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December 1, 2004
Heat Exchanger Duty: Going for Gold\0\0
Sometimes fouling is not the problem. To get closer to your design duty, consider these practical design tips\0\0
Click here for full pdf version of this article - includes all graphs, charts, tables and author information From time to time, a heat exchanger is designed carefully yet fails to achieve the desired performance by a wide margin, achieving, say, only half the duty. With an understanding of some of the more common reasons why this might happen, designers can avoid these problems in the first place, and troubleshooters can recognize the root causes quickly. Exchangers for single-phase operation, condensing and boiling are considered in that order here; but as we shall see, exchangers often handle a combination of these, and it is not always obvious which process is causing the problem. In fact, some of these problems are quite unexpected and can even take experienced designers by surprise. It must be recognized that the most important cause of problems in exchangers is excessive fouling. Other articles, books, and conferences have been dedicated to this problem, so fouling will not be addressed here. Instead we consider those exchangers that have failed for some reason other than fouling. SINGLE PHASE Good flow patterns are key In a single-phase exchanger, most problems arise when the unit is designed to meet an unrealistically high thermal effectiveness. See Realistic Expectations, p. 45, for the upper limits of common heat exchangers. Occasionally, people inadvertently try to exceed these values. While not necessarily impossible, such an approach really pushes oneÅfs luck. To achieve realistically high thermal effectiveness, countercurrent flow is normally essential. Also, both streams must be distributed evenly across any flow path and among all parallel flow paths. Furthermore, there must be no axial mixing. Flow that achieves these characteristics together is normally referred to as plug flow. Plug flow, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition on its own to ensure high thermal effectiveness. All parallel flow paths must also undergo identical heat transfer processes. In general, shell-and-tube heat exchangers are not good at achieving plug flow and identical heat transfer in parallel paths, which is why they cannot achieve as high a thermal effectiveness as other types. The main problems arise on the shell side.
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47. Parallel condensing paths with different duties Figure 3 illustrates a problem that can occur with air-cooled condensers. On the shell side. the noncondensable gases cannot be vented and will be trapped. In this particular case. the condenser has one tube-side pass and two rows. Thus. all of the vapor entering the bottom row condenses.com/articles/2004/Feat/Feat12012004_01. shell-side condenser with a sensibly positioned vent that is at the cold end of the condenser and high enough up not to flood with condensate. using some mistaken reasoning that noncondensable gases rise. For a practical example of this scenario. care is needed in the choice of baffle pitch and cut to minimize recirculation paths behind baffles and thereby minimize the resultant axial mixing. It can be seen that the Z arrangement gives rise to a larger variation in the pressure difference that drives the flow in the parallel channels. the bottom row sucks in the vapor from the outlet header that has not been condensed in the top row.che. More information on the good location of vents is given elsewhere .Chemical Engineering :: Heat Exchanger Duty: Going for Gold\0\0 http://www. High noncondensable-gas concentrations also lower the heat transfer coefficient. the temperature difference of the bottom row is greater than that of the top row. The Z and U flow arrangements Plate-heat-exchanger manufacturers know well that of the two flow arrangements shown in Figure 1. It is very important to avoid bypass flows.html In trying to achieve 90% effectiveness with a shell-and-tube exchanger. It has been known for people to put the vent at the top of the shell. see Example 1. Because of the difference in heat loads. It may even be necessary to go to a special design like a twisted-tube exchanger. but the problem can occur with other arrangements as well. Consider these rulesof-thumb for good venting: • Vent from the cold end of the condenser. it is essential to ensure good arrangement of nozzles and headers so that equal flow occurs in all tubes. one half of the exchanger has a higher heat load than the other. The small graphs over and under each figure show the pressure change in the headers when momentum change effects are taken into account. Here are explanations of some slightly unexpected venting errors that have caused serious problems.) However. for an illustration of how misleading this concept can be. In compensation. CONDENSATION Venting One of the main causes of problems with condensers is the failure to vent noncondensable gases. The problem with that arrangement is that the whole of the condenser must fill with noncondensable gas before the vent starts to operate. p. Zero pressure drop condenser with dead zones 2 of 5 7/12/2013 10:06 AM . In the illustrated case. 45. causing a deterioration in performance of the bottom pass. while some in the top row does not. Incidentally. (See Example 2. The problem of parallel paths with different duties can occur in many situations (also illustrated in Example 1). the vent is actually in a sensible position for designs with many tube-side passes. causing a pocket of noncondensable gas to form away from the vent. which would cause the two halves to have nearly the same duty. This results in the depression of the dewpoint in the condenser and hence the loss of temperature driving force. where noncondensable concentrations are highest • Avoid any direct paths (from inlet to vent) that do not cross any tubes • Keep the pressure drop per unit length as uniform as possible along the flow path to drive the noncondensable gas toward the vent (thus avoiding formation of noncondensable gas pockets) • Keep the vent clear of the condensate layer to prevent flooding • Be sure that parallel flow paths have identical duties Figure 2 shows a vertical. we have to look at the momentum changes in the header as well as the frictional losses. As the vapor enters the bottom row from both ends. Additionally. One might think that the Z arrangement would be better. the U arrangement gives a better flow distribution in the plate pack than the Z arrangement. p. Figure 4 shows a TEMA J-type shell with condensation on the shell side. since it gives equal-length flow paths for each parallel stream. The problem in this arrangement is that there is only one tube-side pass for the coolant flow.
for instance. to have zero pressure drop. inert gas.che.Chemical Engineering :: Heat Exchanger Duty: Going for Gold\0\0 http://www. the large vapor inlet flow and rapid condensation achieve a large enough deceleration and pressure recovery to overcome the frictional pressure drop. while clean. Increasing the venting is not a good solution. With this configuration. The problem is somewhat common during plant startup. because the frictional losses balance the momentum recovery that results from vapor deceleration. For condensers in parallel. So. follow the good venting rule that the pressure drop per unit length through the condenser is kept as uniform as possible. the problem may be arising because the condensate outlet line is too small. the zero-flow tube has to be filled with noncondensable. Errors in the prediction of A of a factor of two or more are common. n is around 2/3. which in turn lowers the condensing temperature. and therefore. Also. because rather than clearing the dead tube. the reboiler has been designed with an unrealistically high fouling resistance. if the condensate is not draining properly. However. whereas a stagnant pool of condensate gives a very low heat-transfer coefficient for the tubes sitting in the pool. the steam trap may not have been designed to operate at the lower pressure. If that is not the cause. because debris that is generated during construction gets lodged in the outlet line. the common reaction is to reduce the steam pressure. of course. The heat transfer coefficient is defined in terms of the wall superheat. say. only one of two condensers in parallel is affected. particularly in vacuum condensers. Condensate not draining Condensation gives a high heat-transfer coefficient. 3 of 5 7/12/2013 10:06 AM . It has been shown  that all nucleate boiling correlations can be transformed to the following form: (3) where Éø is the heat transfer coefficient and q is the heat flux. any error in A will result in a large error in local heat flux. as a slow deterioration in performance and a jump back to good performance. since time is needed for the noncondensable gases to accumulate. is that there is nothing to drive out the gas. Failure to drain condensate is a problem that sometime occurs with vertical thermosiphon reboilers heated with condensing service steam. Usually. In Figure 5. The problem with this condition. always have separate vents. This problem manifests itself periodically. the problem could go unnoticed for years Å\ causing a significant loss of thermal efficiency throughout the plant Å\ if. with vacuum operation. the efficiency of heat transfer will be compromised.html It is possible. never design a condenser to have zero pressure drop. To be stable. rather than relying on a manifold system. all flow is running through the bottom tube. it tends to suck out vapor from the operating tube.com/articles/2004/Feat/Feat12012004_01. so that. The problem may not manifest itself at first. the condensate will not drain properly. BOILING Unpredictable nucleate-boiling heat-transfer coefficients Nucleate boiling is strongly dependant on the microscopic nature of the surface and the wetability of that surface with the liquid being boiled. The quantities A and n are constants for a given fluid boiling on a given surface at a given pressure. initially. É¢Ts. for a nucleate-boiling controlled design. it will over-perform. In fact. So. Typically. If not. Such properties are variable and difficult to predict. in the total heat load. as follows: (4) Taking n as 2/3 and eliminating Éø between these two equations gives the heat flux as follows: (5) Hence. Various correlations are available to give A. but they are not very accurate. and the shell will fill with condensate until the pressure from the liquid head is high enough to force the steam trap to work. Such unstable behavior in the reboiler can be violent enough to cause instabilities in the distillation column to which it is attached. To bring the reboiler back to the desired performance.
From there (with a relatively pure fluid). That state of affairs.Chemical Engineering :: Heat Exchanger Duty: Going for Gold\0\0 http://www. can make vacuum reboilers unpredictable. falling film evaporators can be a better design for vacuum operation. However. The lesson to take away here is that if nucleate boiling plays a significant role in an exchanger performance. combined with the need for sufficient superheat to give nucleation. of course. Loss of temperature difference in reboilers Figure 6 shows a sketch of the temperature variation versus height in a vertical thermosiphon reboiler. it can be seen that the average temperature difference is lower than the inlet and outlet values. the heat transfer coefficients in the liquid heating region are lower than if boiling were to start at the entry to the tube.che. say. While this example focused on vertical reboilers. the actual superheat is difficult to predict and depends on fine features of the surface. The tubes. tube-side reboilers. Recirculation in vertical thermosiphon reboilers There needs to be enough vapor leaving the tubes to drag the liquid smoothly out. There is usually some control on the hot-fluid temperature. From the figure. with increasing vacuum. They are certainly unstable.html Admittedly. because then. Yet. cannot be made longer without the expense of raising the distillation 4 of 5 7/12/2013 10:06 AM . and may actually shake as well as upset the performance of the distillation column. the required superheat for nucleation increases. However. and there must be a liquid-heating region in the bottom portion of the tubes. So. At ambient and higher pressures. In addition to having a lower temperature difference. The liquid entering the reboiler must be at a higher pressure than at the surface of the liquid in order to meet the hydrostatic head needed to drive the natural circulation. This means that the liquid is subcooled at the inlet. the heat transfer performance is reduced by these two effects. therefore. the magnitude of unpredictability can still lead to serious errors if corrective measures are not in place. Upon replacement of the reboiler. the solution is quite simple. make sure that the temperature difference can be controlled. it is clear that only a small adjustment in temperature difference is needed to overcome any problems due to a bad prediction of A. Check the saturation temperature for tube-side liquid at the top and bottom of the bundle. People were replacing service steam with another process stream to do the heating. and go to a smaller shell diameter if the difference in saturation temperature is large compared with the driving temperature difference. above). the need for nucleate boiling can be avoided by. the superheat for water at atmospheric pressure is typically around 4ÅãC for a modest heat flux. the same problem can occur in kettle and horizontal (shell-side) reboilers. Fortunately. Superheat required to initiate boiling A wall superheat is required to initiate bubble nucleation and. Problematic operation in this regard is characterized by large diameter reboilers with poor and fluctuating performance. This replacement caused a loss of control of the temperature difference and resulted in failure of some boiling equipment. In some cases. It is important to note here that these hydrostatic effects are more dramatic under vacuum conditions because the hydrostatic pressure differences are a larger fraction of the total pressure. the liquid temperature rises and the pressure falls until saturation is reached and bulk boiling commences. unstable operation will result. the boiling temperature falls with the falling pressure. the temptation is to make the next reboiler bigger in an attempt to avoid the problem. for example. using a falling-film evaporator. It is also important to get the liquid smoothly out of the reboiler through the outlet nozzle and pipework (see Example 3. If not. at a tenth of an atmosphere it will be around 10ÅãC. It occurs more often in reboiler applications that caused problems in the past. So. Moving up the tube. most boiling equipment is not entirely controlled by nucleate boiling. to enable boiling. which is often condensing service steam. In the case of horizontal.com/articles/2004/Feat/Feat12012004_01. Alternatively. the lower tubes in the bundle will behave very differently from the higher tubes. care must be taken if the shell diameter is large. this critical superheat is small and will be exceeded by the available superheat. That problem is somewhat common. Again. From Equation (5). Care must therefore be taken in vacuum boilers that there is enough temperature difference to initiate boiling. and hence on the overall temperature difference and wall superheat. This lesson was forgotten for a period in the 1980s when pinch technology was becoming popular as a method of saving energy.
the time delay will be just enough to reinforce the flow variation rather than damp it out. This removes the time lag between the flow change and the pressure-drop change. To avoid this problem. However. Such cases create dynamic instability. Failure to recognize this effect has been known to cause some kettles to operate below the design performance. use a flow pattern map or other criterion that will ensure that annular flow is achieved at the end of the tubes. and the boiling temperature rises from inlet to outlet of the exchanger. it is easy to forget that there is internal circulation in the reboiler. the liquid starts to boil at the bubble point of the mixture. All rights reserved. Dynamic instability in a vertical thermosiphon reboiler As a consequence of the compressibility of the two-phase flow in a reboiler. Mathematical models have been devised to predict the conditions which cause such instabilities. Health & Safety Software. 5 of 5 7/12/2013 10:06 AM . Temperature differences can be calculated from the Ågboiling curve. For flow oscillations of a particular frequency.Chemical Engineering :: Heat Exchanger Duty: Going for Gold\0\0 http://www. so the fluid mixture entering the bottom of the bundle is much richer in low-volatility (high boiling point) components than the inlet stream.com/articles/2004/Feat/Feat12012004_01. But. Temperature difference of wide boiling-range mixtures Normally with a wide-boiling-range mixture. n Processing & Handling Environmental.che. there is a time delay between a change in liquid inlet flow and the increased pressure drop that would otherwise stop the flow increase. this tactic merely makes the problem worse. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written details please see Terms and Conditions. LLC.com Features Web Extras eNewsletters Ask The Experts White Papers Editorial Subm Copyright Polic & Permissions Editorial Upcom Upcoming Sho Advertising & M Copyright © 2013 Access Intelligence. The problem is normally avoided by having some restriction to increase pressure drop in the single phase region. Automation & Control Business & Economics ChemInnovations Networking & Discussion Groups Events & Announcements Webinars Job Board Career Tools Postscripts & Corrections Awards & Scholarships About Us Contact Us Buyers’ Guide Editor’s Comments The Magazine Current Issue Back Issues ChE. so more tubes are added. Hence.html column.Åh which gives the rise in temperature versus the amount of heat added and is typically based on the reboilerÅfs inlet flow. the temperature differences driving the heat transfer are lower than what a boiling curve that is based on the inlet stream would predict.
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