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19 Distillation: Basic Controls

H. L. HOFFMAN, D. E. LUPFER (1970)

L. A. KANE (1985) B. A. JENSEN (1995)

TR R or L D
B. A. JENSEN, B. G. LIPTK (2005)

Ri or Li



Flow sheet symbol

INTRODUCTION to columns in a cookbook fashion. Instead, discussion will

begin with a basic description of the distillation process and
Distillation is the most common class of separation processes equipment, followed by techniques used to derive a mathe-
and one of the better understood unit operations. It is an matical column model.
energy-separating-agent equilibrium process that uses the dif- The presentation in this section will then describe meth-
ference in relative volatility, or differences in boiling points, ods to evaluate interactions and alternative control strategies;
of the components to be separated. It is the most widely used control models used for some product quality, pressure, and
method of separation in the process industries. The distillation feed ow control strategies; and nally some common feed-
process will most often be the choice of separation unless the forward advanced regulatory control strategies commonly
following conditions exist: used in the regulation of fractionators.
The goal of this section is to provide the process control
Thermal damage can occur to the product. engineer with the tools necessary to design unique control
A separation factor is too close to unity. strategies that will match the specic requirements of distil-
Extreme conditions of temperature or pressure are lation columns.
Economic value of products is low relative to energy General Considerations
costs. Distillation separates a mixture by taking advantage of the
difference in the composition of a liquid and that of the vapor
Control involves the manipulation of the material and formed from that liquid. In the processing industries, distilla-
energy balances in the distillation equipment to affect product tion is widely used to isolate and purify volatile materials.
composition and purity. Difculties arise because of the mul- Thus, good process control of the distillation process is vital
titude of potential variable interactions and disturbances that to maximize the production of satisfactory purity end products.
can exist in single-column fractionators and in the process Although engineers often speak of controlling a distilla-
that the column is a part of. tion tower, many of the instruments actually are used to
Even seemingly identical columns will exhibit great control the auxiliary equipment associated with the tower.
diversity of operation in the eld. Therefore, this section will For this reason, the equipment used in distillation will be
not attempt to provide control strategies that can be applied discussed.


2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1821


There are some basic variations to the distillation process. Column Accumulator
One such basic difference is between continuous and batch Feed
distillation. The main difference between these processes is pump
that in continuous distillation the feed concentration is rela- pump
tively constant, while in batch distillation it is rich in light Preheater
components at the beginning and lean in light components
at the end. While batch distillation is also described in this Reboiler
section, the emphasis is on the continuous processes.
Another basic difference is in the way the condenser heat
is handled. The more common approach is to reject that heat
into the cooling water and thereby waste it. This necessitates FIG. 8.19b
the use of pay heat at the reboiler, which usually is a large Distillation equipment.
part of the total operating cost of the column. An alternate
approach, also discussed in this section, is vapor recompres-
sion (Figure 8.19a), in which the heat taken out by the mixing between the two countercurrent owing phases. The
condenser is reused at the reboiler after a heat pump (com- purpose of the mixing is to get an effective transfer of the
pressor) elevates its temperature. While vapor recompression more volatile components into the ascending vapor and cor-
controls are also discussed in this section, the emphasis is on responding transfer of the less volatile components into the
the traditional air- or water-cooled condenser designs. descending liquid. The other equipment associated with the
column is shown schematically in Figure 8.19b.
The Column In continuous distillation, the feed is introduced contin-
uously into the side of the distillation column. If the feed is
The primary piece of distillation equipment is the main tower.
all liquid, the temperature at which it rst starts to boil is
Other terms for this piece of equipment are column and frac-
called the bubble point. If the feed is all vapor, the temper-
tionator, and all three terms are used interchangeably. The
ature at which it rst starts to condense is called the dew
tower, column, or fractionator has two purposes: First, it sep-
point. The feed entering the column is normally operated in
arates a feed into a vapor portion that ascends the column and
a temperature range that is intermediate to the two extremes
a liquid portion that descends; second, it achieves intimate
of dew point and bubble point. However, some optimization
strategies may call for designs where the feed is either super-
heated or subcooled. For effective separation of the feed, it
is important that both vapor and liquid phases exist through-
out the column.
The separation of phases is accomplished by differences
in vapor pressure, with the lighter vapor rising to the top of
heat the column and the heavier liquid owing to the bottom. The
wasted D portion of the column above the feed is called the rectifying
section and below the feed is called the stripping section.
M Compr.
Packing and Trays The intimate mixing is obtained by one
or more of several methods. A simple method is to ll the
Work column with lumps of an inert material, or packing, that will
provide surface for the contacting of vapor and liquid.
Another effective way is to use a number of horizontal plates,
or trays, which cause the ascending vapor to be bubbled
through the descending liquid (Figure 8.19c).
Tray designs are numerous and varied. Tray designs
include bubble cap plate unit, valve, sieve plate, tunnel,
dual-ow, chimney, disc-and-donut, turbogrid trays, v-grid,
Perform-Kontakt, Haselden bafe tray, Kittel trays, and other
Pay heat B Recovered specialty-type units. Dualo trays, Flexitray, Varioex,
added heat Bi-Frac, Max-Frac, NYE Trays, Superfrac trays,
FIG. 8.19a Super-Flux trays, and Ultra-Frac trays are specialty reg-
In contrast with conventional distillation, the vapor recompression istered tray designs from different manufacturers that are
system uses recovered heat. variations of the aforementioned tray designs. Bubble caps

2006 by Bla Liptk

1822 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

Packed towers are cheaper and easier to construct than

plate towers if highly corrosive uid must be handled.
Diameters of packed towers are generally designed to
L be less than 4 ft, while plate tower diameters are
designed to be more than 2ft.
Packed towers are preferred if the liquids have a large
L tendency to foam.
The amount of liquid hold-up is considerably less in
packed towers.
L The pressure drop through packed towers may be less
than for plate towers performing the same service, mak-
ing packed towers desirable for vacuum distillation.
FIG. 8.19c
Intimate contact and therefore equilibrium is obtained as the vapor
bubbles ascend through the liquid held up on each tray, as the liquid Thus, generally, trays work better in applications requir-
descends down the column. ing high ow, such as those encountered in high-pressure
distillation columns, such as depropanizers, debutanizers,
xylene purication columns, and the like. Packing works best
and sieve trays are the most common designs used in distil- at lower ow parameters, as the low-pressure drop of struc-
lation applications. tured packing makes it very attractive for use in vacuum
Many different types of packings are available. They are columns or ethylbenzene recycle columns of styrene plants.
normally classied as random or stacked. Random packings The contacting between the vapor and liquid in a single-
are those that are dumped into the containing shell. Raschig stage contacting device will not produce total equilibrium.
rings, Berl saddles, Intalox saddles, and Pall rings are the The relationship between ideal and actual performance is the
most common random packings and come in various sizes efciency that translates the number of ideal separation stages
from 1/2 to 31/2 in (1.25 to 9 cm). into actual nite stages that must be used to accomplish the
Stacked packings, also known as grid or stacked packing, desired nal separation. Efciency varies, not only with the
include large-sized Raschig rings and Lessing rings. Packings type of mixing method used (e.g., packing or trays), but also
generally give lower pressure drops at the cost of higher with uid rates, uid properties, column diameter, and oper-
installation costs. They are made of ceramic, plastic, or metal, ating pressure.
depending upon the type of packing and the intended appli- The inuence of plate efciency in the operation of
cation. Other packings such as Maspac, HyPak, Teller- the distillation tower becomes important in the control of the
ette, IMTP FLEXIPAC KATAMAX: FLEXIGRID-2, overhead composition. Because plate efciencies increase
-3, and -4, and KOCH-GLITSCH GRID EF-25A are spe- with increased vapor velocities, the inuence of the reux-
cialty registered packings from different manufacturers that to-feed ratio on overhead composition becomes a nonlinear
are just variations of the aforementioned packings. relationship.
When deciding between the use of trays and packing, the
following factors should be considered: Dynamics Dynamic considerations due to liquid hold-up
on the trays comes into play when discussing distillation
Because of liquid dispersion difculties in packed tow- control. Because the liquid on each tray must overow its
ers, the design of plate towers is considerably more weir and work its way down the column due to tray or
reliable and requires less safety factor when the ratio packing hydraulics, this change will not be seen at the bot-
of liquid mass velocity to gas mass velocity is low.
toms of the tower until some time has passed. The exact
Towers using trays can be designed to handle wider
dynamics depend on column size, type of tray, number of
ranges of liquid rates without ooding.
trays, and tray spacing. The hold-up at each tray as shown
Towers using trays are more accessible for cleaning.
in Figure 8.19c can be modeled by the LaPlace transform of
Towers using trays are preferred if interstage cooling
the form
or heating is needed because of lower installation costs
of delivery piping.
Towers using trays have a lower total dry weight, KG ( s ) = 8.19(1)
though total weight with liquid hold-up is probably (T1 s + 1)
Towers using trays are preferred when large tempera- where
ture changes are expected because of thermal expan- KG(s) = transfer function
sion or when contraction may crush packing. K = system gain
Design information for towers using trays is generally T1 = time constant
more readily available and more reliable. S = LaPlace transfer operator

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1823

X(t) In that case, the condensers are called partial condensers. In

this instance, a vapor product is normally withdrawn as well
as a liquid product.
Y2 Y1
A total condenser is usually designed for accumulator

pressures up to 215 psia (1.48 MPa) at an operating temper-


Y 1(t) ature of 120F (49C). A partial condenser is used from
215 psia to 365 psia (1.48 to 2.52 MPa), and a refrigerant
Y 2(t)
coolant is used for the overhead condenser if the pressure is
Y4(t) greater than 365 psia (2.52 MPa).
Common condensers include n fans and water coolers.
However, in order to improve efciency of heat recovery, heat
Y40(t) exchange with another process stream is often performed.
Y1 = 1 Lag Propane is the most common refrigerant used. A pressure
Y2 = 2 Lags
Y4 = 4 Lags
drop of 5 psia (34.4 KPa) across the condenser is often
Y10 = 10 Lags assumed if no measurements are available. The condenser
Y40 = 40 Lags and accumulator are the key pieces of equipment with respect
Sum of the time constants are equal. to controlling pressure in the column.
FIG. 8.19d
Response of nth-order lags to unit step change. The liquid leaving the bottom of the column is reheated in a
reboiler. A reboiler is a special heat exchanger that provides
the heat necessary for distillation. Part of the column bottoms
These lags are cumulative as the liquid passes each tray liquid is vaporized and the vapors are injected back into the
on its way down the column. Thus, a 30-tray column could column as boil-up. The remaining liquid is withdrawn as a
be approximated by 30 rst-order exponential lags in series bottom product or as residue.
of approximately the same time constant. As shown in Figure 8.19e, reboilers come in widely vary-
ing designs. They can be internal, but most are external to
K the column. They can use natural or forced circulation.
KG (s) = 8.19(2)
(T1s + 1)n

n = 30 for a 30-tray column
Figure 8.19d shows the response of nth order lags to a Q
unit step change. The effect of increasing the number of lags
in series is to increase the apparent dead time and increase
the response curve slope. Thus, the liquid trafc within the L
distillation process is often approximated by using a second- B
order lag plus dead time as modeled by the LaPlace transform: Internal External kettle

Ke t s
KG (s) = 8.19(3)
(T1s + 1)(T2s + 1) V V

where Q
e = e of log to the base e
= dead time
T1, T2 = time constants B B
Vertical Horizontal
Condensers thermosyphon thermosyphon

FIG. 8.19e
The overhead vapor leaving the column is sent to a condenser Reboiler design variations. External kettle reboilers often use forced
and is collected as a liquid in a receiver, or accumulator. A part circulation (pump), while the thermosyphon designs depend on nat-
of the accumulated liquid is returned to the column as reux. ural circulation. The horizontal thermosyphon reboiler takes its
The remainder is withdrawn as overhead product or distillate. liquid from the bottom tray, while the others take it from the column
In many cases, complete condensation is not accomplished. bottoms.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1824 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

The kettle reboiler is the most common external forced cir-

culation design.
Vertical and horizontal thermosiphon reboilers operate L Overhead product
by natural circulation. In these, ow is induced by the hydro- (D)
static pressure imbalance between the liquid inside the tower Feed
and the two-phase mixture in the reboiler tubes. In forced
circulation reboilers, a pump is used to ensure circulation of Steam
the liquid past the heat transfer surface. Reboilers may be (V)
designed so that boiling occurs inside vertical tubes, inside
Bottom product
horizontal tubes, or on the shell side. (B)
A newer development in reboiler design is the concept Apparent Independent
self-cleaning shell-and-tube heat exchangers for applications variables: variables
where heat exchange surfaces are prone to fouling by the C1 = overhead temperature
process uid. Common heat sources include hot oil, steam, C2 = overhead pressure 2
or fuel gas (red reboilers). Cases where simple heat exchange C3 = overhead composition
C4 = overhead ow rate 1
with another process stream is used for efciency of heat
u1 = bottom temperature
recovery are common. Thus, the choice of instrumentation to u2 = bottom pressure 2
control heat addition to the tower depends upon the type of u3 = bottom composition
reboiler used. u4 = bottom ow rate 1
u5 = feed temperature
u6 = feed pressure 2
u7 = feed composition
u8 = feed per cent vapor 1
u9 = feed ow rate 1
In some cases, additional vapor or liquid is withdrawn from m = steam ow rate (heat input) 1
the column at points above or below the point at which the 11
feed enters. All or a portion of this sidestream can be used
FIG. 8.19f
as intermediate product. Sometimes, economical column
In a binary distillation process the number of independent variables
design dictates that the sidestream be cooled and returned to is eleven (11) and the number of defining equations is two (2).
the column to furnish localized reux. The equipment that Therefore, the number of degrees of freedom is nine (9), which is
does this is called a sidestream cooler, or intercooler. Multi- the maximum number of automatic controllers that can be used on
product fractionators often have these intercoolers in a pump- such a process.
around stream.
At other times, localized heat is required. Then, some of
the liquid in the column is removed and passed through a
composition. Other common disturbances are steam header
sidestream reboiler, or interheater, before being returned to
pressure, feed enthalpy, environmental conditions (e.g., rain,
the column. Interheaters are usually utilized in cryogenic
barometric pressure, and ambient temperature), and coolant
Often the feed is preheated before entering the column.
To handle these disturbances, column controls can be so
Common preheat mediums include the bottoms product or
designed as to make the column insensitive to these distur-
low-pressure steam. Preheating is often a convenient method
bances, or secondary controls can be designed to eliminate
to recover heat that would otherwise be wasted. the disturbances. It is also important to evaluate the expected
magnitude and duration of the likely disturbances, so that
Column Variables proper control system scaling and tuning can be achieved.
Feedforward controls are designed to compensate for
Controlling a fractionator requires the identifying of the con- these disturbance variables and are discussed later in this
trolled, manipulated, and load variables (Figure 8.19f). Con- section. There are other advanced control or optimization
trolled variables are those variables that must be maintained methods that can be designed to compensate for these dis-
at a precise value to satisfy column objectives. These nor- turbance variables. They are discussed in Section 8.21.
mally include product compositions, column temperatures,
column pressure, and tower and accumulator levels. Pairing of Variables The variables that should be controlled
Manipulated variables are those variables that can be are usually obvious. They are normally identied when pro-
changed in order to maintain the controlled variables at their cess objectives are dened and understood. Load variables
desired values. Common examples include reux ow, cool- are also easily identied. But identication of the manipu-
ant ow, heating medium ow, and product ows. Load vari- lated variables can be more difcult. The general guidelines
ables are those variables that provide disturbances to the for identifying which manipulated variables to associate with
column. Common examples include feed ow rate and feed which controlled variables are

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1825

Manipulate the stream that has the greatest inuence Steady-State Model
on the associated controlled variable.
Manipulate the smaller stream if two streams have the The rst step in the design of a control system must be the
same effect on the controlled variable. development of a process model. Frequently omitted in sim-
Manipulate the stream that has the most nearly linear ple distillation columns, this step is essential to minimize the
correlation with the controlled variable. need for eld reconguration of control strategies. Even with
Manipulate the stream that is least sensitive to ambient easily recongurable process automation systems (PASs), the
conditions. development of the model is essential to fully understanding
Manipulate the stream least likely to cause interaction the process.
problems. The model denes the process with equations developed
from the material and energy balances of the unit. A common
Unfortunately, the decision on pairing controlled and simplifying assumption is that all components of the feed
manipulated variables is complicated by the fact that the have equal heats of vaporization, which leads to the assump-
above rules may sometimes result in conicting recommen- tion of equimolal overow. Most shortcut fractionation cal-
dations. Section 8.20 provides information on relative gain culations are based upon this underlying assumption.
calculations, which can help to optimize the pairing of con- The model is kept simple by the use of one basic rule:
trolled and manipulated variables. Once the pairings are com- The degrees of freedom limit the number of controlled vari-
pleted, the equations are then solved for the manipulated ables (product compositions) specied in the equations, as
variables in terms of the controlled and load variables. In that was illustrated in connection with Figure 8.19f. Some of the
form, the equations are the mathematical representations of variables that can be manipulated to control a column are
the control systems. shown in Figure 8.19g.

Material Balance For example, for a given feed rate only

MODELING AND CONTROL EQUATIONS one degree of freedom is available for material balance con-
trol. If overhead product (distillate) is a manipulated variable
The primary application of instruments in distillation is to (controlled directly to maintain composition), then the bot-
control the product purity, and secondarily, to minimize tom product cannot be independent but must be manipulated
upsets to the unit caused by a change in process inputs. The to close the overall material balance according to the follow-
instruments calculate the effects of the input changes and ing equations:
determine the corrective action needed to counteract them. F=D+B 8.19(4)
The control actions are implemented by direct manipulation Accumulation = Inow Outow 8.19(5)
of the nal control elements or by alteration of the set points Accumulation = F (D + B) 8.19(6)
of lower level controllers.
A careful analysis of limits and operating constraints is Because accumulation is zero at steady state, B is depen-
essential to the successful control of distillation columns. If dent upon F and D, as expressed by Equation 8.19(4):
the system is not designed to provide limit checks and over- B=FD 8.19(7)
rides to handle operating limits, frequent operator interven-
tion will be required during upsets. This is likely to result in
a lack of condence in the control system and will cause the V
operators to remove the column from automatic control more Heat removed
often than necessary, thereby not only reducing the effective-
ness of the system, but also reducing safety. Reux
The rst step in the design of a good control system is rate (L)
the derivation of a process model. Knowing the dening
equations, the manipulated variables can be selected, and the Distillate rate (D)
operating equations for the control system can be developed. Feed
temperature, Composition (Y)
The instrumentation is then selected for the correct solution
Composition (Z)
of these equations. and rate (F)
The nal control system can be relatively simple or can
be a complex, interacting, multicomponent, computer-based Heat added (boilup)
system. In the discussion that follows, the procedures for
designing distillation controls is followed by examples of the Bottom rate (B)
more common applications in distillation column control. A Composition (X)
more detailed discussion of alternative strategies and
advanced distillation column controls will be presented in FIG. 8.19g
Section 8.21. Variables that fix the distillation operation.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1826 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

or if the bottoms product is the manipulated variable: Di = V Li

D=FB 8.19(8) To QT

where: L @ Tr D(y)
F = feed rate (the inow)
Li = L[1 + (Cp/H) (To Tr)]
D = overhead rate (an outow)
B = bottoms rate (an outow) B = Bi if no accumulation occurs in
the column bottoms.
D = Di if no accumulation occurs in
If the compositions of the feed, distillate product, and the accumulator
bottoms product are known, then the component material L External reux
balance can be solved: V = VB + VF F Lf Liquid ow below feed tray
100 = %LLKD + %LKD + %HKD 8.19(9) Internal reux
QB Heat addition at bottom
D %LLKD = F %LLKF 8.19(10)
F (z) QT Heat removal at top
F %LKF = D %LKD + B %LKB 8.19(11) VB Vapor boilup rate
where: VF Vapor fraction in feed
%LLKF = lighter than light key in the feed (mol%) H Heat of vaporization in reboiler
HD Heat of condensation of distillate
%LKF = light key in the feed (mol%) HL Heat of vaporization of reux
%LLKD = lighter than light key in the distillate product VB = QB/H HLi Heat of condensation of
internal reux
%LKD = light key in the distillate product (mol%) Lf = Li + (1 VF) F
QB Bi = Lf VB
%HKD = heavy key in the distillate product (mol%)
%LKB = light key in the bottoms product (mol%) B(x)
Material balance: F = D + B
In the most general case, the feed might have four com- separation is the energy/feed
ponents, having the concentrations of LLKF , LKF , HKF , and ratio of a column. For binary
y(1 x)
HHKF . Three of these components appear in each of the process: S =
x(1 y)
bottom and overhead products. The separation of the column Separation should be controlled
is xed by specifying the heavy key component in the over- by the more pure product.
head product HKD and the concentration of the light key
FIG. 8.19h
component in the bottom product LKB. Energy balance equations can be used to describe the steady-state
Equations 8.19(9) to 8.19(11) assume no heavier than heat flow model of a distillation column.
heavy key is found in the distillate and that no lighter than light
key is found in the bottoms. Rearranging Equation 8.19(11)
However, xing a value of product split does not x either
%LKD = (F %LKF B %LKB)/D 8.19(12) the distillate or bottoms composition because many combi-
nations of %LLKF , %LKF , %LKB, and %HKD could yield the
Substituting Equation 8.19(8) into Equations 8.19(10) same value of B/F.
and 8.19(12) gives
%LLKD = (F %LLKF)/(F ) 8.19(13) Energy Balance The energy balance and the separation
%LKD = (F %LKF B %LKB)/(F B) 8.19(14) obtained are closely related. Conceptually, product composition
control can be thought of as a problem of the rate of heat
Substituting Equations 8.19(13) and 8.19(14) into addition QB at the bottom of the fractionator and the rate of heat
Equation 8.19(9) to eliminate %LLKD and %LKD: removal QT at the top of the column. A series of energy balances
produces additional equations. Figure 8.19h shows a steady-
state internal model of these equations.
(100 %HK D %LLK F %LK F )
B/F = 8.19(15) The vapor boil-up rate VB equals the heat QB added by
(100 %HK D %LK B ) the reboiler divided by the heat of vaporization (H) of the
bottoms product:
For a given feed composition and desired product com- VB = QB /H 8.19(16)
positions, only one bottoms-to-feed ratio, B/F (product split),
will satisfy the overall and component material balances. By The vapor rate V above the feed tray equals the vapor
xing the bottoms ow, the distillate ow will be xed. boil-up rate plus the vapor entering with the feed (feed rate

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1827

F times vapor fraction VF , provided the feed is neither sub- being used by the control equation. Also, C pL and HL should
cooled nor superheated): be calculated near the existing pressure and temperature of
the external reux.
V = VB + F VF 8.19(17)
The liquid rate, LF , below the feed tray equals the internal
The internal reux rate, that is, the liquid at the top tray reux plus the liquid in the feed:
of the column is derived by a heat balance around the top of
LF = LI + (1 VF) F 8.19(25)
the tower. Assuming a steady-state heat balance where the
heat into the tower equals the heat out: The distillate rate, D, equals the vapor rate, V, above the
feed tray minus the internal reux:
D ( H D + C pD Tt ) + LI ( H LI + C pR Tt )
I D = V LI 8.19(26)
+ L (C pL Tr ) = D ( H D + C pD To ) 8.19(18)
The bottoms rate, B, equals the liquid rate, L, minus the
+ L ( H L + C pL To ) + LI (C pL Tt ) boil-up, VB :

where B = L VB 8.19(27)
Cp = specic heat The criterion for separation is the ratio of reux (L) to
To = overhead vapor temperature (vapor at its dew point) distillate (D) ows vs. the ratio of boil-up (V) to bottoms (B)
L = external reux ow rates. Manipulating reux affects separation equally as
Tr = external reux temperature well as manipulating boil-up, albeit in opposite directions.
LI = internal reux Consequently, only one degree of freedom exists to control
Tt = top tray temperature (liquid at its bubble point) separation. Thus, for a two-product tower, two equations
dene the process. One is an equation describing separation,
Equation 8.19(18) reduces to: and the other is an equation for material balance.

D C pD (Tt To ) + LI H LI L H L Dynamic Model

+ L C pL (Tr To ) = 0 Because the tower doesnt always operate at steady state, it
is essential to also account for the dynamics of the process.
Making a simplifying assumption that the tray tempera- This necessitates extending the steady-state internal ow
ture equals overhead vapor temperature (i.e., the dew point model and requires additional considerations. Figure 8.19i
of the vapor equals the bubble point of the liquid; Tt = To) shows the internal ow model that includes dynamics.

LI H LI = L H L + L C pL (To Tr ) 8.19(20)
Di = V Li
DA= Di D
Li H L C pL
L @ Tr
= 1.0 + (To Tr ) 8.19(21) D
L H Li H L

Li = L[1 + (Cp/H) (To TR)]
resulting in the equation
V = VB + VF F
LpI /L = K2 [1 + K1 (Tpo Tpr)] 8.19(22) GT
If a total condenser is employed, the composition of the
internal reux and external reux are the same, i.e., F
GT & GB are second order lags
H LI = H L , so the constant K2 = 1.0. Thus,
DA & BA represent accumulations in
GB the accumulator and the column
LI 8.19(23)
bottoms respectively.
L= VB = QB/H
[1 + K1 (TO Tr )] Li = GB[GT Li + (1 VF) F)
or zI = L [1 + K1 T] 8.19(24) QB
Bi = Li VB
BA = Bi B
Note: This equation is valid for whatever units are used B
for C pL or HL. Because specic heat and heat of vaporiza-
tion are nearly always in mass units, care must be taken to FIG. 8.19i
account for density differences whenever volume units are Dynamic internal flow model.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1828 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

Because a change in the reux rate must work its way product separation, the degree of separation and the orienta-
down the column due to tray or packing hydraulics, this tion of separation are important. The degree of separation is
change will not be seen at the reboiler until some time has
passed. The holdup at each tray has previously been modeled (%LK D %HK B )
Degree of Separation = ln e 8.19(32)
by the LaPlace transform of Equation 8.19(1). This Laplace (%HK D %LK
KB )
transform can be converted to a simple rst-order exponential
lag equation of the form, which describes the response to a while the orientation of separation for a given degree of
step change in input: separation is dened as

Llag = L (1 e ) %HK D
8.19(28) Orientation of Separation = 8.19(33)
L is the liquid incoming to the tray The relationship between x (the light key component) and
Llag is the liquid leaving the tray the energy balance was developed by Shinskey as a function
of separation S:
t is the time constant
y(1 x )
These lags are cumulative as the liquid passes each tray S= 8.19(34)
x (1 y)
on its way down the column. However, implementation of
multiple rst-order lags is impractical. Fortunately, it can be where
shown that multiple lags in series can be approximated by a x = mole fraction of the key light component the distillate
dead time and a second-order exponential lag as shown by (%LKD)
the LaPlace transform of Equation 8.19(3). For this reason, y = mole fraction of the key light component in the bot-
two dynamic terms (GT and GB) are included in Figure 8.19i. toms, (LKB)
Equation 8.19(25) is then rewritten as
The relationship between separation (S) and the ratio of
L = GB[GT LI + (1 VF) F] 8.19(29)
boil-up to feed (V/F) over a reasonable operating range is
where V/F = a + bS 8.19(35)
t1 t 2
GB = 1 (1 e ) (1 e )
t3 t 4
GT = 2 (1 e ) (1 e ) where a and b are functions of the relative volatility, the num-
1 and 2 are the dead times ber of trays, the feed composition, and the minimum V/F. The
control system therefore computes V based on the equation:
GB and GT are the solution to the LaPlace transform of y(1 x )
V = F a + b 8.19(36)
x (1 y)
Equation 8.19(3).
Changes in boil-up rates are observed at the condenser
in a matter of seconds. Normally, no dynamic terms are Because y is held constant, the bottom composition con-
necessary for vapor streams, as the value of use of comput- troller adjusts the value of the parenthetical expression if an
ing resources to that of the benets by compensating for the error should appear in x. Let V/F = y(1 x)/(1 y), and the
dynamics is negligible. control equation becomes:
The liquid inventory in the condenser or associated accu- V = F(a + b[V/F])/x 8.19(37)
mulator will change during unsteady-state actions. In the
unsteady state, the difference DI D is the rate of accumu- where [V/F] = the desired ratio of boil-up to feed.
lation of material in the accumulator. Similarly for the liquid Figure 8.19j illustrates four of the most common basic
inventory at the bottom of the tower (the kettle), the differ- controls for the ows and levels of a two-product fractionator,
ence BI B is the rate of accumulation: where it is assumed that feed ow and tower pressure are
held constant. A different set of the above control equations
DA = DII D 8.19(30) for controlling internal product ow rates will apply, depend-
BA = BI B 8.19(31) ing upon the conguration of instrumentation used.
DA is the accumulation in the overhead accumulator
BA is the accumulation in the tower bottoms The form of the control system equations inuences the com-
puting functions required. Boolean operands, such as high
Separation Equations and low selectors, and dynamic functions, such as dead times,
lead, and lag function, are also used. Most process automation
The control of product compositions for a fractionator is pri- systems have these basic computing function blocks. Imple-
marily a matter of control of the internal ows. In considering mentation in a distributed control system (DCS), programmable

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1829








Case 1 Case 2








Case 3 Case 4

FIG. 8.19j
Four cases of conventional distillation control configurations.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1830 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

1 2 3 4 5 1.143 L
10 20 30 40 50
Analog signals

mA dc
4 8 12 16 20 100%
mA dc
1 2 3 4 5 L = 100%

Multiplier output, normalized

mA dc

manipulated variable (M)

3 6 9 12 15 PSIG 75

0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 bar L = 75%


0 0.25 0.50 0.75 1.0


0 25% 50% 75% 100% L = 50%
93 116 138 160 182C
200 240 280 320 360F
Temperature transmitter L = 25%
0 0.85 1.7 2.93 3.4 m3/h
Process values

0 225 450 775 900 GPH 0% 25 50 75 100%

Linear ow transmitter Multiplier input, normalized ratio (R)
0 1.7 2.4 2.95 3.4 m 3/h

FIG. 8.19l
0 450 636 779 900 GPH
Multiplier output for the solution of Equation 8.19 (39).
Dierential pressure ow transmitter
0 1.25 2.50 3.75 5.0
Chromatograph output 0 to 700 gpm (0 to 2.65 m /h); and the ratio range, R, is 0
to 0.8 (R = M/L).
FIG. 8.19k
Common analog signals and their relationship to process variables.
700M = (1000L)(0.80R) 8.19(38)

Reducing to the lowest form,

logic controller (PLC), or multivariable digital controllers is
vendor-specic. M = 1.143(L)(R) 8.19(39)
The terms of the equations are sometimes scaled because
most analog instruments and some PAS systems act on nor- The number 1.143 is the scaling factor. M is plotted as
malized numbers (0100%) rather than on actual process a function of L and R in Figure 8.19l.
values. With digital instrumentation and todays process auto- In applications such as the constant separation system,
mation systems, those occurrences are rare. The calculations exact scaling is not critical. Exact scaling is when scaling
become easier for those systems operating in engineering constants must be used as calculated from instrument spans.
units. The alternative is exible scaling, where exact ranges are not
Analog, and many digital, transmitters also operate on needed but some arbitrary range is used to allow internal
normalized values of the process variables. That is, the mea- calculations to remain within range.
surement signal will vary from 0 to 100% as the process The flexible scaling cannot be used (1) when compensa-
variable shifts from 0 to its maximum value. Figure 8.19k tion for feed composition is part of the model, (2) when
illustrates the relationship among the various forms of analog narrow spans must be used for reasons of stability, and
signals and some typical process measurements. (3) when transmitter calibrations are inconsistent with mate-
The actual value of a process measurement is found by rial balance ratios. Exact scaling techniques must be used for
multiplying the analog signal by the calibrated full-scale these cases.
value (meter factor) of the process variable. In the examples
of Figure 8.19k, the temperature, represented by a 75% ana-
log signal, is 320F (160C), the linear ow is 775 gph MULTIPLE COMPONENT DISTILLATION
(2.93 m /h), the output of the differential pressure transmitter
(ow squared) is 779 gph (2.95 m /h), and the composition With binary mixtures, only two products are removed in the
is 3.75%. distillation column. However, most separations involve mul-
tiple components. Even then, most distillations remove only
Example As an example, let us review a ow ratio system two liquid products. In other applications a vapor product is
in which the load stream, L, has the range of 0 to 1000 gpm removed, or multiple liquid products are drawn from the
(0 to 3.79 m /h); the manipulated stream, M, has a range of tower. Sometimes only one product is withdrawn at a time.

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1831

Columns with Sidedraw

Having a sidestream product in addition to the overhead and

bottom products adds a degree of freedom to a control sys-
tem. The source of this extra degree of freedom can be seen
from the overall material balance equation:
F=D+C+B 8.19(40) FIC

where C is the sidestream ow rate. Two of the product

streams can be manipulated for control purposes, and the V FT FT FIC
Dynamics FY
material balance can still be closed by the third product
stream. L
The presence of this added degree of freedom makes the Dynamics FY FT D, y1, y2
careful analysis of the process even more essential to avoid F, z1, z2 ARC
mismatching of the manipulated and controlled variables. As
in the case of the previously discussed columns, the devel- Ratio C, c1, c2
RIC controller
opment of a control system for sidedraw applications also
involves developing the process model and determining the FT LT FT
relationship among the several controlled and manipulated
In this case, for a constant feed rate and column pressure, LIC
ve degrees of freedom exist: three composition specications
and two levels that can manipulate three product ows, and FY ARC AT
two heat balances (V and L). Several possible combinations
of variables are available and should be explored.
The possible combinations of manipulated variables for
B, x1, x2
the column in which the bottom composition and the side-
stream composition must be controlled are FIG. 8.19m
Control of composition in two product streams with a sidedraw.
Distillate and sidestream ows
Distillate and bottom ows
Distillate ow and heat input The symbols z1, y1, and c1 refer to the concentrations in
Sidestream and bottom ows the feed, distillate, and sidestream of the component under
Sidestream ow and heat input control in the sidestream. The concentrations of the key com-
Bottom ow and heat input ponent in the bottom are respectively expressed by z2, x2, and
c2 for the feed, the bottoms, and the sidestream.
Similarly, the possible combinations of manipulated vari- The resulting control system is shown in Figure 8.19m.
ables for the column in which the distillate composition and Note that in this conguration the ratio of heat input to feed
the sidestream composition must be controlled are: (and, therefore, boil-up to feed) is held constant. Separate
dynamic elements are used for the distillate loop and for the
Distillate and sidestream ows heat input and sidestream loops.
Distillate and bottom ows
Distillate ow and heat input
Sidestream and bottom ows Multiproduct Fractionators
Sidestream ow and reux Multiproduct fractionators are most common in the rening
Bottom ow and reux industry where multicomponent streams are separated into
many fractions. Examples of multiproduct fractionators are
The equations are crude towers, vacuum towers, and uidized catalytic cracking
unit (FCCU) main fractionators.
z c 8.19(41) Product quality controls are used to adjust local column
D= F 1 1 temperatures and sidedraw ow rates to control distillate
y1 c1 properties related to the product specications. An example
z x2 8.19(42) is true boiling point (TBP) cut points. TBP cut points approx-
C = F 2 imate the composition of a hydrocarbon mixture and are
c2 x2 numerically similar to the American Society for Testing and

2006 by Bla Liptk

1832 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations



PT Accumulator

balance Boiling
logic C point

Main fractionation


FIG. 8.19n
Control of product flows and pump-around refluxes.

Materials (ASTMs) 95%. The ASTM laboratory distillate Superfractionators

evaluation method is the standard used in the petroleum ren-
ing industry for determining the value (composition) of the The term superfractionator is applied to towers that are phys-
distillation products. ically large. These distillation units separate streams having
A computer is required to calculate the product boiling their light and heavy key relative volatilities quite close to
point specication, such as 95% boiling point or TBP cut each other. Included in this classication are deisobutanizers,
which separate isobutane from normal butane; propylene
point on the basis of local temperature, pressure, steam ow,
splitters, which separate propane from propylene; ethylben-
and reux data. Local reux is derived from internal liquid
zene towers, which separate ethylbenzene from xylene; and
and vapor ows, as discussed previously, and the remaining
xylene splitters, which separate para- and ortho-xylene from
variables are measured.
Boiling point analyzers can be used to provide the mea-
Sometimes, the number of trays and subsequent height
surement signals. If there is no analyzer, the calculated boil-
make it necessary to physically divide these towers into two
ing points can be used by themselves, or if there is one, they
or even three sections. Superfractionators have tremendous
can be used as a fast inner loop with analyzer trim. Because
internal vapor-liquid rates in order to achieve the separation.
of the volume of liquid/vapor loads within most multiproduct
Reux-to-distillate ratios are very high, as are vapor-to-bottoms
fractionators, the manipulated variables that provide the
greatest sensitivity and the quickest response are generally
A large pressure drop through the tower also exists. Long
the product ows.
dead times and lag times are experienced before any response
Adjustment of reux ows, as shown in Figure 8.19n, is seen to feed rate or reux changes. Generally, distillate
is an example of a heat balance control. The goal is to compositions of superfractionators have to be controlled with
maximize heat exchange to feed, subject to certain limits material balance equations due to the lack of sensitivity of
(limits and constraints are discussed as part of the subject response.
of the optimization of distillation towers in Section 8.21).
The task of maximizing the heating of the feed often sim- Batch Distillation
plies to recovering heat at the highest possible tempera-
ture, which means recovering it as low as possible in the In batch distillation (see Figure 8.19o), an initial charge of
column. liquid is fed to a vessel, and the distillation process is initiated

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1833

HIC FY X & mD + Yi ARC Y
V + LqL SP
D(y) D2
Reux, L FT
Wi - Initial batch quantity FIG. 8.19p
yi - Initial product concentration Control system for batch distillation.
Steam, Q L LqL Figure 8.19p shows the control system that will accom-
x plish this when the vapor rate from the batch column is main-
Wi( y2) tained constant. The equation describing this operation is:
FIG. 8.19o
Y = mD + yi 8.19(44)
Batch distillation.
y = the fraction of key component in the product
by turning on the heating and cooling systems. During the m = the rate of change of y with respect to the distillate (D)
distillation process, the initial charge in the vessel continually yi = the initial concentration of the product
depletes while building up the overhead product in the dis-
tillate receiver.
The only adjustment required is the correct setting of m.
Batch distillations are more common in smaller, multi-
The higher its value, the faster y will change and the smaller
product plants where the various products can only be man- will be the quantity of material recovered.
ufactured at different times, and where a number of different
mixtures may be handled in the same equipment.
Equation 8.19(43) is the basic equation that describes this CONTROL OBJECTIVES AND STRATEGIES

W = Wi Dt 8.19(43) Operating objectives include the composition specications

for the top and bottom product streams. Other objectives can
where include increasing throughput, enhancing column stability,
and operating against equipment constraints. Yet other con-
W = amount remaining in the bottoms
siderations include what product composition is considered
Wi = the initial charge
most important to maintain during disturbances, what are
D = distillate rate acceptable variations in product specications, and what are
t = time period of operation relative economic values of the product streams and cost of
energy used in the separation.
The basic objective of the control system of this type of The column operating objectives are ultimately governed
separation is to keep the composition of the distillate con- by economic benets that are measurable, signicant, and
stant. Other goals include keeping the distillate ow constant achievable. Economics of individual fractionators may con-
or maximizing the total distillate production. The main goal tinually change throughout the life of the plant. Prices and
of a batch distillation is to produce a product of specied costs may determine that energy savings are important at one
composition at minimum cost. This often means that operat- particular time but that recovery is more important at some
ing time must be reduced to some minimum while product other time.
purity or recovery is maintained within acceptable limits. The economic benets of fractionator control include
If product removal is too fast, separation and the quantity shifting of less protable components into more protable
of the product are reduced. Conversely, if the product is products, energy conservation, and increased throughput.
withdrawn to maintain separation, its withdrawal rate is Other benets arise, including minimum disturbances prop-
reduced and operating time is increased. However, the set agated to downstream units, minimum rework or recycle of
point to a composition controller can be programmed so that off-spec products, and more consistent product quality. Thus,
the average composition of the product will still be within a given columns operating economics and, therefore, its
specications while withdrawal rate is maximized. objectives may change with time.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1834 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

When minimization of fractionator utilities is an objec- material balance. Ratio control utilizes a ratio of any two ow
tive, the following guidelines are recommended: rates at each end of the column. The two common examples
of ratio control are the control of reux-to-distillate ratio and
Implement control to achieve composition control on the boil-up-to-bottoms ratio. These control congurations per-
all products of the fractionator form quite differently depending upon the fractionator char-
Operate the fractionator to produce minimum oversep- acteristics.
Ascertain that the reduction in energy usage is reected
in the energy inow to the production complex CONTROL LOOP INTERACTION
Minimize energy waste from blending of oversepa-
rated products The selection of which product composition to control (or
both, if control of both can be controlled) and the decision
on which variables will give better control can be aided by
Alternative Control Strategies calculation of a relative gain array. The concept of relative
gain provides a measure of the interaction that can be
Many choices confront the design engineer when selecting expected between control loops. This subject is covered in
the control variables for a column. The rst decision involves more detail in Chapter 2 in Section 2.12 and in Section 8.20.
conguration of the top or bottom control loops, which The concept may be used to nd the control congurations
directly determines product compositions. Once these strat- that will have the least amount of interaction. Therefore,
egies are tentatively determined, the control strategies for the relative gain analysis should be considered the rst step in
remaining variables (e.g., pressure or levels) become easier evaluating alternative composition control strategies.
to select. In addition, some pairings can be made heuristically from
Pairings of controlled and manipulated variables are nor- operating experience and on the basis of a general under-
mally made according to the single-input single-output standing of column dynamics (Table 8.19q).
(SISO) method. Multivariable control, where multiple-input The following are general rules used to reject some pos-
and multiple-output (MIMO) variables are paired, are dis- sible control pairings:

cussed in Section 8.21. In these multivariable strategies,

although a controlled variable can be affected by several 1. Overhead composition and bottoms composition should
manipulated variables, only one manipulated variable is used not both be controlled with material balance equations
to directly affect the controlled variable. The minimum num- if the objective is to control product specications at
ber of controlled variables for a fractionator tower is four. both ends of the fractionator.
These include:
Because of lack of dynamic response the following loops
Controlled Variables Manipulated Variables should not be paired:
Overhead composition Reux ow
Bottoms composition Reboiler heating media ow
1. Accumulator level should not be controlled with
reboiler heat if the reboiler is a furnace.
Accumulator level Distillate ow
2. Bottoms level should not be controlled with reboiler
Bottoms level Bottoms ow heat if the reboiler is a furnace.
3. Bottoms level should not be controlled with distillate
This allows for 24 possible congurations (4 factorial). ow.
Of course, most towers include pressure as a controlled vari- 4. Accumulator level should not be controlled with bot-
able, with condenser ow or vapor bypass as a manipulated toms product ow.
variable. Additional manipulated variables can include feed 5. Overhead composition should not be controlled with
ow and enthalpy. If a tower includes a sidedraw stream, bottoms product ow.
another control pair is added to the possible combinations. 6. Bottoms composition should not be controlled with
In fact, additional control variables increase the number distillate ow.
of possible control congurations factorially (e.g., six vari- 7. Bottoms level should not be controlled with reux
ables produce 720 possible congurations). ow.
The pairing of controlled and manipulated variables can 8. Bottoms composition should not be controlled with
follow three general control structures: energy balance con- reux ow if the number of trays is greater than a
trol, material balance control, and ratio control. Energy minimum limit (approximately 20).
balance control uses reux and reboiler heating media ow 9. Bottoms level should not be controlled with reboiler
to control compositions, thus xing the energy inputs. heat if the diameter of the column is greater than a
Material balance control uses the distillate and bottoms minimum limit (approximately 1520 ft (4.56 m),
product ows to control compositions, thus xing the overall indicating a high volume of liquid in the bottoms).

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1835

TABLE 8.19q
Dynamic Response and Sensitivity Limitations on the Pairing of Distillation Control Variables
(Both compositions should not be controlled by material balance (B,D) if both specications are important)
Distillate Flow Bottoms Product Flow Vaporization Rate (V) or Reflux Flow Rate
Controlled Variable
(D) (B) Heat Input at Reboiler (O) (L)
Composition of Overhead Product (ACy) OK if L/D  6 Notes 1 and 2 Note 2
Note 3
Composition of Bottoms Product (ACx) Note 3 Notes 1 and 2 OK if trays  20
Accumulator Level (LCa) OK if L/D  6 Not good with furnace OK if L/D  0.5
OK if V/B  3
Bottoms Level (LCb) OK if V/B  3 Not good if furnace is used
OK if diameter at bottom
 20 ft

Notes: 1. Control that concentration (x or y) which has the shorter residence time by throttling vapor ow (v).
2. More pure product should control separation (energy).
3. Less pure product should control material balance.
4. When controlling both x and y, the only choices for possible pairings are:
a. Control y by D and x by V.
b. Control y by D and x by L.
c. Control y by L and x by V.
d. Control y by B and x by L.

Of these, choice d is not recommended because a y/B combination is not responsive dynamically.

10. Accumulator level should not be controlled with number of the sidestream tray is greater than a mini-
reboiler heat if the control objective is to maintain mum value (approximately 100).
overhead product specication and the V/B ratio is 9. Bottoms level should not be controlled with bottoms
less than a minimum limit (approximately 3). ow if the V/B ratio is greater than a minimum limit
(approximately 3).
Because of lack of sensitivity, these loops should not be
paired: Choices for controlling product compositions include
1. Overhead composition should not be controlled with (1) controlling top or bottom composition only (generally
reux ow if the reux ratio (L/D) is less than a mini- suitable for constant separation conditions, where specica-
mum value (approximately 6). tions for one product are loose or where effective feedforward/
2. Accumulator level should not be controlled with dis- feedback systems can be designed to compensate for load
tillate ow if the reux ratio (L/D) is less than a max- changes) and (2) controlling of both product compositions
imum value (approximately 6). (minimizes energy use and provides tight specication top and
3. Accumulator level should not be controlled with reux bottom products for columns in which the problems of inter-
ow if the reux ratio (L/D) is less than a maximum action are small).
value (approximately 0.5). These choices can be broken down further into consid-
4. Bottoms composition should not be controlled with erations such as manipulation of distillate-boil-up, DV con-
sidedraw ow if the sidedraw is a vapor phase. guration (generally suitable for high reux columns) or
5. Overhead composition should not be controlled with manipulation of reux-boil-up, LV conguration (generally
sidedraw ow if the sidedraw is a liquid phase. suitable for low reux columns), and so forth.
6. Bottoms composition should not be controlled with Further considerations include the use of decoupling con-
sidedraw ow if the sidedraw is a liquid phase and the trol schemes (can present practical problems, such as insensi-
sidedraw tray number is greater than a minimum num- tive control, operating problems, and high sensitivity to errors)
ber (approximately 20). and the use of temperature measurements to infer composition
7. Sidedraw composition should not be controlled with or analyzers to measure composition directly (generally an
reux or distillate ow if the difference between the total economic decision based on how well a temperature-sensitive
number of trays and the number of the sidestream tray control point can be determined and the costs of analyzer
is greater than a minimum value (approximately 20). hardware and maintenance). These choices are based on oper-
8. Bottoms level should not be controlled with sidedraw ating objectives of the column, expected disturbance variables,
ow if the difference between the bottoms and the and the degree of control loop interaction.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1836 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations


Conceptually, product control is a problem of making precise
adjustments to the rate of heat addition and the rate of heat PT PRC
removal from the tower. Heat removal determines the internal
reux ow rate, and the internal reux as measured on the TRC
top tray is a direct reection of the composition of the dis- Set
tillate. Heat added determines the internal vapor rate. These FRC LT LRC
internal vapor and liquid ow rates determine the circulation
rate, which in turn determines the degree of separation FT
between two key components.
Once interaction of the various variable pairings has been FT
established, and the columns operating objectives and dis-
turbance variables are considered, the primary composition
FIG. 8.19s
control loops of the column can be selected. Measurement
If overhead composition is to be controlled, the reflux flow to the
of these control variables can be either direct or inferred.
column is throttled by a temperature controller.

Inferring Composition from Temperature

If the cost of on-line analyzer hardware and maintenance is When composition of the distillate is more important, it
prohibitive, or if backup is desired in case of analyzer failure is desirable to maintain a constant temperature in the upper
or maintenance, and because the results of laboratory analysis section, as in Figure 8.19s. In this conguration the sensing
take too long to be usable for effective control, temperature point for column pressure control should be located near the
measurement often can be used to infer composition. temperature control point. Keeping the sensor locations close to
Because distillation separates materials according to their each other helps to x the relation between temperature and
difference in vapor pressures, and because vapor pressure is a composition at this particular point.
temperature-controlled function, temperature measurement has If column temperature proles caused by small positive
historically been used to indicate composition. This presumes and negative changes in manipulated variables, such as a 1%
that the column pressure remains constant, or that the temper- change in distillate ow (Figure 8.19t), can be generated, the
ature measurement is compensated for pressure changes, and
that feed composition is constant. Then, any change in compo-
sition within a column will be detected as a temperature change. Sensor location for
Stage maximum sensitivity
The best point to locate the temperature sensor cannot be
established from generalizations. The important consideration
is to measure the temperature on a tray that strongly reects
the changes in composition. When composition of the bottom
product is important, it is desirable to maintain a constant tem-
perature in the lower section. This can be done by letting the
1% decrease in D 1% increase in D
temperature measurement manipulate the reboiler steam supply
by resetting the steam ow controller set point (Figure 8.19r).

0.3 0.2 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3

Stage temperature change in C
FIG. 8.19r
In this configuration the reboiler heat input is throttled by a FIG. 8.19t
temperature controller to keep the bottoms product composition Example of column temperature profiles resulting from a 1%
constant. increase and from a 1% decrease in distillate flow.

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1837

14 TT



FIG. 8.19u FIG. 8.119v

Heat input controlled by temperature difference. Distillate withdrawal controlled by chromatograph.

following criteria may be helpful in selecting sensor loca- used. (For details, refer to Chapter 8 of Volume 1 of this
tions: (1) The sensitivity of the temperature-manipulated handbook.)
variable pairing should be in the range of 0.1 to 0.5C/% and Once, the time required for a chromatographic analysis
(2) equal temperature changes should result when increasing (several minutes) was a great barrier to its use for automatic
and when decreasing the manipulated variable. control. Since then, the equipment has been enhanced so that
For a two-product fractionator, distillation temperature analyses can now be made in less than 5 min, and in many
is an indication of composition only when column pressure cases for low-volatility hydrocarbons, the analysis can be
remains constant or if the temperature measurement is pressure- made continuous.
compensated. When separation by distillation is sought between With careful handling, the under 5 min sampling rate will
two compounds having relatively close vapor pressures, tem- permit closed-loop distillate control. In fact, fractionators are
perature measurement, as an indication of composition, is successfully controlled with cycle times as long as 710 min
not satisfactory. by applying dead time compensation algorithms.
Fixing two temperatures in a column is equivalent to Light ends fractionators have been satisfactorily con-
xing one temperature and the pressure. Thus, by controlling trolled by the use of chromatography. Figure 8.19v illustrates
two temperatures, or a temperature difference, the effect of the controls of a superfractionator designed to separate iso-
pressure variations can be eliminated. The assumption used butane and normal butane. In this case, the chromatograph
here is that the vapor pressure curves for the two components continuously analyzes a sample from one of the intermediate
have constant slopes. trays, and this measurement is used by the analyzer controller
Controlling two temperatures is not equivalent to con- to modulate the product draw-off valve.
trolling a temperature difference. A plot of temperature dif- Overhead and bottoms analyzers typically measure the
ference vs. bottom product composition exhibits a maximum. loss of a valuable product or the presence of impurities.
Thus, for some temperature differences below the maximum Impurity components are chosen because small concentration
it is possible to get two different product compositions. variations can be measured more precisely and with better
Separation of normal butane and isobutane (in the repeatability, and can provide a more sensitive measure of
absence of other components, such as pentanes and heavier separation. For example, the change of an impurity from 1.0
substances) can be accomplished very well by using temper- to 1.1% can be measured with greater precision than a change
of the major component from 99 to 98.9%.
ature difference control. Figure 8.19u illustrates how the heat
input to such a column can be controlled by a temperature When composition analyzers are used in feedback con-
difference controller. trol, several congurations can be considered. These include
1) direct control of a manipulated variable, 2) cascade control
adjusting the set point of a slave temperature controller, and
Control by Analyzers 3) analysis control in parallel with temperature control in a
selective control conguration. The conguration used
Analytical or composition control is a way to sidestep the depends on the control objective, sensitivity of control, and
problems of temperature control. Although additional invest- analysis dead time.
ment is needed for the analytical equipment, savings from
improved operation usually results. Several types of instru- Direct Control by Analyzers Analyzer controllers in a feed-
ments are available for composition analysis. Of these, the back conguration can be considered when the dead time of
gas chromatograph is the most versatile and most widely each analysis update is less than the response time of the

2006 by Bla Liptk

1838 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations


+ +
Accumulator Accumulator




FIG. 8.19w FIG. 8.19x

Direct control of overhead product composition by an analyzer Analyzer controller with dead-time compensation cascaded to reflux
controller (ARC) throttling the set point of a reflux flow controller flow control.
Figure 8.19x shows the same conguration as did
Figure 8.19w except that the analyzer controller is equipped
process. Because it is the control of the composition of the with a rst-order Smith predictor that provides dead time
product, which is often the objective, direct control by an compensation.
analyzer controller would seem to be better than indirect In Figure 8.19x, the multiplier, lag, and dead time calcu-
control by temperature. lations (AY) provide the predicted analysis. (The lag represents
The composition controller provides feedback correction the rst-order process.) This predicted response is subtracted
in response to feed composition changes, pressure variations, from the actual measurement to give a differential of the
and variations in tower efciencies. Figure 8.19w shows the actual process from its own model. This delta is added to the
conguration of a control system, in which a chromatograph model without dead time to provide a modied pseudomea-
analyzes a liquid sample from the condenser rundown line. surement to the analyzer controller. Thus, the analyzer mea-
A sample probe gathers the liquid sample and the surement, which has a signicant dead time due to sampling
sampling system conditions and vaporizes the liquid sample and cycle times, provides a trim to the predicted measurement
to provide a representative vapor sample to the chromato- of the model.
graph. The analyzer controller (ARC) uses the chromato-
graphic measurement to manipulate the reux ow by adjust- Triple Cascade and Selective Control Analyzer control cas-
ing the set point to the reux ow controller (FRC). caded to temperature control can be used when stable tem-
perature on a particular tray is desired and the tower operates
Smith Predictor Often the analyzer is so slow that it intro- at a constant, maintainable, and controllable pressure. An
duces a signicant delay time that degrades the controllability example is cascading the analyzer controller to the overhead
of the process. In that case, some type of dead time compen- temperature of a tower, which in turn is cascaded to the reux
sation is used (see Section 2.19 in Chapter 2). A Smith ow rate. Because temperature is an indicator of composition
predictor compensator can serve to model the process to at this pressure, the analyzer controller only serves as a trim
predict what the analyzer measurement should be between correcting for variations in feed composition. Figure 8.19y
analysis updates. When the actual measurement is completed, shows this triple cascade conguration of an analyzer con-
the models prediction is compared to the actual measurement troller setting the temperature controller setting the reux
and the input to the controller is biased by the difference. ow controller.

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1839




Absorber stripper
PT TT SP Accumulator




Lean oil to

B FIG. 8.19z
Analyzer control in a low select configuration with a temperature
FIG. 8.19y constraint controller.
Triple cascade configuration of overhead composition control.

is often used when the fractionator is not the nal step in the
Analyzer controls can be used in a high or low select separation sequence. This often occurs in a natural gas
conguration in combination with temperature when a high liquids separation train where a de-ethanizer, a depropanizer,
or low limit based on temperature is important. The temper- a debutanizer, and a deisobutanizer (butane splitter) produce
ature controller is a constraint controller (see Section 2.28 in the products ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, and gasoline
Chapter 2 for details) serving to prevent the temperature from as shown in Figure 8.19bb.
exceeding a limit. Specications for the primary overhead products may
An example of using this control conguration is the include limitations on the amount of both light and heavy
control of the bottoms of an absorber stripper. Here, the impurities. For example, the propane product from the over-
temperature should not exceed a certain value, as no addi- head of the depropanizer would have limitations on ethane
tional stripping of the light component in the bottoms of the as well as isobutane. The problem is that the light impurity
column could be accomplished. Even though an analyzer (lighter than light key) cannot be controlled in the tower that
controller may call for more heat, this heat would only produces that product. Rather, it must be controlled in an
increase the bottoms temperature of the recycled oil to the upstream tower.
absorber without removing the impurity, thereby reducing
the absorption capability at the absorber.
Set Override
Figure 8.19z depicts an analyzer controller in a low select point
conguration with the temperature constraint controller. EF
Note that both cascade and selective control congura-
tions require external feedback to protect them from reset Master Slave
windup. Figure 8.19aa illustrates how the external feedback TT EF EF
(EF) is applied to the master controller in a cascade cong- FT
uration (TIC) and to both controllers (FIC and PIC) in a
selective control conguration. For more details on external
feedback, refer to Section 2.28 in Chapter 2.
FIG. 8.19aa
Fractionator Trains A controller may use as its measure- In a cascade configuration the external feedback signal (EF) is the
ment the analysis of a single component, or may use the ratio slave measurement, while in selective control configurations, it is
of two components. A ratio (e.g., ethane-to-propane, C2/C3) the signal that is throttling the control valve.

2006 by Bla Liptk

1840 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

AX C3 depropanizer (where isobutane was to be measured in the

Ethane presence of ethane, propane, and normal butane) and in
product the deisobutanizer (where isobutane was to be measured in the
presence of normal butane and isopentane), an infrared analysis
was to be preferred.
However, in the debutanizer the goal was to measure the

Propane Isobutane
NGL product combined isopentane plus normal pentane concentrations in
the presence of isobutane and normal butane to control the
butane-pentane separation. Here, investigation revealed that

AX C5+ gas chromatography provides the best solution.

Some boiling point analyzers are reliable enough to be

used for on-line control (see Section 8.50 in Chapter 8 in
AX C2/C3 Volume 1 of this handbook). Normally, cut points between
overhead products and side-cuts are maintained by tempera-

ture controllers. These controllers generally inuence reux

product rate or product draws to achieve the desired results. Labora-
AX IC4 tory distillation results are used to adjust the set points to the
temperature controllers. This method of control, however, is
cyclical because of the time lags involved in temperature
Straight run control.
gasoline To avoid exceeding the target cut points and to meet
AX NC4 required product specications, the cut point is set below
FIG. 8.19bb specication. This results in downgrading the more valuable
Analyzer placement in a fractionator train. product to the stream of lesser value. This downgrading can
be minimized through the use of on-line boiling point ana-
lyzers. Justication of a boiling point analyzer depends upon
The lighter than light key specication in the distillate the value of the products, how much downgrading is occur-
of the downstream tower can be controlled more easily by ring, and the cost of analyzer maintenance. Figure 8.19cc
controlling the ratio in the bottoms of the upstream tower. illustrates an end-point analyzer.
That is, the ethane content in the propane product (depro- Viscosity is another property that can be measured con-
panizer distillate) is maintained by controlling the C2/C3 ratio tinuously to give faster control corrections. In vacuum dis-
in the bottoms of the de-ethanizer. Measuring the C2/C3 ratio tillation, the viscosimeter monitors each of the streams for
in the bottoms requires an additional analyzer but eliminates which viscosity is a specication. Any deviation from the
the dead time of obtaining the concentration in the overhead desired viscosity is corrected by a change in the set point of
of a downstream tower. the control loop involved.
A feed analyzer is sometimes included as a part of feed- Deviation from the desired viscosity and the subsequent
forward control. The feed analysis is used in predicting inter- downgrading of the product can occur because of frequent
nal reux/overhead ow and bottoms/heat input. However, variations in tower operating conditions and feed composi-
when feed composition changes slowly or when results from tion. In addition to normal operation, the use of a viscosity
the analyzer cannot be obtained faster than the dynamics of analyzer minimizes downgrading during major upsets and
the tower, this analyzer is omitted and the burden is placed large feed compositions changes. With such an arrangement,
on feedback control from the product analyzers. low viscosity vacuum bottoms can be detected quickly and
In practice, a feed analyzer is the exception rather than diverted to recoverable feed for protable reprocessing.
the rule. Its use is mainly when the analyzer is already in Once again, protability determination requires a thor-
place, because it is controlling an upstream tower. For exam- ough analysis of column operation and an assessment of the
ple, the NGL separation train in Figure 8.19bb has a de- engineering, operating, and maintenance capabilities at the
ethanizer bottoms analyzer that could also be considered the location where this type of control is to be implemented.
depropanizer feed analyzer. Many other analytical instruments are being moved out
of the laboratory and into the processing area. Mobile units
Analyzer Selection The choice of analyzer control depends containing several different kinds of analyzers can be used
upon the analytical equipment available and on the type of to learn the best place to locate on-stream analyzers. In cases
separation desired. Each type of separation requires a com- in which permanent analyzers cannot be justied, the mobile
promise between the controllability and the delay of the unit is connected to the process long enough to nd the best
control system. For example, the NGL train (Figure 8.19bb) operating conditions. Then, the mobile unit can be moved
was studied to determine the best analyzer system. In the elsewhere.

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1841

(fast but (slow)
not repeatable)

Overhead Packed NG
condenser column

Percent Distillate
evaporated product
NG (D)
PI controller

distillation Ok
Boiler pot column (fast)
Sample Float
valve Bottoms
Drain product
valve Heater
Analyzer Ok (slow)
euent (slow & low
FIG. 8.19cc pressure)
The end-point distillation analyzer is a miniature version of the FIG. 8.19dd
process column. The choices of sampling point locations for analyzers used in dis-
tillation column control.

Sampling Proper sampling of material in a column is nec-

essary if analyzers are to control effectively. A poor sampling Figure 8.19dd shows some of the typical sample locations
system often is responsible for the unsatisfactory perfor- of a distillation tower. Most analyzers are designed to accept
mance of plant analyzers. For details on sampling system a clean, dry, noncorrosive sample at low temperatures, pres-
design, refer to Chapter 8, Section 8.2, in Volume 1 of this sures, and ow rates. Such conditions seldom exist in the
handbook. process, so the sampling system must be designed and oper-
The sampling points for composition analysis should be ated to overcome the difference between the conditions in
at, or very near, the column terminals for the following rea- the process and the conditions required by the analyzer.
sons: (1) freedom from ambiguity in the correlation of sample The sample system must provide a current and represen-
composition with terminal composition, and (2) improved tative sample of the stream being analyzed. It must transport
control loop behavior as a result of reduction of transport lag the sample from the sample point to the analyzer with a
(dead time) and of the time constants (lags) describing the minimum of transport lag (preferably less than 30 sec and
sampling points compositional behavior. This assumes that denitely not greater than 1 min). Transportation times are
the controller applies its manipulation at the same terminal minimized using high ow rate bypass streams taken from
(steam or reux) where the controlled variable is measured. the process sample point and returned to the process at a
The factors favoring moving the point of sampling nearer lower pressure. The sample system must condition the sample
to the feed entry point are (1) improved terminal composition to remove traces of foreign materials through ltering, main-
behavior as a result of earlier recognition of composition tain pressure and temperature, and maintain or change phase
transients as they proceed from the feed entry toward the for introduction into the analyzer.
column terminals, and (2) less stringent analytical require- For chromatographs, liquid sample points are generally
ments as a result of (a) analyzing the control component at preferred (Figure 8.19ee). This is because vapor streams have
a higher concentration and over a wider range, and (b) sim- historically not provided representative samples. Vapor sam-
plifying the multicomponent mixture, because nonkey com- ples do not tend to produce repeatable values as consistently
ponents tend to exhibit constant composition zones in the and reliably because of condensation at the sample probe
column. and in the sample lines when hydrocarbons of high boiling

2006 by Bla Liptk

1842 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations


Sample Cooling Water Pressure Temperature Flow

Out In in out gauge gauge indicator
FI with
Control Flow valve
Self valve FI
indicator Calibration
cleaning sample
Sample Shut-o
cooler Coalescer valves
Shut-o Lab sample
valves Pressure take o
Flow relief valve
Flow indicator Pressure
FI indicator FI gauge
Check needle
valve PI
valve Check
To valve

FIG. 8.19ee
Sampling system for a liquid product in a refinery application.

points are present in the sample. When the sample lines are it requires pressure compensation if the pressure varies. As
long, some separation between components can also occur. analyzers are increasingly replacing temperature-based con-
However, vapor samples can be used when warranted and if trols, the argument favoring constant pressure operation is
the proper care can be taken. also lessening. However, even when temperature control is
A satisfactory point for measuring bottoms product com- used, the temperature measurements can be compensated for
position is at the point of highest pressure. This approach pressure variations.
will ensure a representative sample and will provide the pres- The primary advantage of oating-pressure control is the
sure drop to return the sample bypass. The point of highest ability to operate at the minimum column pressure within the
pressure is generally immediately after the product pump. constraints of the system. Lower pressure reduces the vola-
However, if liquid holdup in the reboiler and kettle is large, a tility of distillation components, thereby reducing the heat
long lag is introduced, which slows the transient response of input required to effect a given separation. Other advantages
the measurement and control system. Alternative sample include increased reboiler capacity and reduced reboiler fouling
points such as a bottoms tray or seal pan may be used, but due to lower tower temperatures.
may require extra expense for the sample system. In the following paragraphs, oating-pressure control strat-
A satisfactory sample-point location for measuring the egies will be described for the following conditions: (1) liquid
distillate is the outlet liquid of the overhead vapor condenser. distillate withdrawn when noncondensables are present,
Sampling the overhead accumulator liquid after the reux or (2) vapor distillate withdrawn when noncondensables are
distillate pump should be avoided because of the tremendous present, and (3) liquid distillate withdrawn when the amount
process lag it introduces. Sampling the overhead vapor of noncondensables is negligible.
reduces the process lag of sampling after the condenser if a
repeatable, representative sample can be obtained. Liquid Distillate and Inerts

In some separation processes the problem of pressure control

PRESSURE CONTROL is complicated by the presence of large percentages of inert
gases. The noncondensables must be removed, or they will
Most distillation columns are operated under constant pres- accumulate and blanket off the condensing surface, thereby
sure. However, oating-pressure operation can have advan- causing loss of column pressure control.
tages in many processes. One reason for the resistance to the The simplest method of handling this problem is to bleed
use of oating-pressure control is based on the fact that off a xed amount of gases and vapors to a lower pressure unit,
temperature is sensitive to pressure changes, and therefore, such as to an absorption tower, if one is present in the system.

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1843

used to start opening the purge control valve (VPCV-2), when

Vent Partially the opening of PCV-1 reaches some preset limit. This can be
ooded done by means of a calibrated valve positioner or by using
VPCV condenser
2 a valve position controller (VPC-2) in Figure 8.19ff.
2 1 Vapor Distillate and Inerts
1 In the case where the distillate is in the vapor phase and inerts
are present, the overhead product is removed under pressure
control as shown in Part A of Figure 8.19gg. In this cong-
uration the system pressure will quickly respond to changes
in the distillate vapor ow. In this control system a level
controller is installed on the overhead receiver to regulate the
cooling water to the condenser, so that it will condense only
enough condensate to provide the column with reux.
This control system will operate properly only if the
FIG. 8.19ff condenser is designed to provide a short residence time for
Column pressure control with inerts present. the coolant, which will minimize the level control time lag.
If this is not the case, the cooling water ow should be
maintained at a constant rate.
In this case (Part B in Figure 8.19gg), the level controller
If an absorber is not present, it is possible to install a vent can regulate the ow of condensate through a small vaporizer
condenser to recover the condensable vapors from this purge and mix it with the vapor from the pressure control valve.
stream. Often in renery applications such noncondensables go If the cooling water has fouling tendencies, it is prefer-
to the fuel gas system or to are. able to use the control system shown in Figure 8.19hh, where
It is recommended that the xed continuous purge be a pressure controller regulates a vapor bypass around the
used whenever economically possible; however, when this is condenser.
not permitted, it is possible to modulate the purge stream.
This might be desirable when the amount of inerts is subject Liquid Distillate with Negligible Inerts
to wide variations over time.
As the noncondensables build up in the condenser, the In distillation processes where the distillate is in the liquid
pressure controller will tend to open the control valve (PCV-1 phase and the amount of inerts is negligible, the column
in Figure 8.19ff) to maintain the proper rate of condensation. pressure is usually controlled by modulating the rate of con-
The controller signal that is throttling PCV-1 could also be densation in the condenser. The method of controlling the

Dry Dry
condenser condenser


LRC Vapor (D) Vapor
LT Receiver LT LRC

A. Variable water ow B. Constant water ow

FIG. 8.19gg
Column pressure control when the distillate is in the vapor phase and contains inerts for variable (A) and constant condenser water flow
configurations (B).

2006 by Bla Liptk

1844 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

Water PRC

P Vapor
(D) P



A. Vapor distillate B. Liquid distillate

FIG. 8.19hh
Column pressure controlled by hot gas bypass throttling in case of vapor (A) and liquid (B) distillate processes.

rate of condensation depends upon the mechanical construc- should be owing at a rate of more than 4.5 ft/s (1.35 m/s),
tion of the condensing equipment. and the water should have a residence time of less than 45 sec.
The shorter the residence time of the water, the better will
Controlling the Cooling Water Flow Figure 8.19ii describes be the quality of control obtained, owing to the decrease in
a control conguration where the column pressure is con- dead time or lag in the system.
trolled by throttling the cooling water ow from the con- With a properly designed condenser, the pressure con-
denser. This method of control is recommended only when troller needs only proportional control, because a narrow
the cooling water is treated with chemicals that prevent the throttling range is sufcient. However, as the residence time
fouling of the tubes in the event of high temperature rise of the water increases, the time lag of the system will
across the condenser tubes. In such conguration, the main- increase, and consequently the controller will require a wider
tenance costs are low, because the control valve is on the throttling range and will need automatic reset to compensate
water side and the control performance is acceptable, pro- for the load changes.
vided the condenser is properly designed. The control obtained by using a wide proportional band
The best condenser for this service is a bundle-type unit is not satisfactory for precision distillation columns because
with the cooling water owing through the tubes. This water of the length of time required for the system to recover from
an upset. Also, the dead time varies with load, and therefore
the integral setting of the PRC should be set to match the
variation in residence time.
Water Dry
Therefore, it is unacceptable to use this control system
condenser on a condenser box with submerged tube sections, because
there would be a large time lag in the system due to the large
volume of water in the box. It would require the passage of
PRC a signicant amount of time before a change in water ow
rate would change the temperature of the water in the box
and nally would affect the rate of condensation.
LT Controlling the Condensate Flow To reduce such unfavor-
able time lags, it becomes necessary to use a different type
of control system, one that permits the water ow rate to
remain constant and controls the amount of surface exposed
to the condensing vapors. This is done by modulating the
ow of condensate from the condenser.
FIG. 8.19ii When the column pressure is dropping, this condensate
Column pressure control by throttling condenser water. throttling valve reduces the condensate ow, causing it to

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1845

PCV ooded
2 condenser
1 P 2
PT PT Inerts

Liquid (D)

A. No inerts B. With inerts

FIG. 8.19jj
High-speed column pressure control.

build up and ood more tube surface and, consequently, to (Figure 8.19jj, Part A). The column pressure is maintained
reduce the condensing surface exposed to the vapors. by throttling the ow of vapor through the condenser. Con-
Thereby, the condensing rate is reduced, and the pressure in trolling the rate of ow through the condenser provides faster
the column rises. In such designs, a vent valve should be pressure regulation for the column.
installed to purge the noncondensables from the top of the Part A of Figure 8.19jj shows the operation if there are
condenser if it is expected that noncondensables could build no inerts, as follows: If column pressure rises, PRC-1 opens
up and blanket the condensing surface. PCV-1. This increases the vapor pressure in the condenser,
which pushes some of the condensate out of it and increases
the condensing surface area exposed to the vapors. Therefore,
Control of Hot Vapor Bypass A third possible control con-
the rate of condensation is increased, and thereby the column
guration for applications with liquid distillate containing
pressure is lowered back to the set point of PRC-1.
negligible inerts is used when the condenser is located below
At this higher rate of condensation, the pressure drop
the receiver. This is frequently done to make the condenser
(P) across PCV-2 is also reduced (the valve opens). If the
available for servicing and to save on steel work. It is usual
column pressure drops, the opposite sequence occurs: PCV-1
practice to elevate the bottom of the accumulator 1015 ft
closes and the ooding of the condenser increases, reducing
(34.5 m) above the suction of the pump in order to provide
the rate of condensation and increasing the pressure drop
a positive suction head on the pump.
(P) across PCV-2 by slightly closing it. The setting of PRC-1
In this type of installation the control valve is placed in
must always be above that of PRC-2.
a bypass of the vapor line to the accumulator (see
The most common pressure control conguration is
Figure 8.19hh, Part B). When this valve is open, it equalizes
shown in Part B of Figure 8.19jj. Here, the column pressure
the pressure between the vapor line and the receiver, causing
controller is throttling the hot vapor bypass, as was the case in
the condensing surface to become ooded with condensate
Part A of Figure 8.19hh, but in addition a second pressure
because of the 1015 ft of head in the condensate line from
controller is utilized on the accumulator. This PRC is set at
the condenser back to the receiver.
about 5 PSIG below the required tower pressure and is used
The ooding of the condensing surface causes the pres- to vent the inert gases that may build up in the system.
sure to build up because of the decrease in the rate of con-
densation. Under normal operating conditions, the subcooling Vacuum Systems
that the condensate receives in the condenser is sufcient to
reduce the vapor pressure in the receiver. The difference in For some liquid mixtures, the temperature required to vapor-
pressure permits the condensate to ow up the 1015 ft of ize the feed would need to be so high that decomposition
pipe between the condenser and the accumulator. would result. To avoid this, it is necessary to operate the
A modication of this latter system controls the pressure column at pressures below atmospheric. Steam jet ejectors
in the accumulator by throttling the condenser bypass ow are often used to create vacuum in distillation systems. These

2006 by Bla Liptk

1846 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

Air Steam F Cold/cold


Turbo- PRC Surge

PT bypass


FIG. 8.19kk
Vacuum column pressure control.

can be used singly or in stages, when a wide range of vacuum

conditions are required. The acceptance of steam jet ejectors
is due to their having no moving parts and requiring very Residue
little maintenance. gas
Most ejectors are designed for a xed capacity and work NGL
best at one steam condition. Increasing the steam pressure FIG. 8.19ll
above the design point will not usually increase the capacity Vapor recompression pressure control.
of the ejector; instead, it will sometimes decrease the capacity
because of the choking effect of the excess steam in the
diffuser throat.
Steam pressure below a critical value for a jet will cause
the ejector operation to be unstable. Therefore, it is recom- distillation column is compressed to a pressure where its
mended that a pressure controller be installed on the steam condensation temperature is greater than the boiling point is
to keep it at the optimum pressure required by the ejector. at the pressure of the tower bottoms. The heat of condensation
The recommended control system for pressure control in of the overhead can then be used as the source of heat for
vacuum distillation applications is shown in Figure 8.19kk. reboiling the bottoms.
Here, a controlled rate of air or gas is bled into the vacuum This scheme is known as vapor recompression. It is used
line just ahead of the ejector. Closing this bleed valve makes fairly often when the distillation involves a relatively close-
the maximum capacity of the ejector available to handle any boiling mixture, and the boiling points of the top and bottom
surges or upsets in the process load. A control valve regulates products are similar. In cryogenic demethanization processes,
the amount of bleed air used to maintain the pressure on the illustrated in Figure 8.18ll, the column pressure is con-
reux accumulator. Using the pressure of the accumulator trolled by the throttling of the speed of the recompression
for control involves less time lag than if the column pressure compressors.
were used as the control variable. The heat of condensation of the overhead is also used
Because ejectors are xed capacity, the variable load is as the heat for the reboilers in propylene fractionators.
met by air bleed into the system. At low loads this represents Figure 8.19mm shows the pressure controls needed for the
a substantial waste of steam. Therefore, if substantial load operation of this vapor recompression via the heat pump on
variations are expected, operating costs can be lowered by this particular tower.
installing a larger and a smaller ejector. This makes it possible FCCU main fractionators and crude towers make use of
to automatically switch to the small unit when the load drops compressors to draw vapors from the tower because oper-
off, thereby reducing the steam demand. ation is essentially at atmospheric pressures. The pressure
control system used in this case is shown in Figure 8.19nn.
Vapor Recompression In this conguration, the tower pressure is maintained by
controlling the speed of the compressor. This is accomplished
Vapor recompression is another means of improving energy by the manipulation of the steam used to drive the compressor
efciency of the operation. The overhead vapor from the turbine.

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1847

Feed Flow Control

PT A ow controller in the feed line can maintain a constant ow

rate. In some instances, the feed pump of a distillation unit is
Heat pump a steam-driven pump instead of an electrically driven one. In
this case, the controller modulates the steam to the driver.
Feed composition has a great inuence upon the opera-
tion of a distillation unit. Unfortunately, feed composition is
Propylene tower

CW seldom subject to adjustment. For this reason, it is necessary

to make changes elsewhere in the operation of the column
in order to compensate for the variations in feed composition.
The corrective steps are discussed later. The discussion below
SP assumes a constant feed composition.
FRC Accumulator
FT Variable Column Feed

Propylene Having constant feed conditions simplies the amount of

Reboiler (C3) control required to achieve stable operation. However, the
distillate product is often fed to a second column. Then, any
changes that occur in the rst column are reected in the
quantity and composition of the feed to the second. If the
FIG. 8.19mm feed ow to the column is controlled by a liquid level con-
Propylene tower vapor recompression pressure control. troller of the previous column, that controller can be tuned
with a low gain, so that the level can swing over a wide range
without drastically upsetting the ow of product.
Nevertheless, the second column will receive a varying
FEED CONTROLS ow of feed if it is linked to the rst column. One way to
iron out temporary variations caused by liquid level changes
One of the best means of stabilizing the operation of almost is to cascade the level to a ow controller in the product lines.
any continuous-ow-process, including distillation, is to hold Flow controllers also serve to smooth out the pressure uc-
the ow rates and operating temperatures constant. There- tuations caused by the distillate/reux pump.
fore, whenever possible, a ow controller should be used on With variable feed rates and variable feed compositions,
the feed to maintain a constant rate of ow. cascade controls are justied. If the feed rate and composition
are relatively constant, resetting the major control loop manually
is sometimes adequate. In other cases the ow controller is
arranged as the cascade slave of the level controller
(Figure 8.19oo). The control algorithm for the level controller
SP in Figure 8.19oo is usually selected to be nonlinear to allow
FT FRC the level to oat in the surge tank without changing the FRC
set point, which would upset the feed to the next column.
PRC CW Steam
Therefore, the nonlinear controller is so congured that
PT as long as the level in the surge tank is between 25 and 75%,
Main fractionator



FIG. 8.19oo
Feed flow to the next column is kept relatively constant by the use
FIG. 8.19nn of a nonlinear level controller (LRC) on the surge tank acting as
Main fractionator pressure control. the cascade master of the slave flow controller (FRC).

2006 by Bla Liptk

1848 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

To column




X Feed
FIG. 8.19qq
The use of a temperature-flow cascade loop improves the column
m feed temperature controls provided by a preheater.

FIG. 8.19pp
Feedforward control minimizes feed rate disturbances. line. In this conguration, the temperature of the feed leaving
this preheater controls the steam ow into the preheater. In
such a cascade conguration, the temperature master is usu-
the set point to the FRC remains constant. This will allow ally a three-mode controller. On start-up, the initially large
the surge tank to fulll its purpose and smooth out the load correction provided by rate action of this three-mode con-
variations between the related processes. If the level drops troller helps to get the unit lined out faster. A full discussion
below 25% or rises above 75%, the FRC set point is reduced of the advantages of cascade loops is provided in Section 2.6
or increased respectively to protect it from draining or ood- in Chapter 2. Figure 8.19qq describes such a control system
ing the tank. on a preheater application.
If feed rate disturbances must be accepted by the column, An alternate feed preheating conguration is to use an
a feedforward control system as shown in Figure 8.19pp can economizer on the feed stream. An economizer is a heat
be used to minimize the impact of these disturbances. The exchanger designed to take advantage of the waste heat to
ratio, m, is selected by performance of a simple material preheat the feed. Often, if the bottoms product is just sent to
balance around the column. Changing the product ow in storage, it must be cooled anyway. Therefore, exchanging its
proportion to the feed ow minimizes internal column tran- heat content with the feed stream accomplishes both the
sients and, thus, the quantity of off-spec material during objective of feed preheating and that of product cooling.
recovery. Two control congurations are common. If heat from the
The value of m, however, is accurate only for one feed bottoms product stream is not sufcient, a second exchanger
composition and will have to be readjusted either manually using steam is also installed to augment the heating of the
or automatically for different feed compositions. Dynamic feed, and on this second exchanger, a temperature control
compensation, which will be discussed in more detail in system like that previously shown in Figure 8.19qq is used.
Section 8.21, is also recommended here. If the available bottoms product heat is more than sufcient,
Another method of minimizing feed rate disturbances is temperature control is achieved by manipulation of a bypass
to use adaptive tuning or other nonlinear level control tech- valve around the economizer, as shown in Figure 8.19rr.
niques (see Section 2.36 in Chapter 2) on the level controller.
Constant temperature feed does not necessarily mean
The key is to allow the accumulator, or the tower kettle, to
constant feed quality. If feed composition varies, its bubble
utilize its capacity to accommodate transient material balance
point also varies. It is common practice to set the temperature
accumulations and act as a surge drum to minimize feed
control at a point that is equivalent to the bubble point of
ow changes to the next unit.
the heaviest feed. As the feed becomes lighter, some of it will
vaporize, but this variation can be handled by subsequent
Feed Temperature Control
The thermal condition of the feed determines how much
additional heat must be added to the column by the reboiler.
For efcient separation, it usually is desirable to have the FEEDFORWARD CONTROLS
feed preheated to its bubble point when it enters the column.
Unless the feed comes directly from some preceding distil- This section discusses the basic single-inputsingle-output
lation step, an outside source of heat is required to achieve feedback control loops, serving to control the product qual-
that. ities, feed rate and temperature, and tower pressure. Such
Steam may be used to heat the feed, and a thermocouple feedback systems are capable of compensating for deviations
inside a thermowell can detect the temperature inside the feed and disturbances only after they have occurred and have been

2006 by Bla Liptk

8.19 Distillation: Basic Controls 1849

of compensation, hardware for application, and number of

variables monitored and controlled by a single strategy.
Often, additional instrumentation is not necessary when
B building upon basic feedback control designs to implement
feedforward control. However, in many cases, if key measure-
ments are not available and are needed for the feedforward
Economizer calculation or compensation, the installation of new in-line
F TF sensors is also required.
Unlike basic feedback control, where much of the control
TT could be implemented by simple analog control devices,
feedforward control strategies generally require more sophis-
ticated level computing systems. In this section, the common
applications of feedback-based distillation column controls
are discussed. Section 8.21 will discuss feedforward,
model-based, and other advanced control systems, includ-
ing optimization.


The heat content of the bottoms products can be utilized to preheat
the feed to the column in an economizer preheater. This section deals with some of the more basic control con-
gurations for distillation towers. Section 8.20 describes the
calculation of relative gains and Section 8.21 is devoted to
detected. When using these simple control schemes, the oper- the more advanced and optimized control strategies. The
ators are required to manually adjust the set point of these separation between these three areas is not very sharp, and
SISO loops in response to changing plant conditions as they some overlap does exist.
occur. This approach is usually sufcient to keep the distil- In this section, the control strategies for some of the more
lation column in operation, but it is not sufcient to achieve common distillation problems have been described. Although
optimal performance. many other system congurations can exist, they usually are
As will be discussed in Section 8.21 in more detail, combinations of those presented. Control strategies today are
feedforward strategies attempt to compensate for process dis- no longer hardware dependent. Most modern microprocessor-
turbances in the shortest time possible by accounting for based systems are designed with control function modules to
process dynamics, dead times, time delays, and loop interac- execute a variety of the basic strategies that were discussed
tions. The benets of better control are:
11 in this section. Multivariable unit operations controllers of
both the model-predictive and the model-free variety are also
slowly becoming available and will be discussed in
Increased throughput
Section 8.21.
Increased product recovery
It is important to emphasize that control by feedback
Energy conservation
methods alone cannot approach the quality of control possi-
Reduced disturbances to other processing units
ble by predictive (feedforward) techniques. This is true even
Minimum rework or recycle of off-spec products though it is likely that the predictive control equations may
Reduced operating personnel need to be updated by feedback. In effect, predictive control
Increased plant exibility tends to substantially reduce the size of the errors that are
left to be handled by feedback. Further discussion of feed-
It has been reported that feedforward-based product com- forward strategies and of other techniques for optimization
position control of distillation can give energy savings of are provided in more detail in Section 8.21.
While feedback-based basic distillation controls only aim
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