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HOW CRITICAL ARE THE BYPASS LINES IN CHEMICAL PROCESS INDUSTRIES
The absence of by-pass on critical lines may interfere with the smooth operation of plants. Introduction Design of Chemical Process plants needs several considerations .A proper design should include considerations for start-up and shut-down operations, continuous production as well as some emergency operations. Some of the factors that are considered during plant design include provision for high point vents, low point drains, by-pass lines, suitable design margins, pressure / vacuum safety systems etc. Each of the above factors has specific importance from process point of view. This article mainly emphasizes the criticality of bypass lines for process plants. Scope of the article This article gives the precise meaning of the term “bypass “. It also includes the difference between bypass, recycle and side stream along with the other topics like provision and need for bypass in various process units and equipments. However the topics like sizing of bypass lines, cost estimation for bypass lines, selection of materials of construction for bypass lines depending on various applications etc. are beyond the scope of this article. What is meant by a Bypass? The term bypass means to go round or avoid something .In a Chemical Process Plant a bypass stream indicates a stream that skips one or more stages of process and goes or joins directly to another downstream stage . A stage of the process means a step or an activity which may lead to change in the composition, temperature, pressure etc. of a stream. In some cases a stage also implies to the measurement or control of certain parameters associated with the process stream like flow, temperature, pressure, density, pH etc. For example, a stage in a process could be subjecting a stream to various operations like Distillation, Absorption, Adsorption, Heat Transfer etc.

Difference between Bypass and Recycle There exist a difference between the term Bypass and Recycle. Recycle involves returning back a part of material and hence energy that leaves a particular stream back to the unit for its further processing or utilization. Aim of recycling is to make use
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of materials or energy of the process.

Process 1
Stream 1
Figure 1

Process 2
Stream 2 Figure: 1

Figure: 1 indicates that a part of stream 2 is recycled back to stream 1 and fed to process 1 As already mentioned bypass means skipping of a process. Aim of bypass could be to account for process variations if any.
Stream 1 Stream 2

Process 1
Bypass Stream
Figure: 2

Process 2

Figure: 2 indicate that entire stream 1 bypass the process 1 and are fed to process 2. Difference between bypass and side stream The term side stream is often a source of confusion for bypass. One should clearly understand the difference between these two terminologies. Side stream indicates a stream that is some part of the main stream. Bypass stream indicates a stream that is the main stream which is diverted as per process requirement
Stream1 Stream 2 Stream 3
Figure: 3

Process 1

Process 2

As shown in Figure: 3, stream 3 is a side stream provided Mass flow rate of stream 1 = (Mass flow rate of stream 2) + (Mass flow rate of stream 3) Else if: Mass flow rate of stream1 = Mass flow rate of stream 3; Then: Stream 3 is the bypass stream for process 1 in the absence of stream 2.

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Provision and need of bypass for various units and equipments used in 'chemical process industries'. 1) Strainers: Strainers are filters used usually on pump suction lines, steam condensate return lines, product feed line prior to storage etc. During continuous plant operation foreign materials get trapped in the strainers thereby reducing its efficiency. Hence usually these are provided with a bypass arrangement so that even if the strainer is removed for maintenance from its place, the process fluid can be routed from bypass lines without disturbing the operation.

Strainer

Figure: 4

Figure: 4 indicate a bag filter with a provision for isolation. The valve on the bypass line when open permits the flow of process fluid to bypass the filter. 2) Control Valves (C.V.): All automatic control valves must be provided with bypass arrangements. This provision is very critical for control valves because of their prime importance in control of flow, pressure, temperature, level etc. Sometime during normal plant operation some components of the valve may fail and needs to be repaired. In this case although the control action is stopped, flow of fluid can be maintained through the bypass line.
Pneumatic Signal

CV Figure: 5

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Figure: 5 indicate a control valve with a provision for isolation. 3) Flow Meters: These are used to measure flow (either on volumetric basis or mass basis) of the streams where these are installed. Most commonly used flow meters in industries are glass tube rotameters, metal tube rotameters, mass flow meters, vortex meters, magnetic flow meters etc. Some of these also totalize the flow. The bypass for these lines is critical because if the measuring element in the meter fails, then these are removed from line and the flow is directed from bypass line .In the absence of bypass the process will have to be stopped if the flow meter fails. 4) Heat Exchangers: Most of the chemical operations require heat transfer of one fluid with the other. The heat transfer can be in the form of sensible or latent heat transfer .This heat transfer with shell and tube heat exchangers, plate heat exchangers and so on. Sometimes due to process fluctuations it may become essential to bypass some of the streams from the heat exchanger (which are otherwise during normal operations are allowed to pass through the heat exchanger) .In such cases the provision for bypass becomes critical.

Cold Fluid Out

Bypass for Cold Side

Hot Fluid Out

Cold Fluid In

Bypass for Hot Side

Hot Fluid In
Figure: 6

Figure: 6 indicate a PHE with a provision for bypass on hot as well as cold side. 5) Steam and Condensate Lines: Steam is one of the major utilities in process plants .Usually for any requirement, controlled steam flow is provided .The steam flow control valves are provided with bypass. It is very probable that the valve may either leak or fail and hence the bypass is a
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must. The steam condensate return lines are provided with steam traps of various types like float type, bucket type etc. depending on the design requirements . These traps have facility of bypass so that during their maintenance, the lines are routed through bypass.
Strainer Steam Trap

Figure: 7

Figure: 7 indicate a strainer and steam trap with isolation valves and provision for bypass. 6) Agitators/ Mixers: Fluids are agitated either for uniformity of mixture or for better heat and mass transfer .Sometimes due to any process variations / fluctuations the agitation has to be skipped. For such option bypass is provided. 7) Tanks and Receivers: The processing of raw materials into products in plants follows a series of steps. At times these steps involve collection of intermediate products in receivers and storage of final products into tanks. Sometimes due to several reasons like failure of steam, contamination of raw materials, improper heat and mass transfer etc. the final product does not confirm to required quality. In such cases the product instead of storing to tanks is bypassed to another receiver or recycled back to plant.

Disadvantages of Bypass: The provision of bypass for the above units has following disadvantages:       In case of strainers, if the stream is routed through bypass, any deposits in the stream will not be filtered and carried to further process. In case of control valves, use of bypass will result in an uncontrolled flow of fluid to the process which may disturb the system. In case of mass flow meters, due to bypassing, the controlling and tantalization of stream will not be carried out. In case of PHE, if PHE is removed for maintenance, the process stream due to bypassing will not be able to exchange the required heat with the other fluid. In case of steam trap, bypassing of trap results in loss of steam through the trap along with the condensate. In case of agitators, bypassing of agitation leads to improper mixing and poor heat
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and mass transfer. In addition to above disadvantages, the prime factor involved is cost of the plant .The provision for bypass for various units may be a good design practice but can be the main cause of over budget for the plant and hence may have to be omitted for economic reasons. It is the plant designer who then has to optimize the design between technical aspects and economic considerations. Limitations to the use of bypass: There are some limitations to the use of bypass for any unit. 1) Line size: If the line size for bypass is larger than the provision of bypass can be overlooked due to the cost involved. 2) Criticality of operation: Some lines in process plants are comparatively less critical than others (e.g. the process water line may be less critical as compared to steam line).For such lines the bypass can be eliminated. 3) Exceptional cases: In some plants various operating units are provided with other standby units. In such cases there is no need for bypass lines since even if the operating unit fails, the process can be continued through the standby unit. Conclusion: With the above illustrations, the article thus explains the criticality of bypass lines in process plants with their proper locations for some of the units. It should be clearly understood that provision of bypass is a sound engineering practice but it affects the cost of plant and the criticality of the operation which decides whether bypass needs to be provided or eliminated.
*First published at “Process & Plant Engineering” in January –March 2005.

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