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Degrees of Freedom for a Distillation Column

Copyright 2010 D. A. Crowl We can apply the laws of conservation of mass and energy and the phase rule to determine the number of independent variables we need to specify to calculate all of the remaining quanitites on the column. If we under-specify the number, then we get an infinite number of solutions. If we over-specify, then no solution is possible. Consider a distillation column with a condenser (total or partial), partial reboiler, N total plates, and C components, we get from the phase rule:

= C + 2 N + 12
However, if we specify a total condenser the variables are reduced by two, giving,

= C + 2 N + 10
The following table provides the number of variables provided by each specification: Item Intensive Variables Specified C-1 2 1 N+3 N+1 1 1 C-1 1 1 1 1

Composition of feed: Thermal condition of feed, i.e. T and P: Feed flow rate: Pressure of column: Heat losses or gains (including assumption of no losses): Condenser or reboiler duty: Reflux: Composition of D or B: D/B ratio Number of trays below feed: Number of trays above feed:

Total number of trays:

Feed location: 1 The phase rule applies to intensive variables, such as temperature, pressure and composition. Flows are not intensive, but they are implicitly related to compositions. EXAMPLE 1: Design Case Suppose we are designing a column. In this case we usually know the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Feed composition: Thermal condition of feed, i.e. T and P: Pressure of column: Adiabatic column, i.e. no heat losses and gains: Feed flow: Assumption of feed at identical tray composition: Light key composition in distillate: TOTAL: Thus, the number of independent variables left is: C-1 2 N+3 N+1 1 1 1 C+2N+8

= C + 2 N + 10 C 2 N 8 = 2
and we have 2 variables left to be fixed. These could be any of the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Reflux: Reboiler or condenser duty: Additional components in distillate or bottoms: D/B ratio: Number of stages, N: 1 1 1 1 1

The flows of the distillate and bottoms are related by a mass balance to the feed flow, along with the compositions. We can specify two additional components in the distillate and bottoms - but no more - if we specify any more we will be over specified.

EXAMPLE 2: Rating Case 100 moles/hour of a liquid mixture of 30% benzene, 50% toluene and 20% o-xylene at 1 atm and 23oC are fed to an insulated distillation column with 20 equilibrium stages total. The column has a total condenser. The distillate must be 95% benzene. The column operates at 1 atm pressure. The feed is added at the tray with the same composition. What variables do I need to specify to perform the calculation? For this case, for a total condenser:
= C + 2 N + 10 = 3 + 2(10) + 10 = 53

The number of variables given are, from the table: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Pressure of column Insulated column: Flow rate of feed: Composition of feed: Number of stages: Temperature and pressure of feed: Benzene concentration in distillate: Location of feed at tray with same composition: N + 3 = 20 + 3 = 23 N + 1 = 20 + 1 = 21 1 C-1=3-1= 2 1 2 1 1 TOTAL: 52

We are short one variable. This variable could be the reflux ratio, percentage recovery of benzene, reboiler or condenser duties, or the stream composition of an additional component. For the rating case, we know everything about the column, so we need to be careful providing information to a simulator package - it may be over specified.