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High Flux Steam Reforming

by

Thomas Rostrup-Nielsen
Haldor Topsoe A/S, Lyngby, Denmark

Abstract
Topsøe has introduced the High Flux Steam that the most critical parameter is the maximum
Reformer (HFR), with lower cost than con- temperature difference over the tube wall.
ventional side fired reformers. The High Flux This parameter can be controlled in the side
Steam Reformer is applicable for all steam wall fired design in such a way that very high
reforming processes such as hydrogen, synthe- average heat flux can be obtained without
sis gas, methanol and ammonia. Together with exceeding critical values. Side fired tubular
Topsøe’s advanced steam reforming concept it reformers are today designed for operation at
offers improved production economics, both in average heat flux almost two times higher than
investment and operating cost. The High Flux what was industrial standard 20 years ago. High
Steam Reformer takes full advantage of today’s average heat flux leads to lower tube weight,
new tube materials and catalysts, staying within smaller reformer furnaces and thus reduced cost
industrially proven operating conditions. as indicated in Fig. 1.

Introduction

Recent years have shown progress in steam
reforming technology resulting in less costly
plants not the least because of better materials
for reformer tubes, better control of carbon
limits, and better catalysts and process concepts
with high feedstock flexibility [1,2]. The
new tube materials together with improved
understanding of heat transfer and the influence
of temperature levels and temperature gradients
on tube life make it possible to design tubular
reformers for tube wall temperatures up to
1050°C, which is well known from ethylene Fig. 1 The trend in reformer design has been towards
crackers. It has been historical practice to use higher average heat flux resulting in lower cost
the average heat flux as a measure for operating reformers.
severity in reformers, but it appears

the determination of these parameters is not unambiguous. Such reformers are tubes) and from the gas. Fig. Topsoe side fired tubular reformer Design of tubular steam reformers The design of reformer tubes is normally done �� � ������ � �� � ��� � �� � � ���� �� ��� � � � ������ ���� according to API-530 for an average lifetime ��� � ��� ��� before creep rupture of 100.7]. • Conduction through the tube wall type radiant section with side wall burners and • Convection from the inner tube wall to the a convection section to recover the waste heat catalyst and the reacting gas.4] of this tubular internals (furnace walls and neighbouring reformer is shown in Fig. The furnace consists of a box. and reformer tube. full size monotube pilot unit. and thereby the limits for undesired carbon formation (Fig. is also essential for the prediction of local gas compositions. 3. including the flames built today for capacities up to 300. a detailed two dimensional homogeneous reactor model was established for the design of advanced reformers [4. Based upon this significant data collection and analysis. 3). understanding of the interplay between the appear to be caused mainly by transients radiant chamber heat transfer to the tube and the [8] including start-up and shut-down or by consumption of heat by the reactions inside the operating errors leading to catalyst poisoning. Reactor Modelling – Tube side the implied safety standards. temperatures and pressure drop. without sacrificing Fig. the reforming reactions are typically carried out in a heated furnace over a nickel • Radiant heat transfer from the furnace catalyst. Development in the design of tubular steam The calculation of the design temperature reformers is demanding since it requires detailed Tube failures.Tubular Steam Reforming tube. the interplay between catalyst. understanding of the reaction mechanism [5]. Furthermore. which are very rare events. 2. Main parameters in the design are the maximum ��� � ����� � �� � ��� ���� � operating pressure. and analysis of data from industrial units [1. 2 . inside the tube contained in the flue gases. It must include: In industry.000 h. 2. An example [2. the design temperature and � �� � �� � ��� �� ���� ��� � � ���� � ������ � � ���� ��� � ��� ��� the creep rupture strength of the material used.3. reacting gas.000 Nm3 H2/ • Convective heat transfer from gas to tube wall h (equivalent).6]. and each reformer �� ��� �� ���� � ����� �������� technology licensor applies his own procedures �� ��� to determine the parameters and to introduce design margins as desired. ��� However. Understanding of these phenomena was obtained through extensive R&D work using bench scale equipment. The modelling of the radiant chamber is complex [4].

which to design the reformer with a maximum DTavg means that the SV is not an issue when a without exceeding critical values. given a constant design temperature it is proportional to the space velocity.000 hours of operation. the tube wall thickness t. This will maximise the This means that the maximum allowable average heat flux and thus minimise the number local heat flux increases with decreasing tube of tubes and the cost of the reformer. the total transferred duty off between the size of the reformer and the Q can be calculated from: pressure drop. times and pressure. SV. as the tube diameter decreases well over 120. For a given transferred duty Q the only way to decrease the It has been shown that the catalyst activity is number of tubes is to make them longer and significantly higher than required [1]. Thus the qavg and tube In order to take full advantage of this approach ID can be chosen independently to provide an for reformer design it is thus important to be optimum reformer design. The local heat flux able to operate the reformer with the maximum through the tube wall q can be approximated allowable temperature gradient across the by the temperature gradient over the tube wall tube wall along most of the length of the tube. A the tube surface area (inner wall) and qavg the average The total heat input can be expressed as a heat flux. or over-firing. and thermal while at the same time seeking to minimise conductivity k. prereformer has been installed upstream of the tubular steam reformer. the maximum tube wall temperature of the tube by gradually reducing the flux and thus q = –kτ • ∆T the temperature gradient towards the outlet as illustrated in Fig. DT. as the required tube wall thickness design conditions does not results in tube failure decreases.carbon lay-down. Operation at diameter. By selecting specially shaped catalysts it is possible to limit the increase Q = n • A • q avg in pressure drop. in well designed and well operated reformers. Where n is the number of tubes. 3 . there is a trade for a steam reformer. which means that the tube ID. allowing the reformer to be designed with a very high flux. Using tube inner diameter ID and function of the average tube wall temperature length L. Tubes in side fired steam reformers experience However. 4. Therefore. the equation can be rewritten as gradient: Q = n • � • ID • L • q avg Q = –kτ • ∆T avg • n • � • ID • L At the same time the total transferred heat is The tube wall thickness is a simple function of proportional to the feed flow. Assuming that the wall thickness the total tube volume as shown below: is proportional (by a factor c) to the tube diameter the number of tubes can be expressed � Q ∞ SV • n • 4– • ID2 • L as: c • — Q Now by setting the two equations for Q equal to n=— k • � L•∆T avg each other they reduce to This means that the number of tubes is q avg ∞ SV • ID independent of the tube diameter. the total cross sectional area available for the process gas decreases and the pressure Looking at the fundamental design equations drop increases.

Tube wall temperature and tube wall temperature HFR concept was tested in Topsøe’s full scale gradient profiles process demonstration unit (PDU) in Houston. Fig. which means local fluxes and temperature gradients far High Flux Reforming – Carrying the exceeding industrial experience. Model simulations had shown burner elevation. shutdowns and restarts of the reformer were simulated. it was concluded that the tube did not show which is closely related to the local heat flux. the reformer tube and reformer experience with high flux reforming and a case catalyst were exposed to operation at very study comparing Topsøe’s classical design with high heat fluxes. local heat fluxes close to 150. One of these is the local After careful examination of the catalyst tube.000 to 175. 4. Several of Topsøe’s Thorough risk analysis exercises were reforming catalysts have been operating performed internally and with one of our satisfactorily at very high local heat fluxes customers. 100. design parameters. a more compact reformer design is In Topsøe’s PDU. a full-size monotube now possible. any damage of the many trip and restart tests. smaller diameter with a closer centre to centre spacing. temperature gradient across the tube wall. showing that there as expected is room for still Feedback from industrial operating plants has further reduction in the size of the reformer.000 kcal/ provides the high reliability the Topsoe side m2h). The total test period lasted As stated earlier the new high flux reformer three months and valuable data on catalyst design does not operate outside already performance and useful data for verification industrially proven conditions for the critical of our reformer design model were obtained. 4 . fired reformer always has been known for. USA with the objective of fine tuning The side fired tubular reformer is ideally suited our reformer design tool and to investigate for this optimisation. showing that the new HFR design (max. that the reformer could safely be operated at heat fluxes beyond the industrial experience.000 kcal/m2h. given valuable information. Side fired tubular reformer To suplement the industrial experience the Fig. Since it is possible to place tubes with a and this needed verification in the PDU. Texas. average fluxes ranging from the new high flux design. as the desired heat input operating conditions beyond the industrial along the length of the tube can be achieved experience for future further optimization of the through proper selection of burner size and reformer design. The following presents our reformer. Also several Experience Forward trips. 5.

model development. inlet distributor. The HFR design has first been offered 25%. has resulted in sale of industrial HFR reformers. three further reformers based on the HFR Compared to the design practiced 2-3 years ago concept are being designed with expected start- the cost reduction is in the range 10-30% for the up in 2003. radiant section and the hot parts of the reformer. Since methanol and ammonia clients. In heat release per burner resulting in a lower addition to the increased heat flux.000 kcal/m2h. The plant was The cost reduction for the HFR is mainly in the started in the first quarter of 2002. experience. Commercialisation of the high flux reformer Bringing forward Topsøe’s vast experience As expected from the equations derived above in reformer design stemming from industrial the number of tubes is virtually unchanged. research & development However. the reduction in catalyst volume by about 45% in the HFR design will not The improved performance and reduced cost influence the reformer performance. kcal/m h 75. know-how. The first is part of a medium-size hydrogen HFR – Cost Reduction Radiant Section plant in a European refinery. cold collector.250 Nm3/h hydrogen. The The following case study is based on an existing largest cost reduction is realized for the catalyst tubular reformer in a naphtha based hydrogen tubes. catalyst significant reduction in the size of the reformer development. At present. of the reformer box and outlet collector. and it includes a a lower total tube material weight. The heat flux is increased by 30% to an for hydrogen plant clients. Table 1.000 Cost Index (incl. followed by syngas. average heat flux of 100. burners and steel & refractory). The plant. certain minor number of burners. the cold collector. The The existing design is compared to the HFR saving on the burners is mainly due to increased design at unchanged operating conditions. waste heat section) 100 85 5 . The hydrogen plant has a capacity of smaller tube diameter in the HFR results in 47.High Flux Reforming – Case Study main components (tubes. average.000 100. new tube materials and pilot plant itself. the new HFR design shows efforts. Comparison between the new HFR design and old design Relative values Old Design New Design (HFR) Number of Tubes 126 124 Tube Diameter Base 75% Reformer Radiant Box Plot area Base 75% Number of Burners Base 66% Catalyst Volume Base 55% Heat Flux. improvements in the mechanical design were also introduced. today’s high activity reforming catalyst contain ample activity. and the catalyst. The main difference is that in the HFR testing has resulted in the high flux reformer design the diameter of the tubes is reduced by design. and the prereformer with reheat of the prereformed corresponding shorter spacing in a smaller size feed before introduction to the tubular reformer.

J. 249. T. and Tominaga.J.. Ib Dybkjær and Mr. NATO ASI The high flux reformer technology is based Study “Chemical Reactor Technology for on proven elements known from the steam Environmentally Safe Reactors and Products”. J. P.. and Winter Madsen.R. Winter Madsen. 3. I.R. Seier Christensen.. Hydrocarb. p. This leads to smaller reformer furnaces and significantly reduced cost. Int. and Christiansen. and extensive development and Academic Publishers. Rostrup-Nielsen. L. 50 The key is use of the best tube materials (1995) 4061. The temperature gradient across the tube wall can be controlled in the side wall fired design in such a way that very high average heat flux can be obtained without exceeding critical values. 1996. Chapt.. Christensen. Aug/Sept. Rostrup-Nielsen... Rostrup-Nielsen. T. Canada.).- H. 33 (1993) 86. H. Takemura. 243. Chem. Acknowledgements The author thanks Dr. Jørgen N.R. Today. 1991. C. Sci.L. as compared to the side fired steam reformer of 6. Bak Hansen. John Wiley. The high flux reformer technology presented above will in the future form the basis for further innovative developments of the Topsoe steam reforming technologies. 2. T..J. Catal. Shibasaki... M. S. 63 reformer. I.. J. Stub Nielsen. Rostrup-Nielsen. J. Engng. 6 . Catal. of the tubes obtained through designing the Ammonia Plant Saf. reformer with smaller diameter tubes. Dybkjaer. Catal. Mohri. Experience. and Rostrup-Nielsen..R.Conclusion 4. 3 (1) (1997/98) 56. A.. 7. 5. Dortrecht. J. available coupled with a better utilisation 8. Appl. Gøl for useful discussions and suggestions. J.S. New York. L. which can be placed closer together. Ontario. Rostrup-Nielsen. 221 (2001) 379. J. J... which offers a 15% reduction in cost (2000) 159. Christiansen. testing has allowed the design of the high flux 5. S.E.R. Proc..2.R. Eng. eds. K. Dybkjaer. reforming and other industries. References: 1.. Side fired tubular reformers are today designed for operation at average heat flux almost two times higher than what was industrial standard 20 years ago.. in “Chemical Reaction and Reactor Design” (Tamaki. I. Kluwer know-how. Today 71 (2002) 2-3 years ago.. K. Dybkjaer. Aasberg-Petersen.