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0 APPARATUS FOR THE LABORATORY STUDY

OF GAS ABSORPTION IN PACKED TOWERS

HOWARD 1. STRAUSS
The Cooper Union, New York, New York

INSPITE of its tremendous industrial importance, very ries a false bottom platform for supporting the pack-'
few satisfactory laboratory studies of ga.; absorption in ing, and a 1-in. liquid exit line. There is no gas exit
packed towers have been developed for educational pur- line. A sight glass running the entire length of the
poses (1, 2). Experiments dealing with mass transfer column enables the actual liquid level in the tower to be
coefficients, H.T.U.'s, and equilibrium gas solubilities determined at any particular time. The details of the
have also been neglected bv college chemical engi- Cooper Union tower are shown in Figure 1.
neering laboratories, particul&ly at the undergraduate
level. Perhaps the main reason for this is that the
operation of conventional absorption units usually re-
quires a considerable amount of skill and experience in
order to obtain meaningful data. One of the biggest
obstacles to overcome in this respect is setting up a pro-
cedure for obtaining the data required to calculate the
material balances, ie., flow measurements and analyses
of the inlet and outlet streams. Usually, correlation of
the data is also complicated and tedious, particularly
when dealing with a system in which two film resistances
have to be taken into account.
At the Cooper Union, we have developed an experi-
mental gas absorption system for educational purposes
which has overcome most of the objectionable features
of conveutional laboratory units, and has many desir-
ahle features, particularly for undergraduate instruc-
tion. First of these is the complete elimination of any
analytical work, material balances being obtained from
flow measurements of the inlet streams alone. Another
outstanding feature of the system is the practically I
complete elimination of any gas flm resistance, thereby
simplifying the correlation of the data. Among some -%-in. Bolt Hole6
of the minor, but nevertheless very desirable features
of the unit, are that the experiment,^ are carried out on a
pilot plant scale, and with a nontoxic, inexpensive sys-
tem. Besides studying the characterist,ics of a gas ab- Fig"- 1. Details of Absorption
sorption apparatus, the data obtained can also be used Towen
to calculate mass. transfer coefficients, H.T.U.'s, and
gas solubility equilibria. Student interest is stimulated The system studied is the absorption of carbon di-
by the fact that the numerical values obtained are of oxide in water. As illustrated in Figure 2, the water
rather good accuracy and reproducibility, enabling him supply consists of a a/pin. line with a flow-controlling
to check his values against those reported in the litera- globe valve and a suitable flow measuring device. In
ture (8-6). this connection, rotameters were chosen as the flow
measuring instruments on both the water and gas lines.
DESCRIPTION OF APPARATUS
(In an earlier installation, ordinary orifice meters were
The central unit. of the apparatus is a tower made of used, but until the student became familiar with the
6 ft. of standard 6-in. pipe with screwed flanges at- apparatus, these were blown too frequently, and re-
tached to the top and bottom. A top cover plate car- sulted in a considerable amount of lost time and mo-
ries a a/pin. water inlet line and a perforated plate dis- tion.) The rotameters sufferno ill effectsif overloaded,
tributor to insure uniform wetting of the packing. The and the direct correlation of the float movement with
top cover plate also carries a '/a-in. vent line, a pressure changes in flow or pressure settings affords a very im-
tap (connected to a compound Bourdon type gage), pressive visual indication of how a change in one oper-
and a '/%-in. gas inlet line. A bottom cover plate car- ating variable brings about a series of changes in the
518 JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION

other process variables until a steady stat.e condition With the apparatus set up in this way, carbon di-
is re-established. oxide enters the tower, dissolves in the water flowing
The carbon dioxide is supplied from a commercial down over the packing, and leaves only as dissolved
cylinder (at about 900 psig). If the gas were throttled gas in the exit liquid. Thus the composition of the exit
directly to the operating pressure, the attendant cooling liquid can be determined from the inlet flow measure-
effects would seriously interfere with the operation of ments alone. I n practice, the height of packing, liquid
the gas regulator through which the throttling is taking rate, and gas pressure are held constant a t any desired
place. It was found that a two-stage pressure reduction value, and the system allowed to come t o a steady
system eliminated this difficulty. I n such a system, the state condition, a t which time the carbon dioxide inlet
gas is sent through a pressure regulator which reduces flow has also assumed a steady rate. With the ap$ara-
its pressure t o about 250 psig. A small, heavy-walled tus under consideration, steady state conditions are
cylinder receives the gas a t this intermediate pressure. usually established in 5-15 minutes after a change in
A second regulator then reduces t,he pressure to the de- one of the operating variables.
sired working level ( M O psig). The heavy-walled As can be seen, the entire gas space is filled with
cylinder is made of Schedule 80 pipe, and acts as an in- carbon dioxide only, except for a small amount of water
terheater between the two reduction stages. After the vapor which is also present. The gas film is therefore
second regulator, the gas is sent, through a rotameter, also made up of almost pure carbon dioxide, ~vhichof
to the top of the tower. As shown in the diagram, ther- course means that there is virtually no gas film re-
mometers are strategically placed t o measure the water sistance. Another important virtue which accrues from
inlet and outlet temperatures, the gas inlet tempera- the fact that the gas phase is pure carbon dioxide is that
ture, and the tower temperature. Figure 3 is a photo- the gas composition (and therefore the equilibrium gas
graph of the complete installation. solubility) is constant throughout the length of the
OPERATION tower, enabling the correlation of the mass transfer co-
efficients and H.T.U.'s t o be made by direct integration
In starting up, the tower is completely filled with of the material balance equation.
water. The gas is then turned on, and the tower al-
lowed to drain (the water being displaced by carbon di- CORRELATION OF THE DATA
oxide) until the desired liquid level is obtained. The Considering a differential height of packed section,
water is then turned on and the drain valve adjusted a material balance, using standard chemical engineering
until the water level in the tower remains constant. nomenclature (7) yields:
The packing below the water level is of course com-
pletely flooded and inoperative. Thus the effective
height of packing can be adjusted at will, from zero to a
maximum of 5 ft. (the actual height of packing in the
tower). The end effects (spray on top, and water sur- If the inlet water contains no carbon dioxide, and if the
face on bottom) can be evaluated from measurements outlet water contains x mols of carbon dioxide per mol
with the liquid level maintained a t zero height of pack- of water (x being calculated from the inlet flow rates),
ing. Besides enabling the student to determine end equation 2 can be directly integrated between the limits
effects, the variable height of packing permits t,he cal- x = 0 and x = x (since x* is a constant):
culation of the equilibrium solubility of carbon dioxide
in water (as will be discussed subsequently).
where cis the constant of integration and represents the
end effects since it can be evaluated by running the
tower with the packed section completely flooded
(z = 0). I n general, c has been found t o be very small
and can be neglected in undergraduate experiments, or
when z> 0.5. Also, since no gas film resistance exists,
kza = Kza. Thus equation 3 can be modified:

Or if the H.T.U. concept is t o be used for the correla-


tion, equation 3 yields:

As can be seen from equation 4, KLa can be calcu-


lated from a single measurement of the outlet liquid con-
centration a t a given liquid rate and effective height of
packing, using x* as given in the literature. However,
SEPTEMBER, 1950

recent investigations (6) have shown that. the litera-


ture equilibrium values (7, 8) differ somewhat from
those actually observed for 1%-atertaken directly from
ci1.y mains or other indust,rial sources. Consequently
it may be advisable to extend the study by making'
runs at t ~ oro more packing heights, keeping tho liquid
rate constant. If xl and x2 are the exit liquid concen-
trations observed when the effective packed heights are
zi and zz, respectively, equation 4 yields:

Although this equation is implicit in x*, it can be easily


solved by trial and retrial, or by plotting ( x * / ~ * - x ~ ) ~ '
and ( x * / x * - ~ ~ )against
~' various values of x* on the
same set of coordinates, and noting the value of x*
where the txvo curves cross. The fact that equation 4 is
implicit in x* makes it difficult to reverse the procedure
to determine Kia. KLUcan, however, now be accu-
rately determined from the calculated values of x*.
REMARKS
As previously mentioned, the absorption of carbon
dioxide by water has been extensively studied during
recent years. The values of KLU,H,, and x * obtained
with this apparatus, compare favorably with those re-
ported in the literature, an important feature in im-
part,ing a sense of accomplishment t o the student.
However, the apparatus, as described, serves a limited
range of carbon dioxide pressures, namely from 0 t o 40
psig. Below 0 psig. it is difficult toremove water from Figure 3. General View of App..at".
the tower, and above 40 psig. it is difficult to get water
into the tower, since only normal city pressure is avail-
able. These difficulties can of course be removed by the operated t,he tower. Thus, during the course of a
installation of a water discharge pump, and/or a water semester (during which about 10 squads will have used
inlet pump. However, it is questionable if these modi- the apparatus), a large variet-y of packing materials and
fications TT-odd extend the educational value of the ap- sizes will have been used. All the data are then made
paratus. In operation, however, a very satisfactory available for the students' consideration, greatly im-
range of liquid rates (from 100 to 2500 pounds per proving their appreciation of the operation.
hour) can be obtained by using interchangeable steel LITERATURE CITED
and aluminum floats. It is important t o note that no
temperature control is used. The installation of a (1) MCCORMACK, H. "The Applications of Chemical Engi-
water heater can extend the utility of the apparatus, neering," D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1940, p. 302.
(2) ZIMMERMAN, 0. T., AND I. LAYINE, "Unit Operations
but here again such an installation would be of question- Laboratory Equipment," 2nd ed., Section VII, Univer-
able educational value, particularly a t the under- sity of North Dakota, Grand Forks, 1940.
graduate level. (3) SHERWOOD, T. K., F. C. DRAEMEL, AND H. E. RUCKWAN,
Finally, the apparatus can be used to extend an in- Ind. Eng. Chem., 29, 282 (1937).
(4) SIMMONS, C. W., AND H. B. OGBORNE, ibid., 26.529 (1934).
novation which has been used a t The Cooper Union to ( 5 ) SHERWOOD, T. K., AND F.A. L. HOLLOWAY, Tram. Am. Inst.
give the student practice and experience in correlating Chem. Engrs., 36, 39 (1940).
considerably more extensive and comprehensive data (6) KOCH,H.A., L. F. STUTZMAN, H. A. BLUM,AND L. E. HUTCB-
than can be taken during the two or three weeks ordi- INOS, C h m . Eng. P ~ Q 45,677
., (1949).
narily allotted for the usual laboratory study. Since the (7) PERRY, J., "Chemical Engineers' Handbook," 2nd ed.,
McGraw-Hill, New York, 1941, p. 1124.
top and bottom cover plates are easily removed, the (8) National Researeh Council, "Intemtional Critical Tables,"
packing material can be changed after each squad has Vol. 111, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1928, p. 260.