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AIChE Paper Number 90b


W. Brian Piercy
Turbomachinery Control Consultant
Invensys Operations Management

Prepared for Presentation at the Year 2011 Spring National Meeting,
Ethylene Producers Conference, Chicago, IL March 13 17, 2011

AIChE and EPC shall not be responsible for statements or opinions contained in papers or
printed in its publications.

W. Brian Piercy
Turbomachinery Control Consultant
Invensys Operations Management

Abstract: Preventing a compressor surge is the primary purpose of an anti-surge controller.
However, there are additional requirements that must be met for an anti-surge control
package to be effective. For example, it must be stable and reliable, while also keeping energy
costs to a minimum.
For an anti-surge control project to be judged successful, performance control must be
smooth and stable while the recycle valve is open. The compressor must be able to start and
shut down without surging or excessively upsetting the process.
Control valves must be fast-acting, yet able to move in small increments. Transmitters
must report the correct process conditions to the anti-surge controller over the full range of
startup and running conditions. Flow meter sensing lines must be impervious to condensation
resulting from temperature changes.
Depending on the application, recycling or venting must be kept to a minimum to
reduce energy consumption.
This paper addresses some of the challenges that must be met when designing an anti-
surge system.


This paper primarily is written for surge controls for a charge gas compressor. Many of
the points can be applied to other processes.

Compressor Control

When discussing the goals of anti-surge, the general goals of compressor control must
first be explained. Although the goal of anti-surge control is primarily to protect the
compressor from surge, it must coexist with the other control aspects of the compressor.
When formulating a successful anti-surge control strategy, it must work in-step with the
overall performance goals of the compressor. Therefore, the two control strategies should be
developed together.
In many cases, the recycle valve is an integral part of the performance control. For
instance, a turbine-driven compressor running at minimum governor on the surge control line
might still provide more flow than the process can handle. The only alternative available is
opening the anti-surge valve further than is required for surge protection to reduce flow. In
some cases, performance control must be modified to prevent a surge condition. For instance,
lowering the speed too much on a turbine-driven compressor will cause a surge condition if
the compressor pressure ratio remains constant.
Both performance control and surge control impact the flow through the compressor.
Therefore, the stability of the performance control affects the surge controller. As an example,
a poorly tuned performance controller causing cycling diminishes the controllability of the
surge controller. This requires for the surge controller to have a greater safety margin, which
increases energy cost.
The stability of the surge controller affects performance control. For instance, a sticky
anti-surge valve will result in step changes to the process flow causing overall performance
control to suffer.

Compressor Surge

Compressor surge occurs when the internal head produced by the compressor is
insufficient to meet the external head exerted by the process. As a result, the compressor is
not able to overcome the pressure ratio and the process flow reverses backward through the
compressor. After the flow reverses, the discharge and suction pressure tend to equalize and
the external head decreases. When the external head decreases sufficiently, the process will
again flow forward. In many cases, the pressure ratio must drop significantly before the flow
changes from the reverse to a forward direction.
It is important to avoid compressor surge because it can cause compressor damage.
When a flow reversal occurs, compressor load is suddenly lost. When forward flow resumes,
the load is suddenly increased. These strong load swings stress the bearings. If the load swing
is strong enough, it can result in an axial shift of the rotor wiping seals. In severe cases, the
thrust bearing can be damaged and the compressor rotating parts can hit the compressor
case. Continual surging also results in severe overheating, which can cause damage.
In addition to causing mechanical damage, compressor surge also causes a major
process upset. As mentioned previously, the pressure ratio must be dropped significantly
before forward flow can be achieved. During this time, there will be zero flow to the
downstream separations unit and pressure will be accumulating in the compressor suction.
Typically, flaring occurs.
Another nasty side effect can occur during a flow reversal. A turbine-driven compressor
will reach the overspeed trip if the governor cannot cut the steam back fast enough.

Surge Line Development

The primary requirement of a surge controller is to accurately predict where surge
occurs. Most modern surge control systems rely on a reduction of the compressor head versus
volume flow performance map. If a head producing flow meter is used (such as an orifice or
venturi) the not-so-easily-measured values like molecular weight and compressibility cancel
out as seen in Figure 1. This type of surge line prediction is very accurate under a wide range
of in inlet and outlet conditions.


avg s
(Volume Flow)
s s
Z T R h

100% N
90% N
80% N
Figure 1.
Canceling Terms On Head vs. Flow Map
Anti-Surge Control Response

An anti-surge controller is typically tuned for slow response when the operating point is
not close to the surge line. This is required for stable performance control. However, as the
operating point gets closer to the surge line, more aggressive action is required to prevent a
surge. A variety of techniques can be applied. While some control systems employ high gain,
others step the control valve to a safe position.
Additional features of an anti-surge controller include a Maximum Valve Closing Rate
and Adaptive PID Tuning. Both of these features aid in the recovery after a recycle valve
opening event, restoring operating conditions to normal as quickly as possible without
leading to another opening event.

Identify Interactions between the Surge and Performance Controllers

When designing a compressor control system, it is essential that both performance and
anti-surge considerations are taken into account. It is also helpful to look at the interactions
required between the two controllers, especially if the controllers are supplied by separate

Questions to ask are:
Is the recycle valve needed to assist the performance controller for turndown?
Is the recycle valve needed to protect a section from over pressure (typically to
avoid lifting a relief valve)?
Is the recycle valve needed to protect the compressor from low suction
Are performance controller limits required to avoid surge?

There are too many possible permutations to investigate to determine the best solution
based on the answers to the above questions. In most cases, though, a simple override to the
anti-surge surge controller is all that is required to solve the problem. However, if the answer
to the last question is yes, see the discussion below on decoupling for more details.

Decoupling Anti-Surge and Performance Controls

A charge gas compressor generally operates with constant suction and discharge
pressure. The discharge pressure is set by the downstream separations unit. The suction
pressure is controlled by the charge gas compressors performance control and is maintained
for optimal furnace yield. These remain relatively constant whether the unit is running at full
capacity or is partially loaded.

As furnaces are taken offline, the performance controller will lower the speed setpoint
to maintain suction pressure. Per the example in Figure 2, if the speed setpoint is reduced
below 90 percent, the compressor will surge at the rated pressure ratio. To prevent
compressor surge, the speed must be not be lowered enough to cause surge and a recycle
valve will have to be opened to maintain suction pressure.
One method of decoupling is for the performance controller to take control of the
recycle valve to maintain suction pressure. Speed can be slowly reduced to bring the operating
point to the control line.

Minimizing Recycle Flow

It should be obvious that the greater the recycle flow the greater the energy cost.
Therefore, it is best to run with as little recycle flow as possible without subjecting the
compressor to an unwanted surge event.
While a lower recycle flow saves energy, there simply may not be enough horsepower
in the driver to sustain much recycle. In such cases, the safety margin must be kept to a
minimum. If the turbine driver becomes overloaded, the speed will drop, causing the recycle
valves to open further. This will result in additional load and will lead to a death spiral. The
only way to stop this is for the operator to put the recycle valve in manual and close it.
When it is necessary to run continually near the surge line, it is better to have a
conservative surge line. A conservative surge line is subtly different than a conservative safety
margin. The control system with a conservative surge line, as shown in Figure 3, will apply its
aggressive action earlier to prevent a surge than one with a conservative control line.

There usually are natural cycles in the flow even after the process has reached steady
state. The safety margin must at least be as large these cycles; otherwise the surge controls
will be fighting the performance controls and will upset the process.
It can be beneficial for the operator to have control over the surge margin (within
limits). With this control, the operator has the benefit of knowing when the process is stable
and when it is possible to reduce the margin. If there is a process upset and the operating
point gets too close to the surge line, the margin can be automatically moved out. When
operation is steady again, the margin can be reduced.
It is also useful to know how much flow will be recycled while operating on the control
line. The engineering units of the safety margin will vary with the control system. Therefore, it
is desirable for the surge controller to convert the safety margin into units of flow. The
decision for setting the amount of the safety margin can be made more easily if it is based in
units of flow.

Transmitters Fault Tolerant Fallback Strategy

Quite often simplex transmitters are used to instrument a control system. Therefore, it
is advisable to plan for the inevitable failure because; even with redundant transmitters there
can be common mode failures such as plugged taps. If a failure is detected, it is common to
either fallback to a design value or to the last known good value.
Most anti-surge control systems can handle either a direct or square rooted DP
transmitter. However, one of the most common problems found during commissioning is that
the square root function of the flow transmitter is out of sync with the control system.
Another common problem is condensation in the transmitter tubing upsetting the flow
reading. It is best to locate the transmitter as close to the meter as possible. Also, it is best to

Figure 3
Conservative Surge Line
Surge Line used
for Controller
avoid vertical tubing runs (think of liquid trapped in a straw with your finger on top of
it); keeping the tubing off vertical will allow condensation to drain. Heat tracing the tubing also
helps avoid condensation problems.

Recycle Valves

In most cases, two recycle valves are sufficient for a charge gas compressor. If there
are too many recycle valves, the pressure ratio across each valve will be too small, resulting in
very large and expensive valves. As long as each stage can handle the flow requirement for a
downstream stage without choking, the stages can be grouped together under one recycle
It is best to avoid a recycle valve across the entire compressor. The pressure ratio
across a charge gas compressor is very high and can result in premature valve failure.
If there is a CO
removal system integral with the compressor train, it is recommended
that a check valve is installed upstream to keep the system pressurized after a unit trip. This is
another reason to avoid a recycle valve across the entire compressor since it will de-pressurize
the CO
removal system on a shut down.
Anti-surge valves need to be fast enough to respond to process upsets. In an Olefins
unit, several seconds is typically acceptable for full open travel. Closing speed is not that
important. Deadband should be no greater than .5 percent to avoid noticeable step changes to
the process. However, this should not be hard to achieve if a digital valve is used.
Anti-surge valves should be sized with at least a 30 percent flow margin above the flow
required to prevent surge at all operating conditions.
The governor valve and/or suction throttling valve should also be included in the
evaluation since each one impacts the compressor performance and surge control. Typically .5
percent or less deadband provides adequate control.

Commissioning the Anti-Surge Control System

Commissioning the Anti-Surge Controls for a Charge Gas Compressor can be quite a
juggling act. The compressor is typically started when there are several furnaces running and
the separations unit is ready to accept process flow. Most of the process at this time is
typically being flared and the last thing operations wants is to commission the surge controls.
After all the planning for a successful control system, it would be a shame not to fully
commission it. If planning is sufficient and is implemented with input from operations, it
should be possible to get the commissioning completed.
Fortunately, the process takes on flow slowly and there is typically plenty of time to
tune and test the surge controls while recycle is still required. However, this window will close
once the flow to the process is higher than the flow required for the surge line.
There are no hard rules regarding the sequence of steps that should be taken to
commission a surge controller. My preference is to start by tuning dynamics of the surge
controller in a safe zone away from surge. This can be done by making small step changes
that go unnoticed in the process but provide enough information to set and test the tuning
After tuning the surge controls, the next step is testing the surge line. As a minimum,
the operating point should be walked back to the surge line. If horsepower is a problem or
there is a probability that the compressor will operate on the control line for long periods, it is
justifiable to reduce the flow until surge is detected. My preference is to leave the controller in
automatic and reduce the safety margin. If a surge is detected, the surge controller will open
the valve faster than an operator could if it was in manual.
Typically a charge gas compressor has two or three recycle valves. The surge line can
be tested in sections defined by the recycle loops. When testing a section for surge be sure
that none of the other stages are close to their surge point. If the compressor does surge,
there will be minimal impact as long as only one section surges.
Normally, it is desired to maintain constant speed while surge testing. However, as the
operating point is moved toward the surge line, the process flow will increase. To maintain
constant flow to the process (and minimize operator stress), another recycle valve should be
opened further or the speed reduced.

After setting the surge line and normalizing the surge controller, the performance
controller should be placed in automatic and tested for stability with the surge controller. Step
changes should be made to both controllers in order to finalize tuning.


A comprehensive surge controller that incorporates an accurate surge line and stable
control features while complementing the performance control is key for success. In addition,
transmitters must be properly installed, valves must be strategically placed and have
responsive actuators. With planning, the surge controls can be properly commissioned. The
objectives to protect the compressor using minimal recycle flow and providing stable control
can be met.


Polytropic Head (H
) The head produced by a compressor in a polytropic process.


Where: R = Gas Constant, Z
= average compressibility across compressor,
Ts = Absolute Suction Temperature, Pd = Discharge Pressure,
Ps = Suction Pressure, = Polytropic Exponent


Where: k = Specific Heat Ratio, n
= polytropic efficiency

Control Line The line plotted on the surge control map that is the sum of the Surge Line plus
the Safety Margin. It is used to generate the setpoint for the surge controller.

Performance Control The control that is responsible for maintaining the forward flow to the
process. Typical compressor performance control is based on pressure (either suction or
discharge) or flow (either suction or discharge).

Safety Margin The horizontal distance between the Control Line and the Surge Line. The
safety margin is the range that the surge controller

Surge Line Line that defines where surge occurs on a compressor.

Operating Point Expressed as X-Y coordinates on a surge control map. The vertical axis
represents head and the horizontal axis represents flow.

Valve Deadband The amount the valve demand may be varied without any change in valve


Volume Flow The volume flow as measured by a head producing flow meter is a function of
the differential pressure across the meter and density.


Where h = DP across the meter
C is the flow meter constant


Where: MW = Molecular Weight, P = Pressure,
R = Gas Constant, T = Absolute Temperature,
Z = Compressibility

Substituting the terms for density into equation 3:


Brian Piercy
Turbomachinery Control Consultant
Invensys Operations Management
Year 2011 Spring National Meeting
Ethylene Producers Conference IL
h March 13 17, 2011
Objectives of Anti-Surge Control
Charge gas compressors are typically turbine-driven centrifugal
The objectives of anti-surge control covered in this presentation are: The objectives of anti surge control covered in this presentation are:
Protect Compressor from Surge
Maintain Stable Process Control
Minimize Energy Cost
Reliable Operation
Slide 2
Centrifugal Compressor
Return Bend
R t Rotor
Gas is drawn into the impeller and exhausts at
high velocity into the diffuser where it makes
a bend into the next impeller.
Slide 3
Conversion of Kinetic Energy to
P t ti l E Potential Energy
Velocity converted to Pressure Velocity converted to Pressure
If the pressure generated
is less than the process
fl ill
pressure, flow will
Slide 4
The Surge Cycle
Flow reversal - Load is immediately lost causing a thrust
Pressure ratio decreases while flow is reversed
Forward flow resumes - Load immediately returns causing a thrust
Cycle repeats, if corrective action is not taken
Slide 5
Consequences of Surge
Axial shift can wipe seals and damage bearings
Slide 6
Consequences of Surge
Production of upset and downstream processes is disrupted
Off spec product
Environmental impact due to flaring
Loss of load can result in overspeed trip
Slide 7
Compressor Performance Map
The performance map defines the flow produced by the compressor at
various speeds and head
Constant speed lines
Polytropic Head
Sonic velocity
So c e oc ty
Volume Flow
Slide 8
Polytropic Head and Flow Equations
Polytropic Head
y p


Volume Flow
s s
T Z R h

Head flow meter
s s

(orifice or venturi)
h = Flow Meter DP
Slide 9
Cancel Variables and Remove
C t t Constants
Polytropic Head


(Volume Flow)
h Z T
s s

Slide 10
Predicting Surge
Remove Constants and Cancel Variables
Head Term


Flow Term

Slide 11
Predicting Surge
If the polytropic exponent is constant, the map can be further reduced
Head Term Head Term
Flow Term
Slide 12
Surge Control Line
Slide 13
Anti-Surge Control Features
Recalibration of safety margin if surge is detected
PID Action with Adaptive Gain and Integral
Aggressive action as operating point reaches surge line
Fast Opening / Slow Closing of Recycle Valve
Decoupling with Suction Pressure Control
Slide 14
A ti S /S ti P C t l Anti-Surge /Suction Pressure Control
A charge gas compressor typically operates at constant pressure ratio
Traditionally a suction pressure controller is cascaded to a speed Traditionally, a suction pressure controller is cascaded to a speed
Discharge pressure is maintained by downstream separations unit
When furnaces are brought off line the suction pressure controller When furnaces are brought off line, the suction pressure controller
reduces speed to maintain pressure
Slide 15
Why Decoupling Is Required
In the example, if speed is reduced less than 90%, the compressor will
surge regardless of how fast the recycle valve is opened
Slide 16
Surge Mitigation Decreasing Load
When making large reductions in load:
Slowly Reduce Speed
Open a recycle valve to maintain suction pressure
Slide 17
Interaction with Suction Pressure
C t ll Controller
The recycle valve may be required to:
Maintain suction pressure controller if the turbine reaches
minimum governor
Protect an interstage pressure from lifting a relief valve
Slide 18
Charge Gas Compressor Train
Slide 19
Slide 20
Minimize Recycle Flow
Less recycle flow results in lower energy cost
Too much recycle flow can overload the turbine and cause loss of
speed control speed control
Display safety margin in units of flow
Slide 21
Recycle Valves
Actuator < .5% deadband and < 3 seconds opening time
Digital valve positioner is recommended
Size > 30% additional capacity above surge flow
Slide 22
Valve Sizing
Although more flow is required,
higher Delta P may result in smaller valve size
Although less flow is required,
lo er Delta P ma res lt in larger al e si e
Flow Term
lower Delta P may result in larger valve size
Slide 23
Flow Meter and Transmitter
Use a head producing flow meter: orifice or venturi or flow tube
Ensure the transmitter square root is configured correctly
Tubing should be sloped up to the transmitter do not run vertical or
Slide 24
Start by tuning the Surge PID Controller
Testing the surge line: Testing the surge line:
Ensure there is plenty of margin in the stages not being tested, in
the event that a surge does occur, it will only be for that stage.
With the controller in auto, decrease the safety margin
Decrease speed as necessary to maintain process flow
h f d f Watch for evidence of surging
Repeat for each stage
If possible perform test at two different speeds If possible perform test at two different speeds
Slide 25
Slide 26
Surge Detection
The signs of surge can be detected by the following:
Flow disturbance
Collapse of pressure ratio
Increased radial vibration
If there is one flow meter for several stages vibration analysis can be If there is one flow meter for several stages, vibration analysis can be
a useful tool to determine which stage is nearing surge
Slide 27