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China Petroleum Processing and Petrochemical Technology

Modeling and Simulation 2013, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp 78-84 March 30, 2013

A Novel Modeling, Simulation and Optimization
Approach of Crude Oil Cold Stripping Process
Kaveh Hezaveh Hesarmaskan; Habib Ale Ebrahim
(Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic), Department of Chemical Engineering, Tehran, Iran)

Abstract: Cold stripping is the most common process for crude oil sweetening in oilfields particularly at offshore installa-
tions because of its low price and relatively easy operating conditions in comparison with other sweetening processes. In
this paper the cold stripping process in tray column has been modeled mathematically in static and dynamic modes, and
solved with the MATLAB software. This process has been used in the existing treatment facilities of an offshore oil pro-
duction complex for verifying the model results. With the help of HYSYS software the effective parameters on the process
have been discussed and the optimized conditions finalized after some plant modifications for improving the performance of
stripper columns have been proposed.
Key words: modeling, simulation, optimization, sour crude oil, cold stripping

1 Introduction that are cheaper than other alternative processes[4-6].
Although there are many models and simulation works
Crude oil generally contains a definite amount of sulfur for gas sweetening including especially those based on
compounds, and the crude that contains especially hydro- alkanolamines method[7-8], the exclusive models for crude
gen sulfide (H2S) in excess of 5.1×10-3 kg/m3 is called a stripping by natural gas must be considered for this pro-
sour one. The main focus is aimed at removal of hydro- cess.
gen sulfide, because other sulfur compounds are far less In this work the non-equilibrium method has been chosen
toxic and not so aggressively corrosive. The presence of for modeling the process in static and dynamic modes[9].
brine exacerbates the equipment corrosion as does CO2[1]. In static mode the number of trays can be calculated and
Personnel safety and equipment protection require that in order to obtain the mole fraction on each tray the dy-
H2S and other sulfur compounds be removed as far as namic mode has been applied to study the changes at the
possible. column inlet. Mass transfer equations have been obtained
The most important source of H2S production in oil res- on the basis of film theory because it has been assumed
ervoirs is propped up by the activity of sulfate reduction that the resistance against mass transfer is only in the
bacteria (Desulfovibrio, Desolfotomaculum, Desolfococ- phases and not in the fluid interface[10].
cus, Desolfonema and Desolfosarcina) at injected water To verify the model results, an offshore oil produc-
contact zone with existing water in formation[2]. Regard- tion complex in Persian Gulf with its stripping facilities
less of the source, the remaining H2S content in crude consisting of two consecutive tray columns has been
should be decreased to 2.1×10-5 kg/m3 to protect person- assigned as the candidate of the pilot unit. To determine
nel, mitigate corrosion and meet sales specification. Crude the effect of the modification over H 2S expulsion and
oil can be sweetened by many of the same chemicals crude oil quality at our case plant, a sensitivity analysis
used to remove acid gases from sour natural gas. Amines, has been carried out and finally the optimized process pa-
caustic, zinc salts and other bases and/or oxidizing agents
rameters have been proposed.
have been considered but because crude oil usually con-
tains far more contaminants, the liquid/liquid chemical Recieved date: 2012-11-14; Accepted date: 2012-12-26.
processes are seldom used[3]. Removal of H2S is usually Corresponding Author: Kaveh Hezaveh Hesarmaskan, E-mail:
accomplished by stripping with cold or hot natural gas

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Kaveh Hezaveh Hesarmaskan, et al. A Novel Modeling, Simulation and Optimization Approach of Crude Oil Cold Stripping Process

2 Model Definition The mass transfer is a liquid-controlled one and m″ is quite
large, so Equation (1) can be simplified as shown below:
2.1 Static mode  K XM W A 
xn = 1 + x  xn −1 (3)
In static mode, fluids in the column with counter-current  ml 
flow pattern have constant conditions without any chang- in which MW is molecular weight, A is mass transfer area
es. The model calculates the number of trays and mole and ml is total molar flow rate of crude oil. In these equa-
fraction across the column. The pressure and temperature tions, two unknown parameters, yn and xn-1 are calculated
profiles through trays can be considered as final results. and the number of trays in the column can be obtained.
However, because of nature of the process, the tempera-
2.2 Dynamic model
ture profile is not included in our scope of work.
The inlet crude changes from Lin to L2in suddenly. Be-
2.1.1 Total mass balance equation cause of this change, the volume of crude on each tray
Assumptions for total mass balance equation are as increases and reaches an equilibrium after some specified
follows: time by decreasing the height of liquid on the tray to weir
1) Mass transfer is in a steady-state condition; height[11]. The liquid volume on the tray changes expo-
2) Direction of mass transfer should be from crude oil to nentially so the following equation can be written for the
stripping gas; and response time:
3) Crude and gas leave each tray with inlet conditions V0l − V∞l 
defined as: τ =  2  (4)
 Lin 
( )
xn = xn −1 + l y n +1 − y n
(1) With the following equations it is possible to calculate the
mole fractions on each tray:
in which x and y are mole fractions of H2S in bulk of
crude oil and sweet gas, and ql and qg are flow rates of

Vnl,t = V0 ,n + (V0 ,∞ − V0 ,n ) 1 − exp
( ( n − 1)τ − t )  (5)

 τ 
crude and gas.
2.1.2 Mass balance in crude phase L2n ,t = L2n −1,t − n , if t>(n-1)τ→ L2n ,t =Lin (6)
The assumptions for mole fraction calculations are Crude volume change on each tray and flow rate of
considered as follows: discharged fluids for each tray can be calculated by means
1) Movement of each gas bubble has no effect on other of the volume balance as shown below[12]:
bubbles; and ρl  x p +1 − xnp,t   ρ dVn ,t  L2n ,t 
2) Gas flow speed into the crude is stable. Vn ,t  n ,t  + xn ,t 
+ =
M Wl  ∆t   M Wl dt  M Wl 
So it can be written as follows:
 L2n −1 p 

 1 n +1 n −1 
N A = K xC  y −x  (2) 
 M W n ,t  (
x  + N An ⋅ A ) (7)
 m′′   l 
in which Kx is total mass transfer coefficient, C is total ερ g  y p +1 − ynp,t   ερ dV  m 
concentration and m″ is slope of the equilibrium curve. Vn ,t  n ,t  + yn ,t 
p n ,t
+ g =
M Wg  ∆t   M Wg dt  M Wl 
 mg p 
 (
y  − N An ⋅ A
 M W n ,t 
) (8)
 g 

3 Results and Discussion

3.1 Pilot plant data
Figure 1 The schematic of bottom of the column The total renovation project in the Bahregansar field was

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China Petroleum Processing and Petrochemical Technology 2013,15(1):78-84

completed in 2007 and a new complex was installed stripper column, whereas the crude flows downwards
near old facilities and put on production to replace them inside the column. In the second stripper column the
in 2008. Sour crude oil from the three-phase separators remaining hydrogen sulfide is flashed off. The H 2S
flows to the top tray of the first stage stripper and sweet content of treated crude is finally lower than 5.5×10-5
gas from the sweet separator (with crude of formations kg/m3. The schematic of process flow diagram is given
containing very low concentration of H 2S flowing to in Figure 2.
this three-phase separator) splits up into two parts. A The composition of sour crude, sweet crude and sweet
part of sweet gas flows to the bottom of the first stage gas is listed in Table 1.

Figure 2 The schematic of plant PFD

Table 1 Fluids composition 3.2 Modeling results
Mole fraction, %
Component Sour crude oil with a flow rate of 3.5 m3/s enters the first
Sour crude Sweet crude Sweet gas
stage stripper column. The sweet gas injection rate is: 78
N2 0.1 0.01 0.01
m3/s in the first stage column and 49 m3/s in the second
CO2 2 0.01 0.01
one. Pressure in these columns is set at 0.4 MPa and 0.2
H2S 0.5 0.0001 0.0003
MPa, respectively. The differential pressure at the top and
C1 25 35 65.6
C2 5.9 12 30
bottom of trays must be maintained at 14 kPa.
C3 4.2 1 3.8
Modeling has been done in static mode and the H2S mole
i-C4 0 0 0.068
fraction across the column is shown in Figure 3.
n-C4 2.2 1 0.065 To achieve a specified level of H2S concentration to meet
i-C5 2.3 0.5 0.057 the market requirements and standards, it can be clearly
n-C5 11 11.5 0.047 seen from Figure 3 that 27 trays must be used in one strip-
C6 11 11.5 0.025 per column.
34.8 12 0.02 Figure 4 shows the comparison between model results
and experimental data.
The inlet crude comes from sour separators at 55 ℃ and Pressure profile across the columns is shown in Figure 5. It is
0.68 MPa and flows to the first column at 0.42 MPa. The obvious that the profile is linear and the summation of pres-
temperature of stripping sweet gas is 40 ℃. Each column sure drop of trays is equal to the total column pressure drop.
with 15 bubble cap trays is counted from top to bottom; When the inlet flow of crude increases suddenly, the vol-
and the internal differential pressure between trays is 14 kPa. ume of liquid on each tray becomes a function of time;

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Kaveh Hezaveh Hesarmaskan, et al. A Novel Modeling, Simulation and Optimization Approach of Crude Oil Cold Stripping Process

Figure 3 H2S mole fraction of crude oil on trays

Figure 5 Pressure profile across the column trays
Figure 4 H2S mole fraction of crude oil (model and plant data)
—H2S(model); ■—H2S(actual)1st stage;
▲—H2S(actual)2nd stage

therefore the mass transfer coefficient is time-dependent.
Change in inlet flow leads to change in the thickness of
liquid on weir (Figure 6). The overflow thickness (L0w)
can be calculated using the Francis formula as presented
below[13-14]: 3
ql  L0 w  2
= 3.33   (9)
Wm  12 
2 2
 W  3  ql  3 (10)
→ L0 w = 5.38     Figure 6 Overflow thickness on weir
 Wm   W 
in which W m is effective weir length obtained from
diagrams that have been designed for this purpose and
depends on weir length and ratio of L0w to column diam-
The dynamic model calculates the time it takes to return
to a steady state. It can be seen from Equation 10 that
the ratio of overflow thickness before and after inlet flow
change (L=L0w / L1w) depends on the changing flow, but
this relationship is not linear because the ratio of W/Wm
changes with L0w/d. Figure 7 shows the response time
trend at different L. Figure 7 Response time at different L

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China Petroleum Processing and Petrochemical Technology 2013,15(1):78-84

It has been clearly shown in Figure 7 that bigger change
has greater effect on response time, in other words whilst
the inlet crude flow is increasing, the response time for
getting back to steady state on each tray is growing up,
and in some conditions if L is a very small amount, it is
not possible for the system to adapt the trays and columns
to be restored to stable condition.
3.2.1 T he Effect of gas flow rates and columns
pressure on H2S and specific gravity of crude
The sensitivity analysis has been carried out by means of Figure 9 Effect of sweet gas rate on specific gravity of crude
experimental, modeling and simulation data coupled with —2nd Column; ■—1st Column; ▲—Actual
the following inputs: The sweet gas flow rate changes
from 39 m3/s to 78 m3/s in the first stage column, and
from 20 m3/s to 59 m3/s in the second one, with the sour
crude oil flow rate equating to 3.5 m3/s. The results are
plotted in Figure 8.
As shown in Figure 8, it is obvious that increasing the flow
of sweet gas in the second stage column to more than 39
m3 /s has a slight effect on the final concentration of H2S.

Figure 10 Effect of columns pressure on H2S content of crude
■—Actual; —1st Column; ▲—2nd Column

Figure 8 Effect of sweet gas on H2S content of crude
▲—Stp.Gas-2 (39 m3/s); —Stp.Gas-2 (19.5 m3/s);
■—Stp.Gas-2 (29.5 m3/s); ●—Stp.Gas-2 (49 m3/s);
—Stp.Gas-2 (59 m3/s)

The curves of specific gravity of crude oil versus sweet Figure 11 Effect of columns pressure on specific gravity
gas flow rate are presented in Figure 9. The specific grav- of crude
▲—Actual; —1st Column; ■—2nd Column
ity of crude increases with an increasing amount of sweet
gas injected into the second stage column. When the stage column is changed from 0.35 MPa to 0.15 MPa at
injection rate is greater than 39 m3/s, the curve shows a a sweet gas injection rate of 35.5 m3/s, with the crude oil
fairly steep slope. flow rate equating to 3.5 m3/s.
Figure 10 and Figure 11 have been obtained with the fol- The actual points are experimental data that are obtained
lowing conditions: The pressure in the first stage column from sampling at the plant and have been improved with
is changed from 0.55 MPa to 0.35 MPa at a sweet gas the simulation software (HYSYS) and compared with
injection rate of 55 m3/s; and the pressure in the second results of main software (MATLAB) outputs. Since the

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Kaveh Hezaveh Hesarmaskan, et al. A Novel Modeling, Simulation and Optimization Approach of Crude Oil Cold Stripping Process

plant is too sensitive to changes, it is not allowed to
change the system at any wanted point for each analy-
sis. Other points have been obtained using the HYSYS
software in compliance with trays efficiency regulations
so that the human errors arising from laboratory work
have been reduced. In the MATLAB software, trays have
been considered as ideal with no efficiency defined and
the difference between the simulation results and actual
ones is related with this fact, but the trends of behavior
coincide with the reality.
Figure 12 Effect of sweet crude on H2S content of product
3.2.2 Stripper columns optimization
Upon analyzing the processing parameters, it is possible —H2S (simulation); ■—H2S (actual)
to produce oil with higher quality by optimizing the sweet
gas injection rates and pressures in stripping columns. As shown in Figure 12, the H2S content in the product
The results are demonstrated in Table 2. crude has been decreased finally. It is possible to add
more sweet crude to the sour crude inlet by this approach
Table 2 Results of optimized columns of BAHREGANSAR
in case of some processing challenges such as carry-over
Variable Variable range Constraint Optimum in columns and booster pump operating troubles. Under
H2S, kg/m3) - - 5.85×10-5
the same condition the H2S content can be further de-
creased to 4.1×10-5 kg/m3 as a reasonable finding of this
Sweet gas-1, m3/s 39—78 ≤78 55 modification.
Sweet gas-2, m3/s 20—59 ≤59 35.5

1st column pressure, MPa 0.35—0.5 - 0.42

2nd column pressure, MPa 0.15—0.35 - 0.22

The data listed in Table 2 have revealed that the content
of H2S can reach an optimal value of 5.85×10-5 kg/m3 un-
der the following conditions: a first stage column pressure
of 0.42 MPa coupled with a sweet gas injection rate of
55 m3/s, and a second stage column pressure of 0.22 MPa
coupled with a sweet gas injection rate of 35.5 m3/s. Figure 13 Effect of sweet crude on specific gravity of
product crude
3.2.3 Process and control system modification —Simulation; ■—Actual
With a relatively simple extra-work on process technolo-
Figure 13 verifies the effect of sweet crude oil blend-
gy and instrumentation, it is possible to divert a part of sweet
ing on the quality of final product. The specific gravity
crude through a 4-inch pipeline and a flow control valve to
of crude oil has been decreased from 0.882 to 0.871 and
the main inlet of sour crude separator. The flow control valve
flow rate at the outlet of the second stage stripper column
enables the operators to regulate the sweet crude flow rate to
has been increased from the previous level of 3 m3/s to 3.3
meet different processing and production needs.
Figure 12 shows the effect of sweet crude injection rate
on final H2S content in the product. The gradual increase 4 Conclusions
of sweet crude flow has been implemented at optimum
processing conditions as referred to in Section 3.2.2. 1) Modeling in static state helps us to estimate the num-

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China Petroleum Processing and Petrochemical Technology 2013,15(1):78-84

ber of trays needed for cold stripping column as a rule of Wm—Effective weir length;
thumb to determine the economic and technical aspects of x—Mole fraction in liquid bulk;
design. y—Mole fraction in gas bulk;
2) By increasing the overflow ratio, the response time to r—Density;
achieve the new stable state increases and in some condi- τ— Response time.
tions returning to the stable state is impossible.
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