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# Absorption Design Calculation

BGHiggins/UCDavis/Feb2_ 08

Problem Statement
An air stream containing acetone is passed through a counter current absorption cascade shown in Figure 1. The acetone is to be
absorbed into a water stream. Each mixing unit in the cascade is assumed to be an equilibrium stage. The molar flow rate of the
gas mixture entering the cascade is V = 30 kgmol/hr. The molar flow rate of the water stream is L = 90 kgmol/hr . The mole
fraction of acetone in the entering gas stream is yN+1 = 0.01. We are required to determine the number of equilibrium stages
required so that 90% of the acetone is removed from the gas stream. For your calculation you may assume that the molar flow
rates of the liquid and gas streams are effectively constant across the cascade, and that only the acetone is miscible in the two
phases. The equilibrium relation for the acetone is
yi = K xi ,

K = 2.53

(1)

## Figure 1 : Absorption cascade

Sequential Analysis
We begin our analysis by selecting a control volume (CV1) that encompasses all N stages of the absorption cascade ( See Figure
2)

## Figure 2 : Control Volume 1

At steady state the macroscopic species balance for CV1 is
xA C v n A = 0
Ae

(2)

## The acetone balance becomes

Acetone :

L x0 + V yN+1 = V y1 + L xN

We are told that 90% of the acetone that enters the cascade must be absorbed. Thus

(3)

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

V y1 = 0.1 V yN+1

(4)

Substituting this expression into the acetone species balance and solving for xN gives
xN = x0 +

V
L

H1 - 0.1L yN+1 = x0 +

V
L

0.9 yN+1

(5)

xN =

30
90

(6)

## y1 = 0.1 yN+1 = H0.1L H0.01L = 0.001

(7)

Next we select a control volume that encompasses the first n stages out of a cascade of N stages (see Figure 3)

## Figure 3 : Control Volume 2

The acetone species balance for the first n stages is
L x0 + V yn+1 = V y1 + L xn

Acetone :

(8)

We solve for yn+1 to get the operating line for the cascade
L

yn+1 =

xn + y1 -

x0

(9)

To determine the number of stages we need to meet the desired design specifications, we do a series of sequential calculations
starting with Stage 1 in the cascade: Applying Eq. (9) to Stage 1 we get
y2 =

L
V

x1 + y1 -

L
V

x0

(10)

For our particular problem we are told that x0 = 0 and since each stage is an equilibrium stage, then we have the relation
y1 = K x1
Thus Eq. (10) becomes

y2 = HA + 1L y1

(11)

(12)

## where A is the absorption factor given by

A=
Solving for y2 we get

L
VK

H30 L H2.53L
90

= 1.18577

(13)

(14)

## For stage 3 we have

(15)

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

y3 = IA2 + A + 1M y1
= I1.185772 + 1.18577 + 1M H0.001L = 0.00359182
Repeated calculations give

y4 = IA3 + A2 + A + 1M y1 = 0.00525908
y5 = IA4 + A3 + A2 + A + 1M y1 = 0.00724
y6 = IA5 + A4 + A3 + A2 + A + 1M y1 = 0.00958

(16)

y7 = IA6 + A5 + A4 + A3 + A2 + A + 1M y1 = 0.01236
And from the equilibrium relationship we have
x1 =

x2 =

x3 =

x4 =

x5 =

x6 =

x7 =

y1
K
y2
K
y3
K
y4
K
y5
K
y6
K
y7
K

0.001
2.53

= 0.000395257

= 0.000863941

= 0.00141969

= 0.00207869

(17)

= 0.00286166

= 0.00378656

= 0.00488538

## Our design objective is to have

xN 0.003, yN+1 = 0.01

(18)

From the above calculations it follows that we need more than 5 but less than 6 stages for the desired separation.

Graphical Analysis
The following plot shows the graphical analysis. The dashed steps represent the sequential calculations for each equilibrium
stage. The red lines define the design specifications for the N th equilibrium stage. Thus for this calculation we would need at least
6 equilibrium stages so that yN+1 0.01and xN = 0.03 The location for the 4th stage is indicated on the plot.

(15)

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

0.012

0.010

L = 90 kgmolhr

Operating Line

yN+1

0.008

0.006
y4

x4

0.004

0.002
Equilibrium Line
0.000
0.000

xN
0.001

0.002
x

0.003

0.004

## Figure 4 : Graphical Analysis for L = 90

Let us examine next what happens when we reduce the water flow rate from 90 to 70 kgmol/hr. The following plot shows that the
slope of the operating line decreases, resulting in more equilibrium stages to achieve the desired design specifications for the
absorber. In this case we need about 18 stages such that yN+1 0.01, and the concentration of acetone in the exit liquid stream
has increased to xN = 0.00385. Of course, the overall molar flow rate of acetone leaving in the liquid stream is the same:
L = 90 kgmol hr :

## L xN = H90L H0.003L = 0.27 kgmol hr

L = 70 kgmol hr :

(19)

0.010

L = 70 kgmolhr
0.008
Operating Line

0.006

0.004
4th Stage

0.002
Equilibrium Line
0.000
0.000

0.001

0.002
x

0.003

0.004

## Figure 5 : Graphical Analysis for L = 70

When we reduce the water flow rate further to L = 67 kgmol/hr, the following plot shows that the equilibrium line and operating
line intersect at a value of x 0.0036. For the given liquid flow rate the overall acetone balance gives an exit concentration of
xN = 0.0403. This means we have a pinch point within the absorption cascade, which results in an infinite number of equilibrium stages as the pinch point is approached. Consequently, it is impossible to reach the desired design specifications for the
cascade, i.e. yN+1 = 0.01, xN = 0.0403 for the given flow rate. The following plot illustrates this behavior graphically. Note that
the pinch point occurs at x p < xN = 0.0403

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

When we reduce the water flow rate further to L = 67 kgmol/hr, the following plot shows that the equilibrium line and operating
line intersect at a value of x 0.0036. For the given liquid flow rate the overall acetone balance gives an exit concentration of
xN = 0.0403. This means we have a pinch point within the absorption cascade, which results in an infinite number of equilibrium stages as the pinch point is approached. Consequently, it is impossible to reach the desired design specifications for the
cascade, i.e. yN+1 = 0.01, xN = 0.0403 for the given flow rate. The following plot illustrates this behavior graphically. Note that
the pinch point occurs at x p < xN = 0.0403
0.012

L = 67 kgmolhr
0.010

yN+1
Pinch Point xP

0.008

0.006

Operating Line

0.004
4th Stage
0.002
Equilibrium Line
0.000
0.000

xN
0.001

0.002

0.003

0.004

0.005

## Figure 5 : Graphical Analysis for L = 67

To determine the minimum liquid flow rate Lmin we need to find the coordinates where the operating line intersects the equilibrium line such that y = yN+1 = 0.01. Hence we need to solve the following set of equations:
yN+1 =

Lmin
V

x + y1 -

Lmin
V

x0
(20)

yN+1 = K x
with yN+1 = 0.01. The calculations give

## LMin = 68.31 kgmol hr

(21)

and the coordinates of the pinch point at the minimum liquid flow rate are
yN+1 = 0.01, xN,min = 0.003952

(22)

Global Analysis
In the previous calculations, we determined the compositions of each equilibrium stage by performing a sequential calculation.
We start with Stage 1 and compute all its stream and then proceed to Stage 2 etc. An alternative approach is to perform a global
analysis. That is we set up the system of equations and solve the system all at once.
A material balance over the solute about the nth stage gives

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

L xn-1 + V yn+1 = L xn + V yn

(23)

We will assume that the equilibrium relation for the nth stage is given by yn = K xn and that K is a constant. Then we can use the
equilibrium relation for the nth and nth + 1 stage to eliminate yn , yn+1 The result is
L xn-1 + V K xn+1 = L xn + V K xn = HL + V KL xn

(24)

## Dividing through by V, this equation can be expressed as

L

-K xn+1 +

+ K xn -

xn-1 = 0

(25)

This equation holds for n = 2, 3, , 5. For the first and last stage ( n=1 and n=6) the equations are
L
V

+ K x1 - K x2 =

L
V

x0
(26)

L
V

+ K x6 -

L
V

x5 = yN+1

Note that solving the set of equations given by Eq. (25)-(26), does not ensure that y1 is in equilibrium with x1 . In order to ensure
that the exit vapor stream has a composition y1 , we can force K x1 = y1 and thus write the first of Eq. 26 as
L
V

x1 - K x2 =

x0 - y1

(27)

where x0 is the mole fraction of solute in the entering liquid stream, and yN+1 is the mole fraction of the solute in the entering gas
stream. These equations can be put into matrix form by organizing the equations as follows:
I LV M
-

L
V

I LV

-K
+ KM

-K

-K

-K

- LV

I LV + KM

- LV

I LV + KM

- LV

I LV + KM
-

L
V

I LV

x1
x2
x3
x4
x5
x6

-K

L
V

+ KM

x0 - y1
0
0
0
0

(28)

yN+1

## Note if we sum these equations we get the overall balance

y1 +

L
V

x6 = yN+1 +

L
v

x0 V y1 + L x6 = V yN+1 + L x0

(29)

## Substituting in the values L = 90, V = 30, x0 = 0, yN+1 = 0.01, y1 = 0.001 we get

3
-3
0
0
0
0

-2.53
5.53
-3
0
0
0

0
-2.53
5.53
-3
0
0

0
0
-2.53
5.53
-3
0

0
0
0
-2.53
5.53
-3

0
0
0
0
-2.53
5.53

x1
x2
x3
x4
x5
x6

-0.001
0
0
0
0
0.01

We can solve this linear system of equations bu Gaussian elimination to obtain xi . The result is

(30)

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

## x1 = 0.0000597, x2 = 0.000466, x3 = 0.0009478,

x4 = 0.001519, x5 = 0.002197, x6 = 0.003

(31)

Note that liquid stream leaving stage 1 is NOT in equilibrium with the gas stream; that is y1 K x1 . However, the overall mass
balance is satisfied, namely
V y1 + L x6 = V yN+1 + L x0

(32)

using the calculated value for x6 . Hence our algorithm computes weighted values xi such that the overall mass balance is satisfied.

Suppose instead we did not require that y1 = 0.001; then the system of equations we would need to solve are (Compare Eq. (32)
with Eq. (28))

I LV + KM

-K

-K

-K

-K

- LV

I LV + KM

- LV

I LV + KM

- LV

I LV + KM

- LV

I LV + KM

- LV

-K

I LV + KM

x1
x2
x3
x4
x5
x6

L
V

x0
0
0
0
0

(33)

yN+1

## The solution for this system of equations is

x1 = 0.000352, x2 = 0.000728, x3 = 0.001174,
x4 = 0.001702, x5 = 0.002329, x6 = 0.003072

(34)

## If we sum the equations in (33) we get the overall balance in terms of xi s

V K x1 + L x6 = V yN+1 + L x0

(35)

A simple check shows that the above solution does satisfy the overall acetone balance
In contrast our sequential calculation (see previous section) gave
x1 = 0.000395, x2 = 0.000864, x3 = 0.00142,
x4 = 0.00208, x5 = 0.00286, x6 = 0.00379

(36)

## This solution does not satisfy the overall acetone balance as

V K x1 + L x6 = 0.379 0.3

or

V y1 + L x6 = 0.3711 0.3

(37)

Finally let us set up the system of equations so that we do not implicitly assume we have an equilibrium stage. Thus for the nth
stage we have the following set of equations
L xn-1 + V yn+1 = L xn + V yn ,

yn = K xn , n = 2, 3, , N - 1

(38)

## and for the N=1 and N, we have

L x0 + V y2 = L x1 + V y1 , y1 = K x1
(39)
L xN-1 + V yN+1 = L xN + V yN ,
Let us take N=6, and the system of equations becomes

yN = K xN

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb

L
0
0
0
0 0 V -V 0
0
0
0
-L L
0
0
0 0 0
V -V 0
0
0
0 -L L
0
0 0 0
0
V -V 0
0
0
0 -L L
0 0 0
0
0
V -V 0
0
0
0 -L L 0 0
0
0
0
V -V
0
0
0
0 -L L 0
0
0
0
0
V
K
0
0
0
0 0 -1 0
0
0
0
0
0
K
0
0
0 0 0 -1 0
0
0
0
0
0
K
0
0 0 0
0 -1 0
0
0
0
0
0
K
0 0 0
0
0 -1 0
0
0
0
0
0
K 0 0
0
0
0 -1 0
0
0
0
0
0 K 0
0
0
0
0 -1

x1
x2
x3
x4
x5
x6
y1
y2
y3
y4
y5
y6

L x0

0
0
0
0
V yN+1
0
0
0
0
0
0

(40)

Note we have not specified y1 or x6 . This would be determined from the calculation We can use Gaussian elimination to solve this
system of equation to find
x1 = 0.000319786, x2 = 0.000698978, x3 = 0.00114861,
x4 = 0.00168178, x5 = 0.00231399, x6 = 0.00306365
(41)
y1 = 0.000809058, y2 = 0.00176842, y3 = 0.00290599,
y4 = 0.0042549, y5 = 0.00585439, y6 = 0.00775103
In this case both forms of the overall balance are satisfied:
V K x1 + L x6 = V yN+1 + L x0

and

V y1 + L x6 = V yN+1 + L x0

(42)

Finally we compare the above global solution to our sequential calculation (see previous section) gave
x1 = 0.000395, x2 = 0.000864, x3 = 0.00142,
x4 = 0.00208, x5 = 0.00286, x6 = 0.00379

(43)

The reason the solutions are different is because in the global solution we do not force the end conditions to hold:
y1 = 0.001, and x6 = 0.003

(44)

## which we found by doing an overall balance for an arbitrary number of stages.

Final Comments
The sequential balance does not require us to solve a system of algebraic equations and for this reason it is convenient method for
getting an approximate solution, that allows us to estimate the number of equilibrium stages. The down side to this approach is
that the approximate solution does not satisfy the overall balance.
A more accurate method is to solve the complete system of equations. These are the N acetone balance equations for the N stages
and the N equilibrium relations. A degree of freedom analysis confirms we have a well posed problem, as illustrated below
Number of variables for N equilbrium stages : 2 N + 2 acetone molar flow rates
Number of independent eqns :
N equilibrium relations
Number of specifications :

,

M0 , MN+1

## Thus we have 2N equations for the 2N unknown molar flow rates.

AdsorptionDesignCalc.nb