Technology Targets Towers

Innovations promise improved distillation column performance.

By Seán Ottewell, editor at large

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“Our technology brings a very large benefit in being able to reduce the size of a distillation column significantly. This also allows for situations where it isn’t physically possible to transport or install conventional equipment onto a site,” he notes.

Its latest innovation, SimulFlow, provides a 50%–60% improvement on the company’s normal tray products. “SimulFlow was developed when we felt we were reaching the limits of capacity improvements that could be made with existing tray configurations.”

SimulFlow is designed to handle simultaneous liquid and vapor flow — in other words cocurrent flow. In trials it has achieved what the company describes as extraordinary capacity. It also reportedly provides an excellent height equivalent to a theoretical plate (HETP), a low pressure drop and a greater than 2:1 operating range.

“For the future, we are working on increasing market penetration and improving the technology still further,” adds Wisniewski.

One development of particular note from UOP’s point of view is on the propylene side, which in the past typically has relied on heat pump systems. “However, many greenfield [grassroots] plants now have a very high level of cooling water available, which is driving interest in high pressure systems rather than heat pump systems. This is good for us because with a heat pump the requirement for internals is really low, for example 180–200 distillation trays within the column, because it has a lower operating pressure. Operating at a higher pressure is more difficult and requires more trays, up to 50% more. Here our ability to minimize column height becomes very important.”

Another area UOP sees potential is in improved column control — especially now that it’s fully owned by Honeywell and can take advantage of Honeywell’s process control expertise.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing’s editor at large. You can e-mail him at
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