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Engineering Encyclopedia

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Distillation Hardware

Note: The source of the technical material in this volume is the Professional
Engineering Development Program (PEDP) of Engineering Services.
Warning: The material contained in this document was developed for Saudi
Aramco and is intended for the exclusive use of Saudi Aramcos
employees. Any material contained in this document which is not
already in the public domain may not be copied, reproduced, sold, given,
or disclosed to third parties, or otherwise used in whole, or in part,
without the written permission of the Vice President, Engineering
Services, Saudi Aramco.

Chapter : Process
File Reference: CHE10402

For additional information on this subject, contact


R.A. Al-Husseini on 874-2792

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CONTENT

PAGE

DISTILLATION HARDWARE .............................................................................. 1


NOMENCLATURE................................................................................................. 1
SELECTING TOWER CONTACTING DEVICES................................................. 3
Sieve Trays ....................................................................................... 5
Valve Trays....................................................................................... 5
Bubble-Cap Trays ............................................................................. 6
Packing ........................................................................................... 10
Figure 10......................................................................................... 12
Grids ............................................................................................... 13
Baffle Sections................................................................................ 14
FACTORS AFFECTING TRAY PERFORMANCE ............................................. 17
Maximum Vapor Rate Considerations............................................ 27
Minimum Vapor Rate Considerations ............................................ 27
Maximum Liquid Rate Considerations ........................................... 27
Minimum Liquid Rate Considerations............................................ 27
MAIN TRAY DESIGN PARAMETERS............................................................... 28
Hardware Definitions ................................................................................. 29
Tower Diameter and Tray Spacing ................................................. 29
Downcomer Area ............................................................................ 30
Downcomer Clearance.................................................................... 30
Outlet Weir Height and Weir Length.............................................. 30
Multipass Trays............................................................................... 31
Contacting Area Definitions ........................................................... 31
Tray Pressure Balance ................................................................................ 32
Valve Tray Design Options ........................................................................ 37
Tower Internals........................................................................................... 39
Tray Transitions .............................................................................. 39
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Downcomer Seal............................................................................. 40
Seal Pan .......................................................................................... 41
Antijump Baffle .............................................................................. 42
Wire Mesh Entrainment Screens (Demisters)................................. 43

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Nomenclature
Ad
A1
Af
Ap
At
Aw
b
Co
CSB
c
D
D
DT
d
Fh
f
FP
H
hd
he
ho
hon
hr
ht
hv
hw
hwi
hwo
K1
L
La

Clearance area between downcomer and tray below, in.2, cm2


Area of one hole, ft2, m2
Tray free area, ft2, m2
Hole area, ft2, m2
Active area (available for holes, valves, caps), ft2, m2
Waste area, ft2, m2
Notch width, in., mm
Orifice discharge coefficient
Tray capacity parameter, ft/s, m/s
Downcomer clearance, in., mm
Nozzle diameter, in., mm
Vapor-free liquid in downcomer height, in., mm
Tower diameter, ft, m
Depth of V notch, in., mm
Factor in calculation of effective liquid head
Aeration factor
Flow parameter, (L/VL)(rV/rL)0.5
Tray spacing, in., mm
Downcomer contraction pressure loss, in. liquid, mm liquid
Effective liquid head over weir, in.
Head of liquid over weir, in., mm
Liquid height on notch, in., mm
Residual pressure drop, in. liquid, mm liquid
Total tray pressure drop, in. liquid, mm liquid
Hydrostatic head of vapor, in. liquid, mm liquid
Weir height, in., mm
Inlet weir height, in., mm
Outlet weir height, in., mm
Viscosity/pressure correction factor of Va
Liquid volumetric rate, ft3/s, m3/h
Average static liquid head, in. liquid, mm liquid

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lfp
lud
lw
lwi
LLH
LLL
Np
n
Pd
Pw
Q
r
Sd
Sdi
Sdo
St
TT
U
Ui
Uo
V
Va
VL
VN
b
mL
rL
rV
s
*

Flow path length, in., mm


Length of clearance under downcomer, in., mm
Effective weir length, in., mm
Inlet weir length, in., mm
High Liquid Level
Low Liquid Level
Number of tray passes
Number of notches in weir
Dry-tray vapor pressure drop, in. liquid, mm liquid
Wet tray pressure drop, in. liquid, mm liquid
Liquid flow rate, gpm, L/s
Downcomer rise, in., mm
Downcomer area, ft2, m2
Downcomer inlet area, ft2, m2
Downcomer outlet area, ft2, m2
Column cross sectional area, ft2, m2
For towers, refers to the height of the tower measured Tangent-to-Tangent
Minimum vapor velocity trough hole, ft/s, m/s
Liquid velocity at downcomer entrance, ft/s, m/s
Linear vapor velocity trough holes, ft/s, m/s
Superficial vapor velocity, ft/s, m/s
Allowable superficial vapor velocity, ft/s, m/s
Total tray vapor load, ft3/s, m3/s
Vapor velocity based on the net tray area available for liquid disengagement, ft/s,
m/s
Ratio of hole area to tray area available for holes
Liquid viscosity, cP, cP
Liquid density at operating conditions, lb/ft3, kg/m3
Vapor density at operating conditions, lb/ft3, kg/m3
Surface tension, dynes/cm, dynes/cm
Distinguishes values associated with inboard downcomer trays

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Selecting Tower Contacting Devices


A contacting device must have good liquid and vapor handling capacities, good contacting
efficiency, reasonable pressure drop, and predictable turndown characteristics, and it must
also be economical. The devices available fall into two broad categories: cross-flow and
countercurrent. They are shown conceptually in Figure 1.
CROSS-FLOW VERSUS COUNTERCURRENT DEVICES

FIGURE 1
With cross-flow devices, the liquid flows horizontally across a flat plate, called a tray, that
contains a contacting device that thoroughly disperses the vapor into the liquid. The
dispersion process must produce sufficient interfacial area and maintain the phases in contact
with each other long enough to promote adequate mass transfer between the phases.
As the liquid flows across the tray, it is contacted by the rising vapor. At the far side of the
tray, the liquid enters a downcomer, which carries it to the tray below where the contacting
process is repeated. The contacting area must be large enough to handle the required liquid
and vapor rates while promoting the desired mass transfer. Likewise, the downcomer must be
large enough to handle the liquid being processed.

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With countercurrent devices, the liquid flow is truly countercurrent to the vapor flow. The
efficiency of contact depends on the area available for mass transfer. In trays, this is
provided by bubbling vapor through the liquid, thereby producing sufficient interfacial area
for mass transfer. With packing, the interfacial area for mass transfer is provided by the
surface area of the packing. With baffle trays, the interfacial area is created by forcing the
vapor to flow through descending curtains of liquid, which breaks the liquid curtains into
droplets.
Generally, as the surface area of a device increases, the efficiency increases. However, as the
surface area increases, capacity decreases while cost rises. Thus, the final design involves
optimizing the capacity, efficiency, cost, and other process considerations for the variety of
possible internal designs.
Most Saudi Aramco units use valve trays; however, sieve trays are very common in the
petroleum industry. There are very few Saudi Aramco towers with packing, although
potential applications exist, especially in vacuum crude distillation and in debottlenecking
existing units.
Cross-Flow Devices
Figure 2 illustrates a typical arrangement and key components for a one-pass tray and a twopass tray.
CROSS-FLOW CONTACTING DEVICES

FIGURE 2
The most common types of trays in use today are sieve, valve, and bubble cap trays.
Following is a review of these types of trays. Figure 6, after the section on bubble caps,
summarizes their characteristics.
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Sieve Trays
The contacting area consists of flat plates containing perforations, usually 1/2 in. (13 mm) in
diameter (Figure 3). They are the simplest trays to fabricate and are therefore the cheapest.
They also exhibit good capacity, excellent efficiency, and good turndown characteristics
(about 3/1). Their flat surface facilitates maintenance. Thus, they may be used in fouling
services, provided the hole size is large enough.

SIEVE TRAY DECK

FIGURE 3
Valve Trays
For most Saudi Aramco fractionation services, valve trays are the first choice. Valve trays
contain proprietary devices manufactured by Glitsch Inc., Koch Engineering, and Nutter
Engineering. The valve size, shape, weight, and other parameters vary from vendor to
vendor. Turndown is excellent, reaching 5/1. The valve tray capacity and efficiency are
about equal to those of a sieve tray, but cost is roughly 10% higher.
Valve trays are not recommended for severely fouling service, because deposits may interfere
with the valve movement. Valves specified with a dimple have a lower probability to stick to
the tray deck in the closed position. Valves can also be specified with an anti-rotation device
that will prevent rotation of the valve and wear of the valve legs.
Figure 4 illustrates valves from the three main vendors.

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VALVE TRAYS

FIGURE 4
Bubble-Cap Trays
Figure 5 illustrates bubble cap trays, which were the first type of tray developed for
continuous distillation. Although they provide excellent vapor-liquid contact over a wide
range of throughputs, they are relatively expensive to fabricate, install, and maintain. As
distillation hardware evolved, bubble-cap trays were largely displaced first by sieve trays and
later by valve trays. Despite their expense, bubble cap trays are sometimes specified in
fouling, low pressure drop, and high turndown services.

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BUBBLE-CAP TRAYS

FIGURE 5
TRAYS -- A SUMMARY OF CHARACTERISTICS
Tray
Type

Cost per
Unit Area

Capacity

Efficiency

Flexibility

Remarks

Sieve

Medium to high.

High. Equal to
or better than
other tray types.

Lowest of all
trays with
downcomers.

Medium.
3/1 can usually
be achieved.

Alternative to valve
trays when high
turndown is not
required.

Valve

Medium to high;
as good as sieve
trays.

High. As good
as sieve trays.

Medium. About
10% greater than
Sieve Trays.

High.
Possibly up to
5/1.

First choice for most


applications. Not
recommended for
moderate to severe
fouling services.

Bubble
Cap

Medium to high,
except low to
medium at high
liquid rate.

Medium to high.

High. At least
twice the cost of
sieve trays.

High.
5/1 or slightly
higher.

Use for high


flexibility where
fouling of valve trays
may be a problem.

FIGURE 6

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Downcomer Configurations
The standard type of downcomer is the straight, or chordal, downcomer shown in Figures 7
and 8. For a given tower diameter, a certain amount of the available tray cross-sectional area,
the downcomer area, is needed for liquid handling with the remainder, the bubble area,
available for vapor flow. Therefore, any changes that reduce the tray area used by
downcomers, increases the area available for vapor flow. Such a goal can be achieved by
using stepped or sloped downcomers as shown in Figure 7. The process performance
characteristics of sloped and stepped downcomers containing the same inlet and outlet areas
are identical. They can therefore be used interchangeably.
The required downcomer cross-sectional area is greater at the top of the downcomer where
most of the vapor disengagement takes place. Sloped or stepped downcomers provide the
required area at the top of the downcomer, and at the same time, they reduce the tray area
taken by the downcomers at the bottom. As a result, the tray area available for vapor-liquid
contact and vapor disengagement with stepped or sloped downcomers is higher than for
straight downcomers.
Sloped or stepped downcomers are most effective when used in trays with moderate-to-high
liquid rates to increase their vapor capacity (existing units) or to reduce the required tray
diameter (new units).

STEPPED VERSUS SLOPED DOWNCOMERS

FIGURE 7

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Downcomer Configurations (Cont'd)


For uniform liquid flow distribution onto a tray, the chord at the bottom of the downcomer
must have certain minimum length, often expressed as a percentage of the tower diameter. In
some services where very low liquid rates must be handled, this minimum chord length
provides a downcomer whose area is too large for the liquid flow rate being handled (that is,
the chord is about 6.8% of the tower cross-sectional area). A modified arc (also known as
segmental) downcomer can be specified (Figure 8) to overcome this limitation while still
meeting the minimum requirement. The modified arc downcomer has an area less than the
6.8% provided by the minimum (65% of tower diameter) chordal downcomer, but has a
projected weir length at least equal to the minimum. Some older towers may contain a full
arc-type downcomer. This style of downcomer functions in the same manner as a modified
arc but is more expensive to build and thus is no longer used in new towers.

STRAIGHT, MODIFIED ARC, AND ARC-TYPE DOWNCOMERS

FIGURE 8

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Countercurrent Devices
Packing, grids, and baffle sections are the three types of countercurrent devices reviewed in
this section. Figure 13 at the end of the section, summarizes their characteristics.
Packing
Although a packed tower design may result in a smaller tower diameter, the total cost of the
installation with packing, packing supports, distributors, and redistributors is generally higher
than that of a trayed tower.
The most common uses of packing in distillation services are:

Applications where pressure drop across the internals is critical, such as in vacuum
distillation.

Revamps, especially where downcomers consume a large percentage of the tower's


cross-sectional area or where downcomer filling is high; examples are, heavily liquid
loaded towers such as debutanizers and depropanizers.

Corrosive services where ceramic packings are more economical than alloy trays.

In towers less than 2 ft in diameter.

Saudi Aramco units using packing are the crude vacuum distillation columns, ADIP
extractors (2-in. polypropylene Intalox Saddles), and Merox oxidizers (1.5-in. carbon
Raschig rings).
Random Packings (Also Called Dumped Packings)
Random packings are the most frequently used countercurrent devices (Figure 9). Their name
derives from the fact that they are dumped into the column and orient randomly.
The most widely used packing today is the Pall ring. It comes in a number of sizes and
materials of construction. As the ring size increases, the capacity increases while the pressure
drop, cost, and efficiency decrease. Thus, for a given design, there is an optimum economic
combination of ring size, tower diameter, and tower height.

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COUNTERCURRENT DEVICES - RANDOM PACKING

FIGURE 9
Since 1978, several other packings have come on the market that provide improved
performance characteristics. These include Norton Company's Intalox Metal Tower Packing
(IMTP) also known as Metal Intalox, and Nutter Engineering's Nutter Ring. Raschig rings
are used infrequently, while Intalox saddles are generally preferred for applications requiring
ceramic packing.

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Structured (Ordered) Packings


Structured packing devices are fabricated in bundles from crimped sheet metal and installed
in the tower in layers having a fixed orientation. Since they provide more surface area per
unit volume than random packings, they are more efficient. However, they cost two-to-four
times as much.
Of the contacting devices available, structured packings provide the lowest pressure drop per
theoretical stage of contacting as well as the best capacity/efficiency combination. This
feature makes them especially attractive in vacuum towers.
There are several brands and suppliers, including Flexipac by Koch Engineering, Gempak by
Glitsch, Intalox Structured by Norton, Montz by Nutter Engineering, and Mellapak by Sulzer.
One of these devices, by Koch Engineering, is shown in Figure 10.

STRUCTURED PACKING BY KOCH ENGINEERING


FRONT VIEW

ISOMETRIC VIEW

PASTEUP

NEED TO BRING IN SCAN

SCAN REMOVED BECAUSE OF DIFFICULTY PUTTING ON DISC

Figure 10
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Grids
Grids are similar to structured packing in that they are fabricated in panels and installed in an
ordered manner. However, their efficiency characteristics are much poorer due to their high
open area and low surface area per unit of volume. The first grid to appear on the market,
circa 1961, was the Glitsch grid. It was intended for use in services where entrainment
removal was critical but where fouling was too severe to use crinkled wire mesh screens.
In recent years, several new grids have come on the market. They are Flexigrid by Koch
Engineering and Snapgrid by Nutter Engineering. Pictures of these major grids are shown in
Figure 11.

VARIOUS TYPES OF GRIDS

FIGURE 11

Because of their high capacity and low pressure drop, grids have also been used in heat
transfer sections (pumparounds) of vacuum crude distillation and other heavy hydrocarbon
fractionators. The liquid is introduced on the top layer of grid via spray nozzles.

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Baffle Sections
There are two basic types of baffle sections. The first type is sheds; the second type is disc
and donuts (Figure 12). These devices operate differently from grids or packing. In baffle
sections, the liquid cascades from baffle to baffle in the form of liquid curtains. As the vapor
flows through these curtains, the liquid is broken up into droplets and mass transfer occurs.
However, this is a very inefficient liquid/vapor contacting mechanism.
For severe fouling services, baffle sections are about the only internal available if long run
lengths are required. Because of their high open area, they have high capacity but very poor
efficiency. Thus, baffle sections require a disproportionate amount of tower height for the
functions they perform.
SHEDS/DISC AND DONUTS

FIGURE 12

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COUNTERCURRENT DEVICES -- A SUMMARY OF CHARACTERISTICS

Device

Capacity

Efficiency

Cost per
Unit Area

Flexibilit
y

Remarks

Packing (Pall
Rings, Metal
Intalox, Nutter
Rings, etc.)

Medium.

Medium to
High.

> 3/1.
Medium to
low, depending
on material of
construction.

Good for DP
service.
Mainly used in
vacuum
pipestills and in
various high
liquid rate
absorbers.

Structured
Packing
Flexipac;
Montz
Gempak;
Mellapak
IntaloxStructured

Medium to
very high
depending
on size
used.

Medium to
very high
depending on
size used.

High - at least
two times
dumped
packing cost.

Best efficiency
per unit of DP.

Glitsch Grid
Flexigrid
Snapgrid

Very high. Poor as


Medium to
fractionation
high.
device. Good
for entrainment
removal and
heat transfer.

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> 3/1.

Low:
Good for high
less than vapor-low
2/1.
liquid service
to minimize
effect of
entrain- ment.
Used in wash
zones of heavy
hydrocarbon
fractionators
where
moderate
coking occurs.

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Sheds and Disc Very high. Poor as


and Donuts
fractionation
device.

Medium.

Low.
< 1.5/1

Used in severe
fouling service;
e.g., slurry
pumparound in
cat fractionator.

FIGURE 13

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Factors Affecting Tray Performance


Flow Regimes - Spray and Froth
Movies taken during operations in various towers have indicated that different flow regimes
can exist on a tray. The first is the froth regime. In this regime, vapor passes through the
liquid on the tray as discrete bubbles of irregular shape. As the vapor rate increases, jets and
bubbles of rapidly changing shape are observed. If the vapor rate is raised still further, a gas
jet issues from the orifice and some of the liquid is shattered into droplets in a regime called
the spray regime. In the spray regime, the vapor phase is continuous, whereas in the froth
regime, the liquid phase is continuous (Figure 14). Spray regime operation occurs primarily
at high vapor velocities and low liquid rates. The froth regime in high pressure systems is
also referred to as the emulsion regime.
FROTH REGIME VERSUS SPRAY REGIME OPERATION

FIGURE 14

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Flow Regimes - Spray and Froth (Cont'd)


Operation in the spray regime can be very detrimental to good tower performance, causing
tray efficiency to drop sharply because the liquid and vapor residence times are reduced.
While spray regime operations have been observed on all the widely used trays discussed
earlier, the spray regime has been investigated primarily with sieve trays.
Under spray regime conditions, the vapor rate is sufficient to "blow through" the liquid,
thereby making the vapor phase continuous. In fact, the term blowing is often used to
describe the spray regime. Because the liquid rate is usually set by the process and cannot be
increased, the most effective way to suppress the spray regime is to dissipate the jet leaving
the orifice as quickly as possible. The most obvious way to dissipate the jet is to increase the
open area on the tray, thereby reducing jet velocity. A second way is to use smaller orifices;
for example 1/8-in. holes versus 1/2- or 1/4-in. holes used on sieve trays. Because the
distance to dissipate a jet is a function of the orifice diameter, the smaller the orifice the faster
the jet will dissipate. A third way is to use valve trays. Because the vapor leaves the valve
element almost horizontally, its vertical velocity component is greatly reduced and its jet is
more quickly dissipated.

Entrainment
Entrainment is defined as the liquid carried by the vapor from a given tray to the tray above.
As the vapor rate in the contacting area is increased, the amount of energy being dissipated
also increases. This energy creates the interfacial area needed for good contacting between
the liquid and the vapor. It also expands the froth or spray height on the tray, thereby
decreasing the distance between the top of the spray and the tray above. As this disengaging
distance decreases further, some of the liquid is carried, or entrained, to the tray above as
droplets (Figure 15). The smallest drops will be entrained to the tray above while the largest
drops will fall back to the entrainment generation tray. As the quantity of entrainment
increases, the tray above becomes overloaded and floods, and the tray efficiency drops
sharply. Flooding must be avoided to maintain good tower control and design fractionation.
The quantity of entrainment generated is dependent on vapor rate, liquid rate, system physical
properties, and certain hardware parameters.

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GENERATING ENTRAINMENT

FIGURE 15

Jet Flooding
Jet flooding sets the vapor-handling capacity of almost all cross-flow trays. In jet flooding,
the liquid is projected or jetted to the tray above by the vapor leaving the tray's orifice. If
sufficient liquid is entrained to the tray above, the liquid will overload the downcomers, and
the tray will flood. When flooding occurs, the liquid begins to back up on the tray until the
inter-tray space is filled with a dense froth (Figure 16). This causes the next higher tray to
flood, and flooding moves up the tower until the liquid is carried out the top of the tower.
When flooded, the tower fractionates poorly and is very difficult to control.
The approach to flooding conditions is quantified as % jet flood or % flood. This is the ratio,
expressed as percent, of the vapor velocity between the trays, V, divided by the maximum
vapor velocity that will not cause flooding. The maximum velocity is called allowable vapor
velocity, Va.

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Jet Flooding (Cont'd)


Because jet flooding sets the maximum capacity of the tower, it must not be exceeded.
Furthermore, as the percent of the jet flood velocity moves from 90% to 100%, the
entrainment rate increases exponentially and the tray efficiency falls off sharply.
Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook and vendor literature provide correlations for
determining jet flooding.
PERCENT JET FLOOD VERSUS EFFICIENCY

FIGURE 16

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Downcomer Inlet Velocity


As the liquid leaves the contacting area on a tray, it enters the downcomer. Since it enters as
a froth (20-50% liquid by volume), it must be disengaged before it flows to the tray below.
The downcomer provides residence time for disengaging and acts as a conduit for liquid flow
to the tray below.
If the entrance area is too small and the froth cannot readily enter the downcomer, the froth
height will increase in the contacting area. This height will continue to increase until there is
sufficient head to force the froth into the downcomer or until the froth reaches the tray above,
causing flooding.
Downcomer Residence Time
The difference between the liquid and vapor densities, L-V, is one measure of the difficulty
of separation in the downcomer. Thus, based on buoyancy considerations, as the difference
of L-V gets smaller, disengaging becomes more difficult. For this reason, the downcomer
sizing criteria allow lower velocities (higher residence time) for high-pressure systems, where
L-V is low.
Downcomer Filling
The liquid height in the downcomer is called downcomer filling, expressed in inches of clear
liquid or as a percent of the tray spacing. Since the liquid enters the downcomer as a froth, the
actual fluid level in the downcomer will be higher than the filling calculated as clear liquid
(Figure 17). The exact height depends on the average froth density in the downcomer. As the
liquid travels downward in the downcomer, the vapor disengages and escapes from the top of
the downcomer. If the downcomer is sized properly, the liquid leaving should be essentially
clear liquid. Thus, there is a froth density gradient down the downcomer that ranges from the
froth density on the tray (at the top) to clear liquid at the bottom.

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DOWNCOMER FILLING

FIGURE 17

Downcomer Sizing Criteria


Downcomer inlet velocity, based on vapor-free liquid, normally should not exceed 0.4 ft/s to
assure an adequate area for vapor disengaging. For foamy liquids, the inlet velocity is limited
to 0.2 ft/s. However, based on Saudi Aramco experience with crude stabilizer columns,
downcomer inlet velocity can be higher without downcomer flooding limitation.
Allowable downcomer filling is 50% for normal systems and 40% for foaming systems.
Further, the downcomer shall be sized to allow 5 seconds minimum residence time for lowpressure columns and 7 to 8 seconds for high-pressure columns (greater than 400 psi) and
systems with high foam stability.

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Weeping
At low vapor velocities, the dry-tray pressure drop of the tray is insufficient to support the
liquid head on the tray; as a result, some liquid begins to flow intermittently through the vapor
openings. This liquid bypassing begins at the "weep point." As the vapor rate decreases
further, more liquid pours through the holes and weeping becomes continuous.
Although the total quantity of liquid that weeps is constant at a given vapor rate, the weep rate
per hole fluctuates. That is, some holes are weeping while others are in the vapor bubbling
mode. At any instant, a given hole may be bubbling, weeping, or doing neither, in a
random distribution across the contacting area of the tray.
Although weeping can occur on all tray types, it is less of a problem in valve trays, which are
the most widely used tray in Saudi Aramco plants. Since weeping occurs only at reduced
rates, it is the major factor in determining tray turndown, the range of vapor loadings over
which acceptable fractionation is achieved. (See Tray Turndown discussion.) For sieve trays,
turndown ratio is usually between 2/1 to 3/1; for valve trays, 3/1 to 5/1.
As Figure 18 shows, when vapor rate decreases, weeping increases very rapidly and tray
efficiency begins to decrease sharply. Weepage up to 20% of the liquid rate has small effect
on efficiency and is acceptable.
EFFECT OF WEEPING ON EFFICIENCY

FIGURE 18

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Dumping
When all the liquid flows through the holes on a tray, that is, no liquid flows over the weir,
dumping is said to occur.
When dumping takes place, tray efficiency is extremely poor and the products will be offspec. Trays should not be operated in the dumping region.
Tray Turndown
Turndown is a measure of the hydraulic flexibility of the tray. It is defined as the ratio of
maximum to minimum loadings in a range over which acceptable tray performance is
achieved. This usually is the range over which the tray efficiency stays at or above the design
value (Figure 18).
As Figure 18 shows, there is a relatively flat portion of the efficiency curve where design (or
better) efficiency is obtained. At low vapor rates, however, excessive weeping decreases
efficiency; at high vapor rates (above 90% of flood), excessive entrainment decreases
efficiency.
Entrainment-Weeping -- Tray Operating Window
Figure 19a shows the fractional weepage and entrainment curves for a typical sieve tray with
a moderate to high liquid rate. Using Figures 19a and b, note the difference in operating
ranges for 20% fractional weepage and entrainment. The moderate to high liquid rate
provides a good turndown ratio. The low liquid rate provides a poor turndown ratio. Sieve
trays can usually be designed to provide a turndown ratio of 2/1 to 3/1; valve trays, up to 5/1.
If the liquid rate on a tray is low (say below 1.5 gpm/in. of weir per pass), the operating
window on the tray is extremely small or nonexistent. This is shown in Figure 19b.

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EFFECT OF LIQUID RATE ON SIEVE TRAY TURNDOWN

(a)

(b)
FIGURE 19

Tray Efficiency
The vapor and liquid phases must be dispersed thoroughly and remain in contact long enough
for mass transfer to occur and to achieve good efficiency. The vapor residence time is the
time for the vapor to flow through the volume of froth on the tray. Likewise, the liquid
residence time is the time for the liquid to flow through the volume of froth on the tray. Both
of these variables depend on liquid and gas rates as well as the weir height and bubble area on
the tray.
The efficiency is also affected by the vapor and liquid diffusivities. Since these values are
fixed for a given system, there is no way to change them through tray hardware changes.
To achieve good efficiency, a designer must optimize the weir height, open area, bubble area,
number of liquid passes, and other variables. Excessive weeping, entrainment, and operation
in the spray regime must be avoided.
Figure 20 illustrates the effect of tower loading on valve and sieve tray efficiencies. The
operating range for the valve tray is wider, reaching to very low turndown. Sieve tray
efficiency may be somewhat higher near design loadings.

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EFFECT OF TOWER LOADING ON TRAY EFFICIENCY


VALVE TRAY VERSUS SIEVE TRAY

FIGURE 20

Tray Performance Diagram


A fractionating tray must be operated within a certain range of vapor and liquid rates to give
optimum performance and an economical design. Outside this range, efficiency drops off or
the tower becomes inoperable. The effects of vapor and liquid rates on tray performance are
depicted schematically on Figure 21 and are summarized in the text that follows.
TYPICAL TRAY PERFORMANCE DIAGRAM

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Maximum Vapor Rate Considerations


A very high vapor rate may cause:

Jet flooding, excessive entrainment, or spray regime operation.

High pressure drop across the tray, resulting in excessive downcomer filling and
subsequent tray flooding.

Minimum Vapor Rate Considerations


A very low vapor rate may cause:

Weeping or dumping.

Poor contacting and tray efficiency because of inadequate vapor and liquid mixing.

These conditions can result from insufficient vapor loading or from excessive open area on
the tray, both of which produce a low vapor velocity through the tray openings.
Maximum Liquid Rate Considerations
High liquid rates may cause:

Tray flooding because of insufficient disengaging in the downcomers, excessive tray


pressure drop, and excessive downcomer filling.

Tray flooding because of excessive downcomer entrance or exit velocity and


downcomer bridging.

Minimum Liquid Rate Considerations


Low liquid rates may cause:

Spray regime operation at high vapor rates.

Vapor bypassing up the downcomers, if the downcomer is not sealed.

Poor contacting and low tray efficiency, because of inadequate liquid residence time on
the tray due to operation in the spray regime.

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Main Tray Design Parameters


The development of a design for a new tray generally follows the steps listed below:
1.

Define the design vapor and liquid loadings.

2.

Determine tray spacing, diameter, and layout.

3.

Calculate hydraulics, pressure drop, and downcomer (DC) filling.

4.

Evaluate flexibility.

5.

Produce a balanced tray design.

The tray design procedure is iterative and involves repeating several of these steps, even when
a tray design computer program is used. In this section we will focus on:

Hardware definitions.

Tray pressure balance.

Main tray design variables that the engineer needs to determine performance and key
parameters that the tray design must satisfy.

Valve tray design options

The Saudi Aramco Design Practice, ADP-C-001, contains information and criteria for tray
design. A Glitsch valve tray design manual is provided as a separate class handout.

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Hardware Definitions
Figures 22 and 23 are typical layouts of single-pass trays, illustrating the tray characteristics
discussed in the following sections.
Tower Diameter and Tray Spacing
These two parameters set the capacity of the tower. As the distance between trays (the tray
spacing, H) increases, tower capacity increases. For most services, the most economical
spacing falls between 18-24 in. Spacings above 36 in. provide little capacity advantage and
are not usually recommended. Likewise, tray spacings as low as 12 in. can be used, but this
increases the tower diameter (DT) required to handle a given set of vapor and liquid loadings.
In addition, low spacings make maintenance much more difficult. The Saudi Aramco
Engineering Standards specify minimum tray spacing requirement at various tower diameters.

TRAY LAYOUT DEFINITIONS

FIGURE 22

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DOWNCOMER ARRANGEMENTS

FIGURE 23

Downcomer Area
This is the area in Figures 22 and 23 (Sdi, Sdo) that handles liquid as it flows from a given
tray to the tray below. The edge of the downcomer is usually chordal in shape, and its
maximum width is called the downcomer rise (r).
Downcomer Clearance
This is the vertical clearance (c) between the tray floor and the bottom edge of the downcomer
apron (Figure 22).
Outlet Weir Height and Weir Length
As the liquid leaves the contacting area and enters the downcomer, it flows over the outlet
weir (Figure 22). The height of the weir (hw) is set by the designer to provide liquid holdup
on the tray and promote efficient liquid/vapor contacting. The weir length (lw) is the same as
the downcomer chord length.
Inlet weirs are discussed later in the downcomer seal section.

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Multipass Trays
As the liquid rate on a tray increases, the capacity of the tower can usually be increased if the
liquid flow is split into more than one path (Figure 24). Such split-flow trays are called
multipass trays. On multipass trays, the downcomers nearest the tower centerline are inboard
downcomers, while those farthest away are called outboard downcomers.
TRAY PASS ARRANGEMENTS

FIGURE 24
Contacting Area Definitions
During tray design, such terms as active area, hole area, waste area, and free area are used.
They are explained below (see also Figures 22 and 23).
Active or Bubble Area (At)
This is the area between the downcomers where vapor/liquid contacting occurs. It is used in
calculating tray efficiency, but does not set the tray's capacity.
Hole/valve/cap Area (Ap)
This is the open area or hole area provided within the bubble area to permit vapor to enter,
contact, and pass through the liquid on the tray. For a sieve tray, it equals the total area of all
the holes on a given tray.
The hole area is usually expressed as a fraction of the active area (Ap/At) and is determined
by various correlations for each tray type.

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Waste Area (Aw)


Waste area is any part of the active area that is farther than 3 in. from the edge of a contacting
device. Since vapor does not contact the liquid in this area, it is not included in the active
area. Waste area frequently occurs when tray blanking, inlet weirs, or recessed inlet boxes
have been specified.
Free Area (Af)
Test data have shown that as the vapor flows through and leaves the active area (At) it
expands over the downcomer(s) and its velocity drops. Thus, an area greater than the bubble
area is available for vapor flow. This larger area is known as the free area (Af). The free area
is what determines the tray's capacity. When multipass trays are designed, the tray (either
inboard or outboard) that has the smallest free area is used to set the tray's capacity. For trays
with sloped or stepped downcomers, the average free area is used.
Flow Path Length (lfp)
The length of the contacting area in the direction of the liquid flow (see Figure 23).
Tray Pressure Balance
A tray pressure balance illustrates the factors that determine downcomer filling. Figure 25
illustrates the pressure balance for a two-pass sieve tray; the pressure balance for a one-pass
tray and for a valve tray is similar.
The components of the pressure balance are described below. Their values are generally
expressed in terms of clear liquid height at the tray conditions, for example, inches of clear
liquid.

Dry tray pressure drop (Pd). It is the pressure drop through the tray openings, sieve
holes in this case. It does not take into account any effects from the presence of the
liquid (dry tray).

Average liquid static head (La).

The sum of Pd and La is the pressure drop between the trays.

Pressure loss under the downcomer or downcomer contraction pressure loss (hd) results
from the flow of the liquid through the downcomer clearance.

Downcomer liquid filling (D).

A pressure balance between the trays through two paths, through the tray openings and
through the downcomer, results in the following equations.

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Tray Pressure Balance (Cont'd)


Pressure balance for inboard downcomer filling:

D* = h*d + P*d + L*a + La

*
Pressure balance for outboard downcomer filling: D = hd + Pd + La +La

The * distinguishes inboard from outboard downcomer trays (Figure 25). It was assumed
that the vapor density, rV, is significantly lower than the liquid density, rL.
Pressure balance for single pass trays:

D = hd + Pd + 2La

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For light ends columns operating under high pressures, it is necessary to consider the effect of
vapor density in design calculations. The liquid height in the downcomer in such cases
should be determined by the equations available in ADP-C-001, 3.4.1.

PRESSURE BALANCE FOR A TWO-PASS SIEVE TRAY

Inboard Downcomer:
D* = h*d + P*d + L*a + La for rV << rL
Outboard Downcomer: D = hd + Pd + La + L*a for rV << rL
FIGURE 25

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Main Tray Design Variables and Performance Parameters


Below is a list of the main variables determined during tray design and a list of key
performance parameters affected by the tray design. A discussion relating the items in the
two lists follows.
Main Tray Design Variables

Tray diameter.
Tray spacing.
Number of tray passes.
Downcomer area.
Downcomer type.
Active or bubble area.
Open or hole area.
Weir height.
Downcomer clearance.

Key Performance Parameters

Jet flooding.
Downcomer filling (or downcomer flooding).
Downcomer inlet velocity.
Dry and total tray pressure drop.
Pressure drop under the downcomer.
gpm/in. of weir.
Weeping and tray flexibility.

Tray diameter and tray spacing are the two most important variables in tray design because
they determine the diameter and height of the tower. They affect two important performance
parameters: jet flooding and downcomer filling (downcomer flooding). The tray diameter is
the main variable in determining the velocity of vapor between trays and, as a result, jet
flooding. Tray spacing also affects jet flooding. Higher tray spacing between trays allows
more liquid droplets to settle before they reach the tray above; thus it helps reduce
entrainment and the percent jet flood. Improvement for tray spacings above 36 in. is
marginal. Because of the trade-off between tower diameter (tray diameter) and height (tray
spacing), finding the most economical design may require the evaluation of alternative tray
spacings.
Tray diameter and tray spacing also affect downcomer filling. Vapor velocities determined
by the tray diameter affect the tray pressure drop of a tray and as a result the downcomer
filling. Tray spacing sets the height available for vapor disengagement in the downcomers.
Liquid height is the numerator and tray spacing the denominator in determining the percent
downcomer filling.

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Main Tray Design Variables and Performance Parameters (Cont'd)


The Saudi Aramco Engineering Standards, AES-C-001, 5.1.3, specify minimum tray spacing
requirements for tower access and service.
Towers with high liquid rates use more than one tray pass. The upper acceptable limit of
liquid rate per tray pass is about 15 gpm/in. of weir or according to the ADP criteria,
5000 gph/ft of diameter. Tray hydraulics at higher liquid rates become unpredictable.
The downcomer area determines the inlet velocity in the downcomer and along with the tray
spacing, the residence time of liquid in the downcomer. ADP specify maximum inlet velocity
and minimum residence time requirements. Vendors (see Glitsch valve tray design manual)
have similar criteria.
When the downcomer inlet velocity sets the size of the downcomer (usually at high liquid
rates), it may be possible to increase the cross sectional space available for vapor flow by
using sloped downcomers. The liquid leaving the downcomer is relatively clear of vapor;
thus, higher velocities (on clear liquid basis) at the bottom of the downcomer are acceptable.
The active or bubble area of a tray normally is the area left after the downcomer area is
determined. Very small residence time and small flow path lengths along the bubble area
may result in low tray efficiencies.
The open or hole area of a tray affects tray performance parameters such as dry tray pressure
drop, weeping and tray flexibility, and the transition between the froth and spray regimes on
the tray. Lowering the open area increases the vapor velocity through the holes, the dry tray
pressure drop, and as a result, the downcomer filling. High vapor velocities through the
holes, especially when the liquid rates are low, may result in a spray rather than froth vaporliquid contact on the tray. High open area reduces the flexibility of the tray and may result in
weeping and dumping at turndown conditions.
The weir height is a key factor in determining the liquid height on the tray. As such, it affects
tray performance parameters such as pressure drop, weeping, and tray flexibility. It also
affects the spray-froth transition and the tray efficiency. Along with the downcomer
clearance, it determines the downcomer sealing. The downcomer clearance also affects the
pressure loss under the downcomer (or downcomer contraction pressure loss hd) and
therefore, downcomer filling. For trays with high liquid rates, shaped lip downcomers help
reduce pressure drop.

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Valve Tray Design Options


Valve trays are normally specified for new column designs. They are relatively inexpensive
and provide good vapor/liquid contact over a wide throughput range.
Valve tray designs are normally developed by the various tray fabricators that submit
quotations. Precise design methods vary, but all fabricators follow the same general
procedures. Most major tray fabricators issue design manuals for general use which illustrate
these procedures. Sample design manuals include the following:
(a)

Glitsch, Inc. (Dallas, Texas)


Ballast Tray Design Manual (Bulletin No. 4900)
5th Edition (December 1989)

(b)

Koch Engineering Company, Inc. (Wichita, Kansas)


Flexitray (R) Design Manual (Bulletin 960-1, 1982)

(c)

Nutter Engineering Company (Tulsa, Oklahoma)


Float Valve Design Manual
April 1976

Such manuals can be used to:

Determine the preliminary size of new columns and tray components.

Check tray fabricators' designs for new columns and trays.

Evaluate existing columns under operating conditions differing from original designs.

Tray fabricators' design manuals are updated periodically, so care must be taken to utilize the
latest manuals. Tray designs developed by tray vendors or via vendor manuals should be
checked using the Saudi Aramco design criteria (ADP-C-001). For final design, the tray
should be rated by the vendor. Figure 26 is typical of tray design results from valve tray
vendors.
PROCESS/PRO II can be used to develop new tray designs and rate existing ones.
PROCESS/PRO II uses the Glitsch valve tray design method. For sieve and bubble cap trays,
it derates the valve tray results by 5 and 15% respectively. It is necessary to simulate the
tower to rate or design a tray with PROCESS or PRO II.

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BALLAST TRAYS DESIGNED BY GLITSCH INC.

FIGURE 26

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Tower Internals
The following is a list of common tower internals. The design of most of these internals is
covered in ADP-C-001. In addition to ADP, vendors can provide designs and design criteria.

Tray support.
Tray pass transitions.
Downcomer seal.
Antijump baffle.
Wire mesh entrainment screens.
Tower inlets.
Tower drawoffs.
Reboiler drawoffs.

An overview of tray pass transitions, downcomer seal, anti-jump baffle, and wire mesh
entrainment screens is below.
Tray Transitions
Figure 27 illustrates the tray transition arrangement for one-pass trays to two-pass trays.
TRAY TRANSITIONS

FIGURE 27

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Downcomer Seal
The downcomer must be sealed by liquid to prevent some of the vapor from bypassing the
contacting region by flowing upward through the liquid in the downcomer. In most designs,
the liquid holdup (or clear liquid height) will sufficiently seal the downcomer clearance
without additional hardware devices. When this is not possible, however, ways to provide a
seal via hardware techniques are shown in Figure 28.

DOWNCOMER SEALING TECHNIQUES

FIGURE 28

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Seal Pan
Seal pans provide seal for the bottom tray. A typical seal pan arrangement is shown in Figure
29.

SEAL PAN

FIGURE 29

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Antijump Baffle
Figure 30 illustrates a typical antijump baffle. Antijump baffles are used to prevent liquid
collision in the center of the inboard downcomer. The specific need for this baffle varies with
liquid rate and the type of tray used.
ANTIJUMP BAFFLE

FIGURE 30

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Wire Mesh Entrainment Screens (Demisters)


In some towers, entrainment of liquid can cause serious product contamination and
degradation. Crinkled wire mesh screens are installed to provide a surface upon which the
entrained liquid can coalesce to prevent this problem. These screens must be carefully
designed. If the velocity through the screen is too low, maximum coalescence will not occur.
If the velocity is too high, coalesced liquid will be re-entrained from the screen.
Screen coking may also be a problem, depending on temperature, type of screen, and
feedstock quality. Each tower must be considered individually and past or similar experience
relied upon.
An example of wire mesh screen efficiency is provided in Figure 31. For optimum
performance, the kinetic energy factor F = V [rV/(rL-rV)]0.5 for the vapor entering the screen
should fall within the design range of the screen. If it falls below this range, the crosssectional area of the screen should be reduced somewhat by addition of a donut-shaped baffle
around the screen.
EXAMPLE OF WIRE MESH EFFICIENCY

Kinetic Energy Factor, F = V

V 0.5
L V

FIGURE 31

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GLOSSARY
active area

The tray deck area where the liquid-vapor contacts take place.

antijump baffle

Tower internal device placed over the inlet of an inboard


downcomer in order to prevent liquid from one side from
jumping to the other side. See figure in the text.

arc downcomer

A type of downcomer. See figure in Downcomer Configuration


section.

baffle sections

Horizontal or low-angle contacting devices creating cascades of


liquid for contact with rising vapor. There are two basic types
of baffle sections: sheds, and disks and donuts. See the figures
in the text.

blank tray

Tray used to collect liquid from higher trays or packing. Blank


trays do not provide vapor-liquid contact. A synonymous term
is chimney tray.

bubble cap tray

A type of tray. The vapor goes through risers and inverted caps
making contact with the liquid when leaving the caps.
See the figures in the text.

cartridge tray

Prefabricated tray and downcomer assembly. See figure in text.

chimney tray

Tray used to collect liquid from higher trays or packing.


Chimney trays do not provide vapor-liquid contact. A
synonymous term is blank tray.

choking

Accumulation of froth bridged over the inlet of a downcomer,


slowing down the transfer of liquid to the trays below.

chordal downcomer

Vertical straight downcomer across a chord of the tower cross


section. Synonymous with straight downcomer. See Figure 7,
Downcomer Configuration section.

column

A vertical vessel containing contacting devices such as trays or


packing, used to perform separations such as distillation or
extraction. A synonymous term is tower.

countercurrent devices

Devices in which the liquid flow is truly countercurrent to the


vapor flow.

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cross-flow devices

Devices in which liquid flows horizontally across a flat plate.

debottlenecking

Removal of a process or equipment constraint.

demisting

Elimination of entrained liquid droplets at the top of a packed


bed or a trayed tower.

disc and donuts

A type of baffle section. See the figures in the text.

downcomer area

The cross-sectional area of downcomers.

downcomer clearance

The vertical distance between the bottom of the downcomer and


the tray deck.

downcomer contraction
pressure drop

Pressure drop of the liquid passing under the downcomer.

downcomer filling

Height of liquid in the downcomer. It is often expressed in


inches of clear liquid or a percent (clear liquid) of the tray
spacing.

downcomer flooding

Overloading of the tray interspace with liquid, caused by high


downcomer filling.

downcomer rise

The horizontal radial distance between the center of the chord of


a straight outboard downcomer and the vessel wall.

downcomer seal

Hydraulic seal of the downcomer outlet. See figures in the text.

downcomers

Tower internals that allow the tray liquid to pass to the tray
below.

dry-tray pressure drop

Part of the pressure drop that is not related to the presence of the
liquid on the tray, that is, the pressure of the vapor through the
contacting device.

dumped packing

Packing type, consisting of small (2-in. is typical) devices with


large open space, placed in the tower (dumped) in random
orientation. A synonymous term is random packing.

dumping

Weeping of all the liquid, so that no liquid flows over the weir.

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entrainment

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Liquid carryover by the vapor to the tray above.

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flexibility

Refers to capacity related flexibility. See Turndown.

flooding

Overloading of the tray interspace with liquid. Frequently, the


term refers to jet flooding.

flow regimes

The movement of liquid and vapor on a tray.

free area

The tray cross-sectional area available for vapor flow.

froth

A flow regime in which vapor passes through a liquid on the


tray as discrete bubbles of irregular shape.

grids

Countercurrent contacting devices fabricated in panels and


installed in an ordered manner. In contrast to structured
packing, grids provide wide clearances. See the figures in the
text.

hole area

The open area provided within the bubble area to permit vapor
to enter, contact, and pass through the liquid on the tray.

inboard downcomer

Downcomer positioned by the vessel wall.

jet flooding

Overloading of the tray interspace with liquid, caused by


excessive entrainment.

modified arc downcomer

A type of downcomer. See Figure 8 in Downcomer


Configuration section.

multiple downcomer tray

Proprietary type of tray. See figure in Downcomer


Configuration section.

outboard downcomer

Downcomer positioned by the vessel wall.

packing

Devices that provide countercurrent vapor-liquid contact in


distillation columns.

percent jet flood


flood)

(% The ratio, expressed as a percent, of the vapor velocity between


the trays, V, divided by the maximum vapor velocity that will
not cause flooding.

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plates

Contact points of all the vapor and liquid in a column, such as it


occurs on column trays. The term theoretical plates is used to
indicate that equilibrium is reached at the contact point between
all the vapor and all the liquid. The actual plates reflect the
obtained tray efficiency. A synonymous term is stages.

pumparound

Heat removal from a stream pumped from a tray to a higher


tray.

random packing

Packing type, consisting of small (2-in. is typical) devices with


large open space, placed in the tower (dumped) in random
orientation. A synonymous term is dumped packing.

seal pan

Tower internal device placed over the inlet of an inboard


downcomer in order to prevent liquid from one side from
jumping to the other side. See figure in the text.

sheds

A type of baffle section. See Figure 7 in the text.

sieve tray

A perforated plate type of tray.

sloped downcomer

A type of downcomer. See Figure 7 in Downcomer


Configuration section.

spray

A flow regime in which a gas jet issuing from the orifice


shatters some liquid into droplets.

stages

Contact points of all the vapor and liquid in a column, such as


occurs on column trays. The term theoretical stages is used to
indicate that equilibrium is reached at the contact point between.
The actual stages reflect the obtained tray efficiency. A
synonymous term is plates.

stepped downcomer

A type of downcomer. See Figure 7 in Downcomer


Configuration section.

straight downcomer

Vertical straight downcomer across a chord of the tower cross


section. Synonymous with chordal downcomer. See Figure 8
in Downcomer Configuration section.

structured packing

Countercurrent contacting devices fabricated from thin crimped


sheets of metal and installed in layers having a fixed orientation.
See the figures in the text.

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superficial velocity

Velocity based on the tower diameter rather than the crosssectional area available for flow.

support ring

Horizontal ring welded to the tower walls that are used to


support a tray.

tower

See column.

tray loadings

Tray vapor and liquid rates.

tray pass number

The number of individual paths of liquid on a tray.

tray spacing

The vertical distance between two trays.

tray turndown

The ratio of maximum to minimum tray loadings in a range over


which acceptable performance is achieved.

truss

Tray support beam.

turndown

Operation at reduced capacity.

ultimate capacity

The largest vapor load a tower can handle, as predicted by the


Stokes law on droplet entrainment.

valve tray

A type of tray with contacting devices that can be opened and


closed. See the figures in text.

waste area

Any area in the active area that is farther than 3 in. from the
edge of a contacting device.

weeping

Liquid flow through the tray openings.

weir

A vertical strip at the inlet or outlet of a tray used to maintain


liquid height on the tray or a liquid seal at the outlet of the
downcomer. See figure in text.

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