curve (and single flow-efficiency curve)with surge point rather than a line.Although molecular weight doesaffect developed head, typical molecularweight variations in a gas oil cracker donot materially change compressor flow-head performance curve. Whereas, residcrackers processing varying amountsand quality of residues may have asmuch as eight number variations inmolecular weight, thus the flow-headperformance curve is affected. The man-ufacturer should provide curves at max-imum and minimum molecular weight.Figure 5 is the performance curve fora six-stage FCC wet gas compressor thatis also discussed in this article’s casestudy. The compressor develops a fixedpolytropic head for a given inlet flowrate and the curve can be used to predictcompressor performance at differentprocess conditions.The suction throttle valve plays animportant role for a fixed speed motordriven compressor. Throttle valve pres-sure drop controls overhead receiverpressure (Figure 6) so that reactor pres-sure is stable. Throttle valve positionand pressure drop compensate forchanges in receiver gas flow rate orreceiver pressure set point changes.Because compressor discharge pressureis held constant by the gas plant pres-sure controller, suction pressure willvary and follow the flow-head curve.When gas rate leaving the overheadreceiver is higher than flow at the surgepoint, the spillback is closed. Hence,compressor suction pressure will ride upand down the flow-head curve as long asthe throttle valve is generating pressuredrop and not fully open. As compressorinlet flow rate approaches the surgepoint, the spillback valve opens recy-cling gas to ensure sufficient inlet flowinto the machine. When the spillback isopen, spillback flow rate determines theoperating point on the curve. Flow ratemust always be maintained above thesurge point with suction pressure deter-mined by the polytropic head generatedat the minimum flow control point.Since the amount of gas leaving theoverhead receiver depends on reactoreffluent composition and overheadreceiver conditions, the compressor suc-tion pressure will vary. As previously dis-cussed, the compressor has unusedcapacity as long as the suction throttlevalve is not fully open.When establishing operating condi-tions to stay within an existingmachine’s capacity, or if considering arevamp, determining the compressorsuction pressure needed to meet the pro-posed operation is critical. Compressorsuction pressure is calculated from thecompressor performance curve. Becausethe flow and head terms are affected bysuction pressure, estimating this pres-sure is an iterative process.Centrifugal compressors generate afixed polytropic head (and not a fixeddischarge pressure) at a given inlet flowrate – with suction pressure, gas molecu-lar weight and gas temperature all influ-encing both inlet flow rate andpolytropic head. The polytropic headequation is shown in Equation 1 below.whereMW Molecular weightZ
Suction temperature, °Rn Compression coefficientP
Suction pressure, psiaP
Discharge pressure, psiaUnderstanding each variable’s impacton inlet flow rate and polytropic head isimportant. Molecular weight and suc-tion pressure have a significant influ-ence on performance, while compressordischarge pressure (P
) is fixed and tem-perature effects are small. Gas molecularweight (MW) is primarily controlled byreactor effluent composition. As molec-ular weight decreases the inlet flow rateincreases. Because the compressor dis-charge pressure is fixed, compressor suc-tion pressure must be high enough togenerate the head corresponding to theinlet flow rate into the compressor.Again, for a fixed speed compressor,as long as the compressor throttle valveis not fully open, it has unused capacity.Thus, molecular weight changes simplycause throttle valve position and pres-sure drop to adjust, to maintain receiverpressure. But once the throttle valve isfully open, the machine is operating atmaximum capacity.Inlet gas temperature has little influ-ence on compressor capacity because itis based on absolute temperature.Hence, a 20°F rise in temperaturechanges the head term by only 3% andthe flow term a similar amount.Compressor suction pressure has alarge influence on inlet gas flow rate. Fora fixed mass flow rate, raising suctionpressure decreases inlet volume by theabsolute pressure ratio. At constantreceiver pressure, compressor inlet pres-sure is determined from the flow-headcurve for a fixed speed compressor.Using the compressor curve shown onFigure 5, the suction pressure will bethat needed to satisfy the inlet flow andhead term simultaneously. Throttlevalve pressure drop will vary to main-tain inlet flow rate between 10400 and11100icfm, while meeting the gas plantdischarge pressure.As long as the receiver gas flow rate isabove the surge point, then the spillback valve will be closed. However, as gasflow approaches surge, the spillback valve opens to maintain flow in a stableregion of the curve. Suction pressure is adependent variable as long as the throt-tle valve has pressure drop. Once thecontrol valve is wide open, the gas ratemust be reduced or the suction pressureincreased to reduce the inlet volumeinto the compressor.
Flow-head curve for a six-stage compressor
Receiver pressure control: compressor suction throttling