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Optimisation of Distillation

Column and Energy Reduction


Energy reduction in chemical processes is necessary to sustain cost effective production
and manage capacity in an ever changing marketplace, especially given the volatility in
feedstock and energy costs. Good energy management helps maximize plant profitability.
This article details how these objectives can be met through the use of simulation software.

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n VCM production, ethylene dichloride is thermally cracked at a temperature of 498 C and


pressure of 12 barg to produce vinyl chloride
monomer (VCM) and anhydrous hydrogen
chloride (HCl). Ethylene dichloride (EDC) is manufactured by direct chlorination and oxychlorination.
About 50% of the EDC fed to the furnace is cracked.
The effluents of the cracker are uncracked EDC,
VCM, HCl, and heavy byproducts. These effluents
are separated in downstream distillation columns.
The purpose of the VCM column is to separate
VCM from EDC and heavy byproducts. The column
top operating pressure is 6.0 kg/cm2g and has 70
sieve trays. The column top operating temperature is
45 C and bottom operating temperature is 164 C.
The column has a cooling water condenser and a
vertical thermosyphon reboiler with heating media
of 18 barg steam. The top product purity is maintained by reflux which is flow controlled, and bottom
product purity is maintained by reboiler steam which
maintains the temperature of 10th tray from the
bottom of the column. The column pressure is being

Figure 1. VCM Process Block Flow Diagram.

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HYDROCARBON ASIA, OCT-DEC 2009

controlled by means of flooded condenser by varying the top product flow and hence the surface area
of condenser.

Project Objective
The main objective of the simulation modelling
was to find out the energy reduction potential in the
VCM column without any capital investment.

Methodology
The methodology followed in this study is outlined below.
1. Selection of model from Aspen Plus for distillation column
2. Selection of property method
3. Validation of property method based on process
flow diagram (PFD)
4. Preparation of distillation column model
5. Validation of the model based on Licensors PFD
6. Fine tuning of the model based on present
operating parameters
7. Sensitivity analysis
8. Trial plan based on optimized window
9. Analysis
10. Conclusion
Aspen Plus simulation software is used for steady
state simulation. For the purpose of optimisation
study, Radfrac, a rigorous model for distillation
columns, was selected.
Peng Robinson was selected as a property method
and it was validated based on property data prediction by the method and by comparing the same with
the actual flow diagram provided by the Licensor.
The flowsheet was prepared in the Aspen Plus
simulation environment resembling the actual flow
scheme of the column.

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Initially, the PFD data was taken for feed composition and the prediction of the model for the top
and bottom products was compared to the component-wise composition in material balance table on
the PFD. Next actual feed compositions were analysed and input to the model and the model predictions carefully evaluated. Fine tuning of model was
done through Murphree tray efficiency adjustments
and following parameters were matched with actual plant data.
Temperature profile along the column
Condenser and reboiler duty
Reflux and steam flow
Top and bottom products composition
Case study and sensitivity analyses were then
performed to understand the effect of various variables like column pressure, reflux ratio, etc., without compromising the top and bottom product
specifications.
It was concluded from the simulation study that
it is possible to reduce the reflux ratio from operating value of 0.42 to 0.38 without compromising
product quality. This recommendation was implemented by a step-wise reduction of the reflux
ratio in operating plant.
Beyond energy savings, the same simulation
model was utilized for evaluating the potential for
increased throughput in the column. The tray ratings were done by specifying the existing geometry of sieve trays, and the flooding tendency was
evaluated in various sections of the column. Simulation results showed that the column can be operated at 120% of normal operating throughput and
the same was implemented in the plant.
The results from both the energy / reflux analysis
and the increased throughput analysis are summarized in the table below.
Feed flow
m3/hr
Normal Operation
53.84
After simulation implementation
54.11
Higher capacity operation (120% of normal) 64.50
Figure 2. VCM Column Simulation Study Results

Reflux flow
m3/hr
10.64
9.60
10.50

The simulation model prediction was highly accurate and very close to reality. The same column was
operated at 120% of normal operating throughput
as predicted from the results of simulation which
yielded additional capacity of 10.3 tonne/hr of feed.
HA

Enquiry Number

10/12-07

This publication thanks Mr. Sunil Patil, Business


Consultant, Aspen Technology Inc., Pune, India, and
Mr. Viral Desai, Central Technical Services, Reliance
Industries Ltd.,Dahej Manufacturing Division, India,
for providing this paper.
Mr. Patil holds a Masters in Chemical
Engineering from Shivaji University,
Kolhapur, India, and has more than 8 years
of experience with companies such as Galaxy Surfactants Ltd, Sulzer India Ltd and Honeywell
Automation India Ltd. He is currently working at
Aspen Technology, Inc. as Business Consultant & is
based in India. In this role he is responsible for business consulting and market development of
AspenTech engineering products and solutions for
South Asia.
Mr. Desai holds a B.E (Chemical) from
M.S. University of Baroda and is having 10
years of industrial experience in the petrochemical industry. He is presently working
with Central Technical Services at Dahej Manufacturing Division, Reliance Industries Limited, India, where
he is responsible for process engineering and simulation. He has worked in plant operations for 8 years in
different capacities. The major projects handled by
him include debottlenecking studies using simulation
and design tools to increase the production capacity,
simulation studies to optimize distillation column
performance w.r.t. quality, throughput, and energy
and pinch study simulation of a gas cracker plant.
Product flow
m3/hr
25.47
25.34
30.56

Steam flow
kg/hr
5270.55
4901.68
5607.00

Top pressure
kg/cm2g
6.00
6.00
6.00

Reflux ratio Energy to reboiler


MMkcal/hr
0.42
2.39
0.38
2.22
0.37
2.55

Benefits and Conclusions

References

The VCM column reflux ratio was optimized from


0.42 to 0.38 which lead to a reduction of energy in the
reboiler of around 300 kg/hr of medium pressure
steam (18.0 barg). This translates into energy savings
of 0.17 MMKCal/hr, resulting in economic benefits
of INR 1.5 Million per annum without any capital
investment.

1. Engineering Data Book, Tenth ED., Vol.1,2, Gas


Processors Suppliers Association, Tulsa, Oklahoma,1987.
2. Robert H. Perry, Don W.Green, Perrys Chemical
Engineers Handbook, Seventh Edition.
3. ASPEN Plus Manual.
4. Process flow diagram

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