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Tamkang Journal of Science and Engineering, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 105-110 (2001)

105

Case Studies on Optimum Reflux Ratio of Distillation Towers in Petroleum Refining Processes

Hsi-Jen Chen and Yeh-Chin Lin

Department of Chemical Engineering, Tamkang University Tamsui, Taiwan 251, R.O.C. E-mail:hjchen@mail.tku.edu.tw

Abstract

For an existing distillation tower such as the propylene splitter in this study, the number of trays is fixed and there are very few degrees of freedom that can be manipulated to maximize operating profit; the reflux ratio can be used to influence the steady-state operating point and thus the daily profit. Also, in the debutanizer design, we have discussed the trade-offs between reflux ratios (energy costs) and annualized capital costs.

Key Words: Optimal Reflux Ratio, Propylene Splitter, Debutanizer, Petroleum Refining

1.

Introduction

Separations are “big businesses” in chemical processing. It has been variously estimated that the capital investment in separation equipment is 40-50% of the total for a conventional fluid processing unit. Of the total energy consumption of an average unit, the separation steps accounts for about 70%. And of the separation consumption, the distillation method accounts for about 95% [1]. In general, initial design of a distillation tower involves specifying the separation of a feed of known composition and temperature. Constraints require a minimum acceptable purity of the overhead and/or bottoms product. The desired separation can be achieved with relatively low energy requirements by using a large number of trays, thus incurring larger capital costs with the reflux ratio at its minimum value. On the other hand, by increasing the reflux ratio, the overhead composition specification can be met by a fewer number of trays but with higher energy costs. In particular, the optimization of reflux ratio is attractive for distillation columns that operate with: 1. high reflux ratio; 2. high differential product values between overhead and bottom; 3. high utility costs; 4. low relative volatility, and 5. feed light key far from 50%. In this paper, we explore optimum reflux ratio of two distillation columns for used in the petroleum

refining processes; one is called propylene splitter, an existing tower in a naphtha cracking plant, the other is a debutanizer used in a fluid catalytic cracking plant. The optimization software we used for the optimum reflux-ratio problem of the propylene splitter is GAMS [2] and a flowsheet simulator DESIGN II [3] was used for the basic design of the debutanizer.

2. Propylene Splitter

Figure 1 shows a typical olefins plant in which a propylene splitter is used for separating propane and propylene. The lighter component (propylene) is more valuable than propane. The overhead stream has to be at least 95% propylene. Based on the basic principle for a two-component system, we have to find the minimum reflux ratio, R m , and N m , the minimum number of stages to accomplish the separation at total reflux. For a two-component distillation system, if the relative volatility, α , is constant, then, we have the enriching operating line:

1

R

m

x

D

y =

(

R

m

+

1)

x +

(

R +1)

m

where x D is the purity of the overhead propylene. The equilibrium line is given by

y =αx/[1+(α1)x]

2

The q-line relates feed quality to feed fraction

106

Hsi-Jen Chen and Yeh-Chin Lin

y =

q

x

F

x

q

1

q

1

3

where x F is the mole fraction of feed light key (propylene) and q is defined as the ratio of heat needed to vaporize 1 mole of feed at entering condition to the molar latent heat of vaporization of feed. Combining Eqs. (1)-(3), and eliminating x and y, we obtain:

R x

m

F

+

qx

D

R

m

(

1

x

F

)(

+

q

1

x

D

)

=

[

α

x

D

() (

q

1

− +

x

F

R

m

1

)]

(

R

m

+

)(

1 1

x

F

)

+

(

q

)(

1 1

x

D

(4)

)

Equation (4) can be called the Underwood equation for a binary system. If the feed enters at its boiling point, q = 1, Eq. (4) becomes

R

m

= ⎜

1 ⎞ ⎡ x

x

α

(

1 x

D

)

D

α

1

F

1 x

F

5

If the feed enters as vapor at the dew point, q = 0, Eq. (4) becomes

R

m

= ⎜

1

⎞ ⎛ x

1 x

D

α

D

⎟ − 1

α

1

y

F

1 y

F

6

Eduljee [4] correlates the Gilliland’s diagram to

N

N m

− ⎜ ⎛ R

R

m

N +

1

R

+

1

=

0.75 1

0.5668

7

where N is the theoretical number of stages and R is the reflux ratio. The actual number of stages, N act , is obtained by dividing the theoretical number of stages by plate efficiency,η . If the relative volatility of the binary mixture is constant, the following analytical expression by Fenske can be used to calculate the minimum number of theoretical stages when a total condenser is used.

N

m

=

ln

⎡ ⎛ x

1

⎞ ⎛ − x ⎞ ⎤

⎝ ⎜

1

D

B

x

D

x

B

lnα

8

Equation (9) can be rearranged to give

x

B

=

x

D

x

D

+

α

N

m

(

1

x

D

)

9

The overall material balance gives

F = D + B

10

where F is the feed rate, D is the distillate flow rate, and B is the bottoms flow rate. The component material balance gives

x

F

F

=

x

D

D

+

x

B

B

11

where x B is the mole fraction of bottoms light key (propylene). Combining Eqs. (11) and (12), we have

B

=

F

(

x

F

x

D

)

x

B

x

D

12

If the assumption of constant molar overflow is made, then the liquid (L) and vapor flows (V) are

L = RD , and

V = (R +1)D

Next we develop expressions for the sales and

operating costs. The objective function profit P is defined as propylene sales plus propane sales and minus utility costs and raw material costs. Thus, we have

P

+

=

[

C

C

(

[C

(

'

D

C

D

x

D

D

+

D

C

x

C

B

B

'

B

B

x

)

R

F

()

1

x

D

Q

x

R

F

+

F

C

C

+

C

Q

'

F

+

C

(1

)

()]

1

x

B

B

F

)F ]

13

where Q R is the reboiler heat requirement, Q C is the condenser load requirement:

Q

Q

C

R

=

=

D

(

λ

λ

V

R

+1

)

= H

D

D + H

B

B H

F

F + Q

C

where H D is enthalpy of overhead product, H B is

enthalpy of bottoms product and H F is the feed enthalpy. Table 1 gives numerical values for the objective function of the propylene splitter.

Case Studies on Optimum Reflux Ratio of Distillation Towers in Petroleum Refining Processes

107

Table 1. Numerical values for objective function ofthe propane-propylene splitter

 

C

R

= reboiler heat cost

$3.00/

10

6

Btu

 

C

C

= condenser cooling cost

6

$0.009/ 10 Btu

C

B

=

value of propylene in bottoms

$0.12/ l b

 

'

$0.09/ l b

C

B

= value of propane in bottoms

C

F

= cost per pound of propylene

$0.16/ l b

 

'

$0.15/ l b

 

C

F

= cost per pound of propane

C

D

=

value of propylene in overhead

$0.20/ l b

 

'

$0.20/ l b

C

D

= value of propane in overhead

 

F

= feed rate

1,200,000

l b/day

N

act

= number of equilibrium stages

 

125

x

D

= mole fraction overhead light key

0.95

x

F

= mole fraction of feed light key

0.70

 

α = relative volatility

1.105

 

λ

= latent heat

130 Btu/ l b

 

η = plate efficiency

0.75

 

q = feed quality

 

1.0

l b   η = plate efficiency 0.75   q = feed quality   1.0 Figure

Figure 1. Typical Olefins Plant

108

Hsi-Jen Chen and Yeh-Chin Lin

108 Hsi-Jen Chen and Yeh-Chin Lin Figure 2. Flow Chart of Fluid Catalytic Cracking Table 2.

Figure 2. Flow Chart of Fluid Catalytic Cracking

Table 2. Component list and mole fraction of debutanizer charge stock

Component

mole %

Component

mole %

Ethylene

0.1

n-butane

3.9

ethane

1.2

pentene

11.9

hydrogen sulfide

2.1

isopentane

9.7

propylene

16.3

n-pentane

2.3

propane

6.9

hexane

11.8

isobutene

6.5

heptane

2.1

n-butene

14.3

octane

0.1

isobutene

10.8

3.

Debutanizer

Figure 2 shows a flow chart of a fluid catalytic cracking process. And debutanizer is used for separating butanes and lighter from gasoline product. The feedstock of debutanizer comes from a deethanizer and is 5620 BPSD (barrels per service day). Debutanizer is to operate at 150 psig. The design specification will require the overhead product to contain 98.5% of the butanes and lighter components with a contamination of 1.5 mol% pentanes and pentenes. A feedstock component list with molar contents is shown in Table 2. This is a multi-component distillation design and is to

fractionate between n-butane and i-pentane. We will use DESIGN II for both short-cut and rigorous design for the debutanizer. Note that the lost work (LW) [5] of debutanizer design is calculated by

LW

=

Bin

Bout

+ ⎜ 1 T

Te a ⎞ ⎟

Q

W

14

where B in and B out are input and output availability function of streams, respectively, Ta is ambient temperature, Te is stream temperature, Q is heat load of input and output streams, and W is output power. For equipment cost calculation, we used the Guthrie’s correlations [6]; for distillation tower, the following equation is used

Case Studies on Optimum Reflux Ratio of Distillation Towers in Petroleum Refining Processes

109

C ($) = ⎜ ⎛ M

&

S

280

()D

101.9

1.066

H

0.802

(

2.18 + Fc)

15

where M&S is the Marshall and Swift index, we used 792 in this study; D is tower diameter in ft, H is tower height in ft, and Fc corresponds to the correction factors for materials, pressure, etc., we used 1.15 in this study. For heat exchangers, the following equation is

used

C ($) = ⎜ ⎛ M

&

S

280

(

101.3

)(A

.0.65

2.29 + Fc)

16

where A is heat-transfer area in ft 2 , and in this study we used Fc as 1.0 and 1.45 for condenser and reboiler, respectively.

4. Results and Discussion

Depending on the condition of feedstock to the propylene splitter, we can solve for R m by Eqs. (4)-(6). Given the total number of actual stages, for each reflux ratio R, there must exist an N m . For specific purity requirement of the overhead, we can calculate x B from Eq. (9), and thus B from Eq. (12), then D from Eq. (10). From the optimization software GAMS using Table 1 as input parameters, we find the minimum reflux ratio is 11.17, the optimal reflux ratio is 16.51 and the profit is $9,350/day for the propane-propylene splitter. In addition, a sensitivity analysis for reflux ratio of 16.51 ±10% was performed. The results show a profit of $9,043/day for a reflux ratio of 14.86, and a profit of $9,188/day for a reflux ratio of 18.16. The profit function changes about $200-300/day. From the short-cut design of DESIGN II, we can obtain the relationship of reflux ratio versus the theoretical number of stages and feed locations of debutanizer as shown in Table 3. Having obtained the basic design specifications, we are able to do a rigorous tray-by-tray design. The results are shown in Table 4 with the calculation of

lost work listed in the last column. Also, we obtained the results of debutanizer with a overhead temperature of 100 o F and a bottoms temperature of 276 o F. The overall coefficient of heat transfer is 80 Btu/h.ft 2 . o F in the reboiler and 90 Btu/h.ft 2 . o F in the condenser; the logarithmic temperature differences are 130 o F and 40 o F, respectively. Saturation steam at 250 psig is used in the reboiler. At this pressure, the temperature of the condensing steam is 406 o F and the heat of condensation is 821 Btu / lb . The change in cooling-water temperature is 30 o F for all cases. The overall plate efficiency is 50%, tray spacing is 2 ft with tops disengaging height of 15 ft, and bottoms skirt height of 15 ft. The debutanizer is to operate 8,500 hr per year (stream factor of 0.97). The sum of costs for piping, insulation and instrumentation is estimated as 60% of the cost for the installed equipment. Annual fixed charges amount to 15% of the total cost for installed equipment, piping, instrumentation and insulation. Steam costs $3.50 per 1,000 pounds and cooling water costs $0.05 per 10,000 pounds. By repeated calculations for different reflux ratios, the following results as shown in Table 5 can be prepared. As a result, we would choose the reflux ratio of 1.10 as the optimum one.

5.

Conclusion

In the propylene-splitter study, we have shown that the reflux ratio is indeed a sensitive operating variable and affects a daily profit. The optimal reflux ratio is closely related to the feed mole fraction, feed quality, relative volatility, and a separation factor which itself was a function of overhead and bottoms composition. Also, in the debutanizer study, we have determined the optimum value of the reflux ratio by evaluating the annualized capital costs (column, condenser, reboiler) and operating costs (steam, cooling water).

Table 3.

Short-cut results from DESIGN II

Reflux ratio

Theoretical stages

Feedstock location

0.913

42

20

0.957

35

16

1.043

31

15

1.217

27

13

1.522

24

12

1.739

23

11

110

Hsi-Jen Chen and Yeh-Chin Lin

Table 4. Rigorous design results from DESIGN II

Reflux

Theoretical

Diameter

Condenser load

Reboiler load

Lost work

ratio

stages

(ft)

(Btu/hr)

 

(Btu/hr)

 

(Btu/hr)

 

1.05

42

4.73

9.158

×10

6

1.085

×10

7

2.88

×10

6

1.10

35

4.78

9.401

×10

6

1.108

×10

7

2.97

×10

6

1.20

31

4.87

9.883

×10

6

1.155

×10

7

3.14

×10

6

1.40

27

5.05

1.080

×10

6

1.246

×10

7

3.46

×10

6

1.75

24

5.34

1.240

×10

6

1.406

×10

7

4.02

×10

6

2.00

23

5.54

1.351

×10

6

1.517

×10

7

4.41

×10

6

Table 5. Annual cost of debutanizer design versus recycle ratio

Reflux

Actual number

Diameter

Column

Condenser

Reboiler

Cooling

Steam

Total annual

ratio

of stages

(ft)

($)

($)

($)

water ($)

($)

cost ($)

1.05

84

5.0

83,560

37,000

23,560

12,970

393,160

550,250

1.10

70

5.0

73,140

37,630

23,880

13,320

401,500

549,470

1.20

62

5.0

67,020

38,870

24,550

14,000

418,530

562,970

1.40

54

5.0

60,760

41,180

25,780

15,300

451,500

594,520

1.75

48

5.5

61,940

45,050

27,890

17,570

509,480

661,930

2.00

46

5.5

60,140

47,635

29,300

19,140

549,705

705,920

References

[1] Fair, J.R., “Energy-Efficient Separation Process Design,” Recent Developments in Chemical Process and Plant Design, Y.A. Liu, McGee, Jr., H.A. and Epperly, W.R. (eds.), John Wiley & Sons, New York (1987). [2] GAMS Development Corporation, GAMS A USER’S GUIDE, Washington, DC, GAMS Development Corporation (1998). [3] ChemShare Corporation, DESIGN II USER’S GUIDE, Houston, TX, ChemShare Corporation

(1988).

[4] Eduljee, H.E., “Equations Replace Gilliland’s Plot,” Hydrocarbon Process., 54 (9), 120

(1975).

[5] de Nevers, N. and Seader, J.D., “Lost Work: a Measure of Thermodynamic Efficiency,” Energy, 5, 757 (1980). [6] Douglas, J.M., Conceptual Design of Chemical Processes, McGraw-Hill, New York (1988).

Accepted: Jun. 26, 2001