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Successful revamps

By Chemical Engineering |

My first distillation dream occurred about 30 years ago, and yet, I recall it as vividly as if it were yesterday. In it, my distillation-column design work started with a vapor-liquid thermodynamic model that was widely regarded as perfect. I had operating data from ten similar columns. The feed composition was precisely known, and there were no alternative feedstocks. The overhead specification was easy. The bottoms specification was easy. After determining the tray count, I added another 20%. After determining the column’s cross-sectional area, I added another 20%. The column started and ran so smoothly that the plant manager eventually named his first three children “Mike,” and two of them were girls. Few, if any, distillation design engineers have ever had real experiences like the one of my dream. Very few plant managers’ daughters are named Mike. More importantly, a very large portion of distillation engineering is revamp work — taking an existing column and increasing its capacity or improving the product purities or reducing its energy consumption. It is never easy for a distillation engineer to take a bottlenecking distillation column and increase its capacity by 20% while increasing the product…
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