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Accurate prediction of tower relief

A comparison of conventional and dynamic simulation methods applied to a

project to debottleneck a deisobutaniser


Fluor Canada Ltd

efineries and upgraders are
often required to increase Non-condensable
throughput beyond their to flare
initial nameplate capacity. Existing
bottlenecks must be identified and
mitigated before the unit can Condensers PC
process more feed. With increased Flare
throughput, relief loads are recalcu- Accumulator
lated to ensure that the LC
corresponding process units are FC
protected. When conventional
calculation methods are used, cases 72
arise where the newly calculated De-iC4
relief loads exceed the existing Reflux/
Feed-1 Product FC
capacity of pressure safety valves from 64 pump
(PSV) on columns, or the capacity alkylation Isobutane
reactors HH product
of the existing flare system. For a FC PI
debottlenecking project, adding Feed-2 33
PSVs or modifying an existing flare from OSBL
system can be costly and impracti-
cal due to constraints on available FC
downtime. Conventional methods 1
for calculating relief loads are MP steam
generally conservative1 and lead to LC
over-sizing of the relief and flare Condensate
system. Dynamic simulation Re-boilers
provides an alternative method to
better define the relief system and
improve understanding of what De-iC4
bottoms to
happens during relief.2 debutaniser
Dynamic simulation is rigorous
and can model many processes, Figure 1 System diagram of a deisobutaniser column
contributing to a reduction in relief
loads that the steady state-based the depletion of light components through condensation. Typically,
unbalanced heat method cannot. and estimates changes in heat of credits are not given to the control
The dynamic model simulates the vaporisation and temperature with valve responses on over-pressure
fluid inventory hold-up and time, which can lead to a partial protection in either conventional or
predicts the time before relief pres- loss of reboiler duty due to dynamic calculations. In cases to
sure is reached. This time before decreased log mean temperature consider favourable responses of
relief can be used to take credit for difference (LMTD) or depletion of control valves to reduce relief
operator intervention to prevent/ liquid inventory in the column loads, dynamic simulation has the
mitigate the relief load. Unlike the sump. advantage of simulating the
steady state based models, which Dynamic simulation can take response over the time of incident,
assume an unlimited amount of credit for the column overhead to ensure that any credits taken are
light components being relieved, condenser duty before the accumu- appropriate within that time frame.
the dynamic model accounts for lator floods, reducing the relief load Dynamic models also simulate PTQ Q2 2014 1

is controlled by the overhead liquid
product flow.
to flare A dynamic simulation in Hysys
was set up based on the configura-
tion shown in Figure 1 and on the
Condensers latest information on existing equip-
Flare ment, piping, and instrumentation
Accumulator (datasheets, P&IDs, mechanical
LC drawings, and isometric drawings
of piping). The dimensions of equip-
ment and piping were input into the
simulation with the exact elevations.
De-iC4 Control valves were simulated with
Reflux/ reported volume flows and open-
Feed-1 Product FC
from 64 pump ings from the datasheet. PID
alkylation Isobutane controllers were used to compute
reactors HH product
FC PI the controller actions. Relief valves
are installed on the overhead line
from OSBL and a spreadsheet function was
used to calculate the required relief
FC area as a function of time. The PSV
1 sizing was based on the API
MP steam Standard.2 In particular, baffled
thermosiphon reboilers were
Condensate installed with an imaginary column
Re-boilers flash zone and a sump to achieve
the designed boil-up ratio and circu-
lation (see Figure 2). The details of
Flash zone LC Sump this configuration were important in
calculating the detailed hydraulics
between the column and the ther-
De-iC4 mosiphon reboilers. This allowed
bottoms to
debutaniser simulation of the circulation and
boil-up changes resulting from the
Figure 2 Dynamic simulation configuration of the deisobutaniser column loss of static head during column
relieving. Condensate levels in the
interactions among the processing Dynamic simulation model set-up reboilers were not simulated and the
units and provide a more realistic The deisobutaniser is one of several reboilers were assumed not to be
overall picture of the response in columns in the refinery alkylation flooded, allowing for a conservative
various relief scenarios. Dynamic unit that remove the light ends reboiler duty for relief load
simulation can also help identify from alkylates, to enhance the estimation.
potential design modifications to octane number of gasoline. As The dynamic model was then
reduce the relief load potential Figure 1 shows, the deisobutaniser tuned to match the performance of
which conventional methods has 72 trays; two feed streams enter steady state simulation for opera-
cannot address. the column at trays 64 and 33. The tional conditions (P/T), feed and
In this study, relief loads for an column is equipped with two product rate and quality, and the
existing deisobutaniser column baffled, once-through thermosiphon duties of reboilers and condensers.
have been calculated using both the reboilers at the bottom and In the evaluation of the load from
conventional unbalanced heat air-cooled condensers on the over- an individual relief device, no
method and dynamic simulations head. The heating medium for the favourable response was allowed
under various relief scenarios. As a reboilers is medium pressure steam by any control instrument that
result of debottlenecking, the feed (150 psig). would reduce the relief load
to the column was increased by The bottom tray temperature is according to API standard guide-
18%. Calculated relief loads from cascaded to the flow controller on lines. If the normal controller
both methods are compared to each the condensate from the reboilers. response could act to reduce the
other and against the existing PSV The column sump level is relief load, then the control valve is
capacity. The advantages of controlled by the alkylate product assumed to remain in its last posi-
dynamic simulations are flow from the column bottom. The tion before the upset.
pronounced when an existing column pressure rides on a push- Based on relief analysis using
column relief system is being pull pressure controller on the conventional methods, two relieving
rechecked for debottlenecking. accumulator. The accumulator level scenarios were identified as the

2 PTQ Q2 2014

potential governing relief cases for
the deisobutaniser: total power fail- 1000 40
ure (TPF) and reflux failure (RF). 900 35
The assumptions for each scenario UBH load

Relief load, ×1000 lb/h

PSV size required, in2

are summarised as follows: PSV Size-Dyn 30
700 Relief load-Dyn
600 25
Total power failure (site-wide power
failure) 500 20
• Feed from the alkylation reactors 400 15
stops 300
• Feed from OSBL (mixed isobu- 200
tanes) stops 100
• Overhead product/reflux pump
0 0
stops 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
• Column bottom product contin- Time, minutes
ues on level and pressure as LC
fails in position Figure 3 Total power failure relief loads by the unbalanced heat method and dynamic
• Medium pressure steam to simulation at 70% initial volume
reboiler, flow controls fail in posi-
tion (no credit taken) The scenarios and actions were calculation of the relief load and is
• 25% of the normal duty is set up in a scheduler in Hysys designed to give conservative
assumed available for air cooling dynamic simulation. Relief cases results. The relief loads calculated
condensers based on natural draft; were studied by running the sched- by the UBH method and dynamic
however, the duty of overhead uler over one hour’s running time simulations are discussed below for
condensers is considered to be zero (until the relief load was reduced to the total power failure and reflux
once the accumulator is flooded an approximately constant flow failure cases.
• PSV back pressure is assumed rate). The results were recorded in
40% of the PSV set pressure as per small steps (0.25 second) and Total power failure case
preliminary hydraulic calculation of summarised in plots (discussed in Figure 3 shows the results of using
the flare header the following section). the conventional method and
• PSV set pressure is 140 psig and dynamic simulation as a function of
110% overpressure is used for PSV Column relief loads time. The conventional method is
sizing For comparison, the relief loads of not time-dependent and the relief
• Liquid level in the accumulator is the deisobutaniser were also calcu- load appears as a constant relief
at 70 vol% before the incident lated based on conventional load over time (a horizontal line in
(normal operation). methods for the selected cases. Figure 3), while the dynamic simula-
Conventional methods for relief tion develops the transient
Reflux failure (reflux pumps fail) load calculation are largely based behaviour of the system. In conven-
• Feed from alkylation reactors on steady state simulations. In tional calculations, the latent heat of
continues as normal these methods, an accumulation reflux at dew point and relieving
• Feed from OSBL (mixed isobu- term is introduced to determine the pressure is employed and an endless
tanes) continues as normal relief load based on heat and mate- supply of vaporising components is
• Overhead product/reflux pump rial balance at a particular instant assumed. As expected, a conserva-
stops during the relieving process. In this tive relief load was obtained by the
• Column bottom product contin- study, the unbalanced heat (UBH) conventional UBH method with the
ues on level and pressure as LC method is referenced as the conven- calculated load as high as 950 000
fails in position tional method.3 In this widely used lb/h, which was significantly higher
• Medium pressure steam to method, a heat and material than the peak relief load predicted
reboiler, flow controls fail in posi- balance is produced at relief condi- by dynamic simulations. According
tion (no credit taken) tions to determine whether there is to the dynamic simulations, relief
• Air cooler fans are assumed avail- excess (unbalanced) heat. The accu- does not occur until 6.5 minutes
able until the accumulator is flooded mulation term (mass flow) is then after the TPF event occurred after
(then the condenser will be lost) determined by dividing the excess the column overhead pressure
• PSV back pressure is assumed heat by the latent heat of vaporisa- reached the PSV set pressure. The
40% of the PSV set pressure tion of the accumulated stream at peak relief load is reached approxi-
• PSV set pressure is 140 psig and relief conditions. The reflux or the mately five minutes after the relief,
110% overpressure is used for PSV top tray liquids at steady state are beyond which the relief load
sizing usually taken as the accumulated decreases to below 100 000 lb/h
• Liquid level in the accumulator is stream to obtain the physical within 21 minutes. The calculated
at 70 vol% before the incident properties for relief load calcula- relief area corresponding to the peak
(normal operation). tions. This approach simplifies relief is 30.6 in2 which requires a ‘T’ PTQ Q2 2014 3

product pumps failure. The relief
450 40
PSV Size
load calculated by the UBH method
400 Relief load 35 remains high (757 000 lb/h), while
Relief load, ×1000 lb/h
the dynamic simulation predicted a

PSV size required, in2

350 30
peak relief load of 562 000 lb/h 7.3
25 minutes after the pumps failed. The
250 required relief area for the relief
200 loads calculated by the UBH
15 method and dynamic simulation
are 40 in2 and 30.1 in2 respectively,
100 both exceeding the available area of
50 5 the existing PSV (26 in2). Compared
to the dynamic simulation of the
0 0
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 TPF case, the reflux pump failure
Time, minutes case has a similar peak relief load
but occurs three minutes later than
Figure 4 Total power failure relief loads by dynamic simulation at 55% initial volume the TPF case. This is due to the
continuous feeds to the column and
and a ‘P’ sized API PSV, while the pump failure scenario can be simu- the liquid on the trays being heated
relief load calculated by the UBH lated and credit taken for the time up more slowly than in the TPF
method requires two ‘T’ sized PSVs. it takes the overhead drum to flood. case. (The feed temperatures are
However, the existing deisobutan- This time is related to the liquid lower than the temperature of the
iser only has one 8T10 API PSV (26 level in the drum at the beginning liquid inside the column.)
in2) on its overhead line. of the relief scenario. The original However, the relief load decays
Considering the challenges and normal liquid in the accumulator much more slowly than in the TPF
substantial costs to add an addi- was 70% by volume. An initial case after the peak; the relief load
tional PSV and modifying flare liquid level of 55 vol% was studied was still significant at 200 000 lb/h
system, mitigations were investi- in dynamic simulation and the even after 60 minutes. The flatter
gated by lowering the initial liquid result is shown in Figure 4. With relief load profile is attributed to
level at the overhead accumulator to the lowered liquid level in the more light components available
minimise the impact on the project. drum at the beginning of relief, the from continuous feeds under the
The initial liquid level in the time to flood the accumulator is reflux pump failure case.
overhead accumulator was a key postponed by two minutes Similar mitigations to the TPF case
parameter for column relief calcula- compared to the 70% initial level were also considered for the reflux
tion. In conventional methods, it is case. As a result, the peak relief pump failure case (see Figure 6). As
common practice to assume the load was reduced to about 430 000 a result of reducing the initial liquid
overhead drum and condenser will lb/h. The corresponding required level in the overhead accumulator
be flooded as a result of losing the relief area is 22.6 in2, and the exist- (from 70% to 55% by volume), the
reflux and product pumps (unless ing ‘T’ sized PSV is now sufficient. column relief condition was delayed
there is significant hold-up volume by 2.3 minutes and the relief load
allowing adequate operator inter- Reflux pump failure case was reduced to 462 000 lb/h which
vention time in the overhead Figure 5 shows the results of relief required a relief area of 24.8 in2. The
drum). In dynamic simulation, the analysis for the case of reflux/ existing PSV (26 in2) will be able to
take the reduced peak relief loads.
800 35 Considering the challenges and risk
in modifying the existing relief and
700 UBH load 30 flare systems, the mitigation
Relief load, ×1000lb/h

PSV size required, in2

PSV Size-Dyn approach (lowering the initial liquid

Relief load-Dyn 25
level in the overhead from 70%
20 volume to 55%) is recommended to
400 minimise the impact on the debot-
15 tlenecking project.
200 Summary
100 5 Conventional methods for column
relief load calculation are typically
0 0
more conservative than in dynamic
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Time, minutes
simulation due to the conservative
assumptions inherent in the calcu-
Figure 5 Reflux failure relief loads by unbalanced heat method and dynamic simulation lations. Conventional methods do
at 70% initial volume not account for the compositional

4 PTQ Q2 2014

recommended mitigation approach,
500 35
PSV Size the new predicted relief loads are
450 within the capacity of the existing
Relief load, ×1000 lb/h Relief load 30
PSV. Therefore, the risk and cost of

PSV size required, in2

350 25 modifying the existing relief and
flare systems are minimised and
potentially avoided.
200 References
150 10 1 Chittibabu H, Valli A, Khanna V, Calculating
100 Column Relief Loads, PTQ, 55-65, Q2 2010.
5 2 API RP 520: Recommended Practice for the
Design and Installation of Pressure Relieving
0 0 Systems in Refineries, Part I (Sizing and
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Selection, 2008) and Part II (Installation, 2003),
Time, minutes American Petroleum Institute, Washington D.C.
3 Sengupta M, Staats F Y, A new approach to
Figure 6 Reflux failure relief loads of dynamic simulation at 55% initial volume relief valve load calculations, 43rd Proceedings
of Refining Section of American Petroleum
changes on the trays and the tlenecking projects, this reduction Institute, Toronto, Canada, 1978.
system volume’s contribution to the in relief loads can result in signifi-
transient availability of cooling and cant savings for the project. Harry Z Ha is a Senior Process Engineer/
heating. They also ignore the time, This case study illustrated such an Specialist with Fluor Canada Ltd, Calgary,
temperature and pressure depend- example. Employing dynamic simu- Alberta, Canada. He holds a master’s degree
ency of heat input or heat removal lation for an existing deisobutaniser in environmental engineering from Hong
from the system. In the cases of has reduced the calculated relief Kong University of Science and Technology
plant revamp or debottlenecking, loads by more than 35% for both and a PhD in chemical engineering from the
University of Alberta.
conservative relief loads from TPF and reflux pump failure cases,
conventional methods will likely compared to the conventional meth-
Abdulla N Harji is an Executive Director of
call for the addition of PSVs and/or ods. This study also demonstrated Process Technology, at Fluor Canada. He holds
the modification of the existing that the initial liquid level in the a BSc degree in chemical engineering from
flare system, which adds substan- overhead accumulator is a key Loughborough University, UK.
tial cost and risk to the project. parameter in relief load calculation. Jonathan Webber is a Process Engineer with
Dynamic simulation simulates the When the initial liquid level is set at Fluor Canada. He holds a PhD in process control
actual composition and inventory 70% volume (as it is in current oper- from Dalhousie University and a master’s in
changes inside the column and ation), the relief loads predicted by biotechnology from McGill University.
accumulator and provides more dynamic simulation exceeded the
accurate predictions on relief loads. available capacity of the existing Links
Typically, the relief loads predicted PSV. Mitigation approaches were
More articles from: Fluor
by dynamic simulation are less studied by lowering the initial liquid
level in the overhead drum to 55% More articles from the following
than those calculated by conven-
tional methods. Depending on the volume. As a result, the relief loads
system, the reduction in calculated were further reduced by 26% and Mass Transfer & Separation
relief loads can be significant (by 18% for the TPF and reflux pump Pressure Drop Control
failure cases, respectively. With the Process Modelling & Simulation
>50%). For plant revamp or debot- PTQ Q2 2014 5