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SPE 143766

Effects of Tower Motion on Packing Efficiency


J. Tim Cullinane, Norman Yeh, Ed Grave, ExxonMobil
Copyright 2011, Society of Petroleum Engineers
This paper was prepared for presentation at the Brasil Offshore Conference and Exhibition held in Maca, Brazil, 1417 June 2011.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

Abstract
This work reviews the major published studies, both theoretical and experimental, that address the impact of wave motion on
packed tower performance. Current practice is to add excess packing to guarantee the required separation is obtained, though
there is little data available to derive a safety factor for packing height. This work highlights deficiencies in the current
knowledge base and analyzes general trends to address common misconceptions about tower design for floating production.
Tilt and motions imposed on a fractionation column have a significant impact on product specifications due to reduced
packing efficiency. Improved awareness of motion impacts will assist the analysis of tower design and allow feedback to the
process design. Identifying gaps in available data shows limits in the current understanding and allows the development of
appropriate simplifying assumptions.
The current understanding of towers in motion allows only very basic design rules and the safety factor for packing height
in literature varies from 1.1 to 2.0. This provides little confidence in the ability to predict packing efficiency for floating
production.
Static tilt is more detrimental to liquid distribution than motion at a given amplitude. Still, liquid maldistribution from
motion approaches that of static tilt as the period increases. Liquid sloshing, often cited as a significant concern, is a
relatively minor contribution to maldistribution except for short periods and tall towers. The relative bed size has a
significant impact on liquid maldistribution, limiting the recommended maximum bed height:column diameter to 2 3 to
maximize the efficiency.
Approach to equilibrium is often overlooked as the major determinant of sensitivity of efficiency to maldistribution.
Separations that operate near equilibrium are more sensitive to maldistribution than services with a large driving force. Thus,
distillation towers are generally more sensitive to motion than absorbers and sensitivity may vary over column height.
Recommendations are provided for a bed-by-bed analysis and feedback to the process design.
Floating production units require additional complexity and conservatism in tower design. An improved awareness of
motion effects on towers, and the factors involved, will lead to improved designs and a reduction in the cost of floating
production facilities.
Introduction
There is increasing interest in offshore resources where a pipeline to onshore facilities is not feasible. While floating
production units are considered possible solutions for economic development of those resources, there are significant
technical challenges stemming from motion inherent in barge operation.
Tilt and motions imposed on an operating column have been shown to have a significant impact on the ability of a tower
to meet capacity and product specifications. Based on the few studies available in open literature, there is only a qualitative
understanding of the penalty motion imposes on packing efficiency and towers must be over-designed with additional
packing height to guarantee the required separation is obtained.
This work reviews the fundamental principles behind the reduction in efficiency during tower operation. The major
published studies, both theoretical and experimental, that address the impact of wave motion on packed tower performance
are examined. A critical evaluation of these studies and industry experience demonstrates that significant gaps in knowledge
still exist with fractionation processes under motion conditions.

SPE 143766

Discussion
The influence of wave motion imposes additional complexity in tower design to account for reduced separation efficiency.
The complexity is largely managed by increasing conservatism in the design, which may greatly increase the tower height.
Developing a quantitative understanding of the effects of motion on performance will allow more efficient designs.
The current understanding allows development of only very basic design rules. Motion of a column limits the internals
selection to packing; trays can not be used due to their extreme sensitivity to level. For this reason, this discussion is limited
to packed towers. Still, packing suffers a reduction in efficiency under non-vertical conditions. Adding packing height is
often recommended to compensate for some of this reduction. But, available data provides little guidance for assignment of
appropriate safety factors to packing height or the development of design practices to address the influence of wave motion
on tower performance.
Before considering the data, a basic understanding of the effects of motion on tower performance should be developed. A
discussion of these influences is presented below. After review, it should be evident that a safety margin for packing height
is complex function of many factors, including the process itself, reducing the utility of comparisons to other test data or
previous experience with different services.
There are numerous factors that are believed to affect distribution, and thus, mass transfer in packing. It is convenient to
consider these factors in two broad categories: hydraulic maldistribution and sensitivity to maldistribution.
Hydraulic Maldistribution. Factors that influence maldistribution in packing are limited to those physical conditions that
directly impact the hydraulics, or fluid flow, in the column. These include column tilt, bed height to column diameter ratio
(L/D), column motion, and physical properties of the fluid.
Static Tilt. Figure 1 illustrates the impact of tilt on fluid flow in a column. Conventional gravity flow distributors will
provide uneven distribution at the top of the packing. It is reasonable to assume that this can be adequately addressed with
proper distributor design; therefore, this paper assumes uniform initial distribution. While an important consideration for
towers under motion, liquid distributor design and performance is outside the scope of this work.
The impact of tilt on the liquid flow in the packing itself is shown in Figure 1. In a tilted column, liquid flow in the
packing can be assumed to flow vertical, resulting in some dry packing on one side and liquid overloading of the opposite
side. The resulting vapor and liquid channeling creates fluid bypassing and gives a lower efficiency. In practice, radial
mixing of the liquid may dampen this effect, but this is difficult to quantify.

Figure 1. Effects of Tilt on Liquid Distribution in a Packed Tower

The height of the packed bed relative to the column diameter (L/D) likely has a greater influence on the extent of
maldistribution. Column and bed size can vary widely depending on the process and design philosophy. In general,
industrial sized columns for conventional oil and gas production are 1 7 m in diameter. Bed heights can be shallow (2.5 m)
or very deep (8 m). This gives a potential range of L/D of 0.35 to 8.

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It can be shown that for a given L/D, the percentage of packing affected by tilt is constant. At a fixed tilt and column
diameter, deeper beds will experience more severe maldistribution.
As an approximation, impact on performance could be envisioned as dry area at a given cross-section, or a cumulative dry
packing volume. This is illustrated in Figure 2; a packed bed and the affected areas resulting from a 2o and a 5o tilt are
represented by cylinders of different shading. Distribution is assumed to be ideal at l = 0 due to the proximity to the liquid
distributing device. At increasing values of l, more cross-sectional area is affected. A cylindrical slice through the full length
represents the cumulative dry volume of packing.

Figure 2. Schematic of Liquid Flow through a Packed Bed under Tilt; Total L/D = 4

The area of dry cross section can be calculated by first estimating the wetted area as approximated by two overlapping
circles with an offset, d, as illustrated in Figure 3. The offset is a function of the elevation, l, of the intersecting plane and the
column tilt angle, . Note that l = 0 corresponds to perfect overlap, or the elevation of the distributor.

d (l ) = l tan ( )

(1)

The area of wetted cross-section is, in turn, a function of height and is given by

d (l ) 1
2
2
Awet (l ) = 2 R 2 cos 1
d (l ) 4 R d (l )
2R 2

(2)

where:
R = column radius
The dry area at a given height is then calculated by subtracting the total area from the wetted area.

Adry (l ) = AT Awet (l )

(3)

Numerical integration of Equation (3) from the distributor elevation, l = 0, to the packing elevation, L, provides the dry
volume.
L

Vdry = Adry (l ) dl

(4)

Note this simplified analysis does not account for the packing overloaded with liquid. Returning to Figure 3, the
displacement of wetted area creates an area outside the column boundary. The liquid in this area creates the liquid
overload at the column wall. Liquid holdup in packing has been reported to be 2 10% of the packing volume (Billet and
Schultes 1987) meaning there is significant void occupied by vapor; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that liquid in the

SPE 143766

displaced area fills in available void space and the area of overloaded packing is 2 10% of the dry area. The effect of liquid
overloading is much less significant than the vapor bypassing.

Figure 3. Illustration of Overlapping Areas

Figure 4 quantifies the effect of tilt angle and L/D on the amount of dry packing. For L/D = 1, at a high tilt of 5o the
amount of dry packing may be significant. The cross-sectional area at the bottom of the bed is reduced by about 11%.
Increasing the bed depth has a dramatic impact; for L/D = 4 at 5o, 44% of the cross-sectional area at the bottom and nearly
22% of the total bed volume is dry. While permanent tilts of less than 1o are more likely, for deep beds, this tilt can lead to
substantial fluid bypassing near the bottom of the bed.
The impact on column efficiency was confirmed experimentally by Baker et al. (1992) for L/D ranging from 4.5 to 11.
Tests with smaller diameter columns or deeper beds demonstrated an increased sensitivity to tilt.
This leads to the conclusion that the L/D of packed beds in floating service should be limited to a maximum value to
prevent excessive maldistribution. Unfortunately, this analysis alone is not sufficient to provide universally applicable
guidelines for a worst-case efficiency for tower design. A rule that states that the L/D must always be less than 2 or the dry
packing volume should always be less than 5% provides guidance relative only to distribution quality at static tilt.
As discussed below, the common assumption that static tilt is the worst case is not always correct. Additionally, the
sensitivity of a separation to maldistribution determines the ultimate efficiency penalty imparted to a tower.

Figure 4. Theoretical Proportion of Affected Packing Volume and Area

Motion. While tilt is often addressed as a static effect, motion of the column superimposes additional influence on the
liquid and further complicates the analysis. For simplicity, the motion can be assumed to be regular harmonic wave motion.

SPE 143766

This means that the motion is sinusoidal and centered at a vertical position. The applicability of this simplification is
supported by Hoerner et al. (1982a) and Widbom and Thorsson (1984).
With motion, independent accelerations of the column and liquid result in a sloshing effect. This can be envisioned as the
column and liquid moving in one direction. As the column reaches a limit of tilt, the liquid will have a tendency to continue
along its vector until acted upon by the packing or column shell. Since packing is relatively open, the liquid may move
significantly within the packing.
The relative contribution of gravity (tilt) and acceleration or inertia (motion) effects are not well understood, but both may
affect the liquid distribution necessary to achieve the maximum packing efficiency.
There is no literature that measures the individual contribution of these two effects. A study by Pluss and Bomio (1987)
presents a useful theoretical analysis, calculating gravitational and inertial vectors normal to the column axis.

g = g sin ( t )
where

(5)

g = gravitational constant
= maximum amplitude
= 2/P
P = period
t = time

i = H 2 sin ( t )

(6)

where
H = elevation above center of rotation.
From these equations, it becomes evident that the relative contribution of gravity and inertia is only dependent on
elevation above rotation, H, and the period, P.

i
H 2 H 4 2
=
=
g
g
g P2

(7)

It is important to note that a value of H is a discrete elevation and is not representative of all packed beds in a tower. Each
bed will have different average values of H.
The vectors, as defined above, have equivalent directions and may be summed. From this, Pluss and Bomio define a
liquid maldistribution factor, , that is proportional to the integral of the total force over time.

P (H 2 + g )

(8)

where
= a proportionality constant related to the fluid and packing.
The vector analysis shows the sensitivity of liquid maldistribution to gravity and inertial effects over a range of
conditions. The conditions presented in the paper are limited to relatively short periods (2 15 seconds). For discussion, this
method has been extended to motion periods from 12.5 to 30 seconds.
It should be recognized that Equation 8 does not apply to extremely long periods. For example, as P . In
practice, this can not be true because physical influences (e.g. packing, column shell) limit the maximum displacement of the
liquid. Therefore, must include an inverse relation to period so that maldistribution asymptotes to a finite value. Defining
this relation is not straightforward as it would be a function of packing type, size, column diameter, and bed length. Still,
Equation 8 provides a valid comparison of relative effects of g and i.
Figure 5 shows a normalized liquid maldistribution as a function of period for several elevations. It also shows the
relative importance of inertia in the system. For all but the fastest motion periods (< 16 seconds), gravity has more impact on
maldistribution than horizontal acceleration of the tower. This means that maldistribution will increase as the column spends
more continuous time at a tilt. Thus, increased maldistribution can be expected for longer periods as the motion approaches
static tilt.
Faster motion actually dampens maldistribution until inertial forces dominate. This tradeoff between gravity and inertia
results in a minimum in maldistribution. In Figure 5, this minimum is at a period of approximately 16 seconds for H = 60 m,
but does not manifest for shorter elevations until much quicker periods.

SPE 143766

600

Maldistribution, /

500

=
i/g

400

i/g

.5
=0

m
H = 60
0m
4
=
H

300

0m
H=2

200

100
10

15

20

25

30

Period, s
Figure 5. Estimated Liquid Maldistribution for a Column Influenced by Regular Wave Motions

This is in agreement with conclusions from pilot-scale testing. Baker et al. (1992) presents data that shows a decline in
performance as period increases. The decline is evident even at fast periods (10 15 seconds). Hoerner et al. (1982a)
reached the same conclusion though no experimental data is given to support these conclusions.
It is not straightforward to define a ratio where inertia is no longer important. A second ratio of i/ g = 0.5 (33% of the
total force) was arbitrarily selected for comparison. For periods greater than 22 seconds, i / g is less than 0.5 in towers up
to 60 m (197 ft) from the center of rotation. Towers 20 m or less from the center of rotation do not see a significant
contribution of inertial forces even under the quickest periods of relevance.
This type of analysis becomes critical when considering small-scale testing to represent large-scale projects. An example
of scaling is presented in Table 1. Consider a project definition where columns of various heights (20 to 60 m above
rotation) are expected to experience a maximum of 4o tilt with periods ranging from 15 to 25 seconds. Because the average
value for g is strongly affected by amplitude, a test facility with limited height (e.g. 5 m) can easily span a large range of
gravitational effects by varying maximum angle and period. Inertial effects, i, are much more difficult to match due to
strong dependence on height. Inertial effects can be approached for short columns (e.g. 20 m). But a difficult balance of
conditions, including a height of 16 m above rotation and a period of 8 seconds would be required to match project conditions
60 m above rotation.
Height restrictions in a test facility may mean that i and the i/ g ratio can not be matched. This does not necessarily
present a practical scale-up issue, but instead diminishes the ability to accurately distinguish between the two effects.
In conclusion, liquid inertia will play a minor role, at a fixed H, except at short periods (e.g. 12 15 seconds) and high
elevations (> 50 m). It is important to note that if H is assumed to be the elevation of the top bed, the role of liquid inertia
diminishes for the remainder (majority) of the beds in a column. The lack of accurate modeling of inertial forces will not
significantly detract from the ability to estimate liquid maldistribution.
Table 1. Average Gravity and Inertial Effects at Project Conditions Compared to Test Conditions
Project
o

Testing

Amplitude ( )

10

Period (s)

25

15

12

12

H (m)

20

60

16

156.1

93.7

18.7

187.4

99.9

i (m/s )

20.1

100.5

2.6

26.2

100.5

i / g

0.13

1.07

0.14

0.14

1.01

g (m/s )
2

Physical Properties. Physical properties of the liquid are thought to play an important role in liquid distribution in a
packed bed. Surface tension may be the most influential physical property as it influences droplet formation and liquid

SPE 143766

spreading on the packing surface. Waldie (2002) indicated that with decreased surface tension maldistribution increases
significantly in tilted columns. With a decrease in surface tension from 72 dynes/cm to 35 dynes/cm the maldistribution
increases by a factor of 3 5. This would roughly approximate the difference between water and an amine solvent at high
pressure. High pressure distillation can have surface tensions as low as 1 2 dynes/cm and thus may be even more
influenced by column tilt.

Sensitivity to Maldistribution. Apart from tower hydraulics, the sensitivity of a particular service to maldistribution must
be considered. Maldistribution affects different applications to varying degrees. In literature, much of the work in this area
originates from investigations of poor performance from distributors, but can be extended to the discussion of maldistribution
due to motion. The effects of maldistribution are commonly explained in terms of effects on the approach to equilibrium.
Maldistribution can be represented as a change in the liquid-to-gas ratio (L/V) in the column. As liquid maldistribution
occurs, the portion of the column that sees more liquid has a higher L/V, while the portion of the column that sees less liquid
has a lower L/V. As a consequence, the slopes of the representative operating lines change and reduce the driving force
available for mass transfer.
As an example, Figure 6 presents a hypothetical McCabe-Thiele analysis of the impact of a change in L/V (liquid
maldistribution) on the number of theoretical stages required for a given separation. For an L/V of 2, three stages are needed
to achieve the desired specification. As the operating line approaches equilibrium, the required number of stages increases as
does sensitivity to maldistribution. If the L/V is 1.5, the required number of stages increases to approximately 4.5. At an
L/V of 1, the column is pinched and the separation is not possible.
This simplified analysis leads to the conclusion that towers operating close to equilibrium (i.e. pinch) will be more
sensitive to maldistribution. Data presented by Hoerner et al. (1982b) validates this conclusion. The data includes efficiency
drop in packing for distillation and for CO2 absorption. The distillation service had a much more significant drop in
efficiency (up to 50%) than the absorption service (up to 20%). Gas treating, particularly CO2 removal, relies on large
approaches to equilibrium (often 30%) to reduce the number of stages required. Conversely, distillation is often much closer
to equilibrium to minimize energy use.
Finally, consider a TEG absorber, which usually contains 2 theoretical stages. The closest approach to equilibrium
generally occurs at the lean end (top) where liquid distribution would be relatively uniform exiting the distributor, suggesting
that this service is little impacted by motion. Industry experience with TEG contactors can not be used as a basis for
estimating impact on other services.

L/V = 1

Target
Separation

L/V = 1.5

L/V = 2

x
Figure 6. Approach to Equilibrium Effect on the Impact of Liquid Maldistribution

From this discussion, it is possible to make the following generalizations about sensitivity to maldistribution:
Distillation is more sensitive than gas treating services.
Cryogenic distillation, where typical designs encourage operating near minimum reflux to reduce refrigeration
requirements, will be particularly susceptible.
The sensitivity of gas treating services will depend on the number of stages and the location of the closest approach to
equilibrium. Pinches near the column top (i.e. TEG absorbers) may have little sensitivity, whereas pinches near the
column bottom (e.g. CO2 absorbers, strippers) may be very sensitive.

SPE 143766

Some packed sections within the same tower may be more sensitive to maldistribution than others. For example, in
distillation the top, bottom, and feed points of a distillation column operate closer to equilibrium and would therefore
be more sensitive.
There have been several methods proposed to predict the sensitivity of columns to maldistribution. Billingham and
Lockett (2002) present a summary of sources for the two most common techniques: the parallel column and the liquid
bypass models. The parallel column model uses multiple columns in parallel with differing liquid feed rates to simulate
variations in liquid load. The liquid bypass model assumes that some small portion of liquid bypasses the column
completely. Both techniques assume that maldistribution is constant over multiple mass transfer stages. Neither is
necessarily predictive as the results depend strongly on an arbitrarily selected number of parallel columns or bypass
flowrates.
For tilted columns, there is a graduated maldistribution over a single packed bed that increases over the bed length
(several theoretical model stages). The parallel column or bypass models could be adapted for each stage. This is
comparable to cell model approaches such as Higler et al. (1999), but this would lead to very tedious simulations as some
columns may have 40 or more stages. An alternative is to define an average maldistribution for a single bed (grouping of
several theoretical stages). This method sacrifices some accuracy, but may provide enough resolution given the uncertainty
of the method.
Because the number of actual stages realized in a moving column is a function of the bed designs, both methods assume
pre-existing knowledge of bed height. That is, an average maldistribution for a bed can not be known if the bed height has
not already been designed and vice versa. The design for columns subject to tilt or motion, in contrast to conventional
practice, is an iterative process.
It is common in industry that the process simulation and the column internals design are done in sequence by different
people at different companies. For towers influenced by motion, iteration between simulation and internals design is required
and should be implemented in the project execution strategy.
Billingham and Lockett (2002) present an algebraic alternative to the complex modeling. This is an extremely useful
method for determining the susceptibility of a column to maldistribution in the initial stages of design. This information
provides a strategy to address maldistribution in the most sensitive areas of the column by applying appropriate design
practices (e.g. shorter beds).
Literature Data
Table 2 summarizes a review of data available in literature and the conditions at which the data was collected. It is evident
that there is no data directly corresponding to high pressure distillation. Nonetheless, trends and directional behaviors can be
inferred as indications of potential performance impact on industrially relevant processes. A discussion of the data and
potential limits is presented below.
One of the earliest studies including inclination effects on packing HETP is by Weedman and Dodge (1947). This paper
presents HETP of several packings for cryogenic distillation of air. Unfortunately, this work is entirely bench-scale and uses
non-industrial packing, limiting its usefulness. Also, the L/D of this testing ranges from 9 to 16. This is considerably higher
than would be encountered in industrial applications. This difference may exaggerate the effect of tilt since a high L/D is
more prone to maldistribution. Conversely, the high proportion of wall flow in a small column may dampen the effect of
maldistribution. Despite these shortcomings, the data infers general trends that can be expected in larger-scale processes.
Figure 7 shows the impact of static tilt on packing performance from the data presented. At 1o, HETP increases by as
much as 5 20%. At 2.5o, HETP is increased by 5 80%. The data clearly shows a significant impact of tilt on packing
efficiency, particularly above 1o. Also, the wide variation in data suggests the impact is strongly dependant on the type of
packing.

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Figure 7. Effect of Column Tilt on HETP (Data from Weedman and Dodge, 1947)

Linde AG released a series of papers showing the performance of several systems (Hoerner et al. 1982a; Hoerner et al.
1982b; Berger et al. 1983). Maldistribution of liquid methanol at near atmospheric pressure was reported for random and
structured packing in a 0.4 m (1.3 ft) ID column. Data indicate that structured packing may have more tolerance to motion;
however, the asymmetry of the data indicates a significant scatter.
Efficiency drop was reported for NH3 absorption in water and CO2 absorption with MEA in the same column. The
efficiency drop was approximately 15% at a static tilt of 1o and approximately 30% at a static tilt of 2o. The efficiency drops
rapidly as tilt is increased further. Unfortunately, the paper does not disclose packing height or type. Furthermore, the liquid
rate is very low (2 5 gpm/ft2). With these deficiencies, it is not possible to extrapolate the information to other conditions.

10

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Table 2. Summary of Significant Data for Tilted Packed Towers


Reference

System

Column
Diameter (m)

Packing Type /
Size

Packed
H/D

Liquid Load
3
2
(m /m -hr)

Tilt
Range

Period
(s)

Efficiency
Loss (%)

Svensson
1982a

Methanol / Water
Dist.

1.0

Random /
IMTP#50

2.2

??

0 20

0 < 50

Hoerner 1982a,
1982b

Distillation
2
Ammonia Water

0.4

Random / ??

??

11

06

08

0 40
2
0 45

Pluss & Bomio


1987

chloro-benzene /
ethyl benzene

0.45

Structured / ??

13.3

??

05

4 12

0 35

0.22 0.4

Various

4.5 11.1

13 56

08

0 30

0 50

Baker et al.
1992

N2 / Air

Kobayashi et al.
1999

O2 Absorption by
6
Na2SO3 (aq)

0.5

Random / ??

25 75

06

8 15

0 40

Distillation of Air

Structured / ??

12

??

08

10 20

10 100

Depropanizer

~5

Structured / ??

??

??

05

8 15

??

Air/water

1.0

Random &
Structured / ??

??

??

06

N/A

0 70

de Bussy 2000

Rosa and Zuber


8
2003
Waldie 2005

1. m-cycloC6/toluene distillation
2. ammonia absorption in water
o

3. For list angle of 1 and an amplitude of 2.8

4. Deaeration of water
5. Packing includes Mellapak 250Y, 16 mm and 25 mm Pall rings, No. 1 Intalox saddles all were polypropylene
-

6. Oxidation absorption measured SO3 ion


7. No data. Estimated from computer simulation of hydraulics and mass transfer
8. No data. Case study using simulation & proprietary tool to predict maldistribution.
9. Hydraulics data only with theoretical calculation for mass transfer

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11

Svensson (1982a) presented data for methanol-water distillation in a moving distillation column. The same information is
also available in two additional publications (Svensson 1982b; Widbom and Thorsson 1984). The paper discusses a pilot test
facility with a column diameter of 1.0 m and a bed height of 2.2 m. The tests were on a standard random packing, IMTP 50.
A relative packing efficiency was reported for inclination angles from 0 20o and a period of 8 seconds.
An approximation of their data for static tilts is provided in Figure 8. Note that the paper does not give tabulated data. At
a static tilt of 1o, the relative efficiency is approximately 0.94. At a static tilt of 3o, the efficiency is much lower at
approximately 0.77. This rapid decline in efficiency demonstrates a strong dependence on the static tilt, particularly at small
angles.
Data is also provided on relative efficiency under motion with a period of 8 seconds. The efficiency penalty is small
assuming that the motion is centered at a vertical position. A 5o roll has a relative efficiency of nearly 98%. The paper also
states that motion centered on a non-vertical position has a significant impact on efficiency, though no data is presented to
support that conclusion.

Figure 8. Relative Efficiency of IMTP 50 for Methanol-Water Distillation at Static Tilts (Widbom and Thorsson, 1984)

From the Svensson (1982a, 1982b) publications, a small safety factor (e.g. < 1.25) on packing efficiency seems
reasonable for many practical conditions; however, a direct extrapolation to other distillation applications is difficult for
several reasons:
The methanol-water separation is low pressure distillation that is significantly different than high pressure
hydrocarbon distillation. At high methanol concentrations, the system may behave like an organic system, whereas at
low methanol concentration it may behave like an aqueous system. The paper does not disclose the region of
operation or if the calculated HETPs represent a point efficiency or a composite efficiency; therefore, it is not clear
what type of system this data represents and the physical properties may be significantly different than a true
hydrocarbon system. Furthermore, the approach to equilibrium is likely much less than the high pressure distillation
designs.
Methanol-water distillation is characterized by moderate liquid rates (e.g. 10 20 gpm/ft2). For some gas treating
applications, high liquid rates (>50 gpm/ft2) may be required, which may impact the results as previously discussed.
Tabulated data is not presented; therefore, it is difficult to assess the amount of data, data quality, and interpretation.
The Widbom and Thorsson (1984) publication implies that 5 angles were tested, but only 2 of these points were at
inclinations less than 5o. Thus, the curve in Figure 8 is representative of very few points, particularly at low
inclination angles where the efficiency is most sensitive.
The location of the packing relative to the pivot point is not provided, making interpretation difficult.
In addition to the inertial analysis already presented, Pless and Bomio (1987) report the apparent efficiency of structured
packing in distillation services under tilt. The test column was 0.45 m (1.5 ft) and a bed height 6 m. Their results show that
at a list angle of 1o, efficiency can be reduced by as much as 65%. This is likely, in part, due to the extreme L/D of the bed.
Packing type was not provided.
Baker et al. (1992) reports efficiency data for the deaeration of water with nitrogen. The tests use two columns of 0.22 m
and 0.4 m in diameter and two packed heights of 1 m and 2.45 m. This gives a range of 4.5 11.1 in L/D. For static tilts, the

12

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efficiency penalty is as much as 30% at 3o and 50% at 8o for lower liquid to vapor ratios. At higher liquid to vapor ratios, the
efficiency penalty is not significantly different, ranging from 20% at 3o to 40% at 8o.
Imposition of a motion period has varying effect on the efficiency. Conceptually, a static tilt condition is viewed as the
worst case operating condition for a tower. However, data in Baker et al. (1992) implies that may not be applicable when the
maximum roll period is significantly larger than the static list and the period is long. For a 3o amplitude, the packings tested
were relatively insensitive to motion until long periods (e.g. > 20 seconds) at which point there is a significant decrease in
efficiency. For large amplitudes (8o), efficiency steadily decreases with increasing periods beginning at a period of 9 seconds
eventually dropping below the static tilt of even 3o, suggesting that maximum roll condition can not be ignored as a possible
worst case.
Various packing types were used and included both structured and random packing. There is some variability in the
sensitivity to tilt among the different packing styles. This difference diminishes at increasing tilt angles. Also, reduced
scatter in the data suggests less dependence on packing type at high liquid rates. In general, structured packing was less
sensitive to tilt.
The system tested operates far from equilibrium; therefore, it is not possible to extrapolate the efficiency reduction to a
distillation application. Also, polypropylene was used as opposed to stainless steel for the packing material. This is expected
to impact the results due to the differing wetting characteristics.
Kobayashi et al. (1999) present data on a chemical absorption system for a packed tower in motion. The tests measured
the oxidation of aqueous Na2SO3 in a 0.5 m (1.6 ft) ID column with 2 m (6.6 ft) of an unspecified random packing. The
results indicate a loss of efficiency only above a static tilt of 2o. The applicability of these results to other systems is highly
questionable since the oxidation reaction is a slow reaction that will be far from equilibrium. Thus, the system itself is not
expected to be sensitive to maldistribution.
A theoretical study of excess packing requirements is presented by de Bussy (2000) of Air Liquide Engineering. The
paper simulates the effects of permanent tilt on a 4 m air separation column with structured packing with a range of L/D of
approximately 1 to 2. (Air separation is typically low pressure, cryogenic distillation.)
For a static tilt of 1o, the decrease in packing efficiency can be compensated by adding only 5 10% more packing height.
A 3o tilt, however, requires 30 50% more packing height. At a 4o tilt, nearly 100% more packing is required. This clearly
demonstrates a diminishing return associated with increased packing height due to increased liquid maldistribution in deeper
packed beds.
The paper also investigates the impact of liquid redistribution by splitting the packed bed. Liquid redistribution halfway
down the packed bed results in improved efficiency in additional packing. A 3o tilt with remixing requires only 25% more
packing height compared to the 30 50% without remixing. The expected improvement in efficiency with remixing supports
the previous supposition that a limit in L/D is warranted.
Industry Experience
To date, there has been little industry experience with the design and operation of major distillation or gas treating processes
for floating facilities. Some of the major known installations of relevance on FPSOs are discussed below and are
summarized in Table 3.
The tower sizes reported for NKossa give an idea of the scale of experience. The towers range in size from 3.5 m
(deethanizer) to 2.6 m (debutanizer). The largest tower, while significant, would not approach the gas absorber diameters
needed for CO2-rich gas. Conversely, the smallest tower still provides standard bed heights (7.8 m) at a reasonable L/D of 3.
Both the NGL fractionation on NKossa and the depropanizer on Sanha reportedly use structured packing. Laminaria has
a condensate stabilizer and debutanizer and Belanak has an NGL fractionation train; column sizes and internals for either
installation have not been disclosed.
Outside of these installations, nearly all other gas processing applications on floating or semi-submersible installations are
limited to TEG absorbers or condensate stabilizers, which have few theoretical stages and are less sensitive to motion than
distillation or gas treating as previously discussed. Still, they are often widely referenced as experience with floating towers
despite their significant differences in response to motion.
A representative design basis for industrial applications may be inferred from Roza and Zuber (2003). This work
describes the design of a 5 m depropanizer with structured packing for a maximum list of 0.5o, a maximum roll of 5o, and a
period of approximately 15 seconds. The depropanizer design has 4 beds of structured packing with 32 theoretical stages on
a non-moving basis. Assuming a base case HETP of 500 660 mm, the total packing height would be 16 21 m. On
average, each bed would have 4 5 m of packing suggesting careful consideration in bed design to limit the L/D to
approximately one (in this example) to minimize effects of maldistribution. A packing derating of 25% was still required to
account for moving conditions.
From the available information, industry experience with towers in motion is predominantly limited to distillation at low
to moderate pressures using structured packing. This experience is difficult to extend to high pressure distillation, such as
demethanizers in LNG production, where structured packing is not recommended. Also, there has been no indication of
tower performance at the most challenging motion conditions considered for the design, nor any indication that the these
conditions have been encountered.

SPE 143766

13

Table 3. Industry Experience with Towers under Motion


Service

Tower Dia.
(m)

Packing
Type

Deethanizer

3.5

Structured

Depropanizer

2.9

Structured

Debutanizer

2.6

Structured

Sanha

Depropanizer

Structured

Condensate
Stabilizer

Laminaria

Debutanizer

NGL
Fractionation

Installation

NKossa

Belanak

Ref.

Lecluze
1997
de Ruyter
2005

Shaw 1998

Koch-Glitsch

Conclusions
An overview of available information reveals that towers operating under motion conditions will experience a reduction in
performance, but the magnitude of this reduction is a complicated function of process and tower design. Reported reductions
in efficiency range from 10% to 50%, depending strongly on both motion considerations and the specific system in question.
The design of a column for floating conditions must therefore consider a multitude of factors:
The approach to equilibrium for a given separation is the major determinant of the reduction in efficiency.
Distillation towers are more sensitive to motion than absorption towers. Also, portions of the tower that are close to
pinch are more sensitive than other portions of the same tower.
The relative bed size has a significant impact on liquid maldistribution. Beds with a high L/D (e.g. > 2) will
experience significant maldistribution at moderate to high tilts.
Static tilt has a more significant impact on liquid maldistribution than motion at a given amplitude. However, long
periods can result in liquid maldistribution comparable to static tilt.
The maximum roll must be considered as a possible worst case, particularly if the expected amplitude is much greater
than the expected list.
Inertia due to column motion is a relatively minor contribution to maldistribution except for very short periods (< 15
seconds) and very tall towers (> 40 m).
Accounting for maldistribution through column simulation is not straightforward. A number of approaches, each with
limitations, makes creating a representative predictive model difficult. The best basis for modeling would be pilot-scale data
that includes both hydraulic and mass transfer measurements. Regardless, design of columns for motion conditions is an
iterative process between the process engineer and internals vendor.
To date, industry has little experience in the design and operation of process equipment for floating conditions. While
some floating operations have been successful, the circumstances surrounding their design margin and operability are
unknown. Only general trends may be inferred from previous experience and future designs can not be considered routine.
There is a significant risk in assuming that previous experience is directly comparable to future designs.
The complexity of the issues involved makes defining a universally applicable safety factor for packing height
impractical. With the absence of information to support specific conclusions regarding floating tower design, a conservative
approach is recommended until an appropriate study addressing the key variables is performed.
References
Baker, S. A., Tanner, R. K., and Waldie, B. 1992. Comparison of Packing Types in a Water Deaeration Column under Vertical, Tilt and
Motion Conditions. Trans IChemE. 70 (A): 509 515.
Belanak: Koch-Glitsch UK and the Belanak Project. 2004. Koch-Glitsch UK.
Berger, E., Hoerner, B., and Wiessner, F. 1983. LNG Production on Marine Structures with Clarification of Motion Influence on
Absorption and Rectification. 77th Inst. Gas Tech. Session II, Paper 12.
Billet, R. and Schultes, M. 1987. Determination of Liquid Hold-up in Gas-Liquid Two-Phase Countercurrent Mass Transfer Columns. I.
Chem. Eng. Symp. Ser. 104: 159 170.
Billingham, J. F. and Lockett, M. J. 2002. A Simple Method to Assess the Sensitivity of Packed Distillation Columns to Maldistribution.
Trans IChemE 80 (A): 373 382.
de Bussy, F. 2000. On Board Air Distillation for Off-shore Gas-to-Liquid Conversion. AIChE Spring Meeting.
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Higler, A., Krishna, R., and Taylor, R. 1999. Nonequilibrium Cell Model for Packed Distillation ColumnsThe Influence of
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14

SPE 143766

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