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8

Bubble Column Reactors

In this chapter the elementary hydrodynamic characteristics of simple bubble columns are summarized. Different designs of bubble columns are sketched, and examples of their industrial applications are outlined. An overview of the status on Eulerian bubble column modeling is presented.

8.1 Hydrodynamics of Simple Bubble Columns

In its most simple form a bubble column reactor basically consists of a vertical cylinder with a gas distributor at the inlet, as sketched in Fig 8.1. Simple con- struction and lack of any mechanically operated parts are two characteristic aspects of the reactor. In general, the bubble column is an adaptable type of reactor which is reasonable in price and can be built in large sizes. The ratio between length and diameter may vary, but ratios between 3 and 10 are most common [28]. Units of 100 200 (m 3 ) are regarded as very large in the chemical industry. The liquid phase may be operated in batch mode or it may move co- currently or counter-currently to the flow of the gas phase. The gas usually enters at the bottom of the column through a gas distributor which may vary in design. The gas phase is dispersed by the distributor into bubbles entering a continuous liquid phase. In addition, reactive or catalytic particles may be suspended in the liquid phase. The liquid flow rate passing through a bubble column is usually very low. The gas throughput on the other hand may vary widely according to the specified conversion level. The normal ranges of liquid and gas superficial velocities, based on empty reactor cross-sectional area, are in the region of 0 to 3 (cm/s) and 3 to 25 (cm/s), respectively. The reactor may be cooled or heated by means of internal heat exchanges. One of the main features is very high heat transfer coefficients [68], thus en- suring a fairly uniform temperature throughout the reactor even with strong

H.A. Jakobsen, Chemical Reactor Modeling, doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-68622-4 8, c Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

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758 8 Bubble Column Reactors Fig. 8.1. A sketch of a simple bubble column. exothermic/endothermic reactions.

Fig. 8.1. A sketch of a simple bubble column.

exothermic/endothermic reactions. This is of special significance when reac- tions in which the selectivity is highly dependent on temperature are involved. The rising gas bubbles entrain an amount of liquid with them which is considerably greater than that corresponding to the liquid throughput [28]. The larger bubbles plus entrained liquid tend to rise up through the center of the column. Thus, continuity will ensure that fluid returns down the column close to the wall, transporting smaller bubbles with it, forming a distinctive circulating flow pattern. Large bubble swarms with length scales of the same order as the column diameter are observed rising in a helical fashion towards the top of the column. However, averaged over a long period of time (in the order of 10 to 30 seconds) this transient circulation pattern vanishes. Yet non- uniform time averaged radial gas holdup and velocity profiles result despite a uniform initial distribution of gas across the whole cross-section of the reactor. The mean liquid axial velocity profiles have been found to be relatively stable with a general shape as shown in Fig 8.2. Nevertheless, a transient radial cross-exchange of fluid elements is superimposed on the mean axial circulation pattern, giving rise to a relatively high radial intermixing. For water and dilute aqueous solutions the bubbles are generally uniformly distributed in the liquid at low gas flow rates [132]. The bubble size distribu- tion is relatively narrow and the bubbles rise uniformly through the column. This is known as homogeneous flow and is sketched in Fig 8.3. Homogeneous bubbly flow may occur in small scale apparatus with superficial gas velocities below 5 (cm/s).