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Bruce K. Dawson, Scott C. Siegmund, Zhang Yonggui, Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.
The First Baosteel Annual Academic Conference, Shanghai, China, May 27-28 2004
Abstract: An Air Separation Unit (ASU) produces oxygen and nitrogen by the cryogenic distillation of air. The majority of modern ASUs produce oxygen by the pumped LOX process (internal compression process), where the product oxygen is produced at an elevated pressure by boiling high-pressure liquid oxygen against high-pressure air. This flowsheet substitutes a Booster Air Compressor (BAC) for a product oxygen compressor. Some applications require a large quantity of nitrogen at an elevated pressure, as well as highpressure oxygen. It is possible to produce nitrogen as a low pressure gas from the upper column of the ASU, as a medium pressure gas from the lower column, or as a high-pressure gas by pumping liquid nitrogen and warming it against high-pressure. A turbo expander is typically used to expand air or nitrogen from a higher pressure to a lower pressure to produce refrigeration for the process. Various expander configurations are possible. The best choice depends on the quantity and pressure of the high-pressure gaseous products, as well as whether or not liquid co-production is required. The machinery selection has a significant effect on the total cost of the ASU, and therefore must be carefully considered when evaluating competing ASU flowsheets. When nitrogen is produced at elevated pressure, the optimum ASU flowsheet may require additional feed air compared to when the nitrogen is produced at low pressure and compressed externally. Minimizing the total number of compression stages often is the minimum capital cost solution. The applicability of vendor standard compression equipment may also be an important factor. This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of co-producing nitrogen in varying quantities via each of the methods listed. Possible turbo expander configurations are considered. Operability advantages and disadvantages of various alternatives are discussed. A recent case study for a large fertilizer project is presented to illustrate the method of evaluating several competing ASU flowsheets. Keywords: Oxygen, Nitrogen, Pumped LOX, Pumped LIN, Optimization
For many years the most common air separation unit (ASU) flowsheet produced oxygen via cryogenic distillation of air at a pressure only slightly greater than atmospheric pressure. The Double Column Cycle has been used for over one hundred years to produce oxygen from air. The feed air is compressed to approximately 600 KPa , cooled to near its dew point, and introduced at the bottom of the high-pressure column (HPC). Nitrogen, being more volatile than oxygen, concentrates in the vapor as it rises through the column. The vapor from the top of the column is condensed against boiling liquid oxygen in the reboiler/condenser. The
The amount of gaseous nitrogen (GAN) withdrawn from the HPC. and lower expander flow to produce the same amount of refrigeration compared to a generator-loaded expander. Lower oxygen recovery implies that more feed air must be compressed to obtain the required oxygen product flow. Often the lowest compressor cost per KW of compressor power is achieved by maximizing the capacity of a standard frame. and reduces the boilup in the LPC. Compressor vendors have standard frame sizes. The work done by the expander can be recovered as electricity in a generator linked to the expander. Removing nitrogen gas from the HPC reduces the duty of the reboiler/condenser. LP GO X HP GOX LP G AN HP GAN LP G AN W ASTE LPC W ASTE E xpander A ir GOX L IN HP GAN HPC CLO X Figure 1 – Low Pressure GOX Cycle The refrigeration required to compensate for heat leak from the environment. and a reflux stream that is sent to the top of the low-pressure column (LPC). less efficient. The optimum choice of expander configuration depends on the total amount of refrigeration required. is provided by expanding a portion of the feed air into the LPC. 2. Oxygen concentrates in the bottom of the LPC. If co-product nitrogen is required. or the portion of the feed that is to be expanded can first be compressed to a higher pressure in a compressor mounted on the same shaft as the expander. it can be taken from either the top of the HPC.condensed overhead is divided into a reflux stream that is returned to the HPC. The number of compressor stages directly influences the capital cost as well as the energy consumption. and less reliable than air or nitrogen compressors of an equivalent capacity. there is a minimum boilup required in the bottom of the LPC. affects the oxygen recovery. Choosing the optimum flowsheet entails balancing the operating cost and capital cost. In this flowsheet. or the top of the LPC. as well as for the temperature difference between the feed air and the product and waste streams leaving the main heat exchanger. The oxygen-enriched HPC bottoms is sent to an intermediate stage of the LPC. but oxygen compressors have inherent safety issues. as well as expander flow bypassing the HPC. the oxygen product is compressed to the required pressure via a product compressor. Producing nitrogen at low pressure from the LPC generally doesn’t affect the oxygen recovery. In the Low Pressure GOX Cycle (Figure 1). and are therefore more costly. but more energy is consumed to compress the nitrogen in a product compressor. This compressor and expander combination is commonly referred to as a compander. This is an energy efficient method of producing oxygen. the product oxygen is taken as a gas from the bottom of the LPC. Using a compander results in a higher pressure ratio across the expander. Pumped LOX Cycle . For a given oxygen product flow and purity.
the air pressure must be significantly higher than the oxygen pressure in order to efficiently exchange heat between the air and the oxygen.Most of the recent ASUs built within the last 5 years have utilized the Pumped LOX Cycle (Figure 2) to produce oxygen at elevated pressure directly from the coldbox. 3. Because less nitrogen is condensed. Figure 3 shows the minimum air pressure as function of the oxygen pressure. but practical considerations such as minimizing total number of compression stages may limit the air pressure. The cold HP Air leaving the main heat exchanger becomes mostly liquid when its pressure is reduced before entering the distillation columns. It is pumped to an elevated pressure and then warmed to ambient temperature against high-pressure air feed. instead of via an oxygen compressor. GOX Pressure For oxygen pressures near or above the critical pressure there is more flexibility to vary air pressure. A portion of the feed air from the Main Air Compressor (MAC) is further compressed in a Booster Air Compressor (BAC) to supply this highpressure air. Waste 7000 MAC HP GOX MP GAN LP GAN WASTE LAIR LPC BAC 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 HPC MP AIR LOX LAIR Air Pressure (KPa) 0 0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 GOX Pressure (KPa) LAIR Figure 2 – Pumped LOX Cycle Figure 3 – Minimum HP Air Pressure vs. Pumped LOX/Pumped LIN Cycle When high-pressure nitrogen product is required. In this flowsheet oxygen is taken from the bottom of the LPC as a liquid. For product pressures below the critical pressure. Some . there is less pure nitrogen reflux available for producing pure nitrogen co-product. and direct the expander discharge to the HPC instead of the LPC. the net boilup to LPC is the same as for the LP GOX cycle. Because the oxygen product leaves the LPC as a liquid instead of a gas. The reduction in vapor feed air to the bottom of the HPC results in a reduction in LPC reboiler duty. Therefore it is often more economical to take the compander flow from an intermediate stage of the BAC. Figure 5 shows the flowsheet for this Pumped LOX/Pumped LIN process. it may be economic to pump liquid nitrogen to an elevated pressure and warm it against high-pressure air instead of compressing it in a product nitrogen compressor. In general higher air pressures give more thermodynamically efficient heat exchange. however. This flowsheet condenses a larger fraction of the total air feed.
but if the required nitrogen pressure is compatible with the air pressure needed to vaporize the oxygen product. as well as how variable the total refrigeration requirement will be is helpful in evaluating competing process flowsheets. A higher oxygen recovery is possible because the expander flow produces boilup for the LPC. the optimum choice of expander configuration may depend on the total amount of high-pressure nitrogen product. or for the merchant liquid market. as well as the total refrigeration requirement. the expander flow may become too high to expand into the LPC. 5. a significant cost savings may be realized by eliminating the nitrogen compressor. High Nitrogen/Oxygen Requirements – A Case Study A typical large fertilizer project requires a large amount of high-pressure oxygen. It may be desirable to compress the expander flow to a higher pressure in the BAC in order to increase the pressure ratio.additional power is required for the BAC. 4. If additional liquid products are required for backing up the gaseous product supply. . MAC BAC W a s te HP GOX HP GAN W a s te L A IR LPC LOX L IN HPC L A IR Figure 5 – Pumped LOX/Pumped LIN Cycle Nitrogen product compressors don’t have the safety or reliability drawbacks associated with oxygen compressors. and therefore the work available per unit of expander flow. Designing for a large refrigeration requirement increases the minimum power consumption for the ASU. Expander Configuration and Additional Liquid Production For any of the flowsheets presented so far. Understanding how the co-product nitrogen demand varies in relation to the oxygen demand. as well as an even larger amount of nitrogen at four different product pressures. since machinery turndown is limited. but the expander flow does not bypass the HPC. For GAN pressures greater than 2000 KPa. an air pressure equal to 90% of the nitrogen absolute pressure may be used. Table 1 gives the approximate product flow requirements and pressures for a typical project.
The cost savings for a four stage BAC will usually justify the higher power consumption. ⎛ (Avg Ratio per Stage) = ⎜ ⎜P ⎟ ⎝ 1⎠ 1 P2 ⎞ n ⎟ (2) For P2 of 7290 KPa and P1 of 625 KPa.Table 1 . the Average Ratio per Stage is 1.500 18.63 for a five stage BAC. Where power cost is high.85 for a four stage BAC. less the pressure drop in the front-end air purification system. One feasible flowsheet is to produce HP GAN as pumped LIN at 8100 KPa . For the case study we will assume power is relatively inexpensive. The MP GAN and LP GAN1 could be produced as gas from the LPC and compressed to the required pressures in a product GAN compressor (Case 1). Optimizing the overall ASU capital cost vs. Typical values range from $1000 to $3000 per KW.000 25. HP GAN and MP GAN could both be produced from the HPC as pumped LIN and both the LP GAN1 and LP GAN2 are produced as gas from the HPC (Case 2). A slightly higher air pressure would result in slightly more efficient heat transfer. The LP GAN2 product pressure is low enough that it could be supplied directly from the HPC without further compression. the minimum air pressure from Figure 3 is 6600 KPa. The average compression ratio per stage for the BAC can be estimated for n stages using equation 2. depending on the present value for power. Typical values range from 600 to 650 KPa. For projects where power is generated internally. For Case 2 only a single stage GAN compressor for the LP GAN1 is . A value of 1.000 Pressure KPa 4600 8100 3300 710 550 Consideration should be given to producing at least a portion of the nitrogen from the HP column to reduce the total number of compressor stages. energy consumption requires an understanding of the present value for 1 KW of power consumption. and the LP GAN2 as gas from the HPC.Product Requirements Product GOX HP GAN MP GAN LP GAN1 LP GAN2 Flow NM3/hr 50.9 From Equation (1) a GAN pressure of 7333 KPa is consistent with the minimum air pressure needed to efficiently vaporize the pumped LOX.000 28. an air pressure of 7290 KPa is needed. The BAC inlet pressure is MAC discharge pressure.000 20. a value near the upper end of this range should be used. values nearer the lower end of this range are more common. and 1. The number of BAC stages needed to achieve this discharge pressure can be estimated from the overall pressure ratio for the BAC. and that the BAC suction pressure is 625 KPa.85 is near the maximum average ratio per stage (the actual pressure ratio will be slightly higher due to intercooler pressure drop). In order to produce oxygen at 4600 KPa. The nitrogen product pressure that can be produced as pumped LIN with this air pressure is: (1) Max GAN Pressu re = HP Air Pressu re 0. The optimum MAC discharge pressure ranges from 550 to 700 KPa. Alternatively. Based on the required HP GAN pressure of 8100 KPa. and would allow the HP GAN to be produced as pumped LIN.
As stated earlier. the condensing flow from the top of the HPC required to produce this boilup can be calculated based on the latent heat ratio of oxygen at LPC pressure to that of nitrogen at HPC pressure.1 Estimating Oxygen Recovery vs. The required boilup can be estimated based on the L/V in the bottom of the LPC.093 for the HPC Vapor Factor in . For screening the two flowsheets.needed. For our case study. but much of the capital cost of the product GAN compressor is eliminated. A larger MAC and BAC are required. since the latent heat of nitrogen is slightly lower than for oxygen. The total air feed flow (the MAC flow) is the sum of the HPC Vapor Feed and the HP Air Flow. a process engineer must specify the heat exchanger area and pressure drop to balance capital cost against power consumption. We can estimate the overall power for both flowsheets to determine if the compressor cost savings result in a lower overall product cost. Incremental capacity in the MAC and BAC may be less expensive than the multi-stage product GAN compressor. The expander flow is similar for both alternates. The expander flow for both alternatives is withdrawn after the second stage of the BAC. there is a reduction in boilup in the LPC. The vapor feed to the HPC is slightly less than the vapor flow from the top stage. 5. . Once we know the boilup. Producing so much nitrogen from the HPC results in a reduction in oxygen recovery. there is a minimum boilup required to produce a given quantity of oxygen product at a given purity. the BAC flow may be estimated from typical ratios of HP Air to HP GOX or HP GAN. we must estimate the expander flow. More area will result in tighter temperature differences and lower power consumption. The estimated compressor flows for each alternate are summarized in Table 2. HPC GAN production When a large amount of GAN is produced either as pumped LIN or gas directly from the HPC. For screening competing flowsheets. although producing MP GAN at 3300 KPa directly from the coldbox (Case 2) does require slightly more refrigeration than when the MP GAN is compressed in a product GAN compressor. no liquid products are being produced. To optimize the design of an ASU. In order to estimate the total power consumption for each flowsheet. we will use a value of 1.
700 160.000 8100 28.500 38. The typical value of the stage efficiency η is 0.85.Table 2 – Case Study Calculated Flows Case 1 O2 Product Flow Pressure from coldbox HP GAN Flow Pressure from coldbox MP GAN Flow Pressure from coldbox LP GAN1 Flow Pressure from coldbox LP GAN2 Flow Pressure from coldbox Total Pumped LIN HPC GAN Vapor Product V (LPC Boilup) N2 Condensing Flow HPC Vapor Feed HP Air Flow MAC Flow Expander Flow BAC 1st Stage Flow BAC 3rd Stage Flow NM3/hr KPa NM3/hr NM3/hr KPa NM3/hr NM3/hr KPa 50.000 KPa 105 NM3/hr KPa NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr NM3/hr 20.100 91.600 193. and an average heat capacity using equations 3 and 4.800 91.800 k −1 ⎡ ⎤ ⎛ P2 ⎞ k ⎢ ⎥ − 1⎥ ⎢⎜ P ⎟ ⎜ ⎟ ⎢⎝ 1 ⎠ ⎥ ⎣ ⎦ KW/Stage = Flow x ∆h s 3600 x 22. The value of C for the MAC is 29.100 119. ∆hs = C x T1 x (3) NM3/hr 18. .000 8100 28.4 x η (4) Compressor powers for each of the alternatives in the case study are summarized in Table 3.000 173.500 3300 18.000 125.900 34.600 177. We will use a value of 300 °Κ.1 J/gmole/°Κ. In equation 3.000 550 53.400 313.800 268.1 Estimating Power Consumption For the MAC and BAC the power for each stage can be calculated based on the inlet temperature.000 20.4.000 173.000 4600 25. The units for ∆hs are J/gmole.000 125.400 5.000 550 25.000 550 20.000 125.600 119. For the BAC the value of C is 28.500 105 Case 2 50. For either air or nitrogen the heat capacity ratio k = 1.000 4600 25. Flow in equation 4 has the units NM3/hr.5 J/gmole/°Κ. T1 is the inlet temperature in °Κ. pressure ratio.000 40. ∆hs is the enthalpy change for an adiabatic compression stage.
• • .500 18.844 GAN Compressor 1 Flow NM3/hr 48. Adding incremental capacity to the MAC and BAC may reduce the total cost of the machinery.836 BAC Stages 3 and 4 Flow NM3/hr 91.85 KW / Stage KW 3079 3918 Power KW 6.500 0 P2/P1 KPa 3300/710 No.85 1.29 KW / Stage KW 1232 173 Power KW 3.000 P2/P1 KPa 710/105 710/550 No. of Stages 3 Average Ratio per Stage 1. of Stages 3 1 Average Ratio per Stage 1. The machinery cost is an important consideration in optimizing the total ASU.85 1.157 7.272 Power 6.89 1.119 23.Table 3 – Case Study Calculated Power Consumption Case 1 Case 2 MAC Flow NM3/hr 268. The methodology given here is useful for screening competing flowsheets. of Stages 3 3 Average Ratio per Stage 1.800 160.419 BAC Stages 1 and 2 Flow NM3/hr 125.718 0 Total Compressor 36.87 1.1 Conclusions • Case 2 requires approximately 1090 KW or 3% more power than Case 1.85 KW / Stage KW 2247 2922 Power KW 4. of Stages 2 2 Average Ratio per Stage 1.100 P2/P1 KPa 2134/625 2134/625 No. The cost savings may well be more than the value of the additional power consumption.87 KW / Stage KW 6706 7806 Power KW 20. The lowest MAC flow is not necessarily the lowest overall cost or the best flowsheet when large quantities of nitrogen product are required. but it replaces a large 6 stage product GAN compressor with a small single stage machine.184 37.000 P2/P1 KPa 655/100 655/100 No.696 173 GAN Compressor 2 Flow NM3/hr 28. Other combinations of pumped LIN and HPC GAN could also be evaluated.400 P2/P1 KPa 7290/213 7290/2134 4 No.800 119.67 KW / Stage KW 573 Power KW 1. of Stages 2 2 Average Ratio per Stage 1.900 313.493 5.
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