculation of K-values using an EOS is a trial and error procedure. The -
approach is applicable to non-polar systems and yields good results up to about 15,000 psia.

- Approach
The so-called - approach is also based on using an EOS, but requires that the vapor phase non-
ideality be described through the fugacity coefficient, with an activity coefficient model being used to
account for the non-ideality of the liquid phase. This approach is widely used in industry even for polar
systems exhibiting highly non-ideal behavior. Using this model the fugacities are expressed by
(11)
(12)
The saturation fugacity coefficient for a component in the system, , is calculated for pure
component i at the temperature of the system but at the saturation pressure of that component.
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Normally, an EOS is used to calculate both and . Substitution of fugacities from Equations (11)
and (12) in Equation (1) gives
(13)
Activity coefficients are calculated by an activity coefficient model such as that of Wilson [11] or the
NRTL (Non-Random Two Liquid) model [12]. The required parameters for a few binary systems are
given in reference [13]. In order to calculate the K-values by Equation (13), the mole fractions in both
phases, in addition to pressure and temperature, are needed. Normally not all of these variables are
known. As is the case for the - approach, calculations are trial and error. The - approach is
applicable to polar systems such as water ethanol mixtures from low to high pressures.

Approach
Normally, for low pressures, we can assume that the vapor phase behaves like an ideal gas;
therefore both and are set equal to 1.0. Under such circumstances, Equation (13) reduces to
(14)
Equation (14) is applicable for low-pressure non-ideal solutions and polar systems. Assuming the liquid
phase is an ideal solution,
i
becomes unity and Equation (14) is reduced further to a simple Raoults
law.

The Impact of Computers on calculating K-values
The accuracy of any process simulation by computer software depends directly on the accuracy
of the K-values used. The K-values are the essential ingredient for design and simulation of a separation
system involving distillation columns, flash separators, etc. As computers were developed for
engineering calculations, scientists and engineers strived for the development of generalized and
accurate EOSs. Since the K-value charts are limited and simplified and calculation of K-values based an
EOS is trial and error and, consequently tedious and time consuming for hand calculation, the computer
is ideally suited for this task.
The first computer generated K-values were based on the Chao-Seader EOS [14]. An equation
similar to Equation (13) was used for this purpose. Later Erbar and Maddox [15] developed the K&H
Mod II software marketed by the Gas Processors Association for generating K-values and enthalpies of
light hydrocarbons as well as some selected non-hydrocarbon compounds such as nitrogen, carbon
dioxide and hydrogen sulfides. This program which was based on the SRK EOS was well received by
industry due to its accuracy, reliability and flexibility.
Due to the development of computers and software, a complete phase envelope for a reservoir
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fluid based on EOS generated K-values can be plotted in a few seconds; something that would have
taken months before the 1970s. Similarly, today, a complete rigorous computer simulation of a
distillation column for multicomponent systems with multi-stage, multi feed and multi-product streams
is calculated in only a few minutes. Accurate generation of K-values by an EOS enables engineers to
have a more accurate, economically sound, flexible, and reliable design.

Application of K-Values
Bubble Point
For a mixture, the bubble point is defined as the temperature at which the first bubble of vapor
forms at a given pressure. At the bubble point, the liquid phase composition is known. At this
temperature vapor and liquid phases are at equilibrium; therefore Equations (1) and (2) hold.
(15)
Depending on the situation, two kinds of bubble point calculations may be required. In one case, the
pressure is known and temperature is to be calculated. In the other case the temperature is known and
the bubble point pressure is to be calculated. In either case the calculation is trial and error and may be
carried out by hand or computer.

Case No. 1
In order to show typical prediction accuracy for each method, the bubble point temperature and
vapor phase mole fraction composition of the following natural gas mixture were calculated at pressures
from 14.7 to 1700 psia using.

Table 1 presents the summary calculated bubble point results for pressures 14.7 to 1700 psia. Table 1
indicates that at low pressures up to 800 psia, all methods give close answers for bubble point
temperature; however, as the pressure increases, the difference becomes so large.
(a) Raoults Law K-values (based on pure
component vapor pressures).
(b) Wilson K-Value Correlation (WKVC)
(c) NGPA K-Value Chart based on a
convergence pressure of 5000 psia.
(d) SRK EOS using EzThermo [16]
simulation software.

Component Mole %
Methane 76.0
Ethane 13.0
Propane 5.0
n-Butane 2.0
n-Pentane 2.0
n-Hexane 2.0
Total 100.0
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Table 1- Predicted bubble point temperature

Dew Point
For a mixture, the dew point is defined as the temperature at which the first drop of liquid forms
at a given pressure. At the dew point, the vapor phase composition is known. At this temperature both
vapor and liquid phases are at equilibrium; therefore Equations (1) and (2) hold.
(16)
Depending on the situation, two cases of dew point calculation may occur. In one case, the pressure is
known and temperature is to be calculated or in the other case the temperature is known and the dew
point pressure is to be calculated. In either case the calculation is trial and error and may be carried out
by hand or by computer.

Case No. 2
Calculate the dew point temperatures and compositions of the first drop of liquid of natural gas
mixture of Case No. 1 for pressures from 14.7 to 1870 psia using:
(a) Raoults Law K-value
(b) Wilson K-Value Correlation (WKVC)
(c) NGPA K-Value Chart based on convergence pressure of 5000psia
(d) SRK EOS using EzThermo simulation software

P, psia
Bubble point temperature, F
Raoult WKVC NGPA SRK
14.7 -252.49 -252.60 -254.15 -253.84
100 -195.66 -196.38 -196.71 -197.23
300 -147.91 -147.96 -148.40 -147.10
600 -107.23 -107.12 -107.12 -103.76
800 -87.16 -86.89 -86.03 -81.65
1000 -69.97 -69.54 -68.49 -61.96
1200 -54.74 -54.13 -53.91 -43.08
1400 -40.92 -40.13 -41.76 -23.24
1600 -28.17 -27.18 -31.54 0.25
1700 -22.13 -21.10 -26.5 16.27
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Table 2 presents the summary calculated dew point results for pressures 14.7 to 1870 psia. The analysis
of Table 2 indicates that at Raoults law and Wilson correlation give very close results; however, they
are much different from NGPA and SRK results even at low pressures.

Table 2- Predicted dew point temperature

Flash Calculations
Separating a two phase stream into a vapor stream and a liquid stream is frequently required.
Normally, the feed composition, total feed rate, temperature, and pressure are known and flow rates and
composition of vapor and liquid must be calculated. The governing equations can be obtained by
writing the overall and component material balances and the equilibrium relationship.

Case No. 3
Flash calculation results for the natural gas mixture of Case No. 1 at 300 psia (2058.4 kPa) and -
9.7 F (250 K) for for several methods were performed and the results are presented in Table 3.

Case No. 4
A series of flash calculations for the natural gas mixture of Case No. 1 for several methods were

P, psia
Dew point temperature, F
Raoult WKVC NGPA SRK
14.7 5.90 -3.42 5.77 5.27
100 77.65 74.12 67.68 70.83
300 134.65 133.68 109.63 113.32
600 180.27 180.05 134.38 136.15
800 202.23 202.06 142.09 141.82
1000 220.77 220.44 146.19 142.90
1200 237.06 236.44 147.81 140.05
1400 251.69 250.75 147.52 133.18
1600 265.10 263.77 145.72 120.96
1700 271.44 269.87 144.32 111.51
1800 277.54 275.77 142.63 97.12
1870 281.70 279.77 141.30 59.81
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performed and the results are presented in Table 4. This table indicates that the Raoults law and Wilson
correlation give similar liquid fraction but they are different from those predicted by NGPA and SRK.
Up to pressure of 800 psia, both NGPA and SRK give close answers but as pressure increases, their
results deviate from each other drastically.

Table 3- Predicted K-values at 300 psia (2058.4kPa) and -9.7 F (250 K)

Table 4- Predicted liquid fraction formation

Component
K-Values at 300 psia and -9.7 F
Raoult WKVC K-Chart SRK
Methane 8.2872 8.1934 6.1792 5.7629
Ethane 0.6566 0.6377 0.7014 0.7168
Propane 0.1065 0.1060 0.1469 0.1571
n-Butane 0.0189 0.0201 0.0331 0.0347
n-Pentane 0.0037 0.0044 0.0078 0.0080
n-Hexane 0.0007 0.0011 0.0022 0.0012

P, psia

T, F
Liquid fraction, L/F
Raoult WKVC NGPA SRK
14.7 -50 0.0417 0.0368 0.0433 0.0415
100 -50 0.0967 0.0969 0.0961 0.0955
300 -50 0.1833 0.1873 0.1743 0.1768
600 -50 0.3096 0.3131 0.2954 0.3007
800 -50 0.4131 0.4179 0.4111 0.4204
1000 -50 0.5663 0.5745 0.5862 0.6391
1200 50 0.2016 0.2044 0.1502 0.1528
1400 50 0.2381 0.2147 0.1684 0.1710
1600 50 0.2778 0.2827 0.1858 0.1795
1700 50 0.2993 0.3048 0.1943 0.1705
1800 50 0.3220 0.3283 0.2026 0.1213
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Case No. 5
Yarborough and Vogel [18] reported experimental VLE measurements for a gas mixture of the
following composition at several pressures and temperatures. Composition of mixture B is the
experimental repeat for composition of mixture A. Flash calculations for this natural gas mixture at the
following reported pressures and 200 F were carried out using three popular equations of state:

A summary of the error analyses for the liquid fraction expressed as moles of liquid to moles of feed
(L/ F), is presented in Table 6. The experimental liquid fraction was not reported; a simple flash
calculation using experimentally determined K-values was performed to calculate the experimental L/F.
Table 6 indicates that with the exception of the last two pressures, SRK EOS gives the most accurate
liquid fraction.

P, psia 110 255 535 552 1032 1033 1547 2044 2543 3035
Mixture B B B A A B B A B A
(a) Soave-Redlich-
Kwong (SRK) EOS [10]
(b) Peng-Robinson
(PR) EOS [19]
(c) Nasrifar-
Moshfeghian (NM) EOS
[20]

Component
Mole %
Mixture A
%
Mixture B
%
Nitrogen 0.480 0.470
Methane 80.64 80.31
Carbon dioxide 0.15 0.18
Ethane 5.93 5.93
Propane 2.98 3.00
n-Pentane 4.30 4.45
n-Heptane 3.08 3.14
n-Decane 2.44 2.52
Total 100.0 100.0
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Table 6- A summary of error analyses for the liquid fraction and the moles of liquid to moles of feed (L/
F)

A summary of the error analysis for all K values is shown in Table 7. This table indicates that SRK and
PR give comparable results. A graphical comparison between predicted K-values and experimental K-
values for the NM EOS are shown in Figures 1.

Table 7- Summary of the error analysis for all K-values
P
Psia

Mix.
Liquid Fraction, L/F at 200 F Percent Error in (L/F)
Exp SRK PR NM SRK PR NM
110 B 0.0271 0.0250 0.0242 0.0243 7.75 10.70 10.33
255 B 0.0451 0.0438 0.0430 0.0421 2.88 4.66 6.65
535 B 0.0665 0.0647 0.0633 0.0607 2.71 4.81 8.72
552 A 0.0631 0.0629 0.0615 0.0589 0.32 2.54 6.66
1032 A 0.0854 0.0853 0.0823 0.0760 0.12 3.63 11.01
1033 B 0.0899 0.0891 0.0860 0.0795 0.89 4.34 11.57
1547 B 0.1072 0.1086 0.1027 0.0908 -1.31 4.20 15.30
2044 A 0.1110 0.1174 0.1071 0.0897 -5.77 3.51 19.19
2543 B 0.1006 0.1298 0.1102 0.0867 -29.03 -9.54 13.82
3035 B 0.0214 0.0905 0.0390 0.0393 -322.90 -82.24 -83.64
AAPE 37.37 13.02 18.69
P
Psia

Mix.

Average Absolute Percent Error in All K-Values
SRK PR NM
110 B 20.77 21.23 22.77
255 B 16.72 17.74 20.16
535 B 9.46 8.48 11.76
552 A 7.65 9.06 11.39
1032 A 5.55 8.59 12.36
1033 B 7.79 7.49 10.70
1547 B 6.23 11.35 10.39
2044 A 3.82 5.61 6.59
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Consistency Test of K-Values
There are several ways of testing the accuracy and validity of K-Values calculated from
measured experimental liquid and vapor phase mole fractions or generated by any EOS, charts or
correlation. In one method, K-values are plotted as a function of pressure on a log-log scale as shown in
Figures 1. For each isotherm, the K-values for each component all fall on a smooth curve if they are
consistent.
Another method is to plot at the specified pressure and temperature the log of the K-value for
each hydrocarbon component as a function of its critical point absolute temperature squared. If the K-
values are consistent and accurate, they will fall on a straight line. Figure 2 presents such a test for the
Yarborough and Vogel data at 3035 psia and 200 F. This figure indicates that the Yarborough and
Vogel data are of good quality.

2543 B 7.42 5.59 9.39
3035 B 5.37 2.48 11.39
AAPE 9.07 9.76 12.76
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Conclusions:
Several methods for determination of K-values were reviewed. Several case studies were
presented to demonstrate their application. The data used clearly show that the accuracies of these
methods are not the same and care must be taken to choose the right and proper method for a given
application. In Case No. 1, for bubble point pressures above 800 psia, the difference in predicted
temperature is large and as the pressure increases the difference becomes larger. Case No. 2 indicates
that the difference in the predicted dew point temperature is even larger. Case No. 4 shows that as the
pressure increases, the amount of liquid predicted by different methods differs considerably.
In Case No. 5, two widely used EOS and a new EOS were tested. The results show that for the
systems tested, all three EOS generally give relatively accurate results; however, with the exception of
very high pressure, the SRK gives the most accurate VLE calculation results.
Based on the cases studied, our conclusion is that for VLE calculations of light hydrocarbon
systems, an equation of state should be used and for polar systems, an activity coefficient model is
recommended.
Always, the K-Values should be checked for accuracy and consistency before accepting the
calculation results.

References

1. Proceedings Natural Gasoline Supply Mens Association, 20
th
Annual Convention, April 23-25,
1941.
2. Engineering Data Book, 10
th
and 11
th
Editions, Gas Processors and Suppliers Association Data
Book, Tulsa, Oklahoma, (1998).
3. Prausnitz, J. M.; R. N. Lichtenthaler, E. G. de Azevedo, Molecular Thermodynamics of Fluid
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Phase Equilibria, 3
rd
Ed., Prentice Hall PTR, New Jersey, NY, 1999.

4. Maddox, R. N. and L. L. Lilly, Gas Conditioning and Processing, Volume 3: Advanced
Techniques and Applications, John M. Campbell and Company, Norman, Oklahoma, USA,
1994.
5. Reid, R. C.; J. M. Prausnitz, and B. E. Poling, The Properties of Gases and Liquids, 4
th
Ed.,
McGraw Hill, New York, 1987.
6. Engineering Data Book, 7
th
Edition, Natural Gas Processors Suppliers Association, Tulsa,
Oklahoma, 1957.
7. Equilibrium Ratio Data for Computers, Natural Gasoline Association of America, Tulsa,
Oklahoma, (1958).
8. Natural Gasoline and the Volatile Hydrocarbons, Natural Gasoline Association of America,
Tulsa, Oklahoma, (1948).
9. Wilson, G., A modified Redlich-Kwong equation of state applicable to general physical data
calculations, Paper No15C, 65
th
AIChE National meeting, May, (1968).

10. G. Soave, Chem. Eng. Sci. 27, 1197-1203, 1972.
11. Wilson, G. M., J. Am. Chem. Soc. Vol. 86, pp.127-120, 1964
12. Renon, H. and J. M. Prausnitz, AIChEJ., Vol. 14, pp.135-144, 1968.
13. Gmehling et al., Vapor-Liquid Equilibrium Data Collection, Chemistry Data Series, Vol.1,
part 1a, 1b, 2c, and 2e, DECHEMA, Frankfurt / Main 1981-1988
14. Chao, K. C. and J. D. Seader, A General Correlation of Vapor-Liquid Equilibria in
Hydrocarbon Systems, AIChE, 7, 598, 1961
15. Erbar, J.H. and R.N. Maddox, GPA K & H Mod II Program, Natural Gas Processors and
Suppliers Association, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1962
16. Moshfeghian, M. and R.N. Maddox, EzThermo Software, 2002
17. Freshwater, D. C. and K. A. Pike, J. Chem. Eng. Data, Vol. 12, pp. 179-183, 1967
18. Yarborough, L. and John L. Vogel, "A New System for Obtaining Vapor and Liquid Sample
Analyses to Facilate the Study of Multicomponent Mixtures at Elevated Pressures," Chem. Engr.
Symposium Series, No. 81, Vol.63,
19. D.Y. Peng, D.B. Robinson, Ind. Eng. Chem. Fundam. Vol. 15, pp. 59-64, 1976
20. Nasrifar, Kh. and M. Moshfeghian, A New Cubic Equation of State for Simple Fluids: Pure and
Mixtures, J. of Fluid Phase Equilibria, 190, pp. 73-88, 2001
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Symbols
the fugacity of component i in the vapor phase.
the fugacity of component i in the liquid phase.
K
i
the vaporliquid equilibrium constant (K-value)

y
i
. mole fraction of one component i in the vapor phase.

x
i
mole fraction of component i in the liquid phase.

T absolute temperature.
P absolute pressure.
b
ij
the fitted values coefficients in Equation (3)

the saturation pressure of a component i.
T
ci
the critical temperature.

P
ci
the critical pressure.

i
the acentric factor.

the fugacity coefficients for component i in the vapor phase.
the fugacity coefficients for component i in the liquid phase.
the fugacity coefficients for pure component i at the saturation pressure.

i
the activity coefficient for component i.

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