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6164 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res.

2007, 46, 6164-6182


Gas-Liquid Distributors for Trickle-Bed Reactors: A Review

R. N. Maiti and K. D. P. Nigam*
Department of Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110016, India

A concise review of the gas-liquid distributors used in trickle-bed reactors (TBRs) is presented. The following
topics are considered: distributors in a large-scale reactor, quench box/redistributor, inert particle layer,
application of fluid flow modeling (CFD) in distributor studies, and distributors used in a laboratory-scale
reactor. Mainly four types of distributors used in a large-scale reactor (e.g., perforated plate, multiport chimney,
bubble cap, and gas-lift distributors) are described along with their advantages and disadvantages. Effects of
various types of weep hole, such as inverted V notch and rectangular slot at the distributor tube wall and
fluid distributing device at downcomer outlet, are discussed. Sizing methodology of multiport downcomer in
chimney type distributors is presented. The performance of a gas-lift distributor is found to be more promising
compared to other distributors. It provides intimate mixing of vapor and liquid, is less vulnerable to fouling,
is insensitive to tray levelness, and distributes liquid uniformly at a large turndown ratio. This is also reflected
in the increasing use of gas-lift distributors with increasingly stringent product specifications. This review
presents all the information available in the literature to the best of the author’s knowledge and focuses the
attention on enhancing the further understanding of internals toward uniform distribution of liquid in TBRs.
It also focuses the future directions of work in designing of gas-liquid distributors to further facilitate the
understanding of the design of TBRs to meet the challenges of the stringent sulfur specification in transportation
fuel (10 ppmw in EURO V by 2009).

1. Introduction commercialized catalysts with the ever-increasing activities

required to meet the stringent low sulfur, nitrogen, and aromatics
Trickle-bed reactors (TBRs) are one of the important classes
specifications of environmentally friendly fuels. The key
of multiphase flow reactors. It consists of a fixed bed of solid
catalyst particles contacted by a cocurrent downward gas-liquid parameter for further improving unit performance with highly
flow carrying both reactants and products. In some cases, active catalyst is the efficient distribution of reactants at the
upward-flow TBRs are used but, because of flooding problems, microlevel, i.e., wetting of catalyst. There are several factors
downward flow is the most widely preferred. TBRs have been that affect the macro- and microlevel liquid distribution and
widely used in the petroleum industry for many years and are flow textures. Macrolevel flow distribution is mainly affected
now gaining widespread use in several other fields. They are by inlet liquid distribution, particle shape and size of the particle,
employed in petroleum, petrochemical, and chemical industries, fluid velocity, and packing method. At the microlevel, liquid
in waste treatment, and in biochemical and electrochemical distribution and flow textures are affected by start-up procedures,
processing, as well as in other applications.1-4 fluid velocity, wettability, flow modulations, and coordination
In general, the reaction occurs between the dissolved gas and number of particle as reviewed by Maiti et al.4 However, the
the liquid-phase reactant at the interior surface of the catalyst. extent of uniform distribution of liquid through the catalyst bed
In some cases, the liquid phase may be an inert medium for at the microlevel is grossly affected by proper design and
contacting the dissolved gaseous reactant with the catalyst. The functioning of reactor internals.
observed and expected reaction rates, when the particles are The internal elements include (i) liquid entry devices, (ii) top
fully covered with liquid, are directly related to partial wetting distribution plate, (iii) quench box, and (iv) redistributor, i.e.,
of the catalyst.5 For this reason, it is desirable to have external redistributes the liquid and gaseous reactants evenly across each
surfaces of the catalyst fully covered with liquid (as it is
subsequent catalyst bed (Figure 1). The purpose of the liquid
perceived that the pore gets filled with liquid by capillary force)
entry device and distribution tray is to establish an even liquid
for maximum utilization of catalyst. In some cases, gas is
distribution radially across the catalyst bed. Poor liquid distribu-
sparingly soluble (gas-limiting reactions) and incomplete particle
tion introduces gross nonwetting in the bed, as shown in Figure
wetting is desirable because it increase the effectiveness factor,
owing to reduced gas-to-particle resistance. Obviously, there is 2parts a-c.6 The catalyst particles on the upper left side of
a balance that must be maintained to avoid particle dry out, packing (Figure 2a) are not wetted and are not utilized. This is
local temperature gradients, and vapor-phase reactions. in agreement with the observations of Christensen et al.,7 Szady
Since the introduction of the first commercial hydrotreating and Sundaresan,8 and Marchot et al.9,10 The latter authors studied
units in the 1950s, catalyst manufacturers have developed and the distribution of liquid in a laboratory trickling filter and
observed that about half of the bed cross section did not receive
* Corresponding author. Tel.: 011-2659 1020. E-mail: nigamkdp@ any liquid and the distribution was not uniform in the remaining cross section.
10.1021/ie070255m CCC: $37.00 © 2007 American Chemical Society
Published on Web 08/22/2007
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6165

center-to-center spacing between distributors and poor liquid

discharge pattern. Moreover, with increasing demand of removal
of certain specific compounds from petroleum refining products
(e.g., ultralow sulfur diesel as specified in EURO III, EURO
IV, and EURO V (10 ppm) norms by 2009), a greater need
exists for optimum and reliable reactor performance. For
example, in a DHDS (diesel hydro desulfurization) reactor, only
1% of the untreated feed (∼1.0 wt % sulfur) mixed with the
product because of wall flow or flow channeling keeps the
product sulfur specification (100 wt ppm) off by ∼100%, even
after using a highly active catalyst. Effective uniform distribution
of liquid in the macroscopic level is critical to meeting the above
demands,5 and it demonstrates to have a good distribution
especially when such a low sulfur specification in the product
is targeted.
Figure 1. Schematic drawing of a trickle-bed reactor used in hydrocracking. Until recently, very little work has been undertaken to study
and significantly improve the performance of existing distribu-
tion tray designs. Typically, catalyst manufacturers are well-
equipped to test and develop new catalysts but have neither the
testing facility nor the expertise to study flow distribution
devices. Only a limited group of companies with the combined
expertise from both catalysts manufacturing and licensing of
technology possess these capabilities, vz. Haldor Topsoe, IFP,
UOP, etc. Engineering companies do not have the facilities nor
the interest to undertake reactor internals development studies,
which fall outside the scope of their activities. In view of the
rapid advances that are being realized in the area of improvement
of reactor internals, it is deemed appropriate to supplement the
information and description of varieties of liquid distributors
used in TBRs. The present review aims to discuss the different
types of internals used broadly in the industrial scale and in
which improvements have been made over the years in terms
of (1) distributors in large-scale reactors, (2) quench box/mixing
device, (3) inert layer, (4) application of fluid flow modeling
(CFD) in distributors studies, and (5) distributors used in the
laboratory scale. Internals for cocurrent upflow reactors are also
Figure 2. (a-c) Liquid maldistribution in trickle-bed reactors.
discussed in brief.
It is hoped that the paper will stimulate additional research
A catalyst bed is hydraulically unstable in the sense that, if and development activities on design and selection of reactor
a restriction develops somewhere in the bed, then it will always internals (mainly used in the industrial scale) with a view to
become worse until the time of catalyst replacement. This may obtain uniform distribution of gas and liquid on the macroscopic
happen as a result of uneven distribution of gas and liquid in level in the case of trickle-bed reactors.
the catalyst bed where pockets containing mainly liquid and
insufficient hydrogen can cause coking. Temperature maldis- 2. Distributors in Large-Scale Reactors
tribution in exothermic processes generally indicates greater fluid
flow in one part of the bed versus another. Rapid pressure drop Most of the known designs of vapor-liquid distributors fall
buildup sometimes reveals coking in the bed caused by regions into one of the four categories. The first kind of distributor is
of stagnant flow or insufficient reactants. The restriction may a perforated plate or sieve tray (Figure 3a). This may or may
be developed because of mechanical degradation of catalyst not have notched weirs around the perforations. The tray may
particle or corrosion materials, pipe scales/foreign material that also have chimneys for vapor flow. This type of distributor is
entered with the feed. Fresh (not discolored) catalyst is used for rough liquid distribution in conjunction with a more
sometimes found when fixed-bed units are opened for servicing sophisticated final liquid distribution tray. The second common
after 2-3 years in operation, indicating flow bypassing. These type of liquid distribution device is a chimney tray. This device
findings indicate that at least some aspects of fluid flow in gas- uses a number of standpipes, typically on a regular square or
liquid distributors have not been well-understood. Yet in the triangular pitch pattern on a horizontal tray. The standpipes have
petroleum refining and other industries, public demand and holes in the sides of the pipes for the passage of liquid (Figure
government regulations have dictated the removal of certain 3b). The tops of the standpipes are open to allow vapor flow
compounds from chemical products, necessitating more severe down through the center of the chimneys. The third type of
operation and greater need for optimal and reliable reactor liquid distribution device is a bubble cap tray. This device uses
performance. Effective distribution in reactors is critical to a number of bubble caps laid out on a regular pitched pattern
meeting these demands. on a horizontal tray. A cap is centered concentrically on a
Most of the designs of internals in TBRs packed with standpipe (Figure 3c), and sides of the cap are slotted for vapor
millimeter-sized particles are influenced by hardware used in a flow. Liquid flows under the cap and, together with the vapor,
packed and trayed fractionation column. These designs are not flows upward in the annular area and then down through the
necessarily well-suited for trickle-bed reactors because of large center of the standpipe. The fourth type of distributor is the
6166 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

Figure 3. Different types of distributors: (a) perforated tray, (b) multiport chimney, (c) bubble cap, and (d) vapor-lift tube.
vapor assist lift tube (Figure 3d). One leg (downflow tube) of
the inverted “U” fits through a perforation in the support tray.
The other leg (upflow tube) is shorter so that it is elevated above
the tray. The ends of both legs are open. At the top of the
inverted “U”, there is an internal opening between the legs. The
device thereby provides a flow path across the tray, from the
inlet through the end of the short leg, with vertical flow through
the short leg, a direction change at the top of the inverted “U”,
downflow through the long leg, and discharge through the open
end of the long leg below the tray. A vertical slot is cut into
the side of the short leg opposite the longer leg. The top of the
slot is at or below the bottom of the internal opening between
the legs.
In many processes, e.g., hydroprocessing reactors, there can
be wide variations in the flow rates of vapor and liquid phases Figure 4. Impact of tray levelness for (a) perforated-plate distributor, (b)
and physical properties over time and during turndown opera- chimney distributor, and (c) vapor-lift distributor.
tions. Because of fabricating tolerances and the care of instal-
lation, there will be unavoidable variations in the distribution some of the distribution points, as shown in Figure 4a. The
tray levelness. Liquids dropping onto the distribution tray from design of the distributor should be able to overcome out-of-
an inlet distributor or quench zone mixer may be unevenly levelness of the tray. Fabrication tolerance, poor inclination,
distributed and could result in liquid height gradients across deflection under load, mishandling, etc. cause tray out-of-
the tray due to splashing, waves, or hydraulic head. Therefore, levelness. The impact of tray levelness is reduced by the choice
to have the optimized liquid distribution, the following important of a proper distributor, as shown in parts b and c of Figure 4.
elements must be considered during the design of the gas- (d) Vulnerability to plugging. Vulnerability to plugging by
liquid distributor tray: coke or corrosion products must be considered to ensure equal
(a) Drip point spacing. The dense spacing of drip points is a liquid flow from all distribution points.
key parameter in optimum radial dispersion of liquid coming (e) Vapor-liquid mixing. Vapor-liquid mixing is also an
out of distributor. The liquid dripping on to the catalyst bed important feature for ensuring that the reactants reaching the
may be visualized as a point source below each tube in the tray, catalyst surface are at an equilibrium temperature to have a
and it disperses radially as it passes through the bed. So part of uniform reaction throughout the entire catalyst bed. So the
the bed may be used to compensate the larger drip point spacing distributor providing a higher degree of vapor/liquid mixing will
toward uniform distribution of the liquid. Therefore, for uniform be advantageous, especially for trays located downstream of
distribution of liquid, closer spacing and a greater number of quench zones.
drip points should be provided. (f) Pressure across the distributor. The pressure across the
(b) Vaporization over the run cycle. Vaporization over the distributor should be low.
run cycle increases the vapor/liquid ratio, which can reduce the In the following sections, the key features of different
liquid level on the tray below a point where liquid can flow distributor designs that have been published and patented over
through some of the distributors. The tray design should be able the years and how well these devices address the above design
to handle various vapor/liquid ratios. considerations are discussed.
(c) Tray levelness. Tray levelness must be carefully consid- 2.1. Perforated Tray. This distributor tray is provided with
ered so that liquid does not preferentially flow through only a large number of liquid downflow apertures. Generally, a pool
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6167

Finally, the flexibility to liquid load is very poor. Typically,

this type of distribution tray can be designed to give good
performance at either the design conditions or at turndown
conditions, but not at both situations. Consequently, the tray
has a tendency to run dry as vaporization increases toward the
end of the cycle. This type of design may, therefore, not be
seriously considered to provide good uniform distribution.
However, this type of distributor may be used as rough
distribution in a multilevel distributor system.
2.2. Chimney Tray. These types of distributors consist of a
horizontal tray fitted with vertical downpipes called risers (both
sides open-ended) having holes (liquid openings) drilled in the
sides. These lateral liquid opening(s) may be at one or more
elevations with varying sizes and shapes. The total flow area
of the liquid openings is selected to hold a certain liquid level
on the tray, and the total cross-sectional area of the vapor
chimneys is normally selected to obtain a low pressure drop
across the tray to ensure that the driving force for liquid flow
through the liquid openings is mainly the static head of the liquid
column above the liquid opening and not the pressure drop
caused by vapor flow through the chimneys. The bulk of the
liquid flow would pass through the holes as a jet, which is
sheared by the gas passing vertically downward. The shearing
actions break up the liquid and thereby improve gas-liquid
contact before reaching the catalyst bed. This type of liquid
Figure 5. Distribution systems for use in multiple beds (U.S. Patent No. distributor is generally designed to control liquid level on the
4,836,98912): (a) perforated tray and (b) perforated tray for rough
distribution. tray as well as proper mixing of two phases depending upon
the types of holes. Over the years, chimney trays have been
of liquid will accumulate on the tray and cover these apertures patented along with the constant updation by several investiga-
so that the flow of vapor through them is not possible. Normally, tors. Details of some of the typical chimney distributors with
a large size chimney is provided to pass vapor to the tray/bed the development as reported in the patent are compiled in Table
below this. The top of each chimney is provided with a number 1. As en example, Riopelle and Scarsdale14 disclosed in U.S.
of slots to act as a weir for liquid flow if the liquid on the tray Patent No. 3,353,924 a gas-liquid distributor, consisting of
builds up and a flooding situation occurs (Figure 5a). This tray pipes with long vertical slots/notches on the sides so that liquid
is rather simple to construct and is capable of providing the flow through the distributor increases as liquid level on the tray
greatest number of drip points over the cross section of the increases (Figure 6). A simple fluid mechanical analysis of such
catalyst bed. It is used in isolation for a rough distribution of a device shows that the flow through the slot is proportional to
liquid or in combination with other distributors (i.e., chimney the height of the head of the liquid above the slot base raised
tray, bubble cap, and gas-lift tubes) for a finer distribution of to the power of more than one (∼1.5). This behavior is
liquid. In the case of multiple beds, there is a collection tray undesirable because the 1.5 power dependence on liquid height
below the catalyst bed and a rough distributor tray below the makes the distributor very sensitive to variations in levelness.
collection tray, which is basically a perforated tray type. After In addition, this device uses separate, larger chimneys for gas
the perforated tray, a second, final distributor tray is provided flow, which restricts the number of liquid irrigation points on
with downcomers for flow of liquid and vapor onto the lower the tray.
catalyst bed. Smith et al.11 developed a perforated distribution Effron et al.15 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 3,524,731 a
tray with a small perforation for liquid flow along with a central distributor that comprises a plate having short tubes and long
opening with cylindrical weirs for gas flow. Perforations were tubes inserted through the plate (Figure 7). The upper ends of
5-15 cm in diameter, and the total open area was sufficient the longer tubes are provided with notches and gas caps at the
for passage of liquid and accumulation of liquid up to a certain uppermost extremity. At low flow rate (i.e., at minimum feed
level with pressure drop not exceeding 5 cm. As an example, throughputs), the flow of liquid is entirely through the short
Figure 5b shows the perforated distributor system developed tubes with the gas flowing through the notched tubes. Uniformity
by Aly et al.12 for an initial, rough distribution of liquid to the of distribution is readily achieved by sizing the short tubes so
second distributor tray along with the chimney for vapor flow. that the head of liquid existing above it is at least 38 mm. At
Grott et al.13 also used a perforated tray (with a cylindrical wall higher flow rates, the liquid builds up to the notches provided
at the outer periphery of the tray) for distributing liquid effluent in the longer tubes and some of the liquid then begins to flow
from the mixing chamber. The tray has a uniformly distributed through the longer tubes. This in effect serves to “spread out”
perforation of size 16 mm. Vapor passes through the annular the increased flow over a greater number of points and serves
passageway. to maintain the desired uniformity of distribution. The flow
The performance of this type of distribution device will not through the short tubes still remains uniform, and the gas phase
properly satisfy all the required design considerations. Liquid still continues to flow through the notched tubes. Thus, the
on the unleveled tray will gravitate to the low points, and notched tubes serve two important functions: first, they act as
consequently, the sensitivity of tray levelness will be very high. gas chimneys to provide good uniformity in the distribution of
The perforation can easily become plugged by coke, corrosion the gas phase, and second, they prevent the building up of the
products, or other debris carried into the reactor by the feed. liquid level over the plate beyond a desired height. With this
6168 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

Table 1. Comparison of Different Chimney-Type Distributors

author type of distributor size details of the distributors advantages/disadvantages
Riopelle and Scarsdale14 chimney type long vertical down pipe for gas; sensitive to liquid height, i.e., tray
small liquid down pipe with long levelness; lesser no. of drip point as
vertical notch wide open at top gas and liquid down pipes are
separate; can take care high
turndown ratio
Effron and Hochman15 riser type long down pipes with notch at the upper end; at turndown flow, occurs through
short down pipe with overflow boxes at outlet; shorter tubes; at high flow, flow
pitch ) 7.5-30 cm; passes through both long and
shorter tube: dia (mm) ) 10-20, height ) 50; short tubes; can accommodate
longer tube: dia (mm) ) 25-50, height ) 165; wide variation in liquid flow rate;
triangular cutouts 25 mm × 50 (height) × 6 mm insensitive to tray levelness and
dirt deposition
Grosboll et al.16 chimney type chimney with circular hole at wall; both gas and liquid passes through
dia of tube ) 70-218 mm; same downcomer, so larger number
10-30 no. of chimney/m2; of drip points possible; free of
3-8 aperture around the perimeter wall, plugging and fouling as aperture at
5-15 cm above the plate; higher level; very sensitive to liquid
aperture size ) 0.6-6 cm2 height
Derr et al.17 weir type gas liquid downcomer pipe with circular sensitivity to tray levelness is less
holes at wall and rectangular notches at at high liquid flow rate but very
the upper end highly sensitive at low liquid flow;
uniform distribution possible
because of larger number of drip
Campagnolo et al.18 riser type; distributors at 1st tray are riser types with much larger number of drip points
a pair of weir slots for liquid flow; distributors at second and uniform distribution due to
distribution trays tray are both riser types for both gas and flow through both types of
liquid and liquid down pipes distributors; effect of tray levelness
is reduced because of flow through
weir slots as well
Koros et al. 19 chimney type vertical slots of different lengths around the uniform distribution due to radial
circumference of the chimney; spray- coverage of liquid spray; tray
generating device at outlet of distributors levelness less; effective at flow
variation because of existence of
slots of different lengths
Muldowney et al.20 open-ended down two types of down pipes, first type with holes effective at different flow rates
pipes with holes at two levels and second type has because at low flow rates liquid
at two different levels holes at higher level corresponding to first passes through down pipes with
type; lowermost holes are at least 6 mm lower hole only, free of plugging;
above the tray sensitivity to tray levelness is low
Wrisberg21 riser type open-ended tubes with aperture at various high flexibility at turn down
elevations (3-4 levels);
tube pitch ) 50-120 mm;
aperture at various levels with lowermost
at 50 mm from tray
Muller22 down pipes with downcomers with holes at wall at elevations, it is a combination of chimney and
liquid conduit a reduced flow area section, a liquid bubble cap type; as liquid is lifted
conduit, and a device for improved through conduit, it is less susceptible
liquid spread to plugging and fouling; liquid
bypassing through vapor is less
compared to bubble column; improved
distribution performance

feature, reactors of shorter overall lengths may be employed Grosboll et al.16 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,126,540 a
since large buildups in liquid levels in the case of large turndown tray deck with a hollow chimney member with circular apertures
ratios (i.e., maximum flow rate/minimum flow rate) do not drilled on the riser surface (Figure 8) at different elevations.
occur. The slots in the long tubes are designed so that, at The number of chimneys ranges from about 10 to 30/m2 of tray.
maximum flow rates, they take up to 50% of the total flow Each chimney has 3-8 apertures at evenly spaced intervals
rate. Furthermore, by maintaining a head of 38 mm above the around the perimeter of the chimney. The cross-sectional area
uppermost end of the shorter tubes, distribution becomes of each aperture may range in size from 0.6 to 6.0 cm2. The
relatively insensitive to out-of-level variations, which may occur top opening of the chimney is in the range 7.5-30 cm above
in the transverse direction of the reactor. Overflow boxes are the tray. The cross-sectional area of the top opening is 45-380
provided at the end of the shorter tube to reduce the effective cm2. Among the factors, which can be used to determine the
distance between drip points with slots to distribute liquid. The numbers, sizes, and locations of the apertures, are the flow rate
preferred configurations for the slots are triangular cutouts. The and the composition of the liquid-vapor mixture. The centerline
advantage of using such a slot, as compared to a slot of of the aperture is 5-15 cm above the tray, providing settling
rectangular cross section or one of triangular cross section with space for particulate matter, if any, present in the liquid-vapor
the apex downwardly oriented, lies in the fact that it insures mixture. The liquid level should be 3 times the diameter of the
greater uniformity of distribution when the liquid level above smallest aperture. The pitch of the aperture in circumference is
the plate is not parallel to it because flow through the slot is D or 2D of the aperture. The plate distance over the opening is
proportional to the height of the head of liquid above the slot at least 0.1-30 cm. The cross-sectional area of the plate is at
base raised to the power <1 (∼0.5). least two times as large as the cross-sectional area of the top
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6169

Figure 8. Hollow chimney member for distributing a mixed fluid stream

(U.S. Patent No. 4,126,54016).
Figure 6. Liquid downcomer pipe (from U.S. Patent No. 3,353,92414).

Figure 7. Chimney distributor with different sizes of down flow pipes

(U.S. Patent No. 3,524,73115). Figure 9. Chimney type distributors (from U.S. Patent No. 4,126,53917).

opening. The distributors are applicable for any bed of solid These liquid flows through holes are sized to permit flow of
particles but particularly in a bed of solid catalyst particles with only a portion of the highest liquid flow permitted by the tray
typical catalyst size range of 0.2-12 mm. This tray has and ensure that some liquid always flows through each
improved resistance to fouling and plugging since the liquid downcomer. At high flow rate, the liquid passes through the
openings are at a higher elevation, and particulate impurities rectangular notches and flow is proportional to the liquid head
can, therefore, settle out on the tray without plugging the liquid over the tray, raised to the power 0.5. This provides a
openings. The drawback of chimney tray designs with liquid minimization of sensitivity of liquid flow to variations in level.
openings in one elevation only is poor liquid flow range. At A disadvantage of such use of this distributor would arise at
low liquid flow rates, the level will be at the liquid openings, low liquid flow rates, which cause the liquid level on the tray
and the liquid flow through each chimney becomes very to fall between the top and bottom of the holes. Under these
sensitive to the variations in liquid depth, which will always conditions, a 1.5 power dependence on liquid height instead of
exist on the tray. At high liquid flow rates, liquid will overflow 0.5 makes the distributor strongly sensitive to variations in
the lowest elevated chimneys and cause liquid maldistribution. levelness. A low liquid level could be minimized by sizing the
Derr et al.17 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,126,539 a pair of circular holes smaller, but hole diameters < ∼6 mm would be
gas-liquid distributor trays to facilitate the uniform spreading impractical because of the possibility of plugging. Thus, for a
of liquid over the upper face of a catalyst bed (Figure 9). The given reactor, there is a minimum liquid rate for which
distributor trays contain a series of spaced risers, which have downpipes with holes are effective, below which good distribu-
dual functions. It permit vapor to pass the tray and also serve tion cannot be guaranteed. Another problem with this distributor
as liquid conduits because of weir slots cut into the sides of the is that the liquid is carried past the tray by the risers and, thus,
risers. The upper tray is perforated by a relatively uniformly the number of points at which the liquid is introduced to the
dispersed gas-phase downcomer. The gas and liquid downcom- upper face of the bed is limited by the number of risers that
ers are of the weir type, which maintains a desired level of liquid can be uniformly positioned on the tray. This limitation is
upon the upper tray surface throughout its cross-sectional area. aggravated by the fact that the risers are of relatively large
In addition, the liquid downcomers are provided with one or diameter. Accordingly, as the number of liquid introduction
more liquid flows through holes, or orifices. The liquid flows points is decreased, the depth to which the liquid must penetrate
through the holes are sized to permit only a portion of the tray- the catalyst bed to reach equilibrium distribution increases, and
accumulated liquid to flow through the holes with the remaining catalyst utilization in the upper bed is thereby impaired.
portion of the liquid overflowing the weir of each downcomer Additionally, because of the nature of liquid flow through weirs,
and flowing downward. This arrangement ensures the flow of the uniformity of liquid distribution affected by this type of
liquid through each liquid downcomer of the upper distributor design is very sensitive to tray unevenness, introduced during
tray. fabrication or installation.
A second gas/liquid distributor tray is positioned beneath the Campagnolo et al.18 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,788,040
upper distributor tray. The second distributor tray is provided an inlet distributor system including a pair of distributor trays
with gas/liquid downcomer with one or more circular liquid for a fixed-bed catalyst reactor (Figure 10). An upper tray has
holes. The weir type distributors of the second tray maintain a a series of risers. The risers are hollow and open above and
desired liquid level on the tray so that saturated liquid and below the upper distributor tray to permit vapor to pass through
hydrogen rich gas pass downwardly through the open-ended the tray, and each riser has weir slots cut into its outer surface
downcomers under flow conditions of limited pressure drop. through which liquid can pass through the tray. The lower
6170 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

Figure 10. Inlet distributor system (from U.S. Patent No. 4,788,04018).

Figure 12. Distributor down pipes with holes at different levels (U.S. Patent
No. 5,484,57820).

by the flow of vapor and liquid through the conical spray-

producing zone in combination with the uniform flow of liquid
provided by the chimney slots. A surprising discovery is that
this apparatus operates over wide variations in liquid and vapor
Figure 11. Chimney distributor with first end for liquid receive and second flow rates while providing excellent flow-distribution perfor-
end for liquid distribution (from U.S. Patent No. 5,403,56119). mance. In addition, when in a preferred operating mode, fine
droplets ranging between 10 microns and 1000 microns are
distributor tray has a series of risers and downpipes thereon produced. These extremely small drops are dispersed and
arranged in a predetermined pattern. The pattern of risers and suspended in the vapor flow, providing the fixed bed below
downpipes provides an advantageous arrangement of pas- the tray with a uniform vapor/liquid flow mixture that, via
sageways for liquid to be distributed to the catalytic bed. The normal bed flow dynamics characteristics, will be distributed
advantages of using this type of distributor are as follows: (1) uniformly within the top entrance region of the catalyst bed.
The number of discrete liquid streams entering the upper face Muldowney et al.20 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,484,578 a
of the catalyst bed is maximum. (2) The distributor is designed distributor system for uniformly directing vapor and liquid across
to ensure as nearly as possible equal liquid flow rate of each the surface of a fixed bed of solids in a downflow reactor
stream, hence resulting in uniform liquid irrigation over the comprising a distributor tray and open-ended downpipes (Figure
entire face of the bed. In this distributor, liquid flow is through 12). There are two different types of downpipes with different
orifices in the riser and through the liquid downpipes. In both numbers of holes for gas/liquid flow. A first array of the
cases, flow is proportional to the square root of the liquid height downpipes has vertically spaced elevations of holes above the
on the distributor tray. (3) Since the flow rate through the level of the tray. A second array of the downpipes has at least
apertures of the distributor is proportional to the square root of one elevation of holes at substantially the same height above
liquid height, the effect of tray levelness is minimized. By the level of the tray as one of the upper elevations of holes in
contrast, in a distributor employing weir flow, the effect of tray the first array of the downpipes. However, the second array has
irregularities is magnified. no elevation of holes corresponding to the lowermost elevation
Koros et al.19 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,403,561 a mixed- of holes, and possibly other lower elevations of holes, in the
phase fixed-bed reactor distributor (Figure 11), which is a first array of downpipes. The absence of the lowermost holes
horizontal tray with vertically disposed chimneys. These in the second array of downpipes causes the liquid flow rate
chimneys have a first end to receive liquid and gas above the through the distributor tray at a given liquid height to be reduced
tray and a second end for distributing the liquid and gas when that liquid height falls below the elevation of the holes
downwardly below the tray (Figure 11). The spray-generating second from the bottom in the first array. This maximizes the
devices for producing the conical spray are located at positions liquid height above the lowermost holes, preserving good
so that the spray of the mixed fluid stream from one spray- distribution even when the distributor is subject to variations
generating device as it impinges on the top surface of the fixed in level from one point to another. The downpipes are vertically
bed will overlap the spray from an adjacent spray-generating disposed tubes with open ends, which extend above and below
device. The maximum flow through the device at acceptable the tray by one or more tube diameters. The lowest holes on
pressure drop and the angle of the spread of the conical spray any downpipe are suitably 0.6 cm to several cm (at the center
pattern are controlled by the choice of ribbon pitch, diameter of the hole) above the top surface of the tray to prevent scale,
width, and length. The angle of the spray and the overlap sludge, or other solid matter conveyed in the liquid phase from
determine the appropriate distance between the tray carrying passing through the tray onto the solids bed below. Thus, the
the spray device and the catalyst bed. Another important feature presence of the downpipes ensures that a pool of liquid is
of the distributor is the self-adjusting control of uniform vapor maintained on the tray. It is generally preferred that at least the
flow through each distribution element. This control is provided bottom hole, or, more preferably, several of the holes, in the
by the uniform back-pressure due to the pressure drop exerted downpipes be entirely submerged in the standing liquid.
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6171

Figure 14. Down pipes with liquid conduit (from U.S. Patent No.
Figure 13. Open-ended tubular distributor (from U.S. Patent No. 5,688,-
44521). 0.35, it is ensured that the downcomers are not partially floated,
An aspect of the present distributor is that the outlet streams which otherwise will result in an uneven flow distribution
from the downpipes diverge into conical sprays because the between the downcomers and fluctuations in velocity head loss
streams lose momentum to the comparatively stagnant gas at a varying degree of flooding. Sometimes, the tray is
between the distributor tray and the inerts layer located above additionally equipped with a number of open-ended tubular gas
the catalyst bed. The extent of divergence depends on the liquid chimneys extending vertically for a certain height above and
and gas flow rates, the fluid properties, and the dimensions of below the tray. The gas chimneys have an inner diameter, which
the downpipes. On typical pitches, the conical outlet sprays is larger than that of the downcomers, at least 2 times the
approach one another or partially overlap. For this reason, the diameter of the downcomers. The gas chimney may, further-
liquid coverage at the top of the solids bed is minimally more, be provided with apertures of the same diameter and at
compromised even when the second array of pipes, which have the same elevations as the apertures in the downcomers.
only one hole, are passing no liquid at all. The coverage is Muller22 disclosed a distribution tray in U.S. Patent No.
typically at least ∼80% to ∼95% of the coverage obtained when 20060163758 for distribution of vapor and liquid across a vessel
all downpipes are passing liquid, and it can approach 100% that has downcomers with a reduced flow area section and a
coverage. It is preferable that the downpipes of both the first device for improved liquid spread at the outlet of the downcomer
and second arrays feature one or more notches in the top rim to (Figure 14). The distribution tray with downcomers has open
conduct liquid during periods of abnormally high flow. High upper ends for vapor inlet and open lower ends for passing the
flow may occur because of an interval of higher-than-design vapor and liquid through the tray. A liquid conduit is also
feed rate, an unplanned surge of incoming liquid, or, much more provided for each downcomer with a liquid inlet submerged in
rarely, a general rise in the liquid level on the tray due to the liquid pool on the tray, with a section for upward flow of
plugging of most of the downpipe holes. The notches result in the liquid and with liquid openings at more elevations. The
less sensitivity of liquid flow to liquid height when the tray is liquid conduit is used to transfer liquid from the liquid pool
imperfectly leveled than would occur if the rims were unnotched. into the downcomer. Unlike with a conventional chimney, the
The notches may be rectangular, triangular, semicircular, or of driving force of the liquid flow is both liquid height and pressure
various other shapes and are distinct and unconnected to any drop for the vapor entrance. The lower end of the downcomer
of the holes in the downpipes. is provided with means for improving the local liquid spread
Wrisberg21 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,688,445 a distribu- from each downcomer such as vanes, baffles, ribbons, and
tor arranged above the surface of the trickle bed (Figure 13). corrugated, flat, or curved plates with or without perforations.
The tray is equipped with open-ended tubular distributor During operation, vapor enters the downcomer upper end. Liquid
downcomers with horizontal apertures at various elevations in collected on the tray flows through the inlet, upward through
the tube wall of the downcomers to provide passage of liquid the conduit, and through the openings into the downcomer,
and gas flow through the open ends of the downcomers. The where the liquid is mixed with downwardly flowing vapor. The
number and dimensions of downcomers depend on the actual two-phase stream passes the reduced flow area section with
rate of gas and liquid flow introduced on the tray. In general, increased velocity for improved dispersion of the liquid before
the height of the downcomers above the tray is at least 200 the stream flows through the device for improved liquid spread,
mm to allow for varying liquid load without overflow of liquid and it then exits through the lower end of the downcomer.
through the open ends of the downcomers. The downcomers From Table 1, it is observed that performance of the chimney
are typically disposed in the tray with a pitch of about 50-120 tray has been improved with developed slot size and type along
mm. Horizontal apertures in the downcomers are typically with use of a number of slots at several elevations. But unlike
disposed at 3-4 elevations at a minimum elevation of ∼50 mm a conventional chimney, the new improved chimney type with
above the bottom of the tray and at intervals of 30-40 mm liquid conduit, developed by Muller,22 is more promising to
between each aperture, which ensures high flexibility at overcome the disadvantages of conventional chimney distribu-
turndown of the trickle-bed reactor. The diameter of the tors.
apertures is selected to maintain a liquid level on the tray of 2.2.1. Methodology for Sizing Distributor Downpipes. In
about 150-190 mm at 125% of liquid load. Preferably, the the following paragraphs, the sizing methodology was discussed
diameter of the apertures is at least 4 mm. As an important for downpipes having two arrays of pipes with holes at different
feature, the inner diameter of the downcomers is adjusted to levels, as disclosed by Muldowney et al.20 Sizing of downpipes
provide a Froude number (NF) < 0.35. At a Froude number < involves more than one operating mode specified by a total gas
6172 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

rate and a total liquid rate. The fluid rates and other fluid pipes consists of choosing values for the areas (A) and locations
properties like gas density, gas viscosity, liquid density, liquid (H) of the top and bottom holes for the highest expected liquid
viscosity, and liquid surface tension are determined at process flow rate through the tray, solving eqs 1-3 by trial-and-error
conditions using applicable thermodynamics at the prevailing to determine the liquid height (h) on the tray, and adjusting the
temperature and pressure. hole areas (A) and locations (H) until the liquid height (h) is Approximate Count of Downpipes. The vessel satisfactory or at a predetermined level above the top hole.
diameter is fixed by considerations other than fluid distribution The holes in the downpipes of the second array are sized by
(e.g., available space) and is assumed to be known at the outset solving eq 1 for the area (A) of the hole in each pipe needed to
of the tray design process. On the basis of this diameter, an pass the same amount of liquid (QL) at the same liquid height
approximate count of downpipes is determined by adopting pitch (h) as for the two-hole downpipe. The calculation is again
spacing. For maximum coverage, the pitch is typically chosen specific to the case with the highest liquid flow rate when all
as small as practically possible, so that downpipes are located downpipes would be expected to pass liquid. This is also a trial-
as close to each other as fabrication will permit. Common and-error calculation because the area (A) appears in a complex
pitches vary from 30 to 60 cm to several centimeters, depending manner in two terms of eq 1.
on the importance of maximizing coverage. The allowable pitch Number of Down Pipes. Following the hole
is typically restricted by the position of tray support beams and sizing for the case of the highest contemplated liquid flow to
other internal members. Once the numbers of downpipes are the distributor tray, the system is evaluated for the case of the
known, the gas and liquid rates per downpipe are calculated, lowest expected liquid flow rate to determine what fraction of
considering at this point that all the downpipes are alike. the downpipes should be in the second array and, thus, lack Diameter of the Downpipes. The next dimension bottom holes. This evaluation is accomplished by applying eq
to be determined is the diameter of the downpipes. Too large a 1 to a pipe of the first array to determine what liquid flow rate
diameter limits the number of pipes on the distributor tray. Too per downpipe would result in the liquid height being comfortably
small a diameter results in excessive pressure drop across the above the bottom hole but below the top hole. The result will
distributor tray. Between these extremes is typically a range of be some value QL* greater than the actual flow rate per
diameters ranging from a few centimeters to <1 cm. A downpipe QL. The ratio of the actual QL to the target QL* is
convenient pipe size is chosen for first-pass calculations with the fraction of pipes that must be first-array members. The
the possibility of subsequently fine-tuning the diameter. Multiple remaining pipes are designated as the second array. This step
diameters may also be used on the same tray. usually requires several repetitions since the fraction of pipes First-Pass Calculations. The downpipes in the first in the second array preferably must correspond to a uniform
array, that is, those having all the holes, are designed first, using grid spacing. It is often necessary to make small adjustments
the design case with the highest liquid flow rate. The following to the holes sizes during this step. Also, it is sometimes preferred
equations are presented for a downpipe having holes at two to instead try fixed fractions of second-array pipes corresponding
elevations, but the formulas are readily extended to pipes having to convenient grid spacing and to check for acceptable liquid
three or more elevations of holes. As noted above, the total level.
hole area at a given elevation is calculated, and this total area Second-Pass Calculations. Once the number of
may be realized by any number of holes through the downpipe downpipes in each array is fixed and the hole sizes are known,
wall at that elevation. the first-pass design is completed. Adjustments must be made
At any single elevation, an equation relating liquid height to to the first-pass design because the foregoing calculations are
liquid flow rate is based on the assumption that gas rates through the downpipes
of the first array and the second array are equal, which generally
h ) H + f(A, FL)QL2 + g(A,FL, FG, QG)QL (1) is not accurate. The partitioning of the gas flow is determined
by the pressure drop across the first array of downpipes versus
where f and g are functions readily obtained by a pressure the pressure drop across the second array of downpipes. When
balance at the downpipe holes. both sets of downpipes are passing liquid, the pressure drops
The physical constraint that defines the functions f and g is across member pipes of each set are similar, though not identical
equality of pressure between the liquid and the gas at two because the different numbers of liquid jets in the two types of
locations: the top surface of the standing liquid and the point pipes result in somewhat different degrees of shear. When only
in the interior of the pipe where the phases return to pressure the first-array downpipes are passing liquid, the gas flow will
equilibrium. slightly favor the second array of pipes because the effective Sizing of Holes Cut in the Walls of Downpipes. flow area in the second array of pipes is larger because of the
In designing a two-elevation pipe such as the two-hole down- absence of liquid therein. The following pressure drop equation
pipe, eq 1 is written once for the top hole and once for the (eq 4) provides an analysis of gas flow.
bottom hole, that is, with different values of H and possibly
different values of A, creating two equations in the four ∆p ) φ(Ap,QG, FG, µG) +
unknowns as hTOP, QL,TOP, hBOTTOM, and QL,BOTTOM. The other
ψ(Ap, QG, QL, FG, FL, µG, µL, σL) (4)
two equations needed to close the system are

hTOP ) hBOTTOM (2) where ∆p ) pressure drop across the full length of the
downpipe, Ap ) cross-sectional area for flow in the downpipe,
QL,TOP + QL,BOTTOM ) QL (3) φ ) pressure losses in the length of the downpipe between the
upper rim and the top hole, and ψ ) pressure losses in the two-
Equation 2 requires that the liquid heights governing the top phase section of the downpipe between the top hole and the
and bottom holes be the same, and eq 3 requires that the sum lower rim of the downpipe.
of the liquid flows through the top and bottom holes equals the In eq 4, φ is a function describing pressure losses in the length
total liquid flow per downpipe. The design of the first array of of the downpipe between the upper rim and the top hole, which
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6173

is specific to the numbers and types of notches in the upper

rim. The function ψ is a function describing pressure losses in
the two-phase section between the top hole and the bottom end
of the downpipe, which is specific to the numbers, elevations,
and relative positions around the pipe circumference of the holes.
Gas flow to each type of downpipe is determined for a given
design case by writing eq 4 once for a first-array downpipe and
once for a second-array downpipe. For the highest-flow case,
the values of QL will be substantially equal for each array pipe,
but for other design cases, and in particular for the low-flow
case, the values of QL will differ significantly. The values of
QG to be used are those used in eq 1 for liquid height, which Figure 15. Modified bubble cap (from U.S. Patent No. 3,218,24923).
are equal for the first and second arrays during the initial
calculation. Using eq 4, the pressure drop across the first array be from ∼3 mm to ∼12 mm of the depth of the cap itself, and
and second array of downpipes are computed. When the pressure the width of the slots should be from about 1/32 to about 1/8 of
drops are equal, the design is consistent and complete. the cap cross-sectional diameter. Other type of slots like V-notch
However, after the first-pass calculation, the pressure drops are also used. The top of the slots is maintained below the
cannot be equal because the gas rates were assumed to be equal bottom of the upper rim of the downcomer. A good practice is
even for the low-flow case when the second array of downpipes to maintain a clearance of at least 6 mm between the top of the
is inactive. Thus, an outer loop of iteration must be undertaken slot and the top of the riser. The top of the downcomer may be
in which the gas flow rate to the first array of downpipes is slotted or left unslotted. The bottom of the downcomer slots
guessed, the gas flow rate to the second array of downpipes is should be maintained above the top of the cap slot. Usually,
obtained as the difference between the guessed first-array gas the downcomer will be from ∼7.5 to ∼15 cm in cross-sectional
flow and the total gas flow, and all of the foregoing calculations diameter, although a downcomer as small as 3.8 cm or less is
are repeated until the degree of gas partitioning is arrived at, less typically used. Sometimes a bubble cap with a riser flared
which reconciles the liquid height and pressure drop equations at the bottom is advantageous for vapor-liquid distribution. The
for all design cases. This procedure is not practical for hand liquid tends to flow down the riser wall, particularly at lower
calculation and is preferably executed by a digital computer. A vapor rates, and the flared section causes the liquid to be
suitable numerical technique for solving these equations is a disengaged from the riser in a conical pattern, thereby achieving
Newton-Raphson method. a greater distribution of the liquid over the cross section of the
Successful completion of the design procedure occurs when In operating a reactor with a bubble cap tray, a mixed phase
downpipe diameters and locations, hole sizes and locations, and is introduced in the reactor through the inlet conduit and sparger,
other details as noted above give a liquid height above the which distributes the liquid onto the tray with a minimum of
bottom elevation of holes for all design cases and above higher splashing and erosion. The liquid phase, disengaged from the
elevations of holes in as many design cases as possible. The vapor phase by gravity, fills up on a tray to a level below the
fundamental requirements for realizing the maximum benefits slot depth in the downcomer caps, with such level being
of the present invention are that the bottom holes of the first determined primarily by the gas flow rate per cap. It is, of
array be submerged in all cases and that the downpipes of the course, necessary that some of the slot openings be exposed
first array be arranged on the tray to provide maximal coverage above the liquid surface to permit the passage of vapor. Where
when the pipes of the second array are inactive. the caps have no slots, the liquid level on the tray will be below
2.3. Bubble Cap Tray. These distributors have a completely the bottom rims of the caps for the same reason. Where unslotted
different mode of operation than the chimney type of distribution caps are used, the clearance between the bottom rim and the
trays. While the static liquid head is the driving force for liquid tray must be maintained to accommodate the passage of gas
distribution on the chimney distribution trays, the driving force and liquid. The pressure drop through the distribution tray in
for liquid distribution on the bubble cap tray is the vapor flow. the reactor, which is normally quite small, forces the feed vapor
The bubble cap distributor consists of a horizontal tray. Bubble through the slots to flow upwardly through the annulus, reverse
caps are provided for vapor and liquid flows across the tray. direction, and then flow downwardly through the downcomer.
Each bubble cap is an inverted U-shaped flow conduit consisting The vapor, because of the forces acting on it as a result of being
of upflow channel(s) and downflow channel(s). The lower part fed to the reactor under pressure and then forced into the
of each upflow channel is provided with one or more lateral contacting zone through the tortuous cap and downcomer paths,
vapor openings, typically vertical slots or inverted V-notches. is in constant turbulence as it contacts the liquid in the reservoir
Each downflow channel extends through the tray plate. The on the distribution tray in the vicinity of the downcomers. For
vapor passes through the lateral vapor openings in the lower this reason, the vapor entrains liquid with it as it passes through
part of each upflow channel and thereby generates a pressure the cap slots or under the downcomer cap and transports it
drop from the vapor space above the tray to the inside of the through the downcomers from whence it is discharged into the
upflow channel. Because of this pressure drop, liquid is lifted contacting zone. The liquid on the distribution tray seeks its
up into the upflow channel and mixed with the vapor and the own equilibrium level, as dictated by the design of the apparatus,
two-phase mixture flows up through the upflow channel, over and it is, thus, not necessary for operability to achieve optimum
an internal weir, and down through the downflow channel and design efficiency for the distribution tray. The reactor will be
exits the distribution unit below the tray. operative so long as the liquid level on the tray does not seal
An example of a traditional bubble cap distribution tray is off all openings in the downcomer caps.
given in U.S. Patent No. 3,218,249 by Ballard et al.23 (Figure Shih and Christolini24 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,158,-
15). A cap is mounted on the riser. The bottom of the cap is 714 bubble caps with apertures comprising two rectangular
slotted equidistantly. The depth of the slot should preferably openings superimposed upon and at substantially right angles
6174 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

to one another, forming an opening in the shape of a cross, that

is, the central points of the two rectangular openings are
coincident and preferably are on the axis of the cap. Typically,
one of the rectangular openings is larger than the other, i.e.,
one has a longer length than the other opening.
Jacobs et al.25 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,098,965 a
distribution apparatus that includes a plate with a number of
bubble caps. The bubble caps include a riser and a spaced-apart
cap. The riser has a top and a bottom, and the riser is secured
near the bottom to the redistribution plate. A passageway is
defined between the top and bottom and provides a means of
fluid communication across the redistribution plate. Preferably,
Figure 16. Vapor-lift tube (from U.S. Patent No. 5,942,16228).
the cap has a plurality of spaced-apart slots to allow the flow
of fluids through the cap and into the annulus formed by the opening between the legs. Alternatively, two or more slots could
cap and the riser. be cut into the short leg sides adjacent to or opposite the longer
Muller26 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,769,672 a bubble cap leg.
assembly having differently configured fluid-flow paths for In operation, a liquid level will be established on the tray.
different resistances to the fluid passageway. This creates The liquid level on the vapor-lift tube will be above the bottom
different vapor flow rates and liquid flow rates in different of the short leg but below the top of the slot in the short leg.
upflow channels. The shape, dimensions, and location of the Vapor will pass through the slot in the short leg, creating a
passageway, the cross-sectional size and shape of the upflow pressure drop between the inside and outside of the vapor-lift
channel, the length of the channel, the relative height of the tube. Because of the lower pressure inside the vapor-lift tube,
top of the upflow channel, the roughness of the surfaces in the liquid level will be higher inside than outside the vapor-lift
contact with the fluid, and the presence of restrictions in the tube. The vapor and liquid will mix in the shorter leg with the
fluid-flow path, including inside the downcomer, all put the vapor lifting the liquid to flow up and over the connecting wall
resistance in the overall flow path of fluids. As an example, between the shorter and longer legs. Liquid will partially
the difference between the liquid flow rates through at least disengage while flowing over the connecting wall and down
two flow paths of the apparatus may vary from ∼30% to the longer leg. At the opening under the tray, the liquid and
∼8200% for different process conditions. The invention im- vapor will further disengage with the liquid draining off the
proves the uniformity of liquid distribution over the cross section drip edge.
of the vessel despite differences in elevation of liquid levels on The vapor-lift tube device is similar to the bubble cap device
the distribution tray or changes in the vapor and or liquid flow in concept but has several advantages. Since the vapor-lift tube
rates through the reactor. device is smaller, more can be placed on a distribution tray to
Nelson et al.27 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,984,365 a bubble achieve better distribution of liquid. Furthermore, because of
cap distributor where a spacer is located between the riser and the smaller size of the distributor, more wall coverage is
the cap (to maintain a gap between the top end of the riser and achievable. Overall wetting efficiency below the tray is better
the cap) and a deflector baffle is placed below the outlet of the with a smaller pitch than with a larger pitch. The bubble cap
passageway. The deflector baffle redirects the majority of the design tray is limited to relatively large spacing; increasing the
fluid flowing downwardly from the riser passageway, so that number of bubble caps with reduced spacing would increase
the fluid forms a relatively wide spray pattern over the the number of distribution points but would negatively impact
downstream catalyst bed. on the liquid/vapor flow relationships through each cap. Using
more bubble caps would require making the bubble caps smaller
In general, the bubble cap design is less sensitive to the tray with either smaller slots or fewer slots. Using smaller slots is
levelness and shows stable sensitivity over a very broad range not practical since there is a minimum slot size for fouling
of liquid loadings compared to the case of the chimney considerations. Using fewer slots is not desirable since that may
distributor. Also it provides intimate mixing between gas and lead to channeling of the vapor in the annulus and less efficient
liquid because of its vapor-assist liquid sweeping quality. But contacting with the liquid phase. A further advantage for the
because of its larger diameter compared to the chimney type, vapor-lift tube device is that its simplicity makes it easier and
fewer drip points could be accommodated in the tray. less costly to fabricate in the optimal size prescribed by the
2.4. Vapor-Lift Tube. Gamborg and Jensen28 disclosed in process conditions.
U.S. Patent No. 5,942,162 a liquid-vapor distribution device Another advantage of a vapor-lift tube device according to
for use in two-phase cocurrent downflow vessels with horizontal the invention over a chimney type design is the significantly
tray being fitted with a vapor-lift tube (Figure 16). One leg wider turndown range possible with the vapor-lift tube. As the
(downflow tube) of the inverted “U” fits through a perforation liquid flow decreases, a properly designed chimney must either
in the support tray. The other leg (upflow tube) is shorter so become taller or have smaller holes drilled in the side. This
that it is elevated above the tray. The ends of both legs are problem has been solved by the vapor-lift tube design as this
open. At the top of the inverted “U”, there is an internal opening system is self-controlling in the regard that the effective slot
between the legs. The device thereby provides a flow path across areas are changed as a result of the actual liquid flow. The theory
the tray, with inlet through the end of the short leg, vertical behind this self-controlling system is that the pressure drop
flow through the short leg, direction change at the top of the equation below needs to be fulfilled for all liquid loads.
inverted “U”, downflow through the long leg, and discharge
through the open end of the long leg below the tray. A vertical ∆Pslot(h) ) ∆Pvapor
static (h) + ∆Pstatic (h) + ∆Pfriction(h) +
upflow vapor

slot is cut into the side of the short leg opposite the longer leg. upflow
∆Psfriction (h)
The top of the slot is at or below the bottom of the internal
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6175

Figure 17. Typical quench box.

By studying this equation in detail, it can also easily be

concluded that overflow at high liquid rates would not be
possible because the actual liquid level cannot be higher than Figure 18. Distributor/redistributor or quench box system (from U.S. Patent
No. 4,133,64529).
the top of the slot. If the liquid level was assumed to be covering
the slot, it would be forced down by the vapor to fulfill the
above pressure balance. A further advantage of the vapor-lift
tube over the chimney-type design is the increased contacting
of the liquid and vapor phases. The intimate contacting that
occurs in the upflow portion of the vapor-lift tube provides
closer approaches to thermal and compositional equilibrium than
would be achieved in the chimney tray. Another problem
commonly seen in the industry is plugging by coke or corrosion
products. The vapor-lift tube is less vulnerable compared to
perforated plates and chimney trays to fouling because the high
gas velocities in the slot would tend to clean and remove coke
and corrosion products.

3. Quench Box Figure 19. Distributor/redistributor or quench box system (from U.S. Patent
No. 4,836,98912).
In a cocurrent downflow trickle-bed reactor, the liquid phase
is typically mixed with a gas or vapor phase and the mixture is catalyst particles. Briefly, the distributor comprises three an-
passed over a particulate catalyst maintained in a packed bed nular-form catalyst-free volumes zones. In the vapor-liquid
in a downflow reactor. Because of chemical reaction, heat is separation zone, the mixed phase is separated into an upwardly
produced and reactant is depleted from the vapor phase and flowing substantially liquid-free vapor phase and a downwardly
becomes rich with additional components along the reactor flowing liquid phase. The flow of the liquid phase is reversed
length. So it is required to quench the effluent and to add reactant upwardly and a quasi-stagnant pool is formed by overflowing
at different locations. The quench box is provided in between a cylindrical wall or weir onto a horizontal perforated plate.
two beds for liquid cross mixing, distribution correction, and Vapor-phase flow is also reversed, to assume a downward
product side-draws. The key component of the quench box are direction into the catalyst-free area below the quasi-stagnant
(a) a quench box conduit with a sparger, (b) a quench tray or liquid pool. The vapor passes upwardly through the perforations
collection tray, (c) a mixing chamber, and (d) distributor trays. and through the liquid pool to form a vapor-liquid froth and
A typical quench box system is shown in Figure 17. the area of the device is called the remixing zone. Vapor quench
Although some disclosures of quench box design are available stream is injected through a perforated toroidal ring into the
in the patent literature, a compact quench box design still needs separated vapor-phase proximate towards to the locus of vapor-
to be developed to promote the required intimate mixing flow reversal. The froth is directed through the downcomer of
between the quench stream and the hot reaction two-phase fluid the tray to the catalyst bed below.
stream while reducing capital investment or unit downtime As disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,836,989, Aly et al.12
during catalyst change out. The savings on reactor height can developed a distributor system with an improved vapor/liquid
be used to load an incremental catalyst volume to improve the contact and distribution. As shown in Figure 19, a collection
performance of the reactor or to reduce the total weight or the tray beneath the catalyst support grid is there to collect the liquid
capital investment of the reactor. leaving the upper catalyst bed. The vapor is injected though a
Scott29 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,133,645 (Figure 18) a spider-type distributor to provide a uniform initial distribution
method and a distributor device for effecting the uniform of the injected vapor. Spillways are provided in a collector tray
distribution of a mixed-phase vapor/liquid reactant stream across to permit a pool of liquid to accumulate on the tray before
the fixed bed of catalyst particles. Mixed-phase reactants or passing through the spillways into the mixing chamber. The
components are first separated into a principally vapor phase spillways comprise upstanding downcomers, which provide a
and a principally liquid phase. These separated phases are then passage for the downflowing liquid as well as for the vapor.
remixed in a manner that creates vapor/liquid froth, with the The spillways have outlets beneath the collector tray, which
latter being redistributed to the upper surface of the bed of face sideways and tangentially into an annular mixing chamber.
6176 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

Figure 20. Distributor/redistributor or quench box system (from U.S. Patent No. 5,462,71930).

Figure 22. Industrial vapor-liquid distributors improvements.36

Figure 21. Sensitivity of different distributors with changes in liquid flow
and has an improved mixing efficiency and fluid distribution
The mixing chamber comprises a cylindrical, vertical-wall across the catalyst surface includes a swirl chamber, a rough
portion, which is fixed to the collection tray and a lower, annular distribution network, and a distribution apparatus. In the swirl
tray with an upstanding rim for providing a pool of liquid in chamber, reactant fluid from a catalyst bed above is thoroughly
the mixing chamber. The side-facing outlets of spillways impart mixed with a quench fluid by a swirling action. The mixed fluids
a rotary or swirling motion to the liquid in the mixing chamber, exit the swirl chamber through an aperture to the rough
which promotes good intermixing and temperature equilibrium distribution system where the fluids are radially distributed
of the liquid at this point. The liquid spills over the edge or rim outward across the vessel to the distribution apparatus. The
and falls downward onto the deflector fixed to the rough distribution apparatus includes a plate with a number of bubble
distributor tray. The disclosed design does not provide for a caps and associated drip trays that multiply the liquid drip stream
compact quench box design in view of the requirement for the from the bubble caps to further symmetrically distribute the
bend of the quench pipe at the centerline of the reactor and the fluids across the catalyst surface. Alternatively, deflector baffles
two-tray assembly for the distributor system. may be associated with the bubble caps to provide a wider and
Pedersen et al.30 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,462,719 a more uniform liquid distribution below the plate. The distribu-
method and apparatus for mixing and distributing fluids in a tion apparatus can be used in the reaction vessel without the
reactor (Figure 20) where the ratio of liquid to vapor is relatively swirl chamber and rough distribution system, e.g., at the top of
low. The apparatus forms a mixing zone in the column into a vessel.
which a first reactant (e.g., a process stream having both gas Chou31 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 20020172632 a compact
and liquid phases) flows vertically downward. The second quench box design for a cocurrent downflow fixed-bed reactor.
reactant (e.g., quench gas) is introduced into the mixing zone It comprises quench pipe assembly for gas injection, a collection
and flows radially to intercept the downflowing process stream. tray fitted with ramps, a mixing chamber, and a distribution
Because of the construction of the mixing zone, a tortuous path tray. Ramps help in radial mixing of the two phases and bring
is provided that thoroughly mixes the different gas phases and the liquid from the collection tray to the mixing chamber. Vapor
the liquid phase by several different mechanisms, i.e., (a) radial coming out of the mixing chamber redistributes radially onto
jet mixing; (b) perpendicular mixing of the liquid and gas the final distributor tray from the center of the reactor. In this
phases; (c) jet/turbulent mixing; (d) high-velocity swirl jet design, the location of the quench gas assembly is away from
mixing and atomizing of the liquid phase; (e) turbulent swirl the centerline of the reactor, which eliminates the need to
mixing after the liquid is atomized; (f) additional turbulent jet disassemble the quench distributor during the unloading of the
mixing; and (g) energy dissipation of the flow as the mixed catalyst.
stream is distributed radially outward across the column through Nelson et al.27 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,984,365 a
first a sieve tray and then a riser tray. quench zone mixing apparatus with improved mixing efficiency.
Jacobs et al.25 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,098,965 a reactor They have put baffles inside the swirl chamber to stabilize the
distribution apparatus and quench zone mixing apparatus. A vapor- and liquid-phase vortices. This reduces the required
quench zone mixing apparatus that occupies a low vertical height overall height of the swirl chamber, provides a wide operating
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6177

Figure 23. Distributor for upflow reactor (a) distributor in details and (b) quench (U.S. Patent No. 6,554,99438).

Figure 24. Liquid mass velocity contours of a radial slice at a 5 ft depth (11 ft diameter reactor) for (a) riser tray, (b) conventional bubble cap tray, and
(c) modified bubble cap tray (from Jacobs and Milliken49).

Figure 25. Liquid mass velocity contours of a radial slice at a 40 ft depth (11 ft diameter reactor) for (a) riser tray, (b) conventional bubble cap tray, and
(c) modified bubble cap tray (from Jacobs and Milliken49).

range for vapor and liquid throughput, and promotes turbulence/ impingement plate is located at a distance above the first
mixing within each of the fluid phases. distributor tray to provide free flow of liquid underneath.
Breivik et al.32 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 20060257300 a 3.1. What is Happening after the Distributor. The use of
quench box comprising gas injection line, a collector tray, inert layer particles as the top layer is common in commercial
spillway collectors, a mixing chamber, and an impingement plate packed columns,33 which attempts to compensate for poor liquid
below the mixing chamber followed by distributor trays to distribution and prevents disruption of the upper surface of the
improve the distribution, quenching, and gas-liquid mixing. catalyst bed. The inert layer is basically chemically inert granular
A pool of liquid accumulates in the collector tray and is material, and hence, the character of the material depends on
transferred to spillways, which are provided with outlets that the nature of the reaction prevailing in the reactor bed.
impart a rotary movement to the exiting fluid. The vortex mixing Tasochatzidis et al.34 detected a slight improvement of liquid
chamber mixes the reactant fluids in a compartment where the distribution by means of a conductance probe using two layers
fluids are swirled together. The fluids exit the mixing chamber of large-size inert material (12 mm and 10 mm alumina ball)
by overflow in a weir and pass through a central orifice at the as the top layer in a bed of 3 cm cylindrical particles. Any
bottom. The fluids then drop onto the impingement plate, which uneven distribution due to the distributor or the top layer can
redirects the flow radially underneath the mixing chamber. The cause a change in the downstream flow pattern.
6178 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

Table 2. Comparison of Distributors

distributor level liquid flexibility liquid/vapor
distributor type spacing density sensitivity turndown ratio vapor/liquid ratio mixing capability
perforated plate best worst worst worst worst
simple chimney average poor poor poor poor
multiport chimney average average average average poor
bubble cap worst average good good best
gas-lift best best best best best

Table 3. Liquid Dispersion for Different Distributors

distributor type riser conventional bubble cap tray modified bubble cap tray
pitch (in) 20.3 cm 17 cm 17 cm
pattern square triangular triangular
no. of distributors
2.4 m diameter reactor 90 151 171
3.35 m diameter reactor 184 301 345
4.26 m diameter reactor 304 499 559
liquid discharge pattern uniformly over 2.5 cm 50% uniformly over 3.8 cm diameter circle; uniformly over 10 cm diameter
diameter circle 50% uniformly over surrounding annular ring 0.25 cm wide
2.0 cm annular ring

Table 4. Distributors Used in Lab Scale

authors distributor details column and packing details flow range,kg/m2 s phase distribution
Herskowitz and capillary tubes; 86 tubes (0.1 cm i.d.) column diameter/height (mm): L ) 1-5; the gas through the annulus
Smith52 arranged uniformlyover the 40.8,114/260-700; packing G ) 0.0014-0.07 surrounding the central
cross section; the tubes were diameter (mm): granular, liquid feed tube
1 cm long and located 0.5 cm 2.52-11.1; spherical, 3.0-9.5;
above the top of the bed cylindrical, 3.8-8.9
Levec et al.53 capillary tubes; their distributor plexiglas column; diameter/height G ) 0.0-0.37; the bottom plate had circular holes
consists of the capillaries that (cm) ) 17.2/130; D/dp ) 28-57 L ) 0.06-25.7 around the capillaries; the air
were placed between two Pertinax introduced to the chamber
plates; 550 capillaries at 6.0 mm formed between the plates
pitch with 0.9 mm i.d. nd 3.0 cm and it exited the distributor
length through which water was through these holes
pumped into the column
Ravindra et al.54 99 stainless steel capillary rectangular (60 mm × 80 mm); L ) 1-8; to introduce liquid as a point
tubes were used height ) 200 mm; packing G ) 0.05 inlet; stainless steel tube of
diameter (mm) ) 1.6-6.3; 0.4 cm was employed
glass beads and alumina instead of capillary tubes
Saroha et al.55 ladder type; the liquid distributor column diameter/height L ) 0.7-5; both gas and liquid flow through
was made of 6.4 mm i.d. (mm) ) 152/550; G ) 0-0.027 distributor
stainless steel tubes to which packing diameter (mm):
3.2 mm i.d. tubes were attached; 1.5extrudates
there were 37 1.5 mm holes
arranged in a square pitch of
2 cm
Li et al.56 121 tubes 2 mm diameter, which rectangular (120 × 120 mm) UG ) 0-35 mm/s; liquid and gas flowed through
were supported by two plates; height ) variable up to 500 mm; UL ) 2.3 mm/s the tubes and the remaining
the upper plate was perforated packing diameter (mm) ) 1.5 holes
with 121 holes, and the lower polypropylene trilobe, spheres
one was perforated with
180 holes

4. Comparison of Distributors 5. Internals for Upflow Reactors

4.1. Sensitivity. All known distributors fall into two types, Sometimes cocurrent upflow reactors are used because of
gravity and gas-lift type distributors. Because of the different numerous advantages over downflow reactors, especially when
operating principles, the two types would have different it necessary to ensure complete external wetting at the same
characteristics, as shown in Figure 21.35 It could be seen from time as having high liquid holdup for a liquid-limited reaction
Figure 21 that the vapor-lift distributor shows excellent sensitiv- (Dudukovic et al.37). However, it is not widely practiced
ity over a wide operating range, i.e., overflow at high liquid commercially because of the difficulty in designing and manag-
rates can be avoided by the gas-lift principle. ing such a system. Reynolds38 disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,-
4.2. Performance. Patel et al.36 compared the advantages and 554,994 a fluid distributing means and quench system for
disadvantages (Table 2) of various distributors with respect to cocurrent upflow of gas and liquid in a fixed-bed hydrotreater
distributor spacing density, level sensitivity, liquid turndown with layered catalyst (Figure 23). The fluid distribution means
ratio, flexibility to vapor/liquid ratio, and liquid/vapor mixing may take a number of forms, for example, screens, grids,
capability. The vapor-lift tube was found to be much better than perforated plates, etc. The fluid distribution means serves two
others. It is also observed that more and more gas-lift distributors primary functions. It is intended to distribute the fluids passing
are being used, and use is expected to be increased in the future, upwardly through the reactor evenly across the horizontal plane
as shown in Figure 22.36 of the catalyst layer. It also serves to ensure the break-up of
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6179

i.e., directly below the fluid distributing means, to ensure the

even distribution of quench fluids in each catalyst layer to
prevent hot spots.
Hatem and Corinne39 disclosed in Patent No. WO2004033084
a distributor system for a fixed-bed upflow reactor to produce
bisphenol from acetone and phenol. The distributor comprises
a manifold and distribution arms extended laterally from
manifold. The manifold and distribution arms have perforations
for fluid distribution.

6. Applications of CFD in Distributor Studies

A liquid distributor located above the packed bed is used to
distribute liquid and gas uniformly, thereby dictating how and
where the downflowing liquid enters the top of the catalyst
surface. Various distributor designs have been developed in an
attempt to obtain a uniform distribution of liquid for optimum
packing performance based on drip point density distribution
and geometric uniformity.40-42 The distributor tray designs are
mostly influenced by hardware used in packed and trayed
fractionation columns. The design of the distributor is commonly
extrapolated from experiments carried out at small scale with
fluids at low pressure and low temperature, usually air and water
at ambient conditions, which do not correspond to industrial
conditions and may not be representative. Numerical modeling
is used to fill the gap between cold-flow experiments and real
process conditions. Stanek et al.43 formulated a mathematical
model of the effect of flow distribution on the progress of
catalytic reaction with heat effects. The numerical solution was
obtained by the finite difference method and predicted that the
entrance-region flow pattern plays a significant role in affecting
conversion. Stanek44 analyzed the impact of nonuniformity of
initial velocity and pressure field on maldistribution of liquid,
mass transfer, heat transfer, etc. by formulating a mathematical
model. It was observed that these effects should be interpreted
correctly and appropriate measures should be taken in the design
of equipment for cost savings.
In the past decade, the CFD model has been significantly
enhanced and calculation speed has been greatly increased, so
that CFD has actually been more and more used to simulate
hydrodynamics in complex flow systems such as a bubble
column and a fluidized bed. Sapre et al.45 have also developed
a novel flow-distribution technique to measure the point-to-point
flow in a hot reactor, which could be used for verification and
validation of numerical results. Fewer works have been pub-
Figure 26. Different type of lab distributors (a) capillary tubes used by lished for flow behavior occurring within internals like distribut-
Levec et al.53 and Ravindra et al.; 54 and (b) ladder type used by Saroha et ing trays or mixing boxes. Van Baten and Krishna46 have
simulated the flows on sieve trays in the Eulerian framework.
large gas bubbles and the optimal mixing of the fluids. Their simulations could capture chaotic tray hydrodynamics and
Preferably, it also is designed to serve the secondary functions reveal several liquid circulation patterns. Raynal and Harter47
of supporting the catalyst layer and preventing the mixing of studied two-phase flow through a downcomer (chimney type)
the catalyst particles at the interface between any two adjacent experimentally and numerically. They used both 2D and 3D
catalyst layers. simulations using the volume of fluid (VOF) approach to capture
The fluid distribution plate is perforated with a numbers of two-phase flow with an interface clearly identified. They
holes with tubes or risers that have a deflector on their lower observed good agreement between simulated and experimental
ends to prevent the direct passage of large gas bubbles into the flow pictures captured through a high-magnification charge-
bore of the riser, assuring optimal distribution of the fluids. Each coupled device (CCD) camera.
riser has at least one opening in its sidewall. Vapor passes into Some authors also studied the impact of two-phase flow
the bore of the riser through the openings and the liquid around distributors on catalyst utilization depending on drip point
the deflector and through the opening at the bottom of the risers, spacing, liquid discharge pattern, and wall coverage. The effect
up through the perforations in the fluid distribution plate, into of feed distribution on the macroscopic flow structure was
the space, and upward through the catalyst support grid into studied using the numerical simulations by several authors.48-51
the immediately adjacent layer of catalyst. Since many of the Jiang et al.50-51 have simulated numerically the impact of initial
reactions taking place in the bed of catalyst are exothermic, liquid entry from a single-point source, a two-point source, and
there is a quench line into the catalyst bed in an optimal location, uniform distribution, using the discrete cell model approach
6180 Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007

(DCM) in trickle-bed reactors. They predicted that the number to pass through the top opening and liquid passes through weep
of liquid channels formed in the nonprewetted bed corresponds holes cut into the side of the riser. This tray has less sensitivity
to the number of liquid point sources. They evaluated behavior to tray levelness, increased tolerance to dirt deposits, greater
of the packed bed with initial uniform liquid distribution. It was flexibility to changing vapor/liquid ratio, and fewer chances to
also observed that, although initial distribution was uniform, run dry toward the end of the cycle. Sometimes attachment of
after a few particle diameters of axial distance, the channel a liquid conduit to the chimney improves performance over that
formation starts. of a conventional chimney.
Jacobs and Milliken49 quantified the impact of center-to-center • Sizing of the multiport downcomers can be done following
spacing, wall coverage, and liquid-discharge pattern on catalyst the design methodology as outlined by Muldowney et al.20
utilization using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) for some • Some of the key design components of a multiport chimney
of the recent advanced gas-liquid distributors. These distributors distributor are number of chimneys, apertures around the
are riser tray, conventional bubble cap tray, and modified bubble perimeter of the chimney, the cross-sectional area of each
cap type, and these trays differed for their liquid discharge aperture, the top opening of the chimney, the centerline of the
pattern, pitch, and numbers of distributor points. They evaluated aperture above the tray, the liquid level on the tray, the pitch
three tray designs, i.e., riser tray, conventional bubble cap tray, of the aperture, etc.
and modified bubble cap tray with assumed liquid discharge • Sometimes, a spray-generating device such as a helical
pattern. The trays were evaluated for reactor diameters of 2.4, ribbon is attached at the end of downcomer to produce a conical
3.35, and 4.26 m to cover the majority of installations. They spray. The mixed fluid stream from one spray-generating device
assumed different discharge patterns (shown in Table 3) for will overlap with the spray from an adjacent spray-generating
different distributors. Using CFD modeling, contour plots were device. The angle of the spread of the conical spray pattern is
obtained for different liquid dispersions. Figures 24 and 25 controlled by the choice of ribbon pitch, diameter width, and
represent extent of liquid dispersion at inerts/catalyst interface length. The angle of the spray and overlap determines the
at different bed depths. Homogeneity represents plug flow; dark appropriate distance between the tray carrying the spray device
represents no flow, and spotted is for local flow. Because of and the catalyst bed.
the ring-shaped discharge pattern and increased wall coverage, • In a bubble cap distributor, vapor passing through slots cut
the modified bubble cap tray design quickly approaches plug in the bubble cap aspirates liquid held up on the tray, carrying
flow, in comparison with the other two designs. The design of it over a central downcomer. It shows stable sensitivity over a
a distributor optimized within laboratory standard experimental broad range of liquid loadings compared to the case of the
ranges may not match the design requirements for industrial chimney tray. However, the only disadvantage is the size of
flow conditions. CFD has become mature to capture flow the bubble cap, which introduces wider spacing between drip
behavior and guide for design strategy. points and a lower number of drip points, causing less catalyst
7. Laboratory Scale • The performance of a gas-lift distributor is found to be more
Distributors used in laboratory-scale reactors are mostly for promising compared to other distributors because it provides
cold-flow studies. The only purpose of these is to ensure uniform intimate mixing of vapor and liquid, is less vulnerable to fouling,
liquid distribution because they are free from other criteria that is insensitive to tray levelness, can distribute liquid uniformly
occur for large-scale reactors. Different types of small but simple at large turndown ratio, and can accommodate a larger number
distributors have been reported by several authors for generation of drip points compared to the case of the bubble cap distributor.
of experimental data (Herskowitz,52 Levec et al.,53 Ravindra et With proper design, the vapor-lift tube device will reduce the
al.,54 Saroha et al.,55 and Li and co-workers56,57). These are liquid flow difference between vapor-lift tubes at different
mainly (i) capillary type, where provisions are made for liquid elevations better than what can be achieved with chimney type
and gas flow separately, (ii) ladder type, with a perforation in and bubble cap designs. The most commonly installed distributor
the branch tube for mixed-phase flow or perforated plate (Figure in the industry today is the gas-lift distributor, especially for
26). Table 4 shows some details about the various types of applications where optimal catalyst performance is mandatory.
distributors used in different studies. • In a cocurrent downflow trickle-bed reactor, because of
chemical reaction, heat is produced and reactant is depleted from
8. Conclusions the vapor phase and becomes rich with additional components
along the reactor length. So it is required to quench the effluent
From the foregoing, the following conclusions regarding and to add reactant at different locations. A quench box is
liquid distribution and flow texture can be drawn: provided in between two beds for liquid cross mixing, distribu-
• A good liquid distributor at the top of the catalyst bed is tion correction, and product side-draws. The key component of
vital for uniform liquid distribution, which is influenced by the quench box are a quench box conduit with a sparger, a
distributor spacing, liquid discharge pattern, and off-pitch quench tray or collection tray, a mixing chamber, rough
distributor placement near the wall. distributor trays, and trays for final distribution.
• Mainly four types of distributors are used, namely, • In the case of an upflow packed-bed reactor, a perforated
perforated plate, multiport chimney, bubble cap, and vapor-lift plate fitted with a number of riser tubes is used to produce a
tube. uniform distribution of fluids. Also, the quench fluid is used
• A perforated plate or sieve tray is simple to construct and through the perforated quench tube between the beds to prevent
is capable of providing the maximum number of drip points, hot spots.
but it is very sensitive to tray levelness, is vulnerable to dirt • Very few studies have been reported for CFD analysis of
deposits, is less flexible to liquid load, and has a tendency to distributors. Uniform liquid distribution is influenced by dis-
run dry toward the end of the cycle. tributor spacing, liquid discharge pattern, and off-pitch distribu-
• The most commonly used distributor in the past for less tor placement near the wall. A modified bubble cap type
critical service is the multiport chimney type. Vapor is allowed distributor, simulated using CFD, results in the highest catalyst
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., Vol. 46, No. 19, 2007 6181

utilization because of improved ring-shaped discharge pattern NF ) Froude no. (V/(g D)0.5)
and increased wall coverage. Using 2/3 layers of large-size inert V ) superficial liquid velocity in the downcomers
material as the top layer in the bed and a redistributor in the
bed improves the liquid distribution. Greek Letters
• Various types of distributors, simple in nature and with FL ) liquid densities
provision of separate gas and liquid entry, are used in small FG ) gas densities
laboratory-scale reactors to ensure uniform distribution of liquid. σL ) liquid surface tension
• Various types of distributors were compared with their
advantages and disadvantages. It is found that gas-lift tubes are
best with respect to distributor spacing density, level sensitivity, L ) liquid
liquid turndown ratio, flexibility to vapor/liquid ratio, liquid/ G ) gas
vapor mixing capability, and level sensitivity. The vapor-lift
tube was found to be much better than the others. Literature Cited
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