Process Equipment

The equipment normally associated with cryogenic systems includes heat exchangers, compressors, expanders, throttling valves, and stor age containers. Since the reciprocal or centrifugal compressors used generally operate at ambient temperatures, their operating principles are not covered here but in Sec. 10. Storage containers, are discussed later in Sec. 11.

Heat Exchangers Since most cryogens, with the exception of helium II behave as classical fluids, well-established principles of mechanics and thermodynamics at ambient temperature also apply for cryogens. Thus, similar conventional heat transfer correlations have been formulated for simple low-temperature heat exchangers. These correlations are described in terms of well-known dimension-less quantities such as the Nusselt, Reynolds, Prandtl, and Grashof numbers.

Because of the need to operate more efficiently at low temperatures, the simple heat exchangers have generally been replaced with more sophisticated types. Guidance for the development of such units for low-temperature service include the following factors:

1. Small temperature differences between inlet and exit streams to enhance efficiency.

2. Large surface area-to-volume ratio to minimize heat leak.

3. High heat transfer to reduce surface area.

4. Low mass to minimize start-up time.

5. Multichannel capability to minimize the number of exchangers.

6. High-pressure capability to provide design flexibility.

7. Low or reasonable pressure drop to minimize compression requirements.

8. High reliability with minimal maintenance to reduce shutdowns.

Problems sometimes occur in trying to minimize the temperature difference at the cold end of the heat exchanger, particularly if the specific heat of the warm fluid decreases with decreasing temperature as is the case with gaseous hydrogen.

The selection of an exchanger for low-temperature operation is usually determined by the process-design requirements, mechanical-design limitations, and economic considerations. Laboratory needs are generally met by concentric tube and extended surface exchangers, while industrial needs are most often met by the coiled-tube, plate-fin, reversing, and regenerator types of exchangers.

The coiled-tube heat exchanger offers unique advantages, especially when dealing with low-temperature design conditions where (1) simultaneous heat transfer between more than two streams is desired, (2) a large number of heat transfer units is required, and (3) high operating pressures are involved. Heat transfer for single-phase flow of either gas or liquid on the tubeside is generally well represented by either the Colburn correlation or modified forms of the Dittus-Boelter relationship.

The shape of the cooling and warming curves in coiled-tube heat exchangers is affected by the pressure drop in both the tube and shellsides of the heat exchanger. This is particularly important for two-phase flows of multicomponent systems. For example, an increase in pressure drop on the shellside causes boiling to occur at a higher temperature, while an increase in pressure drop on the tubeside will cause condensation to occur at a lower temperature. The net result is both a decrease in the effective temperature difference between the two streams and a requirement for additional heat transfer area to compensate for these losses.

Plate-fin heat exchangers are about nine times as compact as conventional shell-and-tube heat exchangers with the same amount of surface area, weigh less than conventional heat exchangers, and withstand design pressures up to 6 MPa for temperatures between 4 and 340 K. Flow instability frequently becomes a limiting design parameter for plate-fin heat exchangers handling either boiling or condensing two-phase flows. This results in lower optimum economic mass flow velocities for plate-fin heat exchangers when compared with coiled-tube heat exchangers. The use of fins or extended surfaces in plate-fin or similar exchangers greatly increases the heat transfer area. Calculations using finned surfaces are outlined earlier in Sec. 11.

There are two basic approaches to heat-exchanger design for low temperatures: (1) the effectiveness-NTU approach and (2) the log-mean-temperature-difference (LMTD) approach. The LMTD approach is used most frequently when all the required mass flows are known and the area of the exchanger is to be determined. The effec tiveness-NTU approach is used more often when the inlet temperatures and the flow rates are specified for an exchanger with fixed area and the outlet temperatures are to be determined. Both methods are described earlier in Sec. 11.

System performance in cryogenic liquefiers and refrigerators is directly related to the effectiveness of the heat exchangers used in the system. For example, the liquid yield for a simple J-T cycle as given by Eq. 11-112 needs to be modified to

if the heat exchanger is less than 100 percent effective. Likewise, the heat exchanger ineffectiveness increases the work required for the system by an amount of

Uninterrupted operation of heat exchangers at low temperatures requires removal of essentially all impurities present in the streams that are to be cooled. Equipment is readily available for the satisfactory removal of these impurities by both chemical and physical methods, but at increased operating expense. Another effective method for also accomplishing this impurity removal utilizes reversing heat exchangers. Proper functioning of the reversing heat exchanger is dependent upon the relationship between the pressures and temperatures of the two streams. Since the pressures are generally fixed by other factors, the purification function of the heat exchanger is normally controlled by selecting the right temperature difference throughout the heat exchanger. To assure that reevaporation takes place, these differences must be such that the vapor pressure of the impurity is greater than the partial pressure of the impurity in the purging stream.

Another type of reversing heat exchanger is the regenerator. As with all reversing heat exchangers, regenerators provide the simultaneous cooling and purification of gases in low-temperature processes. As noted earlier, reversing heat exchangers usually operate continuously. Regenerators do not operate continuously; instead, they operate by periodically storing heat in a packing during the first half of the cycle and then giving up this stored heat to the fluid during the second half of the cycle. Typically, a regenerator consists of two identical columns, which are packed with a porous solid material with a good heat capacity such as metal ribbon, through which the gases flow.

The low cost of the packing material, its large surface-area-per-unit volume, and the low-pressure drops encountered provide compelling arguments for utilizing regenerators. However, the intercontamination of fluid streams, caused by the periodic flow reversals, and the problems associated with designing regenerators to handle three or more fluids, has restricted their use to simple fluids, and favored adoption of plate-fin reversing heat exchangers.

Expanders The primary function of cryogenic expansion equipment is the reduction of the temperature of the gas being expanded to provide needed refrigeration. The expansion of a fluid to produce refrigeration may be carried out in two distinct ways: (1) in an expander where mechanical work is produced, and (2) in a JouleThomson valve where no work is produced.

Mechanical Expanders Reciprocating expanders are very similar in concept and design to reciprocating compressors. Generally these units are used with inlet pressures of 4 to 20 MPa. These machines operate at speeds up to 500 rpm. The thermal efficiencies (actual enthalpy difference/maximum possible enthalpy difference) range from about 75 percent for small units to 85 percent for large machines.

Turboexpanders have replaced reciprocating expanders in highpower installations as well as in small helium liquefiers. Sizes range from 0.75 to 7500 kW with flow rates up to 28 million m3/day. Today's large-tonnage air-separation plants are a reality due to the development of highly reliable and efficient turboexpanders. These expanders are being selected over other cryogenic equipment because of their ability to condense ethane and heavier hydrocarbons. This type of expander usually weighs and costs less and requires less space and operating personnel.

Turboexpanders can be classified as either axial or radial. Axial flow expanders have either impulse or reaction type blades and are suitable for multistage expanders because they permit a much easier flow path from one stage to the next. However, radial turboexpanders have lower stresses at a given tip speed, which permits them to run at higher speeds. This results in higher efficiencies with correspondingly lower energy requirements. As a consequence, most turboexpanders built today are of the radial type.

Joule-Thomson Valves The principal function of a J-T valve is to obtain isenthalpic cooling of the gas flowing through the valve. These valves generally are needle-type valves modified for cryogenic operation. They are an important component in most refrigeration systems, particularly in the last stage of the liquefaction process. JouleThomson valves also offer an attractive alternative to turboexpanders for small-scale gas-recovery applications.

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