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Selected Adsorption Processes

Selected Adsorption Processes

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Published by 5161440
Selected Adsorption Processes
Selected Adsorption Processes

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Published by: 5161440 on Feb 19, 2013
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To illustrate some of the features of adsorption processes a number of examples have been selected which vary in their mode of design andoperation. Purification of gases is by far the oldest type of process andincludes the drying of air and other industrial gases, the sweetening(removal of acidic gases) of natural gas, air purification and removal of solvents from air streams. A second category of adsorption process is theseparation of a component gas, or gases, from a mixture of gases. Theproduction of oxygen and nitrogen from air are two well-known separationprocesses as are the separation of n-paraffins from iso-paraffins and therecovery of hydrogen from industrial gas mixtures. The two most commonadsorbents used for gas separation are activated carbon and zeolites of various types (see Chapter 2). The adsorbent properties which enable theseparation of gases are the nature of the adsorbate–adsorbent equilibriumand the rates at which gaseous components diffuse into the pore structure of the adsorbent. The sieving property of zeolites is prominent in theseparation of n-paraffins from iso-paraffins and in the drying of gaseousstreams. The production of nitrogen from air using a molecular sieve carbondepends onthe differenceinrates ofdiffusionofnitrogenandoxygenwithinthe adsorbent pore structure.
188 Selected adsorption processes
Most commercial processes for drying and separation of gases utilize twoor more packed adsorbent beds. The simplest of such arrangements is twopacked beds, one acting as an adsorbent bed while the other (havingalreadybeen exposed to the gas stream as an adsorbent bed) acts as a regenerator.The role of each bed is then reversed, the adsorber being regenerated whilethe freshly regenerated bed becomes the adsorber. The cycle is thenrepeated at predetermined intervals. Although each bed is being operatedbatchwise,acontinuous flowoffeedandproductisachievedwhichreachesasteady state following a number of cycles of operation. The length of a cycledepends primarily on whether each adsorbent bed is regenerated by raisingits temperature (thermal swing) or lowering its pressure (pressure swing).The choice between thermal and pressure swing modes of operation islargely dictated by economics although other technical factors are of importance. Because adsorption is an exothermic process and stronglyadsorbedspecies have relativelyhighheats ofadsorption, asmallincreaseintemperature is capable of reducing the bed loading of strongly adsorbedcomponents by large amounts. This means that the desorbate can berecovered at high concentration. Heat losses from beds of adsorbentsmilitate against high efficiency and the large thermal capacity of anadsorbent bed translates into relatively long times for heating and cooling,thus contributing to lengthy cycle times. The most convenient way of raisingthe temperature of the bed to be regenerated is by purging the bed with apreheated gaseous stream. Availability of low grade steam or waste heat atan adjacent plant location would be one factor favouring the choice of thermal swingoperation.Onthe otherhandpressureswingoperationwouldbepreferredwhenarelativelyweaklyadsorbedcomponentofanadsorbablemixture is required as a high purity product. Furthermore, the adsorbent isused efficiently in pressure swing operations and the cycle times areconsiderablyreducedbelowthoseneededforthermalswingoperations.Thedesorbed components of the initial mixture fed to a pressure swing unit are,however, only recovered at relatively low purities. Figure 5.14 illustrates thedifference between thermal and pressure swing operations. It should benoted that mechanical energy is expended during pressure swing operationswhereas thermal energy, being cheaper than mechanical energy, is utilizedduring thermal swing operations.Another method of adsorbent regeneration is known as purge stripping.An inert gas purge removes adsorbate from the bed without change of temperature or pressure. Inert purge stripping is uncommon in practicebecause it is only applicable to rather weakly adsorbed components. Acombination of inert purge and thermal swing operations, however,facilitates desorption of more strongly adsorbedcomponents.Iftheincreasein bed temperature is relatively small when an inert purge is employed,
Selected adsorption processes 189
then the disadvantages of purely thermal swing processes are cir-cumvented. The paths of thermal swing and pressure swing operations areillustrated in Figure 5.14. Inert gas purge stripping is also illustrated inFigure 5.14, but during this operation the temperature and total pressureremain constant.Regeneration of the adsorbent following adsorption can also be accomp-lished by displacing the adsorbed component with a purge gas or a liquidwhich is as strongly adsorbed as the adsorbable component of the feed. Thedisplacement fluid is subsequently separatedfromtheextractbydistillation.Separation of linear paraffins of intermediate molecular mass frombranched chain and cyclic isomers is an example of a displacement purgecycle, ammonia being the strongly adsorbed purge in the Ensorb process of Exxon Corporation (see Section 7.6).All of the processes alluded to above are fixed bed cyclic batch processesproviding a continuous flow of raffinate (the least strongly adsorbedcomponent) and extract (the more strongly adsorbed component). Analternative method of separation of components by adsorption is to employcontinuous countercurrent systems (see Section 7.7) in which either theadsorbent is circulated through the flowing feed stream or, by appropriatemanipulation of the flowing fluids, to simulate adsorbent circulation. Anexample of the former methodology is the Hypersorption Process of UnionOil Co. while an example of the latter method of operating is the SorbexProcess of UOP (see Section 7.7.5).
The simplest two-bed continuous pressure swing adsorption (PSA) processwas invented by Skarstrom (1960). Each bed acts alternately and sequen-tially as an adsorber and a regenerator to complete one cycle of events. Theplant layout and pipework connections between the two columns isillustrated in Figure 7.1 and the cycle is described by Figure 5.15 whichshows how each column is utilized during a single cycle. To illustrate theoperation, we suppose that each bed inFigure7.1 contains amolecular sievezeolite adsorbent whose capacity for adsorbing nitrogen from air is greaterthanitscapacityforadsorbingtheoxygencomponentofair.Forthefirststepcolumn 1 is pressurized to several atmospheres with air while isolated fromcolumn 2. Duringthe secondstepofthe cyclecolumns 1and2areconnectedand oxygen (which is the least strongly adsorbed component of air) togetherwith some nitrogen remaining unadsorbed issues from both columns;

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