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Overview
• Introduction
• Absorption and stripping equilibria
• Operating lines for absorption
• Stripping analysis
• Analytical solution: Kremser equation
Introduction
Gas absorption is a mass transfer operation in which a gas mixture is contacted with a liquid to
preferentially absorb one or more of the components of the gas stream. In this case, the liquid solvent
(absorbing liquid) must be added as a separating agent.
In some cases, a solute is removed from a liquid by contacting it with a gas. This operation is the reverse
of gas absorption and is called desorption or gas stripping. Here, the gas stream (stripping agent) must
be added as a separating agent.
Absorption can be either physical or chemical. In physical absorption, the gas is removed because it has
greater solubility in the solvent than other gases. An example is the removal of butane and pentane from
a refinery gas mixture (C
4
– C
5
) with a heavy oil.
In chemical absorption, the gas to be removed reacts with the solvent and remains in solution. An
example is the removal of CO
2
or H
2
S by reaction with NaOH or with monoethanolamine (MEA).
The reaction can be either irreversible (as with NaOH) or reversible (with MEA). For irreversible
reactions, the resulting liquid must be disposed of, whereas in reversible reactions, the solvent can be
regenerated. Thus, reversible reactions are often preferred.
Chemical absorption usually has a much more favorable equilibrium relationship than physical
absorption (solubility of most gases is usually very low) and is, therefore, preferred.
Both absorption and stripping can be operated as equilibrium stage operations with contact of liquid and
vapor.
In both absorption and stripping a separate phase is added as the separating agent.
Absorption and stripping equilibria
For absorption and stripping in three component systems, we often assume that
1. Carrier gas is insoluble.
2. Solvent is nonvolatile.
3. The system is isothermal and isobaric.
The Gibbs phase rule is
F = C – P + 2
= 3(A, B, and C) – 2(vapor and liquid) + 2
= 3
If we set T and p constant, there is one remaining degree of freedom. The equilibrium data are usually
represented either by plotting solute composition in vapor versus solute composition in liquid or by
giving a Henry’s law constant.
Henry’s law is
P
B
= H
B
x
B
where H
B
is Henry’s law constat, in atm/mole frac, H = H(p,T,composition);
x
B
is the mole fraction B in the liquid; and
p
B
is the partial pressure of B in the vapor.
Henry’s law is valid only at low concentrations of B. Since partial pressure is defined as
tot
B
B
p
p
y ≡
Henry’s law becomes
B
tot
B
B
x
p
H
y ·
This will plot as a straight line if H
B
is constant. If the component is pure, y
B
= 1 and p
B
= p
tot
.
The Henry’s law constants depend upon temperature and usually follow an Arrhenius relationship. Thus,
,
`
.
 −
·
RT
E
exp H H
0
A plot of log H versus
T 1
will often give a straight line.
Operating lines for absorption
The McCabeThiele diagram is most useful when the operating line is straight. This requires that
• The energy balances be automatically satisfied
• Liquid flow rate/vapor flow rate = constant
In order for energy balances to be automatically satisfied, we must assume that
1. The heat of absorption is negligible
2. Operation is isothermal
These two assumptions will guarantee satisfaction of the enthalpy balances. When the gas and liquid
streams are both fairly dilute, the assumptions will probably be satisfied.
We also desire a straight operating line. This will be automatically true if we define
hr gas carrier insoluble moles
hr solvent e nonvolatil moles
G L ·
and if we assume that:
3. Solvent is nonvolatile
4. Carrier gas is insoluble
Assumptions 3 and 4 are often very closely satisfied. The results of these last two assumptions are that
the mass balance for solvent becomes
L
N
= L
i
= L
0
= L = constant
while the mass balance for the carrier gas is
G
N+1
= G
i
= G
1
= G = constant
Note that we cannot use overall flow rates of gas and liquid in concentrated mixtures because a
significant amount of solute may be absorbed which would change gas and liquid flow rates and give a
curved operating line. For very dilute solutions (< 1% solute), overall flow rates can be used, and mass
or mole fractions can be used for operating equations and equilibria. Since we want to use L = moles
nonvolatile solvent (S)/hr and G = moles insoluble carrier gas (C)/hr, we must define our compositions
in such a way that we can write a mass balance for solute B.
After some manipulation we find that the correct way to define our compositions is as mole ratios.
Define
C gas carrier pure moles
gas in B moles
Y ·
and
S solvent pure moles
liquid in B moles
X ·
The mole ratios of Y and X are related to our usual mole fractions by
y 1
y
Y
−
·
and
x 1
x
X
−
·
Note that both Y and X can be greater than 1.0. With mole ratio units, we have
,
`
.

,
`
.

·
hr
gas carrier moles
gas carrier moles
i stream gas in B moles
G Y
i
hr
stream gas in B moles
·
and
,
`
.

,
`
.

·
hr
solvent moles
solvent moles
i stream liquid in B moles
L X
i
hr
i stream liquid in B moles
·
Thus we can easily write the steadystate mass balance, input = output, in these units. The mass balance
around the top column using the mass balance envelope is
G Y L X L X G Y
1 i 0 1 i
+ · +
+
or
Moles B in/hr = moles B out/hr
Solving for Y
i+1
we obtain
,
`
.

− + ·
+ 0 1 i 1 i
X
G
L
Y X
G
L
Y
This is a straight line with slope
G L
and intercept
,
`
.

−
0 1
X
G
L
Y
. It is our operating line for
absorption. Thus if we plot ratios Y vs X we have a McCabeThiele type of graph.
The steps in this procedure are:
1. Plot Y vs X equilibrium data (convert from fractions to ratios).
2. Values of X
0
, Y
N+1
, Y
1
and
G L
are known. Point (X
0
, Y
1
) is on operating line, since it
represents passing streams.
3. Slope is
G L
. Plot operating line.
4. Starting at stage 1, step off stages: equilibrium, operating, equilibrium, etc.
Note that the operating line is above the equilibrium line, because solute is being transferred from the
gas to the liquid.
Equilibrium data must be converted to ratio units, Y vs X. These values can be greater than 1.0, since
( ) y 1 y Y − ·
and
( ) x 1 x X − ·
. The Y = X line has no significance in absorption. As usual the stages
are counted at the equilibrium curve. If the system is not isothermal, the operating line will not be
affected, but the equilibrium line will be. Then the McCabeThiele method must be modified to include
changing equilibrium curves.
For very dilute systems we can use mole fractions, since total flows are approximately constant.
Example 1: Graphical absorption analysis
A gas stream is 90 mole % N
2
and 10 mole % CO
2
. We wish to absorb the CO
2
into water. The inlet
water is pure and is at 5°C. Because of cooling coils, operation can be assumed to be isothermal.
Operation is at 10 atm. If the liquid flow rate is 1.5 times the minimum liquid flow rate, how many
equilibrium stages are required to absorb 92% of the CO
2
? Choose a basis of 1 mole/hr of entering gas.
Solution
A. We need to find the minimum liquid flow rate, the value of the outlet gas concentration, and the
number of equilibrium stages required.
B. First we need equilibrium data. Since concentrations are fairly high, the problem should be solved in
mole ratios. Thus we need to convert all compositions including equilibrium data to mole ratios.
C. Derive the equilibrium equation from Henry’s law. Convert compositions from mole fractions to
mole ratios. Calculate Y
1
by a percent recovery analysis. Plot mole ratio equilibrium data on a YX
diagram, and determine
( )
min
G L
and hence L
min
. Calculate actual
G L
, plot operating line, and step
off stages.
The problem appears to be straightforward.
D. Equilibrium:
x 6 . 87 x
10
876
x
p
H
y
tot
· · ·
Change the equilibrium data to mole ratios with a table as shown below.
x
x 1
x
X
−
·
y = 87.6x
y 1
y
Y
−
·
0 0 0 0
0.0001 0.0001 0.00876 0.00884
0.0004 0.0004 0.0350 0.0363
0.0006 0.0006 0.0526 0.0555
0.0008 0.0008 0.0701 0.0754
0.0010 0.0010 0.0876 0.0960
0.0012 0.0012 0.10512 0.1175
Note that x = X in this concentration range, but y ≠ Y. The inlet gas mole ratio is
2
2
1 N
1 N
1 N
N moles
CO moles
1111 . 0
9 . 0
1 . 0
y 1
y
Y · ·
−
·
+
+
+
G = (1 mole total gas/hr)(1y
N+1
) =
hr
N moles
9 . 0
2
Percent recovery analysis: 8% of CO
2
exits.
(0.1 mole in)(0.08 recovered)
= 0.008 mole CO
2
out
Thus,
008888 . 0
N mole 0.9
CO mole 0.008
N moles
CO moles
Y
2
2
2
2
1
· · ·
Operating line:
,
`
.

− + ·
+ 0 1 i 1 i
X
G
L
Y X
G
L
Y
Goes through point (Y
1
,X
0
) = (0.008888,0).
( )
min
G L
is found as the slope of the operating line from point (Y
1
,X
0
) to the intersection with the
equilibrium curve at Y
N+1
.
( ) 905 . 89 G L
min
·
∴ L
min
= (89.905)(0.9) = 80.914
hr
water moles
L
actual
= 1.5L
min
= 121.37
and
( ) 86 . 134 G L
actual
·
Plot operating line from (Y
1
,X
0
) with this slope. Step off stages on the diagram. Need 4.1 equilibrium
stages.
The fraction was calculated as
13 . 0
00071 . 0 00108 . 0
00071 . 0 000758 . 0
X X
X X
Frac
4 5
4 out
·
−
−
·
−
−
·
E. The overall mass balances are satisfied by the outlet concentrations. The significant figures carried
in this example are excessive compared with the equilibrium data. Thus they shoud be rounded off when
reported. The concentrations used were quite high for Henry’s law. Thus, it would be wise to check the
equilibrium.
F. Note that the gas is considerably greater than the liquid concentration. This situation is common for
physical absorption (solubility is low). Chemical absorption is used to obtain more favorable
equilibrium. The liquid flow rate required for physical absorption is excessive. Thus, in practice, this
type of operation uses chemical absorption.
If we had assumed that total gas and liquid flow rates were constant (dilute solutions), the result would
be in error. An estimate of this error can be obtained by estimating
( )
min
G L
. The minimum operating
line goes from (y
1
, x
0
) = (0.00881, 0) to (y
N+1
, x
equil,N+1
). Y
N+1
= 0.1 and x
equil,N+1
= y
N+1
/87.6 = 0.1/87.6 =
0.0011415.
Then
( ) 886 . 79
1 0011415 . 0
00881 . 0 1 . 0
x x
y y
G L
0 1 N , equil
1 1 N
dilute min,
·
−
−
·
−
−
·
+
+
This is in error by more than 10%.
Stripping analysis
Since stripping is very similar to absorption we expect a similar result. The mass balance for the column
is the same as for absorption and the operating line is still
,
`
.

− + ·
+ 0 1 i 1 i
X
G
L
Y X
G
L
Y
For stripping we know X
0
, X
N
, Y
N+1
, and
G L
. Since (X
N
, Y
N+1
) is a point on the operating line, we can
plot the operating line and step off stages.
Note that the operating line is below the equilibrium curve because solute is transferred from liquid to
gas. A maximum
G L
ratio can be defined; this corresponds to the minimum amount of stripping gas.
Start from the known point (Y
N+1
, X
N
) and draw a line to the intersection of X = X
0
and the equilibrium
curve. Alternatively, there may be a tangent pinch point. For a stripper, Y
1
> Y
N+1
, while the reverse is
true in absorption. Stripping often has large temperature changes, so the method used here may have to
be modified.
Murphree efficiencies can be used on these diagrams if they are defined as
MV
1 i
*
i
1 i i
E
Y Y
Y Y
·
−
−
+
+
For dilute systems the more common definition of Murphree vapor efficiency in mole fractions would
be used. Efficiencies for absorption and stripping are often quite low.
Usually the best way to determine efficiencies is to measure them on commercialscale equipment.
Analytical solution: Kremser equation
When the solution is quite dilute (say less than 1% solute in both gas and liquid), the total liquid and gas
flow rates will not change significantly since little solute is transferred. Then the entire analysis can be
done with mole or mass fractions and total flow rates. The operating equation is derived by writing a
mass balance around stage I and solving for y
i+1
. The result is
,
`
.

− + ·
+ 0 1 i 1 i
x
V
L
y x
V
L
y
To use this equation in a McCabeThiele diagram, we assume:
1.
V L
(total flows) is constant
2. Isothermal system
3. Isobaric system
4. Negligible heat of absorption
These are reasonable assumptions for dilute absorbers and strippers.
If one additional assumption is valid, the stagebystage problem can be solved analytically. This
additional assumption is:
5. Equilibrium line is straight.
b mx y
i i
+ ·
This assumption is reasonable for very dilute solutions and agrees with Henry’s law if m = H
A
/p
tot
and b
= 0.
An analytical solution for absorption is easily derived for a special case where the operating and
equilibrium lines are parallel. Now the distance between operating and equilibrium lines, ∆ y, is
constant. To go from outlet to inlet concentrations with N stages, we have
1 1 N
y y y N − · ∆
+
since each stage causes the same change in vapor composition. ∆ y can be obtained by substracting the
equilibrium equation from the operating equation.
( )
,
`
.

− − +
,
`
.

− · − · ∆
+
b x
V
L
y x m
V
L
y y y
0 1 i i 1 i i
For the special case of parallel operating and equilibrium lines,
m V L ·
and
( ) ( ) t tan cons b x
V
L
y y y
0 1 i
· − − · ∆ · ∆
Combining this equation and
1 1 N
y y y N − · ∆
+
, we get
,
`
.

− −
−
·
+
b x
V
L
y
y y
N
0 1
1 1 N
for
1
mV
L
·
This equation is a special case of the Kremser equation. When this equation is applicable, absorption and
stripping problems can be solved quite simply and accurately without the need for a stagebystage
calculation.
For the more general case, ∆ y
i
varies from stage to stage. The ∆ y values can be determined from
( )
,
`
.

− − +
,
`
.

− · − · ∆
+
b x
V
L
y x m
V
L
y y y
0 1 i i 1 i i
This equation is easier to use if we replace x
i
with the equilibrium equation,
m
b y
x
i
i
−
·
Then
( )
,
`
.

− − +
,
`
.

− · ∆
0 i i i
x
V
L
b
mV
L
y y 1
mV
L
y
( )
,
`
.

− − +
,
`
.

− · ∆
+ + 0 i 1 i 1 i
x
V
L
b
mV
L
y y 1
mV
L
y
Substracting the first equation from the second,
( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
i i 1 i i 1 i
y 1
mV
L
y y 1
mV
L
y y ∆
,
`
.

− · −
,
`
.

− · ∆ − ∆
+ +
and solving for (∆ y)
I+1
( ) ( )
i 1 i
y
mV
L
y ∆ · ∆
+
This equation relates the change in vapor composition from stage to stage to (L/mV), which is known as
the absorption factor. If either the operating or equilibrium is curved, this simple relationship no longer
holds and a simple analytical solution does not exist.
The difference between inlet and outlet gas concentrations must be the sum of the ∆ y
i
values. Thus,
∆ y
1
+ ∆ y
2
+ ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ + ∆ y
N
= y
N+1
– y
1
Applying
( ) ( )
i 1 i
y
mV
L
y ∆ · ∆
+
1 1 N
1 N 2
1
y y
mV
L
mV
L
mV
L
1 y − ·
,
`
.

,
`
.

+ +
,
`
.

+ + ∆
+
−
The summation in this equation can be calculated. The general formula is
( )
( ) A 1
A 1 a
aA
1 k k
0 i
i
−
−
·
+
·
∑
for A< 1
Then
mV
L
1
mV
L
1
y
y y
N
1
1 1 N
−
,
`
.

−
·
∆
−
+
If L/mV > 1m then divide both sides of this equation by ( )
1 N
mV L
−
and do the summation in terms of
mV/L. The vapor composition
*
1
y is the value that would be in equilibrium with the inlet liquid, x
0
.
Thus,
b mx y
0
*
1
+ ·
Removal of ∆ y
1
from
mV
L
1
mV
L
1
y
y y
N
1
1 1 N
−
,
`
.

−
·
∆
−
+
gives
mV
L
1
mV
L
mV
L
y y
y y
1 N
*
1 1
1 1 N
−
,
`
.

−
·
−
−
+
+
This equation is one form of the Kremser equation. A large variety of alternative forms can be
developed by algebraic manipulation. For instance, if we add 1.0 to both sides of the previous equation
and rearrange, we have
mV
L
1
mV
L
1
y y
y y
1 N
*
1 1
*
1 1 N
−
,
`
.

−
·
−
−
+
+
which can be solved for N. After manipulation, this result is
,
`
.

]
]
]
+
,
`
.

−
−
,
`
.

−
·
+
mV
L
ln
L
mV
y y
y y
L
mV
1 ln
N
*
1 1
*
1 1 N
where L/mV ≠ 1. These last two equations are also known as forms of the Kremser equation.
A variety of forms of the Kremser equation can be developed. Several alternative forms in terms of the
gasphase composition are
( ) ( )
( )
1 N
1 N
*
1 1
1 1 N
mV L 1
mV L mV L
y y
y y
+
+
+
−
−
·
−
−
N
*
1 1
*
1 N 1 N
mV
L
y y
y y
,
`
.

·
−
−
+ +
( ) ( ) [ ]
( ) mV L ln
y y y y ln
N
*
1 1
*
1 N 1 N
− −
·
+ +
( ) ( ) [ ]
( ) ( ) [ ]
*
1
*
1 N 1 1 N
*
1 1
*
1 N 1 N
y y y y ln
y y y y ln
N
− −
− −
·
+ +
+ +
where
b mx y
n
*
1 N
+ ·
+
and
b mx y
0
*
1
+ ·
Alternative forms in terms of the liquid phase composition are
( ) L mV ln
mV
L
x x
x x
mV
L
1 ln
N
*
N N
*
N 0
]
]
]
+
,
`
.

−
−
,
`
.

−
·
( ) ( ) [ ]
( ) L mV ln
x x x x ln
N
*
0 0
*
N N
− −
·
( ) ( ) [ ]
( ) ( ) [ ]
N 0
*
N
*
0
*
0 0
*
N N
x x x x ln
x x x x ln
N
− −
− −
·
( )
( )
1 N *
N 0
*
N N
L mV 1
L mV 1
x x
x x
+
−
−
·
−
−
N
*
0 0
*
N N
mV
L
x x
x x
,
`
.

·
−
−
where
m
b y
x
1 N *
N
−
·
+
and
m
b y
x
1 *
0
−
·
A form including a constant Murphree vapor efficiency is
[ ] ( ) ( ) [ ] { ¦
( ) [ ] 1 L mV E 1 ln
L mV y y y y L mV 1
N
MV
*
1 1
*
1 1 N
− +
+ − − −
− ·
+
Which form of the Kremser equation to use depends upon the problem statement. When the assumptions
required for the derivation are valid, the Kremser equation has several advantages over the stageby
stage calculation procedure. If the number of stages is large, the Kremser equation is much more
convenient to use, and it is easy to program on a computer or calculator. When the number of stages is
specified, the McCabeThiele stagebystage procedure is trialanderror, but the use of the Kremser
equation is not. Because calculations can be done faster, the effects of varying y
1
, x
0
, L/V, m etc. are
easy to determine. The major disadvantage of the Kremser equation is that it is accurate only for dilute
solutions where L/V is constant, equilibrium is linear, and the system is isothermal.
Example 2: Kremser equation
A plate tower providing six equilibrium stages is employed for stripping ammonia from a waste water
stream by means of countercurrent air at atmospheric pressure and 80°F. Calculate the concentration of
ammonia in the exit water if the inlet liquid concentration is 0.1 mole % ammonia in water, the inlet air
is free of ammonia, and 30 standard cubic feet (scf) of air are fed to the tower per pound of waste water.
Solution
A. The column is sketched in the figure.
We wish to find the exit water concentration, x
6
.
B. Since the concentrations are quite low we can use the Kremser equation. Equilibrium data are
available in several sources: we find
3 3
NH NH
x 414 . 1 y ·
at 80°F.
C. We have to convert flow to molar units. Since we want a concentration of liquid, we will use
( )
( )
1 N *
N 0
*
N N
L mV 1
L mV 1
x x
x x
+
−
−
·
−
−
D. We can calculate ratio V/L,
water mole lb 1
water lb 18
air scf 379
air mole lb 1
water lb 1
air scf 30
L
V
× × ·
= 1.43 moles air/mole water
Note that the individual flow rates are not needed.
The Kremser equation is
1 N *
N 0
*
N N
L
mV
1
L
mV
1
x x
x x
+
,
`
.

−
−
·
−
−
where x
N
= x
6
is unknown, x
0
= 0.001, m = 1.414, b = 0,
*
N
x = y
7
/m = 0, V/L = 1.43, N = 6
1
6
x0 = 0.001
y1
p = 1 atm
80°F
x6
y7 = 0.30 ft
3
(std.) air/lb water
Rearranging,
( )
0 1 N N
x
L mV 1
L mV 1
x
+
−
−
·
( )( )
( )( ) [ ]
( ) 001 . 0
43 . 1 414 . 1 1
43 . 1 414 . 1 1
x
7 N
−
−
·
x
N
= 7.45 × 10
6
mole fraction
Most of the ammonia is stripped out by the air.
E. We can check with a different form of the Kremser equation or by solving the results graphically;
both give the same result. We should also check that the major assumptions of the Kremser equation
(constant flow rates, linear equilibrium, and isothermal) are satisfied. In this dilute system they are.
F. This problem is trialanderror when it is solved graphically. Also, the Kremser equation is very easy
to set up on a computer or calculator. Thus, when it is applicable, the Kremser equation is very
convenient.
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