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Petrotech-2010

31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

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Paper ID : 20100732

Optimize Sour Water Stripper Feed Preheating For Low Capital
Cost

Sunil Singhal
Fluor Daniel India Pvt. Ltd., Gurgaon, India
Email: sunil.singhal@fluor.com

Abstract

As the environmental regulations on the pollutant levels in aqueous discharges are becoming more
stringent, sour water needs to be processed to very low levels of NH
3
and H
2
S in stripped water. This
is the reason that Sour Water Stripper (SWS) is the essential part of any modern refinery. Stripper
column is the main equipment in SWS unit, which requires very careful design and optimization.

In a sour water stripper column, the most common design practice is to minimize operating cost by
increasing stripper feed preheating temperature with stripped water in stripper feed/bottoms
exchanger. Typically 35
o
F temperature approach is used between stripped water inlet and stripper
feed. However, this approach does not always provide optimum stripper feed preheating temperature.
If stripper feed temperature is increased beyond a certain range, capital cost increases rapidly without
any significant saving in operating cost.

This paper discusses a systematic approach and methodology for the optimization of pumparound
type stripper feed preheat to achieve a low overall capital cost of SWS unit, without any significant
increase in overall operating cost.

A case study is presented, which analyses the impact of stripper feed preheat on overall capital cost
and operating cost. An Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for a payback period of 3 years is calculated for
the incremental capital cost at various stripper feed temperatures with respect to a base temperature
of 135
o
F to achieve an optimum point. This base temperature corresponds to no stripper
feed/bottoms exchanger in the unit. The IRR curve concludes that stripper feed preheat with one
stripper feed/bottoms exchanger shell in series i.e., stripper feed preheat with 65
o
F and above
temperature approach fall in the economic range, below that it is not economical to preheat the
stripper feed.
1 Introduction

A flow diagram of a typical sour water stripping system is shown in Figure 1. The sour water feed is
passed through a separator where floatable light oil and heavy sludge are removed. It is next
collected in a feed storage tank, which serves to smooth out flow rate and composition changes. Sour
water from the storage tank is heated in stripper feed/bottoms (F/B) exchanger by hot stripped water
from the stripper bottoms and fed to the stripping column. As the sour water falls down the column,
H
2
S and NH
3
are stripped by vapors from the bottom of the column. Rather than adding more water to
the column by introducing live steam, a reboiler is used to boil sour water at a minimum column
operating pressure with low pressure steam allowing recovery and return of steam condensate to the
boiler house. H
2
S, NH
3
and water vapor rise to the column cooling section, which is controlled at 180-
190
o
F by cooled pumparound (P/A) sour water from the middle of the column.

Overhead gases flow by pressure control to sulfur recovery unit (SRU). Stripped water is collected
from the column bottom and flows through stripper feed/bottoms exchanger in which it is cooled by
sour water feed to the column. Stripped water is further cooled in stripped water cooler. After being
cooled in stripped water cooler, stripped water is pumped on level control off site for further water
processing or it can be used in the crude unit desalter which operates as a liquid/liquid extractor by
transferring up to 95% of the phenols in water into atmospheric crude feed. The stripped water can
also be used in the hydro-processing units as wash water, if there are no phenols and cyanides in the
sour water.

Petrotech-2010
31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

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Fig. 1. Pumparound sour water stripper.

Two basic stripper column designs are common in the industry. A conventional stripper has a reboiler,
overhead condenser and reflux system. A pumparound stripper uses an internal, direct contact
condenser in the top section of the stripper with an externally cooled circulating water stream to cool
the overhead vapor (Fig. 1). The obvious difference between the two systems is the cooling method
for the overhead stream before sending it to SRU.

A pumparound stripper is used in this case study. The pumparound stripper column consists of three
sections. The bottom section of the column below feed tray is called stripping section, where acid gas
is stripped off from the feed by heat provided in the reboiler. The acid gas along with water vapor then
goes to the rectifying section, where part of the water vapor is condensed with reflux water and the
acid gas is stripped off from the reflux water. The acid gas then flows to the pumparound section
where most of the water vapor is condensed with the cold pumparound liquid flowing down.
1.1 Pumparound Stripper Operating Variables

Operating variables affecting pumparound stripper column performance for a given feed composition,
flow rate and stripped water H
2
S and NH
3
content are (1) column pressure, (2) overhead vapor
temperature, (3) pumparound return temperature and (4) stripper feed temperature. Lowering column
pressure will permit lowering reboiler steam rate, while meeting product specifications. Generally
strippers should operate at the lowest pressure possible that will allow overhead gases to get through
the control system and into the SRU. Generally, SWS overhead vapors must be kept at 180
o
F or
above to avoid forming ammonium polysulfide solids precipitation that will plug anything. The
pumparound return temperature is generally limited by pumparound cooler cold end temperature
approach. Stripper feed temperature plays an important role in determining reboiler steam rate,
stripper column diameter, pumparound cooler duty, pumparound flow, stripped water cooler duty and
stripper feed / bottoms exchanger duty.
1.2 Stripper Feed Temperature Optimization

In a sour water stripper column, the most common design practice is to minimize reboiler duty by
increasing stripper feed preheating temperature with stripped water in stripper feed/bottoms
exchanger. Typically 35
o
F temperature approach is used between stripped water inlet and stripper
feed. However in this approach, if the feed over-flashes in the column at feed tray, the vapor load
going to column pumparound section increases significantly and results in an increase in pumparound
cooler duty. Typically, the column reboiler duty is reduced approximately 20% of the preheating duty,
while the pumparound cooler duty is increased approximately 80% of the additional preheating duty at
the same time. In other words, total energy is still balanced. The increase in pumparound cooler duty
increases pumparound flow which in turn increases liquid traffic in the column pumparound section
and thereby increases column diameter in the pumparound section.
Petrotech-2010
31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

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If the stripper feed temperature is increased beyond an optimum range, the pumparound section
column diameter required is larger than that of the stripping section and governs the overall column
diameter. Although there are much less number of trays in pumparound section as compared to the
stripping section in sour water stripper column. However by optimizing the stripper feed temperature,
the overall SWS unit capital cost can be reduced significantly without any significant increase in
overall unit operating cost.
2 Case Study

A case study was carried out for a 750 gpm (@ 60
o
F) SWS unit in one of the project to study the
impact of stripper feed temperature on unit capital and operating costs. Stripper feed temperature
optimization was also carried out.
2.1 Basis of the Study

The study is based on the following input data.

Table 1 Sour Water Feed and Stripped Water Conditions

Table 2 Sour Water Stripper Column Operating Conditions

Table 3 Operating Cost Basis

2.2 Impact of Stripper Feed Temperature

The variables that are affected by stripper feed temperature variation are tabulated in Table 4. The
column operating conditions, numbers of stages in various sections of the column, tray details, sour
water feed and stripped water specifications are kept constant in Table 4.
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31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

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Table 4 Effect of Stripper Feed Temperature Variation on Various Parameters in SWS Unit

2.2.1 Impact on Column Diameter

The variation in column diameter for all sections with stripper feed temperature is shown in Figure 2.


Fig. 2 Column Diameter vs. Stripper Feed Temperature

As we can see in Figure 2, at stripper feed temperatures greater than 160 °F the column diameter in
pumparound section is larger than the stripping section and determines the overall column diameter.
The rectifying section column diameter is smaller than that of the stripping section as well as
pumparound section for whole range of stripper feed temperatures. Also we can see that the slope of
pumparound section column diameter curve (0.0359) is approximately nine times of that of the
stripping section (0.0038), which means that the column diameter in pumparound section increases
very significantly with increase in stripper feed temperature, without any significant decrease in
stripping section column diameter. Hence the overall column diameter increases very significantly with
increase in stripper feed temperature beyond 160
o
F.
Petrotech-2010
31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

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2.2.2 Impact on Overall Capital and Operating Costs

The total capital cost of all affected equipment and total operating cost of all affected utilities such as
power and steam are tabulated below in Table 5. The Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for a payback
period of 3 years is also calculated in Table 5. The base temperature for column feed is considered as
135 °F, at which there is no stripper feed/bottoms exchanger required. The IRR is calculated for
incremental capital investment to increase the stripper feed temperature to various degrees in stripper
feed/bottoms exchanger. The change in capital and annual operating cost is calculated with respect to
135 °F feed temperature case.

Table 5 Effect of Stripper Feed Temperature on Capital Cost
(1)
, Operating Cost and IRR



Notes:
(1)
Capital cost is taken from Aspen Kbase.

The variation in overall capital and operating costs with stripper feed temperature is shown in Figure
3.The variation in IRR with stripper feed temperature is plotted in Figure 4 below:

1.5
1.6
1.7
1.8
1.9
2.0
2.1
2.2
2.3
2.4
2.5
2.6
2.7
2.8
2.9
3.0
3.1
130 140 150 160 170 180 190 200 210 220 230 240
Feed Temperature (°F)
C
o
s
t

(
M
M

U
S
D
)
Capital Cost
Annual Operating Cost


Fig. 3 Overall Capital and Operating Cost vs.
Stripper Feed Temperature


0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
130 140 150 160 170 180 190 200 210 220 230 240
Feed Temperature (°F)
I
R
R
3 Years


Fig. 4 IRR vs. Stripper Feed Temperature
As it can be seen from Figure 3, the total capital cost increases very rapidly with stripper feed
temperature. However, the decrease in total annual operating cost is relatively slow.


Petrotech-2010
31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

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3 Conclusions

The conventional approach does not always provide optimum stripper feed preheating temperature. It
has to be properly optimized for each case, as it depends on feed composition, column configuration,
column operating conditions and product specifications. A properly optimized stripper feed
temperature can save a significant amount on capital cost with a marginal penalty on annual operating
cost. A designer can choose an optimum stripper feed temperature for a sour water stripper column
on the basis of industry’s economic design criteria. For example, the stripper feed temperatures below
190 °F fall in the economic range for minimum IRR criteria of 30% for 3 years payback period in this
case study. In other words stripper feed preheat with 65
o
F and above temperature approach fall in
the economic range, below that it is not economical to preheat the stripper feed.

The optimized stripper feed temperature results in a net decrease in overall capital cost because of
reduction in pumparound cooler size, pumparound pump size, column size and stripper feed/bottoms
exchanger size. The size reduction on pumparound cooler, pumparound pump and column are very
significant as all these equipment are made of stainless steel. Though the sizes of reboiler and
stripped water cooler increase at the optimized stripper feed temperature but their impact on overall
capital cost is not that significant because of carbon steel metallurgy.

The optimized stripper feed temperature results in a net increase in annual operating cost because of
increase in reboiler steam consumption and stripped water cooler fan power. Though there is a net
reduction in total power consumption because of reduction in pumparound pump and pumparound
cooler fan power.

The IRR curve (Fig. 4) has a peak at stripper feed temperature of approximately 160 °F. This is
because at 160 °F, the column diameter in pumparound section is same as in stripping section. The
uniform diameter across the column implies that the vapor/liquid traffic is uniformly distributed
throughout the column and the preheating duty supplied to the column is effectively used. At higher
stripper feed temperatures the vapor/liquid traffic across the column becomes non-uniform as excess
heat goes to column pumparound section, where it has to be discarded. Thus at higher stripper feed
temperatures the additional preheating duty supplied to the column is not effectively used and results
in a decrease in IRR.

References

1. Armstrong, T.R., “Optimize sour water treatment,” Hydrocarbon Processing, June 2003.
2. Armstrong, T.R., B. Scott, K. Taylor and A. Gardner, “Refining details handbook,” Today’s
Refinery, June 1996.
3. Refining Processes Handbook, Chapter 9 Refinery Water Systems, Page 261-269.
4. Kohl A and Nielsen R, Gas Purification, Fifth Edition, Chapter 4 Removal and Use of Ammonia in
Gas Purification, Page 302-303.