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Design and scale-up of Multitubular reactors

Mark Matzopoulos1, Process Systems Enterprise Limited, 5th Floor East, 26-28
Hammersmith Grove, London W6 7HA, UK
Bart de Groot1, Hassan Mumtaz1, Mayank Patel1

Multitubular reactors are widely used for fixed-bed catalytic reactions, but good
design and operation are challenging. A good design eliminates danger areas where
hot spots can occur. This is achieved by adjusting reactor specifications to provide
optimal heat control. Detailed modelling is the only reliable way to accurately predict
heat transfer at all points throughout the reactor.
The approach allows the effects of changes to design variables (such as the catalyst
characteristics, the catalyst/inert ratio, tube pitch, tube length, coolant velocity, feed
reactant mass fraction, number of baffles, cooling water inlet temperature as well as
the number of active reactors and numerous other quantities) on key performance
indicators (such as throughput, conversion and yield, tube-side temperature profiles
and catalyst lifetime) to be calculated to a very high degree of predictive accuracy.
Multitubular reactors are complicated units that have been very difficult to model in
the past because of the complex catalytic reactions taking place in the tubes, the
large number of tubes, and the interrelationship between exothermic reaction in the
tubes and the shell-side cooling medium.
The approach takes into account the close coupling between the tube-side
phenomena and the shell-side heat transfer and hydrodynamics. The main advance
of the techniques described here over existing simulation approaches are that (1)
tube models incorporate high-accuracy first-principles representation of catalytic
reaction, species diffusion and bed heat transfer, including intra-particle and surface
effects, (2) models are validated against companies own laboratory and pilot plant
data and (3) mathematical optimisation techniques are used to determine the optimal
values of multiple design variables simultaneously rather than by trial-and-error
The final design is verified using a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of the
shell side to ensure that no mechanical constraints such as shell-side fluid velocities
are violated.

An integrated modelling/experimental design methodology is presented which uses

specially-designed experimental procedures to obtain accurate estimates of the key
kinetic and heat transfer parameters from a limited number of carefully targeted
experiments. Formal model-based parameter estimation techniques ensure that
parameter interaction is taken into account and provide parameter confidence
information for subsequent risk analysis.
The approach is illustrated using the design of a high-performance new reactor for
the manufacture of propylene oxide. Apart from reactor design, the techniques can
be used for a wide range of applications including minimisation of design risk, new
catalyst design and assessment, derivation of safe and effective start-up procedures,
control design, and maximisation of operational flexibility. The techniques described
can also be used for operational decision support and troubleshooting. They apply to
a variety of reactors, including those for the production of methanol, acrylic acid and
Fischer-Tropsch synthesis for gas-to-liquid applications.