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Issue 3

A p p l y i n g Va c u u m Te c h n o l o g y

Understanding Process Vacuum Condensers

Process vacuum condensers are an integral part of a vacuum system
So often, a process vacuum condenser is considered stand-alone equipment, with little consideration given to how best to integrate
it into a vacuum system. Common practice has the vacuum condenser specified as just another heat exchanger. There is a benefit to
evaluating the condenser and vacuum system as a complete unit. The benefits are reduced operating cost, less environmental impact,
lower capital cost and improved product reclamation. Evaluate a process vacuum condenser and vacuum system as a complete unit so
an optimal engineering answer is realized.

Terminology Where to Begin

It is most advantageous for
An overview of terminology is impor- particular processes to use a
tant since definitions may vary from vacuum condenser ahead of a
one engineer to the next. vacuum system. A preliminary
● Precondenser. A vacuum condenser assessment of the application Motive fluid

positioned after a process vessel, is appropriate to determine

such as a still, evaporator or distilla- vacuum condenser design. Key
tion column, but before the vacuum variables to assess include:
system. In this issue, a precondenser Pressure drop importance. Ejector

is the process vacuum condenser. This analysis should consider

● Intercondenser. A vacuum condenser pressure drop between the Motive fluid
situated between two stages of vac- process vessel and vacuum
uum producing equipment, for exam- condenser, pressure drop vessel
ple, two ejector stages. across the condenser and pres- under Intercondenser
● Vent condenser. A vacuum condenser sure drop between the con-
sometimes placed behind a precon- denser and vacuum system.
denser. It uses a chilled cooling fluid Behavior of the conden-
to affect additional condensation and sate. Does a single compo-
product recovery. nent condense? If there are
● Surface type condenser. A condenser multiple condensables, are Typical equipment layout
with a heat transfer surface that sep- the condensates immiscible, showing process vessel, Aftercondenser

arates vapors undergoing condensa- ideally miscible or nonideally precondenser and ejector system.
tion from a cooling fluid. miscible?
● Barometric condenser. A direct contact The amount of noncondensable gases. Noncondensable gases may come from the
condenser where vapors and cooling process itself or air leakage.\
fluid are in contact with each other. Do any of the components freeze at the colder temperatures? This is particularly
● Immiscible condensate. When multi- common for applications in plastics, resins and plasticizer processes.
ple vapors condense and the con- Do any of the components undergo exothermic or endothermic chemical reactions?
densate formed does not mix, such For example, ammonia vapor and water react exothermically and that adds to the heat
as oil and water. duty that must be rejected by a condenser.
● Miscible condensate. When multiple Is there reliable physical property, vapor pressure and vapor-liquid equilibrium
vapors condense and the condensate data available?
mixes, like water and ethylene glycol. 1.
Different Vacuum Condenser Configurations

tions used. If condensates are miscible,

whether ideally or nonideally, the con-
densate should remain in intimate con-
tact with the vapors so each is at the
same temperature. Common practice for
miscible condensates is tubeside con-
densing, since the vapors and condensate
remain in contact with each other and
are at the same temperature.
Tubeside condensing meets the pri-
mary objective of contact and identical
Shellside condensing E-shell design temperature but it is not always a practi-
cal choice. High-vacuum applications
result in a massive volumetric flowrate,
which cannot effectively be managed
with tubeside condensing. For example,
50,000 pounds per hour (pph) of mixed
hydrocarbon vapors (MW-80) at 15 torr
and 300˚F is 293,000 actual cubic feet per
minute (ACFM). For in-tube condensing
the condenser size is a 100 x 72 AXL
because so many tubes are required to
ensure reasonable vapor velocity. When
shellside condensing is chosen, the bun-
dle layout may be opened to increase
cross-sectional flow area to maintain
Shellside condensing X-shell design reasonable velocities. The comparable
unit based on shellside condensing is a
66 x 144 AXL, substantially smaller and
less expensive.
Pressure Drop tem and causes the vacuum condenser to Specialized designs can accommodate
Pressure drop is a parasitic loss of unit be larger. A well-designed process vacuum miscible condensates on the shellside,
efficiency. That is true for any system and condenser will not have pressure drop of and for most applications, it is less
is not a unique phenomenon of vacuum more than 10 percent of the operating expensive to condense high-volumetric
condensers. However, the effect is more pressure. Lower pressure drop is the flowrates shellside.
significant because of the vacuum condi- result of specialized designs for high-
tion. A 5 torr pressure drop is only 0.1 vacuum applications. A high vacuum Noncondensable Gas
pounds per square inch (psi), however, at process condenser is not like an ordinary Vacuum condenser size and reclamation
15 torr operating pressure it is a 33 per- heat exchanger. It has a markedly different efficiency is greatly influenced by the
cent loss in pressure. Pressure drop is an tube field layout and baffle arrangement. amount of noncondensable gas. An accu-
important engineering constraint that rate determination of noncondensable
must be minimized. Condensate Behavior gas is critical. Erring on the conservative
Pressure drop reduces product recla- The type of condensate formed affects side is recommended. The table shows the
mation in the vacuum condenser, increas- condenser design. Furthermore, the type amount of noncondensable gas is directly
es the size and cost of the vacuum system, of condensate formed determines the proportional to the amount of condensa-
adds to the utility use of the vacuum sys- type of vapor-liquid equilibrium calcula- ble vapors not condensed. The greater the

Equations for Predicting the
Amount of Vapor Not Condensed
Immiscible Ideally miscible Nonideally miscible
condensate condensate condensate
Mnc Mnc Mnc

Mj =
( (( ((
MWnc (

Mj =
( (( (( ((
VPj xj MWj (
Mj =
( (( (( (( ((
gj VPj xj MWj (
close to the vacuum vessel as possible to
n minimize the costly impact of pressure
(S (
( S [( (( ([(

i =1
VPi xi
( S ( ([( (( ([(
i =1
gj VPi xi drop. Remember, a piping pressure drop
of 2 torr at 10 torr operating pressure has
Terms: more impact than a 10 torr piping loss at
M = Mass flowrate, pph Subscript: 75 torr operating pressure.
VP = Vapor pressure, torr j = Condensable component
MW = Molecular weight, lb/lb mole being evaluated Design Software
P = Pressure, torr nc = Noncondensable gases There is a lack of commercially available
x = Mole fraction in condensate i = All components that condense software available to accurately design or
g = Activity coefficient performance check process vacuum con-
densers when the operating pressure is
noncondensable gases, the greater the drop altogether. If there is piping below 40 torr. Almost invariably, the
amount of condensable vapors that exit between the process vessel and vacuum commercial software will result in high-
the condenser with the noncondensables. condenser, a hydraulic analysis of the pressure drop and, consequently, poor
If noncondensable loading doubles, there piping is necessary for the condenser reclamation efficiency. Therefore, prod-
is twice the amount of condensable design. The same is true for piping down- uct recovery suffers, the vacuum system
vapors that will not condense, assuming stream of the condenser. It is always capital and operating costs appreciably
operating pressure and temperature are preferable to install the condenser and increase, and less than optimal designs
constant. Additionally, the amount of first stage of the vacuum equipment as are installed.
noncondensable gas changes the shape of
the heat release curve. Greater amounts Heat Release Curve - LMTD = 30.7˚F
of noncondensable gas result in larger Transfer rate = 190 Btu/hr ft2 F
Low Noncondensibles Area = 240 ft2
vacuum condensers and lower effective
Temperature - ˚F


logarithmic mean temperature differ- 120

Steam and air
ences (LMTDs).
The graphs are an example of 100 torr
operating pressure and 1500 pph of steam
plus either 10 pph of air or 500 pph or air. Cooling water
The cooling fluid enters at 85˚F and exits at 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800
100˚F. Process vapors are cooled to 100˚F.
Heat released - Btu/hr (thousands)

Freezing or Reactions
If the process fluids undergo freezing or Heat Release Curve - LMTD = 19.8˚F
Transfer rate = 135 Btu/hr ft2 F
some type of chemical reaction, it must High Noncondensibles Area = 450 ft2
Temperature - ˚F

be properly accounted for and identified.
There are specialized designs for each of
those particular applications. 110
Steam and air

Equipment Layout 90
Cooling water
The positioning of a vacuum process con- 80
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400
denser is important. There are designs
where the condenser is mounted directly Heat released - Btu/hr (thousands)
on top of the process vessel to permit
refluxing of condensate into the process Comparison of low and high noncondensable unit design. Note the change in shape of
vessel or to eliminate piping pressure the heat release curve and the effect that has on LMTD and exchanger size. 3.
Styrene Example
Overhead vapors consist of 10,000 pounds per hour (pph) of styrene at an operating pressure
of 51 torr and 150˚F; 200 pph air leakage is included as well. The following table describes
how much styrene is condensed at different temperatures. The comparison is an isobaric
assessment, with no pressure drop, vs. a 5 torr pressure drop.
Approximately 150 pph of styrene
Isobaric Case
was not reclaimed at 120˚F
Temperature Vapor Condensate % Condensed because of pressure drop; 817
140 2753 7247 72.5 pph of styrene remains a vapor
rather than 663 pph. That pres-
130 1168 8832 88.3 sure drop could be from piping or
120 663 9337 93.4 caused by the condenser. The
additional 150 pph that remains
vapor is lost revenue and now
5% Pressure Drop Case
must be handled by the vacuum
Flasher process vacuum condenser
Temperature Vapor Condensate % Condensed system. The vacuum system loads
with piping from the process vessel to
become 1720 actual cubic feet per
140 5282 4718 47.5 condenser.
minute (ACFM) rather than 1395
130 1574 8426 84.2 ACFM, or stated differently, 1017
120 817 9183 91.8 pph at 46 torr rather than 863
pph at 51 torr.
Pressure drop is always present, however, the illustration demonstrates the importance of min-
imizing pressure drop. Pressure drop is a parasitic loss of process efficiency that only adds to
capital and operating costs.

Companies specializing in this field effective integration of the process vacu-

have proprietary software and special- um condenser design into a condenser-
ized engineering experience to develop vacuum equipment system. To take full
the right answer for each unique applica- advantage of this, you need to understand
tion. Bundle design and tube layouts are the options. The benefits, limitations, cap-
vastly different from that normally used ital costs and environmental impact vary
for typical shell and tube type condensers. based on the approach taken. To ensure the
maximum advantages, involve a vacuum
Summary equipment vendor with proven experi-
There is much to consider when a process ence in design, manufacture and installa-
vacuum condenser is required. The initial tion of high vacuum process condensers Fatty alcohol distillation column with the
strategy must involve evaluating the as early as possible. By evaluating the var- vacuum condenser attached directly to
condenser and vacuum equipment as one ious options, the right engineering answer the distillation column. No piping or pres-
system. Much can be gained through will be realized. sure drop between the two components.

This is the third in a series of six educational

newsletters on vacuum equipment. Watch for
the next issue of VacAdemics in July.

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