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Retrofitting a glycol contactor to

prevent carryover
A revamp of glycol contactor column internals, following CFD studies, resolved
problems with gas production caused by glycol carryover


Sulzer Chemtech Switzerland

he gas production rate on an condensate was sufficient at 18 000
offshore platform was t/d. This gas throughput became
constrained due to a high constrained by glycol carryover
level of glycol carryover from losses. It was decided by the
glycol contactors. The existing customer to revamp the third train
column internals were investigated in early 2012 and leave the other
and it was found that the area of trains to a later date. This would
the mesh pad in the top of the allow confidence and experience to
column was around half of the be gained with minimum exposure
column area. In addition, the gas (a single train rather than all three
outlet location and associated trains). Sulzer was selected to
piping arrangement appeared to revamp the internals of the contac-
create vapour maldistribution. A tor to minimise the TEG losses at
high-capacity Shell Swirltube higher gas rates in the customers
separator and Sulzer structured complex.
packing internals were proposed in In the late 1980s, to increase
conjunction with a new gas outlet throughput, the original bubble cap
arrangement and the existing trays in the glycol contactor were
separator support system. CFD upgraded to structured packing
studies were carried out to evaluate Figure 1 Sketch of the existing mesh pad (GEMPAK 3A, which is comparable
the possible vapour distribution, and the gas outlet arrangement to Sulzer Mellapak 350Y). In the
based on which a revamp proposal column top, a mesh pad was
was fine-tuned. New internals were than 4 m3/d to prevent onshore installed to prevent glycol losses. It
manufactured and installed on site upsets. covered about half of the column
in 2012. Recently, the design was During a trial in 2007, dehydration area (see Figure 1). A lean glycol
validated in high-rate trial runs, capacity as well as TEG losses were distributor was installed above the
with significantly lower triethylene evaluated at various flow rates. The structured packing, and in the
glycol (TEG) carryover. gas rate was increased to around bottom there was a chimney tray to
All together, there are three trains 18 000 t/d per train, at which point collect the rich TEG before being
on the platform. The facility dehy- it was found that the glycol losses directed to the glycol regeneration
drates the gas and condensate reached the maximum limit of system (see Figure 2). This was the
separately, and then recombines the 4m3/d (total of three trains). Dew column internal configuration to be
dried products before transporta- points were found to increase and revamped. To avoid having to stress
tion via trunkline(s) to the gas were worse at the higher rates. release the column after revamp,
plant. Subsequently, the gas plant Condensate dehydration was estab- welding to the column wall was not
processes these fluids to produce lished to be adequate. Overall, permitted. The existing separator
LNG, condensate and LPGs. dehydration performance was found support system had to be reused for
In 2006, a customer in the Asia to be acceptable for the first and the various revamp options.
Pacific region decided to proceed second trunklines, where the satura-
with the design of a new bridge- tion specification had basically not Gas-liquid separator in the columns
linked facility to its plant. The been affected and remained at top section
compression installed on the new around 25% and 19%, respectively, The location and arrangement of the
plant would allow 20 000 t/d of which was less than the integrity gas outlet was relatively unique, as
gas throughput per train. limit of 75% and the operating limit the gas outlet nozzle is located later-
Specification of the glycol content of 65%. Therefore, it was concluded ally below the mesh pad. An
of the export gas plant must be less that the dehydration of both gas and elbow-shaped internal pipe passes Ravamps 2013 33

the trial in 2007 could immediately
be attributed to the small mesh pad
New Shell
SulzerSwirltube separator
HC separator area, which was only half of the
packing cross-sectional area. The
New Sulzer mesh pad
arrangement of the existing mesh
N2 M2 pad was perfectly symmetrical, but
New Sulzer
the space between the column head
liquid distributor and mesh pad was very narrow,
Bed 1
causing a poor inflow to the gas
New Sulzer
structured packing outlet piping above the mesh pad
and an uneven vapour distribution
through the mesh pad. This maldis-
tribution also contributed to the
observed excessive entrainment
of TEG.
Existing packing support Any revamp proposal was
limited by two key factors:
Existing chimney tray The gas outlet could not be
N1 M1
Hot work to the column wall was
Existing feed inlet
Therefore, the existing shroud
had to be reused, and it was neces-
sary to install high-capacity
Figure 2 Proposed Sulzer KnitMesh coalescer and Shell Swirltube separator demisting equipment to compen-
sate for the limited area available
through the centre of the mesh pad. structured packing in TEG contac- for a separator.
This pad was supported by a tors is higher than that of a wire There are several types of gas-
shroud welded to the column head. mesh pad. Obviously, the excessive liquid separators on the market, and
Usually, the gas- loading capacity of glycol entrainment observed during they can usually be classified into
three categories: mesh pad, vane
pack and axial cyclone types. The
Performance of various types of gas-liquid separators
selection of different types depends
on required capacity, pressure drop
Mesh pad Vane pack Centrifugal device and efficiency (indicated by cut-off
Capacity (per unit area) 1 1-3 3
size). Table 1 shows a simple
Pressure drop Base Low High
Cut-off size (glycol) Down to 3-5 m Down to 20-30 m Down to 10 m summary of the selection criteria. It
Operating pressure limit - Up to 50 bar in particular - has to be noted that values in the
if hydrocarbon liquids are present table are indicative only. They are
subject to individual separator prod-
Table 1 ucts and operation systems.
With increasing operating pres-
sures, vane packs, even if they are
equipped with a coalescer in the
front, suffer higher efficiency loss
than axial cyclones. The operating
pressure of this TEG contactor is
108 bar. Axial cyclones are the best
option for having up to three times
higher capacity than mesh pads per
unit area. They can compensate for
H the limitation caused by the smaller
area available for separation. A
Shell Swirltube separator was used
in the investigation of various
Direct welding to the column
Liquid backup to Liquid cannot drain if wall was forbidden, so it was
counterbalance P P is too high
proposed that the existing shroud
be extended downwards by weld-
Figure 3 Principle of liquid backup in a drain pipe ing additional parts onto it. To

34 Ravamps 2013

maximise the number of Swirltubes
and to take into account the dimen-
sions of the standardised cyclone A
modules, the outlet piping had to
be shifted from the centre to the
side of the shroud. Internal piping
for the dry gas outlet nozzle
needed to be cut and welded onto
the extended shroud. A schematic
of the proposed new arrangement
is shown in Figure 2. This arrange-
ment posed some uncertainty with
regard to vapour distribution
across the new Swirltube deck due
to sudden changes in the vapour
flow direction of 90 degrees after
passing through the Swirltube
separator and the asymmetry of the
new arrangement in general. The
typical pressure drop of a Swirltube
separator is much higher than for a
mesh pad (30 mbar versus 0.5 bar).
This helps to improve vapour
distribution but, because the
concern for maldistribution could
not be eliminated, CFD studies
were conducted to understand and
quantify the risk.
There is another aspect to
consider in the design of the axial 2.0
cyclones. The liquid drops sepa- 1.6
rated by the Swirltubes are 1.2
collected in liquid collection cham- 1.0
bers, from where the liquid is 0.6
drawn off through a pipe system. 0.2
The downpipe is subject to liquid Velocity, m/s
backup caused by the pressure
drop through the Swirltube deck. If C
the drainpipes vertical height is
not sufficient to accommodate the
liquid backup, the liquid may flow
back onto the deck and cause fail-
ure of the separator.
The customers previous experi-
ence showed that there was
significant condensate carryover
from the upstream production
separator to the glycol contactor. It
was therefore expected that
condensate could be entrained
together with TEG into the packing
section and further upwards to the
demisting device itself. Due to the Figure 4a CFD model configuration showing the high-capacity separator (green), the
huge difference in density between mistmat (pink), the liquid distributor (cyan) and the gas exit nozzle (side draw)
TEG and condensate, and the arrangement
limited height between the separa-
tor and TEG distributor, the Figure 4b CFD vapour flow trajectories represented by the velocity magnitude, where
downpipes for the separator should blue represents the low velocity and red represents the velocity peak of the scale
extend to the rich glycol sump to
cope with the condensate backup. Figure 4c CFD vapour flow vector plot represented by the velocity magnitude, where blue
Equation 1 describes how the liquid represents the low velocity and red represents the velocity peak of the scale Ravamps 2013 37

top conditions of the TEG contactor
and asymmetric configuration of
the proposed arrangement caused
concerns over possible maldistribu-
tion of the vapour and uneven
loading of the individual swirltubes
of the deck. CFD studies were
carried out for four operating load
cases. These cases represented
minimum and maximum loadings
corresponding to pre- and post-
1.8 revamping conditions to verify the
1.4 risk by looking into the velocity
1.2 profiles across internals and column
1.0 Velocity, m/s
0.8 cross-section at various elevations
0.4 of the tower.
0.0 The CFD model configuration is
C D illustrated in Figure 4a. The vapour
flow through the column is
simulated numerically using a
general-purpose commercial fluid
dynamics code.
To model the turbulence behav-
iour of the flow, the standard k-
model is used. The pressure drop
over the mistmat is described by
means of the resistance law:

p = k H v2/2, (2)

Figures 5a-d CFD vapour flow velocity vector plots: a) above the liquid distributor;
b) below the mistmat; c) across the high-capacity separator ;and d) at the downcomer Where k is dependent on the oper-
entry after the separator ating condition and the type of
mat above the deck serves to catch mistmat.
backup is calculated, where H is these droplets. Unfortunately, the Porous media has replaced the
the backup height of fluid in the available space above the separator mesh pad in the CFD model config-
drainpipe, is the density of the would not be sufficient to fit a uration. The liquid distributor and
fluid, and g is the gravitational secondary KnitMesh for the glycol high-capacity separator are
acceleration constant. Figure 3 contactors, as this involves extend- modelled as accurately as possible
demonstrates the principles of this ing the primary gas outlet, and the to represent the actual pressure
consideration: resultant space between the outlet drop through these devices.
and the vessel head would become Separator drain downpipes and the
P (1) too small. The final proposal liquid distributor feed pipe are not
H fluid =
fluid g consisted of a coalescer mistmat included in this study, as they are
plus a deck. It is worth noting that not needed to simulate the vapour
A typical arrangement of the the overall glycol entrainment flow inside the vessel. The
Swirltube separator consists of a could be decreased further if using projected horizontal cross-sectional
Sulzer KnitMesh mistmat placed in a secondary KnitMesh in this case. area perpendicular to the vapour
front of and at the back of the A new distributor was proposed flow direction of the liquid distrib-
Swirltube deck. They both serve to eliminate a concern of entrain- utor feed pipe (T-shaped pipe) and
different purposes. The one below ment caused by the distributor separator downpipes with respect
the deck is the coalescer mistmat itself. The revamp also included the to the column cross-sectional area
and serves to coalesce the small installation of a better support grid is less than 2%.
droplets coming from below. To suitable for the expected higher CFD analysis results of the load
help collection and drainage of the loads. case corresponding to 20 000 t/d are
collected droplets by the swirltubes, used to validate the models against
some purge gas guides the liquids CFD verifications the available plant test data for this
into the liquid collection chambers. CFD tools can provide more load case. Figures 4b and 4c demon-
A small amount of liquid droplets detailed insights using the actual strate the CFD vapour flow
might be carried with this purge tower configuration and process trajectories and vector plots repre-
gas. The secondary KnitMesh mist- loading conditions.1 The cramped sented by velocity magnitude,

38 Ravamps 2013

where blue represents the low Change of packing
velocity and red represents the The capacity possible through a
velocity peak of the scale. It can be contactor is determined by the
clearly observed from the vector maximum gas load factor. If this
plot that there are small eddies, gas load factor is exceeded, signifi-
turbulent flows, observed in the exit cant entrainment will occur before
nozzle duct and the top of the the column becomes inoperable.
downcomer due to the sudden Sulzer MellapakPlus 452Y was
change in the vapour flow direction chosen as a replacement for the
by 90 degrees and the cramped top existing packing. This packing
conditions. They do not have a seri- allowed a much higher capacity
ous impact on the separation 2.0 than the originally installed pack-
efficiency of the column, as they are 1.8
ing, up to a throughput of 25 000
not propagated towards the high-ca- 1.4 t/d. The higher capacity of this
pacity separator. The vapour 1.0 packing is attributed to the use of
distribution across the tower cross 0.8
0.6 smooth bends within the packing
section at various elevations has also 0.4
rather than 90-degree directional
been investigated. 0.0 changes at the packing layer inter-
Y-component of velocity, m/s
Figures 5a-d show the CFD face (see Figure 7). By avoiding
vapour flow velocity vector plots directional changes of 90 degrees
above the liquid distributor, below Figure 6 CFD vapour flow vertical velocity by vapour, the liquid hold-up and
the mistmat, across the high- plot across the high-capacity separator subsequent vapour pressure drop
capacity separator and at the down- over the packing are reduced,
comer entry after the separator. As Pressure drop values across the thereby allowing higher vapour
vapour distribution across the mistmat and the high-capacity throughput for the same pressure
high-capacity separator has a more separator are within the design drop. This effectively increases the
significant impact on the gas-liquid specification maximum gas rate. By replacing
separation efficiency of the tower, The cramped top conditions of the packing and operating well
statistical analysis was used to the TEG contactor do not detrimen- within its maximum capacity limit,
determine the vapour distribution tally affect high-capacity separator the liquid entrained to the top of
quality. This quality is calculated performance the column should be minimised,
by comparing the vertical velocity The vapour vertical velocity vari- reducing the liquid load on the
values at points on a regular grid ation across the high-capacity Shell Swirltube separator. The
cut plane across the high-capacity separator was found to be very combination of the new packing
separator. low. Based on Sulzers experience and Swirltubes was seen as essen-
Figure 6 shows the CFD vapour with comparable high-capacity tial to minimise glycol losses.
flow vertical velocity plot across separators, the measured values Since the packing bed height was
the high-capacity separator used show a very good vapour distribu- constrained by the existing column
for analysis. tion quality. Due to the even dimensions, checks were performed
Based on this investigation, the vapour distribution across the to confirm that the packing height
following conclusions may be device, the required liquid separa- would be sufficient for the given
drawn on the model configuration: tion can be achieved. dehydration duty. These checks
confirmed that the packing height
required was just within the height
available. Further improvements in
dehydration performance are possi-
ble by focusing on the regeneration
system, primarily TEG purity and,
to a lesser extent, circulation rate.
This is not the subject of this article.
It may be noted that the dehydra-
tion performance of Sulzer
MellapakPlus 452Y packing is
intrinsically better than the one of
the existing Gempak 3A for the
same TEG purity and vapour load.

Bottom arrangement
Sulzer Mellapak Sulzer MellapakPlus At the bottom section, there is an
inlet sparger, immediately above
Figure 7 Progressive change of the corrugation angle at the both ends of the element which a chimney tray is installed.

40 Ravamps 2013

There is no possibility of revamp- where liquid is aerated by rising Conclusions
ing the bottom arrangement due to vapour. On the other hand, for a A TEG contactors capacity was
narrow space and the hot work normal chimney with partial draw- constrained by a conventional mesh
required. Evaluation of these inter- off, the downcomer can be sized pad in the top of the column. A
nals was necessary, as they could with a velocity larger than 0.5 m/s. high-capacity Swirltube separator
be the bottleneck at an increased Whether the existing downpipes was designed to adapt to the exist-
feed rate of 20 000 t/d. have the capacity to handle rich ing supporting system rather than
The general description of this TEG depends on the severity of risk welding to the vessel wall. In
type of chimney tray or vapour aeration. The liquid height built up addition, the packing was replaced
distributor can be found in the on this chimney is estimated at with Sulzer MellapakPlus M452Y
literature.2 However, it is rarely 15 mm, lower than the 70 mm riser and a new lean glycol distributor
seen in industry nowadays due to height, which means no interaction was installed. A subsequent test
the high pressure drop caused. between rising vapour and run demonstrated that these inter-
The chimney tray collects rich descending liquid is expected on nal modifications allowed an
TEG and then discharges it to the this tray. The liquid-handling increase in gas throughput from
vessel sump via downpipes (see capacity of the downpipes should 18 000 t/d to greater than 20 000
Figure 2). Vapour released from be sufficient. t/d, while reducing TEG carryover
the gas inlet sparger rises up to the from 1.3 m3/day to around 0.4 m3/
packing bed, around 500 mm Results of trial runs day. An increase (worsening) in gas
above the inlet, via risers that are The maximum gas throughput dewpoint was observed due to
small in diameter and low achieved was 20 500 t/d through not-yet-optimised TEG regenera-
in height. The chimney tray basi- the modified glycol contactor tion, but the overall performance of
cally serves as a vapour (T300). The key observations from the unit remained within trunkline
distributor. The total open area of the test run were: saturation limits.
the risers is very low, only 8% of Glycol carryover with Train 3
the column area. was acceptable, approximately GEMPAK is a registered trademark of Koch-
The momentum calculated for the Glitsch.
gas inlet nozzle is 21 600 Pa0.5 at Swirltube is a registered trademark of Shell.
20 000 t/d, which is very high. The
The maximum gas
back pressure of the inlet could be
higher than the pressure drop in
throughput achieved References
the entire packed section, and the was 20 500 t/d 1 Debangsu R, Arora A, Phanikumar A, CFD
study of VDU feed inlet and wash bed, PTQ,
suction effect immediately above
the inlet could lead to severe through the modified Revamps 2009.
2 Kister H Z, Distillation Operation, McGraw-
non-uniform pressure and velocity
profiles, and eventually reverse the glycol contactor Hill, Inc, p79.
3 Suess P, Analysis of gas entries of packed
flow in the packing beds.3 columns for two phase flow, International
The chimney tray can bring in 0.4 m3/day on average, which is Conference and Exhibition on Distillation and
additional pressure drop to the well below the 1.3 m3/day per train Absorption, Birmingham, UK, 7-9 Sept 1992.
bottom section of the vessel, limit 4 Kister H Z, Distillation Design, p291.
smooth the pressure profile inside Gas dewpoint was -2.6C, limited
the column, and hence eliminate by TEG regeneration capacity, not
problems linked to the high inlet linked to the packing
momentum. Overall trunkline saturation, gas
It was found that if all rich TEG and condensate, was at 28%, well
Yang Quan is a Sulzer Technical Expert, Trays
drains down via downpipes, below the integrity limit of 75% and Separators. He represented Asia Pacific
assuming a 4.6 l/s rich glycol lean and the operating limit of 65%. and China in various Sulzers expert teams,
TEG flow rate, the liquid velocity is This was achieved with the and now is responsible for global product and
about 0.18 m/s. For a normal following key glycol regeneration application management. He holds a PhD in
chordal downcomer of a tray, the system parameters: environmental engineering from National
downcomer area should not have a Lean glycol purity = 99% w/w University of Singapore.
liquid velocity higher than 0.13 Lean glycol circulation rate = 4.4 Email:
m/s, based on vapour and liquid l/s Anne Phanikumar is a Subject Matter
physical properties in a TEG Glycol reboiler bottom tempera- Specialist, Computational Fluid Dynamics
and Finite Element Technology, with the
contactor, to avoid downcomer ture = 190C.
Mass Transfer Technology business unit of
flooding. In our case, this maxi- In addition, the success of the test
Sulzer Chemtech. He represented Asia Pacific
mum velocity must be derated, as runs proves that the chimney tray in various Sulzer global task force teams for
degassing in the tiny downpipes and liquid-handling capacity of the operational improvements. He holds a Master
becomes much more difficult.4 It is downpipes are sufficient, which of Science degree from Nanyang Technological
worth noting that the above guide- provides a good reference for University, Singapore.
line is applicable to a normal tray, industry. Email:

42 Ravamps 2013