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Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098

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The effect of tray geometry on the sieve tray efciency

Rahbar Rahimi n, Maryam Mazarei Sotoodeh, Elahe Bahramifar
Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Zahedan, P.O. Box 98164-161, Iran

a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history: Received 22 June 2011 Received in revised form 31 December 2011 Accepted 6 January 2012 Available online 4 February 2012 Keywords: Distillation Hydrodynamics Multiphase ow Mass transfer Efciency CFD

a b s t r a c t
In this research a 3-D two phase CFD model in EulerianEulerian framework was developed to study sieve trays efciency, hydraulics and mass transfer. To estimate the efciency of the sieve trays, two trays with similar geometry but unequal hole diameters were used while the effects of the holes and bubbles diameters were observed. The results were compared with the available experimental data for distillation of methanol and n-propanol mixture. Mass transfer coefcients were estimated by the Higbie and surface renewal stretch (SRS) mass transfer models. It has been found that the liquid ow pattern on the tray which had smaller hole diameter is closer to the plug ow pattern and tends to have a larger mass transfer rate. In addition, while comparing the SRS model theory with the Higbie model, it has been found that using the SRS model reduces the sensitivity of the simulation results to the bubble diameters. & 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

1. Introduction Sieve trays are commonly used in the distillation and absorption towers. Prediction of tray efciency is important because of its role in reducing the number of mass transfer stages and energy requirements. The aim of the present work was to obtain a CFD model to predict the tray hydraulics and mass transfer, and also to study effects of the hole diameter on tray efciency by providing comparisons between the trays which have different holes diameters. An insight into the usage of SRS theory in prediction of mass transfer efciency of the sieve tray has been provided. This paper is divided into following sections. Section 2 briey introduces the previous works which have been done in multiphase CFD models. In Section 3 research methods are described. Section 4 summarizes Flow Geometries and Boundary Conditions used in this research. Section 5 describes the results and nally in Section 6 the research is concluded.

2. Previous works In the early investigations, most attentions were on understanding of the hydrodynamics of sieve trays (Mehta et al., 1988; Liu et al., 2000; Krishna et al., 1999; Van Baten et al., 2000; Gesit et al., 2003; Li et al., 2009; Zarei et al. 2009).

Lopez and Castells (1999) investigated the effects of tray geometry experimentally. They focused on the holes diameters and inuence of liquid composition on tray efciency. They reported that a quadruplicate increase in the holes diameters reduced tray efciency by 25%. That was due to dependency of bubble diameter, froth characteristics, froth height and subsequently interfacial area on the tray holes diameters. But, bubbles diameter depends on physical properties and ow rates of the present liquid and gas phases. Therefore, in CFD simulations, it was desirable to employ relations for drag, heat and mass transfer coefcients that were independent of bubbles diameter. Van Baten et al. (2000) presented a relation for drag coefcient which was independent of bubble diameter. Their model was used extensively by many researchers and was proved to be valuable. The applications of CFD in the estimation of tray efciency were considered by Wang et al. (2004). They represented a three dimensional CFD model to describe the liquid phase ow and concentration distribution on the trays of the distillation columns. Rahimi et al. (2006a) studied the hydrodynamics of sieve trays by means of a three dimensional two uid CFD simulation. The liquid velocity, concentration and temperature distribution were determined. Thereafter, to predict the hydrodynamics, heat and mass transfer of sieve trays, a 3-D two uid CFD model in the Eulerian Eulerian framework was developed by them (Rahimi et al., 2006b). Jajuee et al. (2006) presented SRS1 theory to predict the liquid mass transfer coefcient that was independent of bubble diameter, thus these relations may be useful for CFD simulation.

Corresponding author. Tel.: 98 915 141 9052. E-mail address: (R. Rahimi).


0009-2509/$ - see front matter & 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.ces.2012.01.006

R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098


The SRS mass transfer model has not been tested in CFD simulation of distillation by the authors knowledge. In addition to previous works, Tray efciency has been investigated using computational uid dynamics (CFD) techniques (Taylor, 2007). Sun et al. (2007) presented a computational mass transfer model which was a combination of a basic differential mass transfer equation and an appropriate accompanying CFD formulation. Noriler et al. (2008) developed a CFD model in EulerianEulerian framework to predict momentum and heat transfer for multiphase ow. Consequently, they presented a two-phase, three-dimensional and transient model with chemical species, energy and momentum conservation balances. They used subroutines in FORTRAN language for the closure equations of the model (Noriler, 2010). Also, they obtained experimental data of clear liquid height in a distillation sieve tray column with water and air (Noriler, 2010). However, lack of an appropriate mass transfer model for the calculation of mass transfer rates in CFD simulation models was emphasized.

3.2.2. Momentum conservation For gas phase:

r:rG rG V G V G rG rPG r:r G mef f ,G rV G rV G T MGL

For liquid phase:

r:rL rL V L V L r L rPL r:rL mef f ,L rV L rV L T MGL

MGL describes the interfacial forces acting on each phase due to the presence of the other phase. 3.2.3. Volume conservation equation This is simply the constraint that the volume fractions sum to unity: r G r L 1 5

3.2.4. Pressure constraint Two phases share the same pressure eld: PG PL P 6

3. Research methods 3.1. Simulation Eulerian simulations were adopted for rectangular sieve trays. A three-dimensional steady state model was developed to describe the two phase ow and mass transfer on the tray with an outlet down comer. The hydraulic parameters such as the clear liquid height and froth height changes little over time and they have periodic manner quasi-steady state. Even though, these parameters have an effect on the gasliquid contact time and mass transfer rates between two phases. Because these changes are negligible, the steady state assumption is acceptable. Also, Wang et al. (2004) and Rahimi et al. (2006) simulated mass transfer on sieve trays using this assumption for the sake of simplicity and reducing computational efforts. The dispersed gas and the continuous liquid were modeled as two interpenetrating phases having separate transport equations. The continuity, momentum and mass transfer equations were numerically solved for each phase. Consequently, interphase transfer quantities, momentum and mass transfer models were used to develop the model. The solutions that used in CFD simulations are consist of two alcohols, Methanol and n-Propanol. So, their solutions were ideal and the heats of mixing were negligible (the changes in liquid and gas temperatures are a little). Therefore, one can neglect the use of energy balance equations. Hence, assumption of constant physical properties was used.

3.2.5. Mass transfer equations Transport equations for the mass fraction of light component A can be written as: For gas phase:

r:rG rG V G Y A rG DAG rY A SLG 0

For liquid phase:

r:rL rL V L X A rL DAL rX A SLG 0

3.3. Closure models

3.3.1. Inter phase momentum models The turbulence viscosities were related to the mean ow variables using the standard k-e model. The equation to calculate the inter phase momentum transfer MGL is as below: MGL 3 CD r G rL jV G V L jV G V L 4 dG 9

The effect of drag force was considered using the drag coefcient given by Van Baten et al. (2000). CD 4 rL rG 1 gdG 2 3 rL V slip 10

where the slip velocity, V slip jV G V L j is estimated from the gas supercial velocity VS and the average gas hold up fraction in the froth region: V slip VS rG 11

3.2. Governing equations According to assumptions, governing equations are as follows:

3.2.1. Continuity equations For gas phase:

For the average gas holdup fraction, Bennett et al. correlation was used. "  r0:91 # rG r G 1exp 12:55 V S 12 rL rG By substituting Eqs. 1012 in Eq. (9), the inter phase momentum transfer equation became: MGL r average 2 G 1r average V 2 S G grL rG r G r L jV G V L jV G V L 13

r:rG rG V G SLG 0
For liquid phase:

r:rL rL V L SLG 0

SLG is the rate of mass transfer from liquid phase to gas phase and vice versa. Mass transfer between phases must satisfy the local balance condition, so SLG SGL.

This relation is suitable to use in CFD simulations because it is independent from bubble diameter.


R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098

3.3.2. Mass transfer models The rate of local mass transfer SLG was expressed by Eq. (6) (Rahimi et al., 2006b): SLG K OG ae M A yA yn K OL ae M A xn xA A A 14

In systems with low supercial liquid velocity U sl % 0 the energy dissipation rate can be approximated by: _ e U sg g 24

The overall gas and liquid mass transfer coefcients, were K OG 1=1=kG m=kL , and K OL 1=1=mkG 1=kL . yn mxA b A (Vapor composition), yn , in equilibrium with the liquid composiA tion, xA. The Higbie and the SRS mass transfer theories were used to estimate the liquid mass transfer coefcient kL, and the Higbie theory was used to estimate the gas mass transfer coefcient kG. Eq. (15) calculates the average mass transfer coefcient from Higbie penetration theory that has been widely used in simulating the gas and liquid mass transfer in the distillation columns (Rahimi et al., 2006b). This theory assumes that the composition of the lm does not stay stagnant. r DAL kL,av 2 15

Combination of Eqs. (18) and (22) provides an expression for s, and hence the time-average overall mass transfer coefcient becomes (Jajuee et al., 2006): r!1=2 DAL U sg g K L,av 2 25

It is interesting to note that Eq. (25) does not show bubble diameter dependency explicitly.

4. Flow geometries and boundary conditions In the simulations, methanol and n-propanol liquid mixture with the average methanol concentration of Xm, were used. Experimental data were at total reux and at atmospheric pressure. The entering gas and the leaving liquid concentrations, yn 1 and xn,at total reux are equal. Schematics of rectangular sieve trays are illustrated in Fig. 1a and b. The Characteristics of the two simulated trays are given in Table 1. (Dribika and Biddulph, 1986). Table 2 shows the physical properties for methanol and n-propanol. In this table, m is the equilibrium


The exposure time, y, were obtained from the hydrodynamic properties of the system by the equation below: (Rahimi et al., 2006b)



where the average bubble rise velocity, VR, through the froth was given by: VR V P AP =AB _ 1r L 17

AP/AB is the perforated area to the bubbling area ratio. The exposure time for the estimation of gas side mass transfer coefcient from the Higbie theory were taken to be bubble diameter, dG, divided by the vapor velocity through the tray perforations, Vp (Rahimi et al., 2006b). The SRS model is based on the equation of continuity, which includes both turbulent and convective mass transfer at the gas liquid interface. In other words, it is the extension of the penetration theory of mass transfer to uiduid interaction systems (Jajuee et al., 2006). The average mass transfer coefcient from SRS model for the case in which, gas was considered as a dispersed phase is given by Eq. (18). r DAL s K L,av 2 18

where s is dened by Eq. (19) s u l 19

In this case, the length l, and velocity scales of eddies, v, for isotropic turbulence can be written as:  3 1=4 k l 20 _ e _ u ke 1=4 21

_ where, k m=rL is kinematic viscosity and e is viscous dissipation of energy per unit mass of eddies. Substitution of Eqs. (20) and (21) for n and l in Eq. (18) yields: r _ e s 22

Energy dissipation rate was calculated as follows:   e _ e U sg g U sl :g 1eg


Fig. 1. Geometry of simulated rectangular sieve trays; (a) Geometry 1 and (b) Geometry 2.

R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098


Table 1 Rectangular sieve trays specications. Characteristic Geometry 1 83 991 154 7.5 132 8 25 Geometry 2, (Dribika and Biddulph, 1986) 83 991 154 1.8 2465 8 25

Weir length (mm) Liquid ow path (mm) Tray spacing (mm) Hole diameter (mm) Hole number Percentage of free area (%) Weir height (mm)

Table 2 Physical properties for methanol and n-propanol system. Xm 0.279 0.342 0.410 0.555 0.771 m 1.204 0.940 0.735 0.505 0.432

1.844 1.798 1.728 1.602 1.403

748 750 752 755 759

DG 1.04 10 5 1.02 10 5 1.02 10 5 9.93 10 6 9.67 10 6

DL 1.46 10 9 1.10 10 9 8.08 10 10 4.31 10 10 1.75 10 10

coefcient. Wilsons equations were used for calculating the activity coefcient (g). Non-ideal equilibrium coefcients were calculated by multiplication of m with the activity coefcient. But, as it was mentioned in Section 3.1, since the solutions are ideal the calculated g was close to 1. Therefore, there was no signicant difference between ideal and non-ideal equilibrium coefcients. The m values that were presented in the table, were calculated from the equilibrium distribution curve, x y, as mdy/dx. The differentiation can be performed if y ax=1 ax were accepted. Where a is volatility coefcient. Inlet liquid and gas ow rates were known. Constant mole fraction values for entering gas and liquid phases were used. The leaving concentrations are estimated by the CFD model. The gas and liquid outlet specication were in agreement with the specication of inlet where only one uid was assumed to enter. Atmospheric pressure and uniform velocity were selected for gas and liquid outlet boundaries, respectively. A no-slip wall boundary condition was specied for the liquid phase while a free slip wall boundary condition was used for the gas phase.

data in Fig. 2. Froth height, Fig. 2a, and clear liquid height, Fig. 2b, versus average methanol concentration, Xm, were used for validation of the hydrodynamics of the model. Froth height and clear liquid height were considered to be the key hydraulic parameters. Comparisons have showed that the model using either of the geometries overestimates the experimental results by less than 15%. This percentage of error was acceptable and showed that the model was validated. The liquid ow pattern on the tray was close to plug ow because of the rectangular shape of the tray geometry. Appreciable back mixing and stagnant zones were not observable. Reducing or eliminating back ows and stagnant zones that are common in circular sieve trays were the key factors to reach plug ow. Therefore good mass transfer and prevention of decreasing in concentration gradients increased the tray efciency. As the result, larger sieve tray holes diameters led to having fewer holes with larger pitches and consequently having larger bubbles at certain perforated area. Larger bubbles with far apart provide more irregular liquid ow pattern than smaller bubbles with less apart. Fig. 3 shows horizontal liquid velocity values versus dimensionless width of tray, z/W, at y4.8 mm and x/L0.333, for Xm 0.41. Geometry 2 had more uniform velocity distribution prole and behaved closer to plug ow. The values of liquid mixture velocity were zero at the rst and the end points of the curves or at walls of the tray. The liquid volume fraction contours at xz plane, which represented the mixing and bubbling in the dispersion height is

5. Results and discussion In Section 5.1, the effect of hole diameter and in Section 5.2, the effect of mass transfer coefcient relations have been explained. In sections that fallow the model validated with the acceptable experimental data of Dribika and Biddulph (1986) that applies for Geometry 2. 5.1. Effects of hole diameter According to Table 1, the trays were differed in the number of holes and their sizes. Geometry 2 (tray with smaller hole diameter) was in accordance with the experimental tray of Dribika and Biddulph (1986), Geometry 1 is mostly similar to Geometry 2 but it has larger holes. In order to remain the percentage of bubbling area in Geometry 1 equal to Geometry 2, the number of holes is reduced. Penetration or Higbie theory was used to calculate the mass transfer coefcient. 5.1.1. Effects of holes diameters on tray hydraulics Simulations runs were carried out at F-factor equal to 0.4 (m/s (kg/m3)0.5) and the results were compared with the experimental
Fig. 2. CFD simulation and experimental data for: (a) froth height at F-factor 0.4(m/s(kg/m3)0.5) and (b) clear liquid height at F-factor 0.4 (m/s(kg/ m3)0.5).


R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098

shown in Fig. 4a and b for two different distances from the tray deck. These gures showed that at heights above the deck of the tray, the froth is uniform. But near the wall the liquid volume fraction was larger due to wall liquid retardation. However as movements of liquid versus the deck towards the outlet weir occurred, the mass transfer coefcients are large for plug ow

situations. A reduction in stagnant zone and more uniformity of distribution of gas in liquid phase were observed.

Fig. 3. Horizontal component of liquid velocity across the tray at y 4.8 mm, x/L0.333 and for Xm 0.41.

5.1.2. Mass transfer Fig. 5 was used for validation of mass transfer model. Experimental methanol composition prole and CFD simulation results of model (Geometry 2) were compared. Comparison showed that the experimental data and CFD simulation results differ by about 14%. Also, mass transfer rate for the Geometry 1 was shown to be low and the results were far from experimental data. Plug ow along liquid ow path on the tray resulted in less back ow mixing and higher concentration gradient. The overall effects were to increase mass transfer rates for Geometry 2 to be higher than Geometry1. Liquid ow path for Geometry 1 is not plug ow. When the liquid moves over the tray, propanol in the gas phase is absorbed by the liquid phase and methanol is desorbed into the gas phase. With uid movement along the tray, the concentration of propanol in the liquid phase increases, so the ux of mass transfer between two phases decreases. Therefore, concentration of propanol in the gas phase increases, this means that the discharged gas concentration from the tray is not uniform. These results were illustrated in the Fig. 6a and b. Comparison between Fig. 6a and b shows that mass transfer rate

Fig. 4. (a) Liquid volume fraction contours for the Geometry 1 on a horizontal plane at y5 mm. (b) Liquid volume fraction contours for the Geometry 2 on a horizontal plane at y 5 mm.

R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098


in Geometry 2 which has smaller holes was more than mass transfer rate in Geometry 1 with larger holes. So, n-propanol concentration had more decrease in gas phase in Geometry 2. 5.1.3. Efciency The Murphree tray efciency which was dened by comparing a real tray with an ideal tray is the most applied denition of the

tray efciency. The average Murphree tray efciency may be 100% greater than the Murphree point efciency whilst point efciency is always less than 1 by denition (Lockett, 1986). In this work Murphree tray efciency was calculated by the following equation: EMV yn yn1 yn yn1 n 26

where: yn mxn b n and yn mxn b n 28 27

To estimate point efciency, the tray was divided into six cells in the liquid ow direction. By integration on the y and z directions, the average value of concentration was calculated for each cell (Rahimi et al., 2006b). The efciency of each cell was calculated by the point efciency equation  yn yn1 yn yn1 n  29

Fig. 5. Methanol mole fraction prole on the tray at Xm 0.41.


Fig. 6. (a) Vapor phase propanol mole fraction for the Geometry 1 on a vertical plane at z/W 0.5 and Xm 0.279. (b) Vapor phase propanol mole fraction for the Geometry 2 on a vertical plane at z/W 0.5 and Xm 0.279.


R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098

Equations of Murphree tray efciency and point efciency can be found in several books and papers in details (Rahimi et al., 2006b; Lockett, 1986; Kister, 1992). Point efciencies of the two geometries were compared in Fig. 7. It is shown that the point efciency for Geometry 2 is larger than the point efciency for Geometry 1. Fig. 4 showed that liquid volume fraction was high near the outlet weir. Therefore, there exists the possibility of increasing contact times of liquid and vapor which has led to more signicant point efciency in that area. This was observable in Fig. 7 when x/L towards 1. The increase of point efciency in Geometry 1 is more than the increasing of point efciency in Geometry 2 as x/L tends toward 1. Mass transfer rate in Geometry 2 was higher than mass transfer rate in Geometry 1 or rate of decrease of mass transfer driving force in Geometry 2 was more than that of Geometry 1. Therefore, increases in contact time at the liquid exit end of the tray had a lesser affect in point efciency for Geometry 2 than that for Geometry 1. Efciency of simulated trays and experimental data were compared in Fig. 8. According to Fig. 8, it is shown that the model has 15% overestimation which is a reasonable validation of the model for the Geometry 2. Also, it is shown that by increase of the holes diameter, tray efciency is decreased. It can be argued that an increase in bubbles diameter can lead to a decrease in the interfacial area. The gas mal-distribution in liquid phase caused a subsequent non-uniformity of liquid ow pattern on the tray. This fact has been observed in Lopez and Castells (1999) study as well. 5.2. Effects of mass transfer theory In this part of simulations, two theories of mass transfer coefcients were compared. Geometry 2 was employed and the

Fig. 9. Liquid phase methanol mole fraction on the tray for Xm 0.279.

effects of bubble diameters were studied with bubbles of 2, 5 and 10 mm in diameters. 5.2.1. Mass transfer Changes in the methanol mole fraction of liquid phase on the tray are shown in Fig. 9. The chart is drawn for bubbles which are 5 mm in diameter. Fig. 9 shows that application of SRS theory for the Geometry 2 has improved the simulation results more than applying the Higbie theory. Fig. 10 illustrates contour of methanol in liquid phase at xz plane for SRS theory. This gure shows that concentration of methanol has decreased along the tray and has reached its lowest value at the outlet weir. 5.2.2. Efciency Fig. 11 illustrates variation of tray efciency along the tray length. This gure includes the simulations results using Higbie penetration and SRS mass transfer theories with three different bubble diameters. For 2 mm bubble diameter, penetration theory has predicted larger point efciency than SRS theory. For 5 mm bubble diameter point efciency predictions were unfavorable and theoretical efciency of SRS increased. These results illustrated that using SRS theory the sensitivity of simulations to bubble diameter has decreased. This was due to independency of SRS theory to bubble diameter. By increasing the bubble diameter to more than 10 mm this theory cannot predict suitable results. Fig. 12 represents calculated efciency for Geometry 2 using both Higbie and SRS theories for three bubble diameters of 2, 5 and 10 mm. According to Fig. 12, calculated efciencies for 2 and 5 mm bubbles diameters are equal as was predicted by SRS theory. Higbie theory is sensitive to bubble diameter, therefore calculated efciency for 2 and 5 mm bubble diameters were different, using this theory.

Fig. 7. Point efciency on the tray for Xm 0.41.

6. Conclusion In this study, a 3D two phase ow model was developed to predict the sieve tray hydraulics, mass transfer and efciency. The tray geometries were based on the large rectangular tray of Dribika and Biddulph (1986). Two trays with different holes diameters were simulated. The effects of holes diameters on the tray hydraulic and on the mass transfer were investigated. In has been concluded that the tray with smaller holes diameters would give more uniform liquid phase mixture, lower back mixing and higher efciency. The study has shown that SRS mass transfer theory could be used in CFD modeling in the cases with bubble diameters which are less than 10 mm. The results were compared by results of

Fig. 8. Variation of Murphree efciency with respect to changes of average liquid mole fraction, Xm.

R. Rahimi et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 76 (2012) 9098


Fig. 10. Prole of liquid phase methanol mole fraction on horizontal plane at y 25 mm and for Xm 0.279.

Fig. 11. Point efciency along the tray deck with different bubble diameters, Xm 0.555.

CD dG DAL FS g kG kL K L,av K OG K OL l m MA MGL rG rL s SLG U sg Us1 v VG VL VS VP VR Vslip

Fig. 12. Variation of Murphree efciency calculated using Higbie and SRS mass transfer theories with respect to changes of bubble diameters, dG, Xm 0.555.

eg _ e

Higbie theory. SRS theory was less sensitive to the size of bubbles in froth region because this theory is independent of bubble diameter. It has been obtained that using the SRS theory is more suitable for CFD simulation than Higbie theory.

k m rG rL

drag coefcient mean bubble diameter, m liquid molecular diffusivity, m2/s p F-factor VS rg , m/s(kg/m3)0.5 gravity acceleration, m/s2 gas phase mass transfer coefcient, m/s liquid phase mass transfer coefcient, m/s time-average overall mass transfer coefcient, m/s gas phase overall mass transfer coefcient, m/s liquid phase overall mass transfer coefcient, m/s length scale of eddies in viscous dissipation range, m slope of equilibrium line molecular weight of component A, g/mol interphase momentum transfer, kg/(m2s2) average gas holdup fraction in froth average liquid holdup fraction in froth fractional rate of surface renewal, 1/s rate of inter phase mass transfer, kg/m3s supercial gas velocity, m/s supercial liquid velocity, m/s molar average velocity; velocity scale of eddies in viscous dissipation range, m/s gas phase velocity vector, m/s liquid phase velocity vector, m/s gas phase supercial velocity based on the bubbling area, m/s vapor velocity through the tray perforations, m/s bubble rise velocity, m/s slip velocity, m/s gas volume fraction energy dissipation rate per unit mass, W/kg liquid contact time, s kinematic viscosity, m2/s liquid phase viscosity, kg/m s gas density, kg/m3 liquid density, kg/m3

Nomenclature AB AP ae tray bubbling area, m2 total area of holes, m2 effective interfacial area per unit volume, 1/m References
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