# SELECTING A DISTILLATION COLUMN CONTROL STRATEGY (a basic guide).

Dr. M.J. Willis Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Newcastle e-mail: mark.willis@ncl.ac.uk Written: December, 1999 - March, 2000

Aims and objectives
The aim of these notes is to provide some basic ideas and rules that may be used to select a distillation control strategy. Separate notes will discuss more complex mathematical techniques that may also be used as part of a 'toolbox' of methods that have evolved as aids in distillation control strategy selection.

Introduction
The effective operation of a binary distillation column is determined by the control of many variables. Generally, the variables in table 1 need to be controlled. cv
composition of the distillate stream, xD composition of the bottoms stream, xB. liquid level in the reflux drum. liquid level at the base of the column. pressure in the column

reason
product quality product quality maintain inventory (ensure material balance) maintain inventory (ensure material balance) maintain inventory (ensure energy balance). Equilibrium relationship is affected by changes in pressure.

Table 1. Typical variables that have to be maintained in a distillation column. The two main disturbances that affect a column are: • feed flowrate, F • feed composition, zf

1

But what are the manipulated variables ? Relationships between inputs (mv's and dv's) and outputs (cv's) are quantified by steady-state material and energy balances.So called 'manipulated variables' are adjusted to counter-act the effect of disturbances and ensure desired operation. The distillate flow is D (kmol /min) with overhead product concentration xD and the bottom product flowrate is B (kmol / min) of concentration xB.xm Vm-1.xB 2 .ym-1 Boilup VB.xn Vn-1. To simplify preliminary discussions consider ‘perfect control’ of pressure (i. the two independent overall balances are: • the total material balance: F=D+B (1) LB.yn-1 m Lm. yn Reflux Ln. z F Stripping Section Ln. xD Distillate Feed F.xD n Condenser Accumulator D.e. Steady-state material balances around a distillation column The following figure is a material balance diagram for a typical distillation column: Rectifying Section Vn. the energy balance equations are not considered). xB The column feed is F (kmol/min) and the concentration of the more volatile component in liquid is zf. For a binary column.yB Reboiler Bottom Product B.

etc. the material balances are: • the material balance: • the component balance: and around the reboiler. 3 . Around the condenser and accumulator assuming a total condenser. L = Ln = Ln+1……etc. based upon the relationships (equation 8) it is obvious that L and V will also affect the product compositions. V = Vn = Vn+1 = ….V (8) Lm = Vb + B Lmxm = Vbyb + BxB (6) (7) V n = D + Ln Vnyn = DxD + LnxD (4) (5) Equations (3) demonstrate that D and B may be used to regulated xD and xB. i. As expected.e what percentage of the total feedflow exits the column as distillate and bottoms product for specified inlet and outlet concentrations. • the material balance: • the component balance: For a liquid feed Lm = Ln+ F Assuming that the molar flows of liquid and vapour are constant through the column (constant molal overflow) then.• the component balance: Fzf = DxD + BxB (2) Eliminating either B or D from these equations gives the following: D z f − xB B xD − z f and / or = = F xD − xB F xD − xB (3) The equations (3) define the “cut”.L and B = F + L . Therefore: D = V . changes in F and zf will also affect xD and xB. From equations (3) it is apparent that distillate (D) and bottoms flow (B) are related to top and bottom product compositions (xD and xB) and are therefore potential manipulated variables.

This will be a slow loop as the dynamics effects of the cooling can be slow in comparison to simply venting the system by e. A common pressure control loop is shown below: Pressure Control PC V flare P L Feed F. L and V. In other words. xB Condensate Figure 1. zF Accumulator D. which may be required as a safety mechanism. alters the pressure in the column. pressure and then level must be adequately controlled before attention is focused on control of composition. the temperature difference across the reboiler and condenser as well as process safety. in case a situation of excessive pressures arose).g. Column control strategies (an introduction) A ‘bottom – up’ approach should be adopted whereby variables that are essential to operation are regulated before quality variables. xD Distillate Boilup V Steam in B. opening a valve (the figure also shows this option. Pressure control Required as a change in pressure will affect relative volatility (α). B.Summary: the potential manipulated variables for product compositions are D. This. in turn. 4 . A common pressure control loop (PC = pressure controller). Here. Increasing or decreasing the water flowrate will alter the temperature of the condensing liquid and hence the amount of vapour in the column. pressure is regulated using the flowrate of coolant to the condenser.

3 Vapour flow would not be used to control reflux drum level. 5 Reflux flow would not be used to control level at the column base. Level control There will be two level loops on a distillation column as: • the column base level must be maintained at an acceptable value. 3* This scheme violates the mass balance relationships therefore cannot be used (the reason why will be explained later in the notes). For the purposes of this lecture attention is restricted to the strategy detailed above. 4 Distillate flowrate would not be used to control level at the column base. 2 1 5 . The possible schemes that may be employed to do this are summarised below: Controlling level at column base with: F D L B V Controlling reflux drum level with: F D L B V x U U NP3 NP1 x NP4 NP2 NP5 x NP3* (1) (3) x NP3 (2) NP3* NP2 x KEY: Flows: NP: U: x: F = Feed. • the reflux drum level must be maintained at an acceptable value. pp145 . 'Guide to distillation pressure control methods'. T. Bottoms flow would not be used to control reflux drum level.Note: There are numerous pressure control strategies that should be considered. Further information may be found in: Chin. Reason why strategy is not practical: Feed Flow would not be used to control reflux drum level. B = Bottoms. D = Distillate.G.153. L = Reflux. Hydrocarbon processing. V = Vapour Not Practical Unusual to control level at column base by manipulating the feed the same mv cannot be used to control both levels. October 1979.

Scheme (I) • • • control level in the column base via manipulation of the bottom product flowrate (by automatically adjusting value). • • 6 .From the matrix of 25 possible alternatives. a flow controller has been placed on the reflux line (to ensure steady flow of reflux to the column). control level in the reflux drum by manipulation of distillate flowrate. Scheme (II) • control level in the column base by manipulation of the vapour boil-up through the energy input to the reboiler (in practice this is achieved by automatically adjusting the pressure/ flow of the heating medium to the reboiler). control level in the reflux drum by manipulation of distillate flowrate. there are actually only 3 schemes that offer acceptable input-output combinations (from a practical viewpoint). Scheme (I). a flow controller has been placed on the reflux line (to ensure steady flow of reflux to the column). xB Condensate Figure 2. inventory control (PC = pressure control. LC = level control. FC = flow control). Configuring a control strategy: scheme 1 (the energy balance control scheme) SP V PC P L Feed F. xD Distillate FC SP Boilup V LC Steam in B. zF SP flare LC SP D.

LC = level control. 7 . inventory control (PC = pressure control. FC = flow control). xD Distillate LC SP Boilup V LC Steam in B. Scheme (III). LC = level control. • a flow controller has been placed on the distillate line (to ensure steady flow of product). Configuring a control strategy: scheme III (a material balance control scheme) SP V PC P L Feed F. • control level in the reflux drum by manipulation of reflux flowrate. inventory control (PC = pressure control. zF SP flare FC SP D. FC = flow control). Scheme (III) • control level in the column base by manipulation of bottoms flowrate. xB Figure 3. Scheme (II).Configuring a control strategy: scheme II (a material balance control scheme) SP V PC P L Feed F. zF FC SP flare LC SP D. xB Condensate Figure 4. xD Distillate Boilup SP LC V SP FC Condensate B.

Example 2: Suppose that there is a small bottoms flowrate (B) and a large distillate flowrate (D). Recall that V = D + L. Example 1: Suppose that there is a large bottoms flowrate (B) and a small distillate flowrate (D). level may rise in the reflux 8 . The methodology (as well as some rules) is explained below: Rule of thumb 1: ‘flow control the smallest product flow’ (as this will leave a large flow stream to manipulate level).g. To ensure that the level remains constant (and that an appropriate change is made to L) a level controller is required on the reflux drum the manipulated variable being L.Selecting an appropriate distillation column control strategy Basic ‘rules of thumb’ can be used to develop feasible strategies. This control scheme corresponds to scheme III and is one of the more popular control schemes. Using this information the strategy may be developed as follows: • flow control the bottoms flow (B). • ensure that the material balance is maintained around the column base. for a constant F. For constant F. Recall that F = D + B so if. To ensure that the level remains constant (and that an appropriate change is made to B) a level controller is required with its manipulated variable being B. F = D + B. It is often referred to as a material balance control scheme. if D changes then there must be an equal and opposite change in L or the level in the reflux drum will either drop or start to increase. if B changes there must be an equal and opposite change in D or liquid inventory will change (e. Using this information the control strategy may be developed as follows: • flow control the distillate flow (D) • ensure that the material balance is maintained around the reflux drum. • ensure that the material balance is maintained around the column. for a constant V. D changes then there must be an equal and opposite change in B or the level in the base of the column will either drop or start to increase.

for a constant F and L. column base. Rule of thumb 3: ‘control scheme (I). (L/D) > 5’ (if L is large in comparison to D then relatively small changes in L will ensure good level control. Rule of thumb 2: ‘material balance control scheme (III) should be favoured if there is a large reflux ratio. Therefore composition is often regulated indirectly using temperature (at constant pressure there is a direct relationship between temperature and composition for a binary mixture).e.drum.e.B = V. Composition control On-line analysers are rarely used as the installed cost will normally be in the range of £100 K per instrument. a level controller is used to make an appropriate change to D.e. Recall that at the column base F+ L . often referred to as the energy balance control scheme. the process gain is large). Using a liquid temperature near the base of the column for bottom composition and a liquid temperature near the top of the column for top product composition. should be favoured if there is a small reflux ratio.e. This leads to the following schemes: 9 . i. • ensure that the material balance is maintained around the column base. this control scheme is often referred to as a material balance control scheme. the remaining mv’s (i. those not used for the purposes of level and pressure control) may be used to regulate composition. if B changes then there must be an equal and opposite change in V or the level in the base of the column will either drop or increase. the process gain is large). or both). To ensure that the level remains constant (and that an appropriate change is made to V) a level controller is required (the mv being V). This control scheme corresponds to scheme II and it should be noted that the control of level using V may have weird dynamic effects and therefore is not a favourite. i. i. (L/D) < 1’ (if L is small in comparison to D then relatively small changes in D will ensure good level control. i.e. To maintain constant inventory. Again.

Scheme (I) • • top product composition (through a liquid temperature near the top of the column) is regulated by adjusting reflux flow. FC = Flow control and TC = temperature control). LC = level control. Scheme (II) • • top product composition (through a liquid temperature near the top of the column) is regulated by adjusting reflux flow. 10 . Scheme (I). bottom product composition (through a liquid temperature near the bottom of the column) is regulated by adjusting bottoms flow. B. bottom product composition (through a liquid temperature near the bottom of the column) is regulated by adjusting vapour flow. L. L. V (indirectly via steam flow). Composition Control: scheme 1 (the energy balance control scheme) SP V PC P L Feed F. zF SP flare SP LC D. xD Distillate FC SP TC SP TC V SP LC B. This gives rise to an alternative name for this control strategy: the LV configuration. xB Condensate Figure 5. inventory & composition control (PC = pressure control. This scheme is also known as the LV configuration.

FC = Flow control and TC = temperature control). This gives rise to an alternative name for this control strategy: the DV configuration. Scheme (III) • • top product composition (through a liquid temperature near the top of the column) is regulated by adjusting distillate flow. V. Composition Control: scheme II (a material balance control scheme) SP V PC P L Feed F. D. xB Condensate Figure 6. This scheme is also known as the LB configuration. 11 . inventory & composition control (PC = pressure control. bottom product composition (through a liquid temperature near the bottom of the column) is regulated by adjusting vapour flow.This gives rise to an alternative name for this control strategy: the LB configuration. zF FC SP TC LC flare SP D. Scheme (II). LC = level control. xD Distillate SP LC V SP FC B.

Composition Control: scheme III (a material balance control scheme) SP V PC P L Feed F. LC = level control. Summary Rules of thumb. FC = Flow control and TC = temperature control). Scheme (III). xB Condensate Figure 6. a) What are the material flows through this system (external liquid and internal liquid and vapour flows) ? b) Suggest a possible control strategy for this column. 50 / 50 wt % methanol / water mixture is to be separated in a 10 stage column. The feed is liquid at its boiling point. 12 . However. To do this it is necessary to consider distillation column modelling in greater detail. This scheme is also known as the DV configuration. The condenser is a total condenser. Worked example: a methanol / water column. inventory & composition control (PC = pressure control. zF LC SP flare FC SP D. common sense and a basic knowledge of chemical engineering can generally be used to specify an appropriate manipulated variables and hence the control scheme of a distillation column. The feedrate is 65 kg/hr entering at stage 5. this basic knowledge should also be complemented by rigorous systems analysis. The objective is to separate the mixture into a top product of 95 wt% methanol and a bottom product of 5 wt %. xD SP Distillate TC SP SP TC V LC B. The reflux flow is 36 kg/hr.