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Centrifugal Compressor Operation

Centrifugal Compressor Operation

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Published by Abdus Saboor Khalid

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Published by: Abdus Saboor Khalid on Aug 02, 2010
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he FCC wet gas compressor’smajor function is reactor pressurecontrol. The machine must com-press gas from the main column over-head receiver to gas plant operatingpressure while maintaining stable regen-erator-reactor differential pressure (Fig-ure 1). Typically, reactor-regeneratordifferential pressure must be controlledwithin a relatively narrow +2.0psi to–2.0psi (+0.14 to –0.14 bar) range to per-mit stable catalyst circulation. The wetgas compressor and its control systemplay a vital role in maintaining steadyreactor operating pressure. To be sure,optimum FCC operation requires bal-ancing regenerator and reactor pressuresto wet gas and air blower constraints.Nonetheless, reactor pressure is pre-sumed constant throughout this articleto simplify discussions.Reactor operating pressure is regu-lated by the main column overheadreceiver pressure and system pressuredrop from the reactor to the overheadreceiver. The wet gas machine needs tohave sufficient capacity to compressreceiver wet gas to the gas plant operat-ing pressure. Reactor effluent composi-tion, overhead receiver pressure andtemperature, and gasoline endpoint allinfluence the amount of wet gas and itsmolecular weight. Variability in maincolumn overhead receiver pressure orunstable system pressure drop producereactor pressure swings. These can causecatalyst circulation problems and otheroperability concerns.Reactor operating pressure is set bymain column overhead receiver pressureand system pressure drop. System pres-sure drop depends on equipment designand operation, while compressor andcontrol system performance set receiverpressure. Wet gas compressors operate atfixed or variable speed. Fixed speed com-pressors throttle compressor suctionwhile variable speed machines use steamturbines or variable speed motors tocontrol receiver pressure.If necessary, compressor surge controlsystems recycle gas to ensure inlet gasflow rate is maintained above the mini-mum flow (surge point or line). Evenwhen receiver pressure is stable, rapidsystem pressure drop changes from trayflooding and dumping will cause rapidchanges in reactor pressure.Most motor driven compressors oper-ate at fixed speed using suction throttlevalves to vary pressure drop from themain column overhead receiver to thecompressor inlet (Figure 2). The pressurecontroller manipulates the throttle valveposition and pressure drop to maintainconstant receiver pressure. Normal sys-tem pressure drop variation is slow andpredictable. Therefore, receiver pressurecan be adjusted to maintain constantreactor pressure.As long as the throttle valve is notfully open, then the compressor hasexcess capacity. Once the throttle valveis fully open and spillback valve isclosed, the machine can no longer com-press wet gas flow to the gas plant oper-ating pressure. Generally, reactortemperature or feed rate is reduced to
Centrifugal compressoroperations
The wet gas compressor is used as an example in this article reviewing compressorperformance, operating conditions and basic control philosophy – an aid tounderstanding the interactions influencing compressor performance and control
Tony Barletta and Scott W Golden
Process Consulting Services Inc
Figure 1
Regenerator-reactor differential pressure 
Figure 2 
Fixed speed compressor and inter-condenser system 
permit the compressor throt-tle valve to regain pressurecontrol so that flaring can beavoided.Variable speed compressorsuse steam turbines or variablespeed motors to controlreceiver pressure. Speed isadjusted to change the operat-ing point on the compressormap to meet the system flow-head requirements for stablereactor pressure control. Assystem pressure drop increas-es, receiver pressure is reduced. There-fore, machine speed must be increasedto compress the higher gas flow rate andto meet higher head requirements.Once the turbine governor is wide-open or the variable speed motor isoperating at maximum speed or amps,feed rate or reactor temperature must bereduced to lower wet gas rate to thecompressor capacity.Fixed or variable speed motors andturbines must have sufficient power tocompress the mass flow rate of gas whilemeeting the differential head betweenthe overhead receiver and the gas plant.Otherwise, reactor temperature or feedrate must be reduced to decrease theamount of receiver wet gas flow to thedriver limit.
Compressor Design
Wet gas machines use six to eightimpellers (stages) to compress gas fromthe main column overhead receiver tothe gas plant operating pressure. Mosthave inter-stage condensing systemsafter the first three or four stages (low-stage) that cool the compressed gas, con-dense a small portion and separate thegas and liquid phases (Figure 3). Inter-stage receiver gas is then compressed inthe last three or four stages (high-stage).Inter-stage condensers reduce gas tem-perature and raise compressor effi-ciency by 5–7%, but they alsoconsume pressure drop. Separateflow-polytropic head and flow-polytropic efficiency curves areneeded to evaluate overall com-pressor system performance.These curves have inlet gasflow rate on the X-axis and poly-tropic head developed and poly-tropic efficiency on the Y-axis.Consequently, overall compressorperformance and power con-sumption depend on each com-pressor section’s performancecurves and the effects of the inter-condenser system. Evaluatingoverall performance of these com-pressors is more complex than amachine without inter-cooling,but fundamentally the same.Some compressors do not haveinter-condenser systems. A single flow-polytropic head and flow-polytropicefficiency curve represent overallperformance. They have lower efficien-cy and the gas temperature leaving isgenerally near 300°F rather than 200°Fwith an inter-cooled design. Thesemachines must compress all wet gasfrom inlet conditions to the gas plantoperating pressure, resulting in higherpower consumption.
Stable operating range
Each wet gas compressor section mustbe operated within its stable flow range.At fixed speed, the compressor curvebegins at the surge point and ends atstonewall, or choke flow. Surge point isan unstable operating point where flowis at minimum. At surge, the compressorsuffers from flow reversals that causevibration and damage. At the other endof the curve is the choke (or stonewall)point. At the choke point, the inlet flowis very high and the head developedvery low. Flow through the machineapproaches sonic condition, or Mach1.0. Polytropic efficiency also dropsrapidly near stonewall.For variable speed compressors, thereis a region between the surge andstonewall lines where there is stablemachine performance (Figure 4). Thecompressor flow-polytropichead can be varied anywherewithin this region. Becausethere is no throttling, allpower goes into compression,which minimises power con-sumption.Stable compressor perform-ance is defined between thesetwo flow-head limitations.Some machine designs canvary flow by 25% or morebetween surge and stonewallpoints, while others haveonly 6–8% flow variation between theselimits. Compressors with small (narrow)stable flow regions need to have robustsurge control systems. The head-flowcurve basic slope is relatively flat nearthe surge point and becomes steeper asinlet flow is increased. The impellerblade angle determines the shape of thecurve and the compressor efficiency.
Basic compressor control
Reactor yield and condenser operatingtemperature and pressure changethroughout the day. Therefore, the gasrate from the main column receiver isvariable. Consequently, the compressorcontrol system must be capable of main-taining constant receiver pressure. Thus,fixed speed compressors have suctionthrottle valves and variable speedmachines change speed to compensatefor gas rate changes. Because the com-pressor inlet gas flow rate is not constantand may be below the surge point orline, the compressor is typicallydesigned with a surge control system.Surge control ensures that inlet flowrate is maintained above minimum(surge point or surge line) at all times. Aflow meter in the compressor suction ordischarge and inlet temperature andpressure are used to calculate the actualflow rate (ICFM) into the low- and high-stage of compression.As suction flow (ICFM) decreas-es toward the surge line (or point),the spillback control valve opensto recycle gas from discharge tosuction to raise inlet flow rate.Spillback flow is kept at minimumto reduce power consumption.Compressors with inter-con-densers need two independentspillback systems from dischargeto the suction of each section.Spillback streams should be routedin front of upstream exchangers sothe heat of compression isremoved (Figure 2).
Without inter-condenser
The simplest wet gas compressorto evaluate is a fixed speedmachine with no inter-con-densers. It has a single flow-head
SUMMER 2004 
Figure 3 
Compressor schematic with inter-condenser 
Figure 4 
Variable speed flow-head map 
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
Average compressibilityT
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.
SUMMER 2004 
Figure 5 
Flow-head curve for a six-stage compressor 
Figure 6 
Receiver pressure control: compressor suction throttling 

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