Modeling and Simulation of the Ammonia Synthesis Column

Automation and Mechatronics Department
University of Craiova
Al. I. Cuza Street, No. 13, 1100-Craiova
Abstract: - The paper presents the possibilities of simulation of steady and dynamic regimes for ammonia
synthesis columns. We present the possibilities of study of the dynamic regimes for automatic control of the
temperature in catalyst layers and propose an advanced control structure using the fresh gas flows between
catalyst layers as commands. We also present the possibilities of optimization of the column steady states to
obtain a higher conversion factor using the control of gas flows between the catalyst layers. This optimization
algorithm is part of the main advanced control program for the synthesis column.
Key-Words: - Advanced control system, modeling, simulation, ammonia plant synthesis

1 Introduction
Ammonia synthesis is the first stage in the
manufacturing of nitrous chemical products
(fertilizers, plastics, explosives, etc.). The direct
synthesis process, from basic gases (hydrogen and
nitrogen) needs a theoretical and experimental study
of the synthesis installation, in order to determine the
optimum working regimes. This is determined by:
1. The direct synthesis reaction N2 + H2 =NH3 is a
reversible exothermic reaction which must take
place at equilibrium to get a maximum
conversion rate.
2. The conversion rate depends of a series of
technological factors, the most important being:
temperature (the temperature increase leads to
ammonia decomposition, thus leading to
conversion rate decrease), catalyst activity
(which is decreasing in time because of catalyst
exhausting) and pressure. The maximum
ammonia concentration that can be obtained is
between 14% and 22% and depends of the
pressure and the temperature.
3. The synthesis columns are built with fixed
catalyst layer and there is no possibility to
control the temperature inside the catalyst layer.
To compensate this inconvenience, the columns
are built with multiple catalyst layers (Kellog
process), offering the possibility of introduction
of cold gas between the layers in order to reduce
the temperature and ammonia concentration at
the input into the next layer, thus increasing the
quantity of produced ammonia and the
conversion rate.

4. The catalyst is spent non-uniform, starting with
the first layer. Controlling the injection flows on
each layer leads to efficient use of the catalyst,
increasing the conversion rate on ending layers
while the beginning layers are exhausted, thus
increasing the quantity of produced ammonia
and the conversion rate.
5. The real catalyst activity can be different from
optimizing software based on real process
measurements, the real catalyst activity value
can be determined and further used for control.
Therefore, his paper tries to solve the following
- The development of simplified models and
programs for the column working regimes:
- The modeling of the steady states considering the
variations of the concentration and temperature along
the catalyst layers (the variation against the spatial
- The development of optimization procedures for
the steady states, using as optimization criteria the
maximum final conversion rate, and the calculation
of optimum cold gas flows to be injected between
- The modeling of the dynamic regimes considering
the catalyst layers as a lumped parameter system and
developing real time control software for the control
of temperatures and cooling flows.
- The development of fault detection and correction
algorithms (actuator blocking, malfunctioning of
temperature sensors) and control algorithms in fault
conditions for the column during the repair periods.

Finally. T . training. Romanian Chemical Industry) develop strong (NH3) from components. In order to obtain a simpler dynamic model for the CL1 synthesis column. Ta3. realize a maximum conversion of reactants can be obtained. xb0 partly from measurements in the real installations. x j a 0 aj 2 a2 a2i b2i Celsius. T0. xb0 dx F F F3. we obtain the following model for CL4 F1. xbj  j c ( x  x )  TRj c ( x  x )  j b0 bj j b0 bj R3 0 a0 temperature T0. in order to allow the ammonia production F3. nitrogen (N2) and research activities in the direction of engineering. we can obtain the block diagram of the ammonia synthesis column that is shown in figure 2. for given status and functional parameters F5. Thus. T0. xa3i. N F2. T3. (usually four layers). xa0. xa4. Many of ammonia in Dynamic Regime technology companies (for ex. Rj Tj j Rj aj bj Layer The synthesis reaction thatCatalyst. through flows F2. xa0and . From the analysis of the technological flow. operating and (p=150 bar) in a multi-layer synthesis column maintenance services. xb0 Mixer 4 FR4. Kellogg Brown & One of industrial procedures to obtain ammonia Root. NH the3equilibrium 3) below  H Rj K Tj (T j )V Rj ( x aj . T2. x . xb0 F4. x . xa0. Layer dt 1000 (4) R mixture (H2. T0. Synthesis column (1) FR2. Layer 1 u1 a) Heat Exchanger: Fj dTa1  (c p 0T0  c a Ta1 )  5. xb0 the synthesis column: Catalyst. takes place in2the catalyst O (2) layers is highly exothermic. and F4 introduced between catalyst layers atF a. xa0. T0. Ammonia is the primary feedstock for the 2 Column Modeling and Simulation nitrogenous fertilizer industry. control. hydrogen (H2) takes place at medium pressure construction. T . xb3i L new layer. The column structure is This paper try to develop a control strategy for presented in figure 1. We are taking into consideration the F3 reaction speeds that depend of the working temperature and pressure in each layer zone. which necessitate the use of advanced F1. During operation perturbing factors can appear. For each block we can write the mass balance equations for nitrogen and hydrogen and the thermal balance equation for the gas mix. T4. at a temperature T0 of 290-300 degree  c ( x  x )  c j ( x a 0  x aj )  F . Block Diagram . after coefficient correction and Heat Exchanger model validation. 1. x ) C the heat exchanger located at the column entrance. xb4 Fig. we get the following: dtb0 1000 1000 R Mixer 3 layers in order -direct gas cooling between catalyst  c Rj K Tj (T j )V Rj ( x aj . T0 control structures and appropriate control algorithms. xa0. xb0 b) Catalyst layer j The main feed of the synthesis column consist of Mixer 2 dx aj Fj FRj flow F1. xbj ) O to maintain the optimum reaction parameters in the (3) F3. Ta4. T5 at the reactor entrance and for fixed geometry of catalyst systems. the column was decomposed in F2 eight functional blocks. xa1. xa0. N2.0392(T4  Ta1 ) dt 1000 F1. xb1 Fig. xa4i. that is preheated to 400 degree Celsius in dt 1000 1000 u2 c K (T )V ( x . xbj ) value. CH4.increase per production unit. Layer 4 u4 F4. 2. xb4i Catalyst. T1. The coefficients appearing in the equations can be determined partly using the relations from literature F4 F1. u3 dT j  F j (c T  c T E)  -reduction of the ammonia concentration in the gas aj aj pj j Catalyst.

Fj = Fj-1 + FRj. The mathematical model of the synthesis column given by equations (1-7) was implemented in Matlab in order to study the column operation in dynamic regime.c) Mixer j dTaj F j 1  (c pj 1T pj 1  c pj T j )  dt 1000 FRj  (c p 0T0  c pj T j ) 1000  V Rj  0. temperature sensors mounted inside the catalyst layers and mixing areas are used to provide feedback for the control algorithms. .4 FR1=0.cj.751    Tj   (7) were: . to determine the sensitivity of the commands u1-u4 (see fig. F1 = 18860 Kmol/h.j  1. cpj are thermal and mass coefficients.Taj (j=1…4) are temperatures at the output of the mixer j .521  3 xbj (5) .xaj.7  K Tj  exp 27.60648  x  x 2  aj bj     0. cp1. F3=F1+FR1+FR2 .9 x aj       0. Because of the high cost of the gas concentration sensors. 2) reported to column parameters and the allowed ranges for commands and to determine the temperature ranges in the column for temperature sensors design. 0. table 1. xbj are the concentrations of the nitrogen and hydrogen on the layer j (6)   25107. cp0.Tj (j=1…4) are temperatures in the catalyst layer j The coefficient values are presented in Annex. . . 479  0. F4=F1+FR1+FR2+ FR3.60648  x  x 2  aj bj   3   xbj  F2=F1+FR2 .

we must determine the optimum cooling flows between the catalyst layers and working temperatures in the column. N2. FR4=600 Kmol/h. for each catalyst layer we can define the mathematical model of the process: a) Conversion rate dx aj S  V Raj (8) dz FMN 0 b) Heat accumulation inside the gas mix and catalyst dT j dz  S (  H Ra )V Raj FM c p (9) where: xAi = conversion rate on layer j. H2) concentrations in real and equilibrium conditions ( Tempkin-Pijev model).221. The program structure for advanced control of the synthesis column is presented in figure 4. The reaction speed can be represented as a function of catalyst used and reactants (NH3. gas composition). Also. -The catalytic reactions are taking place in quasi-homogenous layers.52  (10) Equilibrium concentrations and constants can be represented as a function of equilibrium conversion rate xc and fugacity coefficients for N2. H2 and NH3. In steady state. Periodically. DHRa=reaction enthalpy (depends on T). For advanced control. -Pressure losses on catalyst layers are negligible. T2=717 K. Advanced control algorithms determine these parameters periodically or on demand. The optimization algorithm is based on following hypotheses: -The equivalent reactor for each layer is considered adiabatic. In figure 3 is presented the dependence between the conversion rate and temperature for each layer. during operation. At the entrance in the new catalyst layer we determine the conversion rate: xj  xej 1F10 j F10   FRi (12) i and temperature F c T  FRa c pjT1 T j  m pm ej 1 ( Fm  FRa )c p (13) Relations (8-13) can be integrated using initial conditions x=0 and Ti0=T1 and we can obtain the optimum flow Fi and temperatures at the entrance of each layer: FR2=3000Kmol/h. using a hierarchical distributed control structure. T4=753 K and the final conversion is XA = 0.52 y N 2 3 *3 * p  yH 2 y N 2 y NH 3  y NH 3   y1H. using the current data from the process (temperatures. VRaj  K tj (T )   2 y*NH y1H. these flows can be used in the case of a temporary fault of the main feed (actuator fault for the flow F1) or in the case of catalyst exhaustion for the first or second layer. . -The gas flow through the catalyst layer can be approximated by a traveling model. cp = molar specific heat of the synthesis gas. Fmn0 =nitrogen molar flow at the reactor entrance. the conventional control of the ammonia synthesis column at the Kellogg ammonia plant from Craiova was replaced with numeric control (DCS and PLS). Tj = temperature on layer j. using an optimization algorithm. T3=734 K. based on optimum values provided by the optimization block. This strategy uses the flows F1 to F4 to get a maximum conversion rate and a maximum production for normal working conditions. Beside the standard software. The system provides the temperature and cooling flow control. pressures. the optimal procedure is called to compute the optimal flows F1 to F4 and optimal temperatures at the entrance and exit of every layer. FR3=1900 Kmol/h. Eventually we obtain an algebraic equation that gives us the equilibrium conversion rate: a2 xe2  2a1 xe  a0  0 (11) The real solutions of the equation represent the maximum possible value for the conversion rate. new software was developed to monitor and optimize the synthesis process. -The gas cooling is considered instantaneous compared with the mass and heat transfer inside the catalyst layer. 4 Advanced Control of Synthesis Columns in Fault Conditions In figure 2 is presented the block diagram of the advanced control system for the synthesis column.3 Optimization Procedures for the Maximum Final Conversion Rate In order to obtain maximum conversion rate of nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia. VRaj = reaction speed.

Accordingly we can define the error vector DE as a matrix function of fault vector DE. based on termochemical kinetics and data for the actual catalyst used in the process.06 0. using mathematical models. We can define the pairs that represent the direct channels fault-perturbed output: (F 2-T2. F2.08 0.2 0.  T2 p  T2m   Fig.16 0. we ran a computer simulation of the system. 3. 3 is represented the diagram of the temperatures and concentrations for each catalyst layer. 4. The conversion rate can be maintained.1 0.18 0. 5. -Improper preheated synthesis gas or improper pressure control in the compressor zone that can lead to important changes in hot gas temperature T i or flow Fi. Evolution of conversion rate and temperature for each layer For the first stage. Control structure development of control strategies for the synthesis column using the other available flows. that was verified throw . in certain conditions. The program allowed the simulation of different fault conditions as actuators blocking and allowed the Synthesis Column T1 .14 0.04 0. 6] we will obtain the block diagram. F3 and F4. -Changes of the heat transfer coefficients caused by build up inside or outside the superheater's pipes and coils. In fig. close to the normal but the ammonia DE   T3 p  T3m   T T   1 p 1m     F2    F   F3    T    i    (14)   Applying the analytical method principles presented [5.12 0.22 Fig. F3T3) and remains available the pair (T i-T1) even Ti can also modify simultaneously T2 and T3. The operating logs for some ammonia column from the ammonia plants have revealed a series of faults that can appear in the equipment or in the control structure: -Blocking or hysteresis operation of actuators for layer flows F1. Using the equations (1 .5) we can develop the block diagram presented in figure 5.790 780 770 760 750 740 730 720 710 700 690 680 670 T [K] Layer IV Layer III Layer II Layer I XA 0 0. The perturbations in synthesis system (T i and Fi) can also modify T1.T4 F1 . presented in fig.F4 Data acquisition and control Main program Fault detection x(i) Procedure Pattern-search F0 Subroutine MODEL F(i) Fa(i) F(i) Subroutine OPTIM production decreases with 25%.02 0. The results were very closed to the real data obtained from the process. It is necessary to highlight the action channels for these possible faults and the measurable outputs of the process that are directly and faster modified by these perturbations.

[4]. Crove. Craiova.40831 Layer III 2. 639 – 652.12793 0. Plenum Press. Chemical Plant Simulation. 1999. Swansea. Automatic Control of Industrial Processes. . M. M. Craiova. Fault Detection and Identification in Dynamic Systems .5. 5(5). E. M.635 1. C.01 0. Universitaria. Vinatoru. [5]. References: [1].504 1 5. 1997. E. Equation constants Const cj cRj caj Layer I 5. Vinatoru. Iancu. Budapest. M. 1991. [2].J.4763 Layer II 3. New T1p York. [6]. 537 . 1971. J.542. Sitech. E. Vinatoru. R.Patton. London. 1998.5225 . Iancu. Romania.. pp. C. pp. pp. R. Jennings. PrenticeHall. [7]. Simulation block diagram 5 Conclusions The program allows the operators from the control room to permanently evaluate the working conditions and compare them with the optimal values. R Isermann. An introduction. Vinatoru. fault detection and fault diagnosis methods. . 2001. vol. Ed. [3].5225 0. C. M. 2.992 Layer IV 0.4673 0. International Conference on Control'98. ANNEX Table 1. Supervision. Robust control for actuator failures. Proceedings of 2nd IFAC Symposium ROCOND'97. Chen. Catalytic Ammonia Synthesis: Fundamentals and Practice. 1997. Iancu. 964-968. Vînătoru. Control Engineering Practice. England. J. University of Wales. Tgi Fi Real Tg0 T2* PI control T3* DE2 DE3 Detect T3p Process Ft AC2 Y1 Fault Synthesis AC1 PI control DE1 T2p Xc1 Y2 Synthesis Xc1 Y3 Tgi Process Simulator T1m T2m T3m Tg0 Fault display Fig.514 3. Fault Isolation Using Inverse Sensitivity Analysis.It allows the simple adaptation to the real optimal working conditions.It allows the permanent control of process parameters. Vînătoru.simulation.

4621 2.cpj 5.01 0.5048 3.5225 .

11229 .2133 0.21229 0.cp0 0.11239 0.