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Simulation and Optimization of an Existing Ethylbenzene Dehydrogenation Reactor

J . G. P. SHEEL' and C. M . CROWE

Department of Chemical Engineering, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

The dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene to styrene in an ideal, adiabatic reactor has been modelled using side reactions in addition to the main one. The differential equations describing the process were integrated on an IBM 7040 digital romputer. A profit function ( $ gainedlhour) was chosen and for various combinations of process variables, which were subject to constraints, the single bed reactor was optimized by the method of Rosenbrock ",'). Studies of a proposed twobed reactor were also carried out. Catalyst deactivation during the reaction was not considered berause of a lack of data. The results showed that the existing reartor could be operated more efficiently if the present plant constraints were removed. Two beds in series gave still better results.

ince the dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene is endothermic and reversible and it increases the number of moles, high styrene yield is favored by high temperature, low pressure, and by dilution with an inert compound such as benzene or steam. Steam is nommally added in the ratio of 2.6 Ib/lb of hydrocarbon':'), ivhich is a molar ratio of 1 5 : 1. The pressure is usually about I .-k atmospheres(3iwhile the reactor inlet temperature of the mixcd feed is in the rangc of 600C to 630C. The steam not only providcs the heat rcquired to raise the hydrocarbon up to the rcquired temperature, but also suppresses carbon formation. Direct heating of ethylbenzene without steam causes it to pyrolyze. To achicve a profitable convcrsion of the main reaction, by-product forniation, particularly of benzene and toluene, must bc kcpt low. Were it not for hy-products, it would be hest to operate at a very high temperature where the equilibrium conversion of the main reaction is high. Unfortunately, the rate of formation of by-products increases more quickly with temperature, so that the desired operating temperature represents a conipromisc between the conversions to styrene and to byproducts. .A selective dehydrogenation catalyst is used so that more rapid formation of styrene is possible at lower teniperatures with a minimum of side rcactions.

On a modelk la dbshydroghnation de 1'6thylbenzAne en styrene dans un rkacteur adiabatique et idhal, en utilisant lea rdactions secondaires en plus de la rkaction prineipale. On a intdgrk sur un calculateur numkrique IBM 7040 les iquations diffkrentielles qui dkcrivent le prockdk. i On a eboisi une fonction de bbnkfice (dollars gagnks i l'heure) et optimisd, au moyen de la mkthode Rosenbock ",2), le rkacteur A lit simple pour diffkrentes combinaisons de variables de prockdk, lesquelles dtaient sujettes ii des contraintes. On a aussi fait l'ktude d'un rkacteur proposi 1 deux lits. On n'a pas tenu compte de la d6activation du catalyseur durant la riaction par suite du manque de donnhes. I-es rksultats ant dkmontrb qu'on pourrait faire fonctionner le rhacteur existant d'une manikre plus effieace si I'on kliminait les contraintes actuelles. On a obtenu plus de succi.s avee deux lits en skrie.

normal but unattainable. These constraints severely restrict the operation of the plant. Extension of the operating variables, namely pressure, temperature, stearillhydrocarbon ratio and hed depth to values beyond these constraints should show considerable overall improvement.

Modelling the Reactor

The reactor was assumed to be adiabatic, with plug flow and radial uniformity. Axial dispersion was ignored and any limitations of mass or heat transfer to the catalyst pellet or diffusion within the pellet were lumped in the rate constants. The catalyst activity, although actually varying with both time and bed depth, was considered constant because insufficient data were available over a long enough period. T h e choice of the activation energies, reaction mechanisms, and of the reactions themselves was the best but not the only set which would he consistent with the data. No chosen set of values could represent the data exactly, because of its variability and experimental error.

Choice of Reactions

Description of the Reactor

. i t Polymer (:orporation, Sarnia, Ontario, the reactor in question (Figure 1) is being operated at a mass velocity which is lirnitcd by pressure drop, furnace capacity, and after-condenser capacity. This combination of constraints has forced operation at a hydrocarbon flow of 9000 Ib/hr with a total steam flow n o t exceeding 18,000 Ib/hr at IOSOOK. T h e furnace can givc more stcam at a lower temperature but the product condenser cannot handle the increased throughput. The actual steam/hydrocarbon ratio is 2.0 Ih/lb; whereas 2.6 Ib/lb is desirablc. The reactor is 6 ft. 4-31'4 in. in internal diameter with a catalyst t)cd 5 ft. 3-3/8 in. deep. The reactor inlet pressure is ahout 2.3 atnios. abs. compared to 1.4 atmos. abs., which is

A4 literature search(3--7' yielded 16 possible chemical reactions. The choice of a set of reactions to represent the plant data was narrowed by excluding reactions producing acetylene and acetophenone, since neither was detected in plant analyses. Carbon deposition and removal were excluded because the rate of change of catalyst activity is very much slower than those of the main reactions. The remaining reactions were:
Reaction Reference

'Prerenc a d d r e s : British American Oil Co., Clarkson, Ontario

where 4 =

The Cnnndinrr Journnl


Cheriiicnl Engineering, Vol. 47, April, 1969

1193 .

Clearly rcactioris 1 and 3 are necessary to form styrene and toluene. For benzene formation at least one of 2, 7, 8 or 9 must be chosen. A choice of 1 and 9 is equivalent to 1 and 2. Although the aromatic compounds could be predicted with any of the reactions producing benzene, the reproduction of the gas composition could not. Examination of various combinations of reactions showed that at least six were necessary and the best set of six was reactions I to 6. The minor amounts of ethane, propane and propylene were ignored. All six reactions were assumed to occur catalytically and only the main reaction I was assumed to be reversible.

The enthalpies of reaction, AHi, were fitted by line:ir equations


= ai


T . ,. .

. . . . . . .(6)

Model Equation8
Six material balances, ow pcr reaction, an energy balance, and a pressure drop suffice to define the model. These differential cquations follow : 1le;iction N o .

and the set of ( n i , / 4 ) used is given i n Table 1. The heat capacities CDjwerc used in the form of quadratic function:; of T(s*il'. Although the quadratic is more accurate than necessary to be consistent with Icquation (6), thcrc was no gain ncr advantage in using a constant CPiwith 7'. The six material balances, with X i = 0, i = 1 to 6, at thc reactor entrance, were solved simultaneously with the +th-order Runge-Kutta-Gill method of integration(g). Temperature and pressure were held constant over an increment arid were updated a t the end of each incrcnienr.

Data Available
Mean data for periods ot' 1 to 5 days were wailable for April, May, and June, 1966, as well as for a three month period in 1964. Data consisted of concentrations, teiqxratures and pressures at the reactor inlet and outlet. Temperature profiles became available in August, 1966, but the original model was created without this Itnowledgc. Coinpositions of liquid feed were converted to liquid and gaseous product flow rates h!. assuming that aromatic rings were not broken and that all aromatics reappeared in the liquid product('0'. Without such an assumption, thc rclative amounts of liquid and gascous product could not be calculated. Because the data did not span the two-year life of the catalyst, it was impossible to determine the overall, long-term optimum policy. I t was only possible to establish a policy for a short period in the life of the catalyst and the use of s x h a policy could affect adversely the total lifetime of the catalyst.


Ilnte Equation r , = k r (PA- l ' , s P ~ / K p ) r : = ke PA r 3 = k ) PE PH 14 = kr P, P c ~ H , I:, = k b p , Pcli,

rg =



Pw I'co., . . . . . . . . . . . ( I )

I:or i = 1,2,3, rhc material balance is


while for i = -t,5,6, it is

whcrc Xi is the fractional conversion of ethylbenzene or water, respectively, by reaction i. The Icrgun equation@)was used to describe thc pressure drop:
d!! =

Fitting the Model Constants The rate constants, Pi, wcrc found by assuming a set of activation energies, A&? arid using the Rosenbro'zk search to find the values of Fi in
ki = exp (Fi

- A E J R T ) .. . .

. .. . . ....


/ I p 3 g< 6

150p(l-t) -

n p

+ 1.75 v , p ,

. . . . (4)

'fhe energy balance was

_____- ._ . -_I___


Ethylbenzene Styrene 1 oluene Benzene \Vater
8630.73 153.45 178.74 18.54 I 8000

Feed lb/hr

.\ctual - Ib/hr

Liquid Product - Model ___-_.


a;, PCL'/lb.mole

O,, PC L '/( Ib.niole"l<) - ____

-1 --3 2 3 2
1 09

4551.22 3573.76 412.02 258.25 Not ineasurable

4450, 58 3573.64 412.02 257.53 17802.2 1

28,843 25,992 - 12,702 19,602 50,460 -- 10,802

90 15 11 96 50

A C L U ~ I Mole 'ji 83. 54 2 80 3.18 9.28 0.04 1.16

- Model

Model (Ib/hr)
96 41 26 13 21.01 240.46 1.70 0 .0



I l ydrogeii Methane Ethylene Carbon dioxide Carbon nionoxide Others

85.92 2.91 1.34 9.73 0.11 0.0

Ei, PCL'/lb.iiiole
21,708 49.675 2118.57 24,838 15,697 17,585

F i

8.1033 13 2.392 0.2961 - 0 0724 - 2 9344 21 2402

:\ctual l d e t temp ( O F ) Outlet temp (OF) Inlet pressure - Xtmos. Outlet pressure - Atmob.
922 59 -850 2 31 2 29


922.59 850 7 0 2 37 2 29

l h e Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, Vol. 47, April, 1969



Figure 1-Reactor



Figure 2 - Comparison of calculated and measured temperatures.

1828 2.099 2 37 2 641 I N L E T PRESSURE-ATM

I 2912

so as to minimize the sum of squares of diffcrcnces between

predicted and actual flow rates of the aromatic compounds. Thc predicted amounts of all the components were found by solving the model equations with the assumed sets of AEi and Fi.

Figure 3 Relation between steam temperature, steam rate, and mixed feed temperature (single bed).

viscosity used was that of steam (.03 c.P.) at the reaction temperature. The inlet pressure to the reactor was found to be a linear function of the molar feed ratc as follows:

Mixed Feed Temperature

<960"ti >960, <985 >985

Number of Steps ______

50 100 150

= 1.046

+ 4.39 S... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ( 8)

where S is the mixed feed rate in Ib.moles/sec. and

is in atm.

In ordcr to ensure the accuracy and stability of the RungeKutta-Gill integration, the effect of changing the step size was

If the steam rate was above 22,000 Ibs/hr, 100 steps were used when the mixed feed temperature was below 960'K.





Search Ended a t
1049.98 17999 1019.54 17985 1063 24 21970 1061.55 22470 1049.85 17997 8.19 1046.2 1 19570 7.658



____~ _

Search Began a t
_ _ 1045 5000 1025 16000 1100 5000 1040 12000 1010 10000 7.5 1050 12000 5.5833 1027.7 18000 5.5833


I'rotit $/hr
2.31 2.37 2.638 2.638 2.37 5.5833 120.45 120.39 123.07 123.09 124.66

1 2 3 4

Steam temp. Steam rate Steam temp. Steam rate Steam temp. Steam rate Steam temp. Steam rate Steam temp. Steam rate Bed depth Steam temp. Steam rate Bed depth Steam temp. Steam rate Bed depth





Ib/hr ft.

Ib/hr ft.

6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6

1050 18000 1050 18000 1200 30000 1200 30000 1050 18000 10 1200 30000 10

5.5833 5.5833



f'resent operation

Ib/hr ft.



The Canadian Journal of Cherriical Engineering, Yo!. 47, April. 1969



II I 5






r? z

0 3C




- 0.02


x)O 10,000





0I .C

- 0.01


Figure &-Profit


steam temperature and rate for a single bed.



2 3 4 DEPTH (Z),FT

Comparison with Plant Data

.I'hc coniparison of thc rcsults prcdictcd by thc model with the plant data is shown for thc April, 1966, case in Table 3 . It can be sccn that the dcviation is less than 0.3% for the liquid product. Although thc rcsults arc less accurate for the gaseous product, this is not as important sincc thc gas is a small proportion of thc total feed and is uscd only as fuel. Thc tenipcraturc profile of August, 1966, was not available when the April data were fitted so that a comparison of predicted and actual teniperature profiles is a test of the accuracy of the model. The comparison is shown in Figure 2, where thc maximum deviation between the curves is S O K . This indicates that the choice of activation energies and thc adiabatic assumption werc reasonable although their errors may offsct cach other.
Figure 5-Comparison

of single and double-bed conversions.

Profit Firnction A profit function representative only of thc process chemical values was established for the purpose of optimization studies. Profit ($/hr.) = (Gain due to styrene) (Gain due to fuel ases) - (steam cost) - (loss duc to by-products). The coe cients in the profit equation were based on published rices, with credit for recovered toluene and henzenc. T h e coe cients of gain per pound were: $0.044 (styrene), -0.051 (toluene). -0.045 (benzene), 0.030 (H2), 0.012 (CH4), 0.01 1 ((:*HI), and ( - 1.18 X lo-' - 6.46 X lo-' 7') for steam. These arc not likely to represent precisely current industrial economics. When catalyst bed depth was a variablc, thc cost of cxtra catalyst was also considered. Each pass through the model yiclded a new value ofthe profit. Ilecision variables were nianipulated in turn according to thc search procedurc; the optimum combination of these gave the maximum profit. Should the decision variablcs end up at conditions outsidc the constraints, which would requirc new equipment, the cost of such cquipmcnt is not included in the profit function.

f l

Optimimtion Rosenbrock's niultivariable search technique was used to optimize various single and doublc bed rcactor cases. Constraints of the type, A' d iY.SIAX, wcrc handled by penalizing the profit function where the constraint was exceeded. Constraints of the type, (ATI A'2) d A'MAX, were treated by reflecting a mirror image of the response surface across the linear constraint from the feasihle region into the infeasible region. The search

could then find a feasible optimum on the constraint if the globa optimum really lay beyond the constraint. In order to cnsurc that no better local optimum existed, searches were begun with widely different initial choices of the decision variables to verify that the same optimum was reached. The decision variables chosen were steam temperature, steani rate, and bed depth. For two-bed cases, steam split to the separate beds was also varied. Since the temperature of thc mixture of hydrocarbon feed and initial charge of steam was not known, it was calculated by energy balance and fixed at 807K;. Thus, an incrcasc of the temperature of thc remaining bulk of' steam added caused an increase in the feed tcmpcraturc to thc rcactor. The CdSeS studied and thc constraints used are given in 'I'ables 4 and 5. The locus of optimum operation without constraint is shown in Figure 3 together with the relation between mixed feed temperature, steam rate, and steam tcmperaturc. In Figure 4 thc contours of profit are shown for the single bed cases. Clearly, the global optimum is outside the constraints of the present plant. The plant operating point at the time thc data were taken was 1027.7'K, which is below the computed optimum. However, the effect on catalyst life of raising thc stcani temperature was not taken into account. In all cases with constraints of 7 6 IOS0"K and steam rate 6 18,000 Ib/hr. the search ended at the constraints. When thcse constraints were relaxed, a global optimum was found. T h c actual constraint steam temperature would be a decreasing function of steani ratc. However, this relationship was not available and s o uppcr limits wcrc used instead. Tahlc 5 shows results for double-bed situations, which arc compared to those of Table 4 in Figure 5 . For example, Casc 1 0 shows the advantage of two beds with optimum steam and catalyst distribution within present unit constraints (Casc I ) . It must be noted that capital investment for new equipment (c.g.. steam superheater, Case 9) has not been included in thc cost function. Hence, as optima call for conditions further removed from present operation the profit must be regarded with less trust. The profit function could be adjusted for optima which require new equipment by adding a discontinuous function representing additional capital investment when the decision variables exceed particular values.

- 06

The Canadian Journal of Chenrical Engineering, V o l . 47, April, 1969







Search Began a t
1020 1.3000 5000

Search Ended a t
1049.98 12824 5176 1162.42 8635 9365


Inlet Pressures to each Red/Atnios.

~~-~ ~

Gain $/Hr


Steam temp. Steam rate Steam rate Steam temp. Steam rate Steam rate


(Bed 1 ) Ib/hr (Bed 2 ) Ib/hr





"K (Bed I ) Ib/hr (Bed 2 ) Ib/hr

Ib/hr Ib/hr Ib/hr Ib/hr ft

1050 4000 14000



134 .97


Steam temp. O K Steam rate (Bed 1 ) Steam rate (Bed 2 ) Steam temp. Steam rate Steam rate Red 1 depth Bed 2 depth

3000 16000 1025 10000 4000

11255 13805
1050 I1214 6778 2.341 . 3 . 242




(Red I ) (Bed 2 )





I .5
1 1000


Steam temp. "K Steam rate (Red 1 ) Steam rate (Bed 2 ) Red 1 depth ( z l ) Bed 2 depth ( 2 2 )

Ib/hr Ib/hr




6600 2.34 3.24 __

102 7 . 6 4 1 1292 6703 2,324 .3.259




6 5.583.3


Conclurions .A model of actual plant conditions for thc dehydrogcnatiiin

of ethylhenzenc has been developed. Kesults are within errors that can be attributed to flowmeters and sample analysis techniques. Also, the model and actual plant temperature measurenients do not differ by more than 5K. T h e model permits optimization at fixed activity of the catalyst; it can be used for designing new reactors; and it gives considerable insight into the interplay of variables. l:,xtrapolation of the model variables in parametric and optimization studies has shown that the plant is being operated at sub-optinial conditions if the catalyst life were independent of operating variables. Roscnbrock's multivariable search technique was a useful method for seeking optimum operating conditions for these reactor systems using up to six decision variables. Computer time for each optimization was from 5 to 20 minutes (IBM 7040). with much of this being used up in the immediate vicinity of the optimuni. About 60 to 200 passes of the model wcrc required by each run. I n summary, it has been shown that unless grcatcr furnacc capacity is available, the extra gains offered by a two-bed reactor system will be small (Case 10 vs. present operation). Potential improvement indicated in single-bed operation may be at the expensc of catalyst life, which must bc accounted for when the effect of operating variables on catalyst life is cstablished.

= = = = = = = = = = =

32.2 Ib.

inass X

ft/(lb. force


= heat of reaction of reaction

i, PCL:/lb.mole*

rate constant of reaction i, Ib.mol/(sec X Ib. catalyst X atnios."); i.e., ki = exp ( - A E i / K I ' 4)

equilibrium constant of the main reaction, atni. molar flow rate of i, Ib. mole/sec. partial pressure of component i, atm. abs. rate of reaction i. Ib.mol/(sec X Ib. catalyst) gas constant, j . 9 8 7 PCl'/(lb.mole O K ) * temperature, K superficial velocity, ft/sec. initial feed rate of steam, Ib. mol/sec. final fractional conversion of E or R' = reactor bed depth, ft * I PCU = 1.8 Btu. Greek Letters t = bed voidage p = gas viscosit), = 0.03 c.p. i r = system pressure, atmos. = catalyst bulk density, Ib/ft3 PH p, = gas density, Ib/ft3


ethylbeii/.eiie, hydrogen, Styrene, water

H. and Storev. C.. Comoutational Techniaues for Chemical Engineers, Pergamon Press; Oxfoid (1966) p. 64-66. ( 2 ) Rosenbrock, H . H., Computer J. 3, 175 (1960). ( 3 ) Boundv. R. H . and Bover. R. F., Styrene. Its Polymers. Copolymers and Derivatives. Reinhold. New York (1952). ( 4 ) Wenner R. R. 'and Dybai E. F., Chem. Eng. Progr. 44, 275 (1948). ( 5 ) Polyme; Corp.. Sarnia, Te'chnical Reports. ( 6 ) Akers, W. W. and Camp, D . P., AIChE Journal 1, 471 (1955). (7) Moe, J. M., Chem. Eng. Progr. 58, No. 3, 33 (1962). (R) Bird, R . B., Stewart, W. E. and Lightfoot, E. N., Transport Phenomena, John Wiley, New York (1960). p. 200. ( 9 ) Ralston. A. and Wilf. H . S., Mathematical Methods for Digital Computers, John Wiley, New York (1964). pp. 110-120. (10) Sheel. J . . M. Erie. Thesis. McMaster Univ.. Hamilton. Ontario. Canada. ( 1 I ) Smjth, J. M. and Van Ness, H . C.,, Introduction to Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics, McGraw-Hill, 2nd Edition, New York (1959).

( I ) Rosenbrock. H. .,

The authors wish to express their gratitude to the National Research Council of Canada for a research grant in support of this work. They also wish to thank Polymer Corporation, Sarnia, Ontario, for their kind cooperation in supplying plant data and technical repons.

-4 C,i D,
= reactor cross sectional area, ft* = heat capacity of component i , PCllIlb. inole




= catalyst particle diameter, ft Eo = initial feed rate of ethylbenzene, Ib.mole/sec AEi = activation energy of reaction i , PCU/lb.mole* F, = frequency factor exponent, dimerisionless

Mnnuscript rcceivcd April 22; accepted October 10, 1968.

* * *

The Canadian Journal of Chemical Enlineering, Vol. 47, April, 1969