Question from September's Chemical Processing
A bulk spray dryer operates between 2,800–3,200 psig with a bioproduct feed slurry (Figure 1). The dried solid auto-ignites at 430°C, and this has occurred twice in four years. The reliability is poor. The on-stream factor is about 75% for numerous reasons: erosion of the single spray nozzle, which lasts only about three days before pressure drops below 2,800 psig; build-up of solids — knockers were deactivated due to poor maintenance; shaker failure in the baghouse; repeated bearing failure because of dust and poor location of blowers; frequent gas leaks, especially during start-ups; and failure of the oil seals on the high pressure pumps. In addition, we have observed several safety issues, including operating without an inlet filter element, removing the cartridge filters on the pump to achieve a higher atomization pressure, and infrequent tune-ups of the burner. Any suggestions on how we can improve safety and reduce breakdowns?
Figure 1. Spray dryer suffers from poor reliability and poses operating dangers.
Replace the spray dryer
It almost sounds like this application isn’t well suited for a spray dryer. For harsh applications such as you have described, I would suggest looking into a rotary tray “turbo” dryer. Slurry is added to the top tray of the dryer. After one turn, the material is squeegeed to the next tray below. After several revolutions the product is dry. A unique aspect of the dryer is that material is agitated as it cascades between levels, exposing fresh surfaces for drying. Product is removed at the bottom by a screw conveyor or other means. The air flow is generally counter-flow, not co-current as in the spray dryer. Dry hot air enters the bottom and humid air exits the top. Very little dust accumulates. A baghouse isn’t needed. Another advantage is that turbo dryers are continuous; the spray dryer described is a batch dryer.
In one turbo dryer application, a urea plant processed 5,000 lb./hr. with an initial moisture of 20% to a final content of 0.2% through a dryer 47-ft. high with a diameter of 15-ft. In another example, 4,200 lb./hr. of catalyst pellets were dried from 45% to 18% in a 23-ft. dryer with a diameter of 19-ft. Tray dryers require more space than spray dryers but excel in efficiency, reliability and safety. A turbo dryer can dry any product below the boiling/flash point without the need for high pressure pumps. Installations I have been involved in have operated for years without any down time.
Scott E. Crosby, president
SKL Process Solutions, Grass Lake, Mich.
Change the nozzles
Have you ever considered air-atomizing nozzles? Significantly less line pressure is needed to form a spray pattern because the atomization energy is provided by compressed air or nitrogen.
Mark Otterson, process engineer
Lubrizol, Avon Lake, Ohio
Consider four steps
Surely there are many aspects to be corrected:
- change to multiple spray;
- use polytetrafluoroethylene nozzles with a pattern that will allow working at lower pump pressures;
- change the oil gaskets on pumps, and bearings materials; and
- add to the slurry, if possible, a rinsing aid that will allow better wet and dry flow.
Emilio Malaguti, technical manager
Chemtron, Hialeah, Fla.
Go to vacuum operation
Why not use a vacuum dryer? Do the spraying under vacuum and at much lower temperatures. Even a modest vacuum can lower the vapor pressure of the solvent significantly. For example, water boils at 212°F at 14.7 psia. With a partial vacuum of about 2 psi., about 100 torr., it boils at 205°F. A more substantial vacuum may help reduce the chance of a fire.
It’s tough to discuss further options without knowing more about the process and product and specific requirements. What's with this 2,800-psig. operating pressure?
Rick Vogel, senior process engineer
Fluor Enterprises, Greenville, S.C.
Explore problems in the lab
I've spent much of my 35 years in industry working with spray drying. To ensure the safety of a spray drying operation, lab data needs to determine the temperature of the exotherm. This is normally done in a Grewer oven (but also can include DSC/TGA data), which slowly ramps the temperature and monitors for exotherms. This will determine the safe operating temperature. In my company what is considered safe is a maximum operating temperature 50oC maximum below the exotherm temperature.
This can be reduced to 20oC with a modified test where a thicker bed of material is
used. Once the safe temperature is determined, the interlocks should be set up to insure that temperature is not reached. In the case of the fires, the temperature recordings should then examine the temperature recordings to see if they can assign a cause to the fires. My experience is that many companies, particularly smaller companies, have little expertise in this area and often operate in unsafe temperature regions.
On the issue of considering alternative dryers, there has to be a great deal of thinking in regard to the right dryer. First, a set of lab tests need to be run in the lab to determine the drying characteristics of the material. These include the safe drying temperature tests, drying kinetics in several different possible tests, stickiness of the powder at various moisture levels, caking behavior, granulating behavior, and sorbtive equilibrium tests. Once the characteristics are determined, the boundary conditions are needed ─ volume of production, location, etc. However, the most important property is the type of product. For example, do you need one that is granulated or individual particles? Is your goal a particular particle size? What kind of flow characteristics are desirable? Free flowing behavior is best. What are the dissolution requirements? What is the maximum moisture content, etc.? Using the drying characteristics and the boundary conditions together with expert knowledge of the various dryers, an appropriate dryer or dryers can be selected as candidates with a high likelihood of success. I've seen a lot of money wasted developing drying processes which have no chance to succeed because either the drying characteristics or the end use requirements were not considered carefully enough.