Applied Thermal Engineering 120 (2017) 530–536

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Applied Thermal Engineering
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/apthermeng

Research Paper

A novel design of a multistage stepped bubble column humidifier for the
humidification of air
Hafiz M. Abd-ur-Rehman a,b, Fahad A. Al-Sulaiman a,c,⇑
a
Mechanical Engineering Department, King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, (KFUPM), Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia
b
School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering (SMME), National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), H-12 Campus, Islamabad, Pakistan
c
Center of Research Excellence in Renewable Energy (CoRERE), Research Institute, King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, (KFUPM), Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia

h i g h l i g h t s 

A novel multi-stage stepped bubble column humidifier is designed and tested. 
A higher system performance with a lower pressure drop is achieved. 
Absolute humidity is increased by 7–9% for two-stage bubble column humidifier. 
Absolute humidity is increased by 18–21% for three-stage bubble column humidifier.

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The operating parameters for the optimum performance of a novel multistage stepped bubble column
Received 26 April 2016 humidifier design were experimentally determined. An improved humidification-dehumidification
Revised 6 March 2017 (HDH) desalination system can be obtained by integrating such a humidifier with a dehumidifier. The
Accepted 6 April 2017
relationship between the variation of the pressure drop with varying water column height at different
Available online 7 April 2017
superficial velocities of air was evaluated. A water column height of 1 cm and superficial velocity of air
of 25 cm/s provide the best humidifier performance at the lowest pressure drop. The performance of
Keywords:
single-stage, two-stage, and three-stage bubble column humidifiers was evaluated in terms of the abso-
Water desalination
Air humidification
lute humidity when the inlet water temperature is varied in the range of 35–75 °C. The absolute humidity
HDH system increases exponentially with increasing inlet water temperature. The percentage increase in the absolute
Multistage humidifier humidity achieved by the two-stage and three-stage bubble column humidifiers are, respectively 7–9%
Bubble column and 18–21% higher than that achieved by the single-stage bubble column humidifier.
Electrical heating Ó 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction adopt seawater desalination technologies to supply potable water
[4].
Demand for potable water is estimated to reach 6900 billion m3 Seawater desalination is a mature field which is already
per year by 2030 mainly due to the rapid increase in the world adopted by many countries to obtain potable water. The conven-
population [1]. The existing fresh water supply of 4200 billion tional water desalination technologies are: reverse osmosis (RO),
m3 per year is well below the projected potable water demand multi-stage flash (MSF), and multiple-effect distillation (MED).
[1]. The problem is more severe in the developing countries where These technologies are highly energy intensive and economically
the unavailability of clean water is the root cause of 80–90% of viable only on a large scale [5]. However, there is a high demand
waterborne diseases that are responsible for 30% of deaths [2]. for small-scale desalination systems for the decentralized supply
Moreover, these numbers are likely to increase by four times over of fresh water to remote areas. Thus, it is highly desirable to
the next 25 years [3]. Considering the existing and approaching develop a water desalination system that features a stand-alone/
fresh water crisis, it is inevitable that most of the countries will off-grid functionality to produce potable water in electricity-
scarce remote areas [6].
Humidification-dehumidification (HDH) is a carrier-gas-based
thermal technique [7] that is ideally suited to be used as a decen-
⇑ Corresponding author at: Mechanical Engineering Department, King Fahd
University of Petroleum & Minerals, (KFUPM), Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia.
tralized small-scale water desalination system [8]. This technology
E-mail address: fahadas@kfupm.edu.sa (F.A. Al-Sulaiman). has several advantages including its simple functionality, ability to

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2017.04.021
1359-4311/Ó 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Air is passed through the perfo- columns results in a lower air side pressure. Plexiglas was also used to water column height and the water flowing through the stages construct the three bubble columns of 300 mm  300 mm cross under the force of gravity. Abd-ur-Rehman. the water and air streams are and built to investigate the performance of the proposed humidi- homogeneously mixed in the bubble column and a large tempera. In constructed using 10 mm thick Plexiglas sheet. As the air bubbles move stage (represented by point 300 on the psychometric chart) also through the hot water column. operated in the three-stage configuration. and comparatively less atten. Therefore. The early designs is present. Consequently. reliable. and (b) Segmented water and air streams along the steps of the multistage humidifier design. column stage (represented by line 200 -B00 on the psychometric tors in metallurgical. and chemical processes such as chart). Al-Sulaiman / Applied Thermal Engineering 120 (2017) 530–536 531 utilize waste heat resources and low grade energy. the air at the exit of the third bubble column form bubbles in a hot water column. There are only a very few studies [24–28] that have investigated the bubble column as a humidifier for HDH water desalination. The bubble column is an innovative design of a humidi. heat and mass transfer take place passes over the neighboring second bubble column stage (repre- simultaneously. In the challenge is to come up with an efficient.19 W/m K. 4 shows a photograph of the actual experimental present. 4 was designed fier. However. This allows air more time for heat and mass transfer and the Fischer-Tropsch process [23]. rated plates to form bubbles in a pool of hot water in the bubble The multistage stepped configuration also helps in attaining a columns. biomedical. chart. fier. The enclosure of the multistage experimental setup was shown in Fig. tion of the process inside the unit during experiments. There are many devices which can be used temperature as compared to the second column. Similarly. the main focus stage and the line 20 -B0 for the first stage on the psychometric of most of the later studies [17–21] was to improve the dehumid. The use of transparent material allows the observa- stage. air at the exit of the second bubble column stage (represented by tion has been paid towards the improvement of the humidification point 20 on the psychometric chart) also passes over the neighbor- process. . Plexiglas is a trans- the multistage configuration. The higher rate of heat and mass transfer in bubble sented by line 300 -200 on the psychometric chart) and first bubble columns have made them attractive to be used as multiphase reac. and three-stage configurations.A. the water and air streams design to harness the true potential of the HDH water desalination are homogeneously mixed in the bubble column and a large tem- system. air throughout its full path inside the humidifier. air becomes hotter and more humid at the exit of the humidifier umn humidifiers in HDH water desalination systems is very limited. a novel multistage bubble column humidifier setup. a lower irreversibility is present in the sys. A laboratory scale setup shown in Fig. The is represented by the line A-B on the psychometric chart. the water and air stream paths are parent thermoplastic material that has a thermal conductivity of segmented to provide a lower temperature difference in each 0. 1. and cost effective single-stage humidifier configuration. and moderate investment [9]. hot humid ification process of the HDH system. and the bubble col. Fig. A minimum water depth in the bubble section in a stepped configuration. 2 depicts Each perforated plate splits a bubble column into lower and upper the air humidification process in the humidifier operated in the compartments. wetted-wall tower. Fig. 1 is proposed and implemented in this study. Several studies that explore HDH as an effective means of perature difference that increases the irreversibility of the system brackish water desalination are available. ing first bubble column stage (represented by line 20 -B0 on psycho- Humidification is one of the key processes in the HDH water metric chart). 2. 3 depicts a schematic illustration of the proposed humid- ture difference that increases the irreversibility in the system is ifier and Fig. As the number of stages are increased from 1 to 2. (a) Proposed design of the multistage bubble column humidifier. ity at the exit of the humidifier operated in the two-stage configu- umn [22]. low cost of the humidification process in the single-stage humidifier configuration required construction materials. packed-bed tower. These devices include the spray air to absorb more moisture and achieve a higher absolute humid- tower. This allows the for the humidification process. H. Experimental setup and procedure Moreover. Another tem. Therefore. the use of bubble col. Other advantages of this design are its stepped configuration advantage of using Plexiglas is its low thermal conductivity which that allows the water stream to maintain a minimum desirable reduces the heat loses from the system. The air adjustable flow rate to the lower compartment of each bubble col- Fig. ration. F. Air is introduced using a 400 W blower with an single-stage.M. 3 and Fig. two-stage. The first bubble column operates at a higher desalination system. The perforated plates of 300 mm  300 mm in cross sec- higher absolute humidity by both heating and humidifying the tion were made from a 2 mm thick black acrylic Plexiglas sheet. a single-stage design was used in all previously per- formed experimental investigations of the bubble column humidi. The air humidification process in the two-stage humid- [10–16] suffered from the lower efficiency of the HDH system ifier configuration is represented by the line A-20 for the second due to their inefficient dehumidification. when the humidifier is operated in the three- fication device in which air is passed through a perforated plate to stage configuration. In the single-stage design.

Abd-ur-Rehman. (1) Air blower.] Fig. inlet water temperature of 60 °C. [The experiments were conducted at a water column height of 3 cm. 2. and three-stage configurations. (5) Perforated plates. inlet air temperature of 32 °C. (6) Heated water supply. . 9. (7) Throttle valve. (2) Orifice meter. 10. 2. Schematic diagram of the experimental setup.M. and superficial velocity of air of 25 cm/s. (12) Humidifier air outlet. Al-Sulaiman / Applied Thermal Engineering 120 (2017) 530–536 Fig. (8) Rotameter. umn through a 25 mm diameter CPVC pipe. If water is introduced without blowing air first. Experimental procedure ment of each bubble column is used to distribute the air stream uniformly through the perforated plate. Psychometric chart for the air humidification process in the humidifier operated in the single-stage. (4. The upper compartment  The experiment is commenced by blowing air using the air of each bubble column is used as a pool for the hot water through blower (1). the water will flow through the perforated plates (5). 3. F. two-stage.A.1. The lower compart. 11) Thermocouples.532 H. (3) Manometer. relative humidity of 50% of air at the inlet. which air is passed to form bubbles.

4 m/s with an humidifier. The volumetric After selecting the best design of the perforated plate (i. experiments were performed to determine the optimum that has a range of 1–7 L/min with an accuracy of ±5% of full scale. 4.  The volumetric flow rate of air from the blower is adjustable meter that is designed and installed according to the ISO 5167 and is measured by an orifice meter (2) connected to a benchmark design recommendations.A. H. accuracy of ±1. One of the major challenges in the experimental investigation of Air is heated and humidified until it reaches the exit of the a bubble column humidifier is the optimization of the geometric humidifier (12) by the simultaneous heat and mass transfer to features of the perforated plates. achieved without water leakage through the perforations. leakage. the larger hole diameter and higher open area ratio compared to ings are taken every 2 s and the average temperature measured the other two designs. the of air are measured with K-type thermocouples that have the range number of 2-mm holes was increased to 149 in Design 3. The absolute humidity of air is determined using the was observed with Design 3 during the experiment. The dry-bulb/ H2O with an accuracy of ±0. to a computer. no leakage is ±0.79 cm/s.  The desired temperature of water is achieved using four electri- cally heated elements of 1. Therefore. Al-Sulaiman / Applied Thermal Engineering 120 (2017) 530–536 533 Fig.e. geometric features of the three perforated plates used during the experimental work are listed in Table 1. The val- desired value by a throttle valve (7).2 kW power each.93%.25 °C.  Dry-bulb/wet-bulb temperatures of the hot and humid air are three different perforated plates were designed and tested. Although Design 2 was effective in preventing water leak- dom error observed during different measurements [29].M. Abd-ur-Rehman. The U-tube manometer provides wet-bulb temperatures of the air stream are measured using K. i.. the volumetric flow rate of the air. the pressure drop is high. higher number of holes increases the open area ratio and reduces tainty of the thermocouples along with the data acquisition system the pressure drop as compared to Design 2. Moreover. The age from the perforations. The orifice flow meter is manometer (3) to measure the pressure drop across the orifice connected to a U-tube manometer that has a range of 0. Temperature of water is ues of the superficial velocity of air are cross checked with the help measured using a thermocouple (9) before water enters the of hot wire anemometer that has a range of 0–25.1 cm. psychometric calculations of the dry-bulb/wet-bulb temperatures Design 3 was selected as the best choice for the experimental at different locations in the humidifier. Thermocouple readings are displayed and stored The minimum pressure drop was achieved using Design 1 due to using Labview program.1–50 cm plate. reduced from 3 mm to 2 mm in Design 2 keeping the number of The uncertainty in the measured value is calculated as the root holes the same as in Design 1. The estimated uncer. Initially. allowing the calculation of the air flow rate. The uncertainty in the mea. The of 267–316 °C with an accuracy of ±0. flow rate of the water is measured using the float type rotameter Design 3). the pressure drop across the orifice plate that is used to calculate type thermocouples (4) before air enters the humidifier. 5. The recorded using thermocouples (11) at the exit of the humidifier. The high pres- water temperature as well as the dry-bulb/wet-bulb temperatures sure drop is due to the low open area ratio in Design 2. setup. Photograph of the experimental setup. The three designs of perforated plates were tested at different ple modules installed in a NI cDAQ-9178 USB chassis is connected superficial velocities of air and the results are shown in Fig. water leakage was observed from by each thermocouple is recorded every 5 min using the developed the perforations during the experiments.e. However. F.1 °C. Hence. Thus. values of superficial velocity of air and water column height that The volumetric flow rate of air is measured using an orifice air flow gives the best performance of the humidifier. the humid- . Results and discussion to the bubble column chambers where the air flowing through the perforated plates forms bubbles in the pools of hot water. so that a lower pressure drop is the air bubbles as they rise through the hot water columns. The hole diameter was Labview program. 105 holes to overcome water sum square of the fixed error of the instrumentation and the ran. The volumetric flow rate to get the superficial velocity of air. Hot water at the desired temperature is introduced 3. A data acquisition system consisting of five NI 9213 thermocou. The uncertainty in the mea- of water is measured using a rotameter (8) adjusted to the sured values of the superficial velocity of air is ±0. the heated the air is divided by the cross-sectional area of the bubble column water is introduced to the tanks (6). The volumetric flow rate of  When air is flowing through the perforated plates.5% of full scale. sured values of the absolute humidity is ±0. Real-time processed thermocouple read. combined with a thermostat..

the effect of varying superficial velocity of air on the absolute The water temperature at the inlet of the humidifier is the factor humidity at the exit of the humidifier when the water column that affects the performance of the humidifier the most.5 The optimum values of the superficial velocity of air and water column height obtained from the single-stage experiments were 0 analyzed in terms of the pressure drop in the multistage bubble 15 20 25 30 column humidifier. 30 cm/s. The performance was evaluated of 25 cm/s is 248 gw/kga. The absolute humidity increases exponentially with For all other experiments performed at water column heights of increasing inlet water temperature irrespective of the number of Fig.5 area. Influence of the superficial velocity of air on the pressure drop for the three evaluated designs of the perforated plate. and 1 30 cm/s. Al-Sulaiman / Applied Thermal Engineering 120 (2017) 530–536 Table 1 Geometric features of the three designs of the perforated plates tested.77 Design 2 105 2 25 0. Number of holes Hole Diameter (mm) Pitch size (mm) Open Area Ratio (%) Design 1 105 3 25 0. 7 depicts the total pressure drop in all Air superficial velocity (cm/s) three stages under the optimum values of superficial velocity of air and water column height. drop is higher at water column heights of 5 cm and 3 cm with a superficial velocity of 30 cm/s than that at a water column height of 1 cm with a superficial velocity of 25 cm/s. 5. Further increase in the air superficial in terms of the absolute humidity when the water temperature at velocity at a water column height of 1 cm slightly reduces the the inlet of the humidifier is varied in the range of 35–75 °C. Influence of the water temperature on the absolute humidity at different superficial velocities of air at a water column height of. F. and (c) 5 cm. The absolute humidity at the exit of the humidifier. (a) 1 cm. The maximum absolute humidity achieved at 2 water column heights of 3 cm and 5 cm are 242 gw/kga and 238 gw/kga. height is maintained at. the absolute humidity increases with increasing Design 1 Design 2 air superficial velocity. The results are shown very quickly through the shallow water column height of 1 cm. better heat and mass transfer take place in Pressure drop (kPa) the bubble column. respectively. the 1. and three-stage show that the highest value of absolute humidity attained at the bubble column humidifier was analyzed and compared as a func- lowest water column height of 1 cm with an air superficial velocity tion of the inlet water temperature. in Fig. 8. In terms of the absolute humidity. 6 shows pressure drop. Fig. . (a) 1 cm. Thus. Consequently. respectively. Fig.5 best results for water column heights of 1 cm. The higher absolute humidity at a higher 3 Design 3 air superficial velocity is attributed to the formation of more bub- bles of comparatively larger size that provides a larger interfacial 2. This is due to the water column height was maintained at 1 cm and air was intro- lower contact time of air in the water column due to air flowing duced at a superficial velocity of 25 cm/s. 6. and (c) 5 cm. a water column ifier was operated in the single-stage configuration and its perfor. The results the performance of the single-stage.534 H. and 5 cm are obtained at air superficial velocities of 25 cm/s. Abd-ur-Rehman.33 Design 3 149 2 20 0. (b) 3 cm. Therefore. 3 cm.A.M. (b) 3 cm. 0.5 3 cm and 5 cm. height of 1 cm with a superficial velocity of 25 cm/s provides an mance was evaluated based on the amount of vapor in the moist optimum balance for a better system performance with a lower air (absolute humidity) at the exit of the humidifier.49 3. The results show that the pressure Fig. two-stage.

1 18 2. which are much higher than the values stated by Garg et al. However. [30] used a packed bed humidifier with an indigenous higher as compared to the results published by Agouz and structure to enhance the evaporation process in his multi-effect Abugerah [24].9 1. stage configuration is 139 gw/kga at 60 °C. As a consequence. three-stage configuration is achieved due to the several stages of ence value is 66 gw/kga at 70 °C.4 Water column height of 5 cm with air superficial velocity of 30 cm/s 21 Total pressre drop (kPa) 3.6 9 1. Al-Sulaiman / Applied Thermal Engineering 120 (2017) 530–536 535 4 24 Two stage configuration Three stage configuration Percentage Increase in Absolute Humidity (%) Water column height of 1 cm with air superficial velocity of 25 cm/s 3. Variation of the absolute humidity with the inlet water temperature for the Fig. respectively 7–9% and 18– difference value of 85 gw/kga and 110 gw/kga at the inlet water 21% higher than that of the single-stage bubble column humidifier.5 15 2. Percentage increase in the absolute humidity achieved by the two-stage and tion. Dai and Zhang [31] stated the use 300 Single stage 300 Garg et al. 0 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 stages. 7. F.2 12 1. the inlet water temperature is shown in Fig.A. two-stage. The reported vapor content differ. of falling film humidification chamber with larger surface area and The percentage increase in the absolute humidity achieved by forced convection. 10 published results of Agouz and Abugerah [24].7 Water column height of 3 cm with air superficial velocity of 30 cm/s 3. the shows the comparison of the vapor content difference achieved achieved vapor content difference by the humidifier in three- in the present study and three different studies from literature. 10. respectively. and three stage-configurations. Comparison of results with published data 115 gw/kga at 60 °C. 8. column humidifier and reported the achieved vapor content stage bubble column humidifiers are. The higher value of vapor content difference in HDH water desalination system.3 6 1 1 2 3 Number of stages 3 Fig. that is significantly Garg et al. achieved at 75 °C for a single-stage. The maximum absolute humidity function of the inlet water temperature. [30] and Dai and Zhang [31]. H. difference in the vapor content difference when the results of sin- pared with the published data in terms of vapor content difference gle stage humidifier in the present study is compared with the achieved as a function of the inlet water temperature. [30] Dai and Zhang [31] 275 Two stages 275 El-Agouz and Abugderah [24] Vapor content difference (gw/kga) Three stages 250 250 Present study (Single stage) Present study (Three stages) Absolute Humidity (gw/kga) 225 225 200 200 175 175 150 150 125 125 100 100 75 75 50 50 25 25 0 0 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 Water Temperature [°C] Water Temperature [°C] Fig.8 2. two-stage. The study concluded that the system performed the two-stage and three-stage humidifiers with respect to the better in the higher temperature range (70–90 °C) and reported the absolute humidity of a single-stage humidifier as a function of achieved vapor content difference value of 174 gw/kga at 85 °C.M. However. a higher absolute humidity is achieved at three-stage configurations with respect to that of the single-stage configuration as a the exit of the humidifier. and three-stage humidifier are 248 gw/kga. and 298 gw/kga. There is not much The performance of the humidifier used in this study is com. the increase in the number of stages increases the Water Temperature [°C] residence time of the moist air for further heating and humidifica- Fig. 9. 9. Abd-ur-Rehman. The values of vapor content difference achieved in the present study under the optimized single-stage configuration are 89 gw/kga at 55 °C and 4. respectively. . temperature obtained in the present study with those published in the literature. temperature of 55 °C and 60 °C. Fig. The results indicate El-Agouz and Abugerah [24] studied the performance of bubble that the absolute humidity achieved by the two-stage and three. Comparison of the difference in the vapor content as a function of the water single-stage. Total pressure drop in the humidifier. 264 gw/kga.

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