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College of Engineering |
Chemical Engineering and Materials Science










ASPEN Tutorial

1. Aspen Introduction
ASPEN is a process simulation software package widely used in industry today. Given a process
design and an appropriate selection of thermodynamic models, ASPEN uses mathematical models
to predict the performance of the process. This information can then be used in an iterative fashion
to optimize the design. This accurate modeling of thermodynamic properties is particularly important
in the separation of non-ideal mixtures, and ASPEN has a large data bases of regressed
parameters. ASPEN can handle very complex processes, including multiple-column separation
systems, chemical reactors, distillation of chemically reactive compounds, and even electrolyte
solutions like mineral acids and sodium hydroxide solutions.

ASPEN does not design the process. It takes a design that the user supplies and simulates the
performance of the process specified in that design. Therefore, a solid understanding of the
underlying chemical engineering principles is required to supply reasonable values of input
parameters and to evaluate the suitability of the results obtained. For instance, a user should have
some idea of the column behavior before attempting to use ASPEN. This information could come
from an approximate method, such as the McCabe-Thiele approach, general modeling of the T-x-y
behavior, or residue curve maps.

ASPEN cannot tell you how many stages to use for a given separation. You must set the number of
stages and see what type of separation results. Some preliminary or 'back of the envelope'
calculations are generally recommended.

MSU has a variety of Aspen packages for different simulations. Briefly, here are the programs and

Aspen Adsim - Fixed bed adsorption for pressure swing adsorption, etc.
Aspen Chromatography - Fixed bed adsorption, simulated moving bed chromatography. Runs
independent of Aspen Plus.
Aspen Custom Modeler - A utility to permit the creation of user unit operations.
Aspen Distil - Aspen's 'Conceptual Engineering Product' for planning for processing schemes. Runs
independent of Aspen Plus.
Aspen Dynamics - Unsteady-state simulator.
Aspen Plus - Steady-state process simulator.
Aspen Properties - Modeling of properties and phase equilibria. Incorporated into most other
components, though it can be run as a stand-alone subset. All of the phase equilibria and mixture
property methods discussed on this site are accessible in either Aspen Plus or Aspen Properties.
Aspen Polymers - Modeling of polymerization reactors and polymer thermodynamics. This package
is available within Aspen Plus or Aspen Properties rather than via an external menu.
BatchSep - Batch distillations. Runs independently of Aspen Plus.

Normally undergraduate student projects will involve Aspen Plus or Aspen Properties . To start
either of these packages, be sure to look for the corresponding User Interface on the start menu.

1.1 Getting more help

This document is intended to be an overview. ASPEN has extensive online help. Do not try to
contact ASPEN directly. They do not respond to student requests. Work through your instructor and
TA for getting answers to your questions. If your questions are not answered with online help, see
the pdf documents available from the ASPEN documentation folder available on the START menu.
Most common tasks are covered.

To find descriptions/equations for the thermodynamic models and parameter variables, are in online
Properties Help, Chapter 3.

2. Getting Started with Aspen Plus or Aspen Properties

Normally undergraduate student projects will involve Aspen Plus or Aspen Properties . To start either of thes
be sure to look for the corresponding User Interface on the start menu. When you are prompted to connect to
(license) configure the window as shown, and click OK.

3. Specification of Flowsheet in Aspen Plus

If you are working with Aspen Properties, you may skip to section 4 of this document.

To demonstrate how to build a process simulation using ASPEN, we will develop a distillation column
for separation of ethanol and water.

The first step in developing a simulation is to develop the process flow diagram (PFD), which
consists of the unit operations (blocks) and streams that feed and connect the blocks. The blocks are
listed by category at the bottom of the main window (columns, reactors, etc.) in a toolbar known as
the 'Model Library', a portion is shown in Figure 3.1. There are a wide variety of block available.
Documentation for the algorithm for each block is provided in the ASPEN documentation.
The first step is to choose the column type for the ethanol-
simulations available. The two types of common interest a
method, and 'RadFrac', which is the rigorous simulation of

Figure 3.1 - Column and Stream menu

For the ethanol + water system, the short-cut will not be appropriate since the system has an
azeotrope. Choose 'RadFrac'. Click on the small arrow on the right side of 'RadFrac' to select the
column icon that you want to use on the PFD. The menu will disappear; move the crosshairs to the
desired location on the main flowsheet window and click the mouse button.

Next you have to add streams to the block. Click on the small arrow to the right of the STREAMS button at the
of your screen (as shown in Figure 3.1), and choose the stream icon you want from the menu (material, energy
example, set up the feed stream: choose the Material stream by clicking on it. The column will now show arrow
can be connected; red arrows indicate required streams as shown in Figure 3.2
To set up the feed stream to the column, move the crosshair on top of the red feed position and left click once.
mouse to the left and click again. You should now have a defined feed stream (Stream 1). For the outlet stream
outlet first to connect the bottoms (Stream 2) and liquid distillate (Stream 3).

If you make a mistake and want to delete a stream or block, click on the arrow (select) button at the upper left
Library toolbar, then click on the stream or block you want to delete and hit the DELETE key.

Now that you have defined the unit operations to be simulated and set up the streams into and out of
the process, you must enter the rest of the information required to complete the simulation. Within
Aspen Plus, the easiest way to find the next step is to use one of the following equivalent commands:
(1) click the Next icon (blue N ->); (2) find 'Next' in the Tools menu; or (3) use keyboard shortcut F4.
Any option will open the Data Browser.

4. Configuring Units and Settings

In the Data Browser, you are required to enter information at locations where there are red
semicircles. When you have finished a section, a blue checkmark will appear. However, providing
some 'Setup' settings is often desirable.

You can change default units by opening the Setup Folder as shown below.
You can browse the unit sets to see the choices. The base 'unit-set' names shown above are
reserved names and you cannot modify them. However, if you right-click on a unit set, you can
rename it and then modify it. Once you have viewed the units you can specify the choice by using
the drop down boxes.
If you are running Aspen Plus, you may wish to have stream results summarized with mole fractions
or some other basis that is not set by default. Use the 'Report Options' as shown below.
5. Specifying Components
Here you have to enter all the components you are using in the simulation. The opening screen is
shown below.
5.1 Entering compound information
The easiest way to enter component information is to click on the 'Find' button and enter the name of
the component. Start by typing 'ethanol', and then select ETHANOL from the list of components that
appears. Click the 'Add' button to add it to the components list. Repeat to add water to the
components list. The Component ID is an arbitrary name of your choice that will be used to label
the component in your calculations. The Type is a specification of how ASPEN will calculate
thermodynamic properties. For fluid processing of organic chemicals, it is usually appropriate to use
Conventional. If you make a mistake adding a component, right click on the row to specify deletion.
6. Specification of Thermodynamic Methods
Aspen furnishes a "Property Method Selection Assistant" to assist in selection of a reasonable
thermodynamic model, Tools>Property Method Selection Assistant. Also, Appendix D of the
"Introductory Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics by Elliott and Lira furnishes a flowchart to
assist with model selection.

You need to be aware of the manner in which Aspen implements parameter values because Aspen
offers temperature-dependent functions in place of parameters, and sometimes uses different signs
on parameters than the same models in the literature.

To find information on the property models, access the online help file, and on the page "Accessing
other Help", use the link for "Aspen Properties Help". Then browse to "Aspen Properties Reference".
Then, to find the model description and parameters implementation click in the help window, click on
"Physical Property Methods and Models". Look in Chapter 3 for descriptions of the EOS and activity
models. If you have trouble finding "Physical Property Methods and Models" via the online help links,
load the correct help file C:\Program Files\AspenTech\APrSystem
V7.1\GUI\Xeq\aprsystem.chm. You may also find a pdf file by browsing from the Start menu
to C:\Program Files\AspenTech\Documentation\Aspen Engineering V7_1\Aspen

The screen to select the property method is shown below.

The Process Type will narrow down the choices for thermodynamic methods. Often for
undergraduate design, Chemical will provide a wide range of methods. However to access the van
Laar model, you must select 'all'. The Base method will specify the default calculation method for all
blocks though you can control which method is used in individual blocks by editing the setup for the
individual blocks. You will generally not use Henry Components or Free water. For the example
here, select UNIQUAC, a well-accepted model for non-ideal multicomponent liquid mixtures at low
By clicking the N-> button, you will be shown the binary parameters as shown in the screenshot
below. When you close the window or click 'Next', you have provided approval of the values, and
you will receive no further prompting for parameter values. If parameters are blank, zeros will be
used. This does not imply that the ideal mixture assumption will be used because many
models predict non-ideal behavior with parameter values of zero.
Understanding Aspen Binary Parameters
The form of the thermodynamic model parameters usually differs from the form in the published
literature because ASPEN often replaces parameters with functions of temperature. To find the form
of equation used in Aspen, open the Help file, and from the 'index' tab, search for the index for the
model name (e.g. UNIQUAC), click on the resulting model name in the index pane, select the entry
with the 'model' name (e.g. 'UNIQUAC activity coefficient Model'). You should then see equations
very similar to the published literature. To understand where you are within the help file system,
switch back to the Contents tab of the help folder and you will see links to the other activity
coefficient methods. You will be in Chapter 3 of the Physical Properties Methods and Models
For UNIQUAC the typical published form of the parameters is

tau.ij = exp(-a.ij/T)

In ASPEN, this is implemented as

tau.ij = exp(a.ij + b.ij/T + c.ij*lnT + d.ij * T + e.ij/T^2)

So the published parameters are related to the aspen parameters:

b.ij (aspen) = -a.ij (published)

WHEN THE ASPEN UNITS ARE SET TO K (See the dialog box above, note the temperature units
are specified in the top row of the table).

To verify the pure component values (e.g. UNIQUAC R and Q), in the data browser, click the
'Components' folder. Then in the right pane on the 'selection' tab, click the 'Review' button at the
bottom right. The listing will include constants pulled from the Aspen databases, including GMUQR
and GMUQQ and GMUQQ1. For our purposes GMUQQ and GMUQQ1 are the same. These should
match the values from the textbook.

7. Specifying Stream and Block Information

This section applies to Aspen Plus; if you are working with Aspen Properties, skip to the Section 8.

Click on 'Next'. Stream specifications will appear. You must choose the stream composition, flow
rate, and state for feed streams. The state is specified by pressure, temperature, and vapor fraction.
For this example, for the feed stream (1) choose a pressure of 1 atm and a temperature of 25 oC.
Now enter the component molar flow rates as 20 kmol/hr for EtOH and 980 kmol/hr for water. (If you
enter feed composition as mole fractions, you also have to specify the total flow rate.)
Click on Next. The block (RadFrac) setup will appear. For this rigorous simulation, you must specify
the column configuration. Enter the number of stages as 33 and specify total condenser. In the
'Operating Specifications' section, set the distillate flow rate to 23 kmol/hr, and set the boilup rate at
1500 kmol/hr as shown below.
Hit 'Next' and the 'Stream' page appears. Locate the feed stream (1) on stage 17. Hit 'Next' to get to
the 'Pressure' page. Specify the 'Stage 1/Condenser' pressure as 1 atm. By leaving the other
sections of the pressure page alone, pressure drop through the column will be ignored in this

7.1 Running the simulation

All required information should now be complete. Click 'Next'. You should now get a message that all
required information has been entered. If you don't, complete the required form or look at the menu
on the left for any red semicircles. To run the simulation, click OK on the message, or you can run
the simulation on Run in the 'Run' pulldown menu.

7.2 Viewing Results

To view results, click on the blue folder in the toolbar. Choose 'Stream' to view stream properties, or
'Block' to view column properties. In 'Streams', you can look at the streams you wish and place a
streams table on your PFD by clicking the 'Stream Table' button. (Note: pasted stream tables are
NOT updated if you modify the simulation and rerun). To view the RadFrac Block properties, click on
Blocks (B1) in the left pane of the data browser.

In a complex simulation, it is sometime more convenient to work with the PFD to find results. Right-
click on a block or stream for a short-cut menu to results.
You can bring up compiled reports by going to the 'View' menu and clicking on the desired
information. The information in the reports is controlled somewhat by the report options introduced in
Section 4.

7.3 Reviewing Column Behavior

You can study the behavior of the column by looking at the column profiles as shown below from the
'Results' data browser. An example table is shown below.

You can plot the column profiles using "Plot>Plot Wizard...". For compositions, choose the
composition tool, specify liquid mole fractions. The analysis below shows that there may be more
stripping stages than necessary for the given column 33 stages, flowrates, reflux and boilup.
Naturally, compositions at the top of the column are limited by the azeotrope.
7.4 Printing your work
See the note about the ASPEN print bug workaround at the top of this web page.

You can print the process flowchart and include the stream table if you have pasted it onto the PDF.
Go to the 'Setup' page, and click on 'Use Specified Font Size' in order to get a readable printout.
Then select 'Print'. To print 'Input Summary', 'History', or results ('Report'), go to the 'View' menu and
select your choice. Save the information as a Notepad (.txt text) file, which you can then import into
Word or Excel and print much more efficiently. The default reports have more information than you
typically need. Avoid printing reports without reviewing them or pasting them in a Word
document or you will use up print quota quickly!

7.5 Saving your Work

As you work with Aspen plus and Aspen Properties, saving files in the 'backup' format will assure
that they can be opened in the next version of Aspen. Currently it is not possible to open 'standard'
files when upgrading Aspen. The backup format ends with an 'bkp' as the last part of the file

7.6 Running the simulation again, and reinitializing

You will want to modify your process parameters to run the case again. After modifying, you can click
the 'Next' button, or the 'Run' button. The 'Run' button is blue '>' triangle in the main toolbar.

Aspen will 'reuse' the last state to start the next simulation. When a case crashes, this is usually not
desirable. To reinitialize, use the '|<' button in the main toolbar.

Be sure to explore the phase behavior of the systems in your design. It can be frustrating to try to get
Aspen to give a physically impossible result, but many students have struggled with this, and blame
Aspen. Not all separations are possible because of azeotropes, pinch points, and/or distillation

8. Additional Features to Explore Thermodynamic Behavior

8.1 Obtaining a complete set of thermodynamic parameters.

The default folder views do not give you a full view of the parameters used by APSEN. To get a full
view, use Tools -> Retrieve Parameter Results.

8.2 Stream Reports with Additional Property Information

To see mole fractions of each phase in a mixed stream of multiple phases, you can add mole
fractions as property sets for the specific phases. If you build you simulation from a specialty
chemical template, the property sets XTRUE (liquid mole fraction) and VMOLFRAC (vapor mole
fraction) are available. If these property sets are not available because your simulation did not use
the template, you can create custom property sets that include the vapor and liquid mole fractions.
(Properties->Prop-Sets->New... and then choose the mole fractions as the 'Physical Properties' and
the appropriate phases on the 'Qualifiers' tab).

To add these property sets to a stream report, Setup -> Report Options -> Stream Report Tab ->
Click the 'Property Sets' button and select the desired property sets to add to the stream report.

Note that it also possible to add activity coefficients, fugacity coefficients in this manner. To view
special properties, create a custom view of the stream report.

8.3 Calculating Pure Properties, Binary Phase Behavior or Ternary Residue

Once all data has been loaded, you may use Tools -> Analysis -> Pure or Tools -> Analysis ->
Binary or Tools -> Analysis -> Residue to evaluate properties.
For example, after setting up a acetic acid + water system to use the Hayden-OConnell method for
vapor fugacities and the UNIQUAC method for liquid properties, a T-x-y diagram can be quickly
generated using Tools -> Analysis -> Binary. Be sure to edit the Valid phases box if you expect
there may be VLL equilibria. (Do not use Free Water unless you can safely assume that an
aqueous liquid phase is pure water. This assumption can sometimes be used in petroleum
processing of hydrocarbons, but is not valid for most functional organics).
The diagram is displayed:
When you close the diagram you will find the table with some intermediate calculations. If you would
like to get the values into Excel, drag the mouse over the columns, and copy. Then paste into Excel.

Here is another example for methanol + benzene.

8.4 Calculating Mixture Properties
It is also possible to plot fugacity coefficients, activity coefficients, or other properties as a
function of composition or temperature, etc. Mixture properties typically require that you specify a
property set and then 'run' the case.

First, specify the components as shown in Section 5. To get properties as a function of composition
at a fixed T and P, you will have to set up a property set and then request execution of the set.

8.4.1 Establishing the property set

Open the folder for 'Properties>Prop-Sets'.
Click 'New...'

Give the 'Property Set' a name that will help you remember the calculated properties. In this example
the property set is called 'PHIMIX'. On the 'Properties' tab, select the APSEN name for the property
that you want to tabulate. You will probably need to consult the documentation to find the ASPEN
name for the property. In this case, I will select 'PHIMX', the ASPEN name for the component
fugacity coefficient in a mixture. Enter the units if appropriate for your property.
On the 'Qualifiers' tab, set the other details for the calculation. In the case of fugacity coefficients, I
chose to calculate them for the vapor phase.
To instruct ASPEN how to use the property set, you next specify the analysis to be performed.

8.4.2 Specifying the Analysis to run for the property set.

Select the folder for 'Properties>Analysis'. The screen will look much like the 'Property Set' page in
Section 8.4.1 'Establishing the Property Set'. Click 'New' and name the analysis set. I will call mine
'PhiCalc'. Also for most properties you will want to select 'Generic' unless it is clearly an envelope or
residue curve. T-x-y, P-x-y and residue curves are accessible more easily as shown in Section 8.3
'Calculating Pure Properties, Binary Phase Behavior or Ternary Residue Curves'.
On the 'Systems' tab, if you intend to specify the temperature and pressure, specify 'Point(s) without
a flash'. It will be necessary to set the flow rates even though there isn't any real process stream. If
not necessary for the calculation, ASPEN will ignore them.

On the 'Tabulate' tab, specify the Property Sets for the analysis, and move them to the right list box:
For summary of the output, click the button on the page for 'Table specifications' and give the table a
name and specify the precision desired, as shown below.

On the variable tab of the 'Property Analysis' set, you will specify the fixed state variables and the
adjusted variables as shown below. Note that the upper section of the form is for the Fixed state
variables, in this case set to be 120C and 1 atm. The lower table has been edited to vary the mole
fraction of acetic acid. Before leaving the form, the values or range for the adjusted variables must be
specified. To provide this information, first put the cursor in the variable field (e.g. the variable 'Mole
fraction' is selected below), and then click the form button named 'Range/List' to specify the range/list
for that variable.

Specify the Range or List of Values to be varied as shown below. Here the range will be from 0 to 1
at intervals of 0.05.
8.4.3 Generating the calculated values
At this point, ASPEN has enough information to calculate the desired information. Click the 'Run'
button on the toolbar. The 'Run' button is the blue triangle in the top tool bar (it is 'grayed out' on all
screen shots on this web page). You can tell that results are available when the 'Analysis' folder
changes to blue as shown below. Note that the blue 'PHICALC' folder has 'Results' available. The
columns of calculations as shown below can be copied to the Windows clipboard by dragging the
mouse over the column titles, using the Edit menu (or Ctrl-C). The clipboard contents can be pasted
into Excel.
8.5 Sharing parameter values between simulation files
When a significant number of user parameters have been entered, it is convenient to transfer them to
another file in a more efficient method than a copy/paste method. This section discusses a method to
export parameters and import them into a new simulation.

As an overview, Aspen Properties files hold all the pure component and binary parameter
information, but none of the process schematic information. They also include information about the
property 'methods' including customization of how the vapor phase fugacity is calculated, etc., and all
reaction chemistry, etc. Plus they hold user parameters that have been used to specify property
information and binary interaction parameters.

So it is possible to export an Aspen Properties file from one aspen simulation using File>Export, and
then import it into the other simulation. When you export, choose the Aspen Properties backup
format, *.aprbkp for greatest compatibility. I also strongly suggest that you open the exported file
using the Aspen Properties interface and enter a good description of the properties file in the
description window (Setup>Description). This description is viewable when using the File>Open
dialog box which is helpful. Resave the properties file after documenting the file.
When you import to a new simulation using File>Import, you must select from a list the properties
that you wish to import, and there are two options: merge or replace. I have not studied these closely,
but it in my trials, I had to use 'replace' to overwrite the binary parameters. Also, I did not have the
patience to figure out which row in the property list imports the binary interaction parameters. I just
used shift-click to select all rows and used the 'replace' button.

*If you notice any errors or outdated information on this page, please contact Professor Lira who
maintains this content.