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The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., and Applied Science Laboratories,
Inc., State College, Pa.

Continuous Distillation Calculations by

Relaxation Method
with any type of nonideality for which The equation is merely a material
This is an entirely new data are available. I t is not subject to balance stating that the quantity of
method for calculating prod- the difficulties in conventional methods the component present in the holdup
uct compositions in multi- when plate compositions change widely on plate n during interval i +
1 is equal
and in a complex manner with slight to that during interval i, increased (or
component continuous dis- changes in end compositions. Some decreased) by the net quantity added
tillation, when feed con- of these difficulties are particularly and removed as the result of the flows
ditions, flow rates, plate serious when automatic computers are of the two vapor and two liquid streams
used, because of the difficulty of pre- to and from the plate. The basic
efficiency, number of plates, paring adequate instructions for auto- equation can be immediately solved
and reflux ratio are estab- matic choice of successive trial values. to give composition x , ( ~ + ~ )in terms
In the relaxation method calculations of the composition and flows for interval
lished are made for the gradual change in all i. This working equation is
the plate and product compositions that
THE relaxation method has been de-
veloped for calculating the product com-
occur in a column from initial startup
until steady state is reached. The
Xfl(i+l) = Xni + 1 (VY(n.-,),i +
positions in multicomponent continu- equations previously used for batch Lx(n+ - Vya,i - Lxn.i) (2)
ous distillation, when feed conditions, distillation ( 5 ) with appreciable holdup An equation of this kind can be written
flow rates of product streams, plate effi- are used. The calculations may be for each plate and each component,
ciency, number of plates, and reflux started with all plate compositions equal and similar but slightly different equa-
ratio are established. By obtaining to the feed composition, but other tions can be written for the top plate,
several solutions for various numbers of starting compositions may be used. the feed plate, and the still pot. The
plates and various reflux ratios, optimum Use of the material balance equations equation takes a more complex form
operating conditions can be chosen with once for each plate gives a new set of when simplifying assumptions are not
certainty for a particular set of product plate compositions slightly different applicable (4).
purities and yields. Although based from those at the start. Repetition If the compositions and flows at any
on material balance and phase equilib- of this kind of calculation gives one set time,i are known, Equations 1 and 2 may
rium relations and plate calculations, after another of plate compositions, be used to calculate compositions at
the method is entirely different from which gradually approach the steady- time i +1, and the process repeated
any other. Each choice of operating
conditions leads directly to an answer
state compositions. When these are
reached, no further composition changes
to obtain values for time i +
2, and so
on. The necessary values of vapor
in terms of product compositions, re- occur upon repetition of the calculating composition, y, are obtained from the
gardless of the complexity of the problem, cycle. The steady-state solution is in- corresponding value of liquid composi-
number of components, extent of non- dependent of starting compositions and tion, x, by use of the applicable vapor-
ideality, irregularity of thermal re- holdup, but if the real starting compo- liquid equilibrium relation.
lations, or number of side streams. sition, holdup, and corresponding flow This same general procedure has
Thus successive solutions lead directly rates and time lags are used, the cal- Keen used in predicting the course of com-
to the desired optimum solution. No culations describe the approach to position changes and effect of operating
simplifying assumptions or approxima- steady state. variables in batch distillation with ap-
tions are needed. Other methods often preciable holdup ( 5 ) ,and more recently
lead to no solution, unless a great deal Basic Equations in studying the effects of column upsets
of experience and judgment are applied in continuous distillation and related
in choosing trial values. The basic equation is that for ex- control problems (6). Use of the pro-
The relaxation method is not uni- pressing the change in the moles of a cedure for continuous distillation design
versally preferable to conventional component present in the holdup on a calculations is simplified by the fact
methods, but is particularly advanta- particular plate, during any brief in- that the desired steady-state composi-
geous for complicated design problems terval during the distillation operation. tions are independent of the starting
involving multiple columns or compo- This equation is, in general terms, when compositions, and of the path toward
nents, nonideal equilibrium and thermal usual simplifying assumptions of dis- steady state. Thus any convenient
behavior, multiple feed or take-off tillation are applicable, set of starting compositions may be
streams, extremes of concentration, and
automatic control applications (6). I t
Hxn(i+l) = H ~ n i (VY(~-I).<+ used, without concern as to the path
requires an automatic computer, but Lxta+~),d- Vyn.6 - LXn.i) (1)
this need not be fast, nor large, unless where n refers to the plate number, and Basic Calculation Procedure for
many components are involved. Digital i refers to a particular interval of time,
computers are indicated because analog and (i + 1) refers to the next succeeding
Continuous Distillation Design
computers are limited to problems interval. Hrefers to the total moles 03 I t is most convenient to start the cal-
involving relatively few plates and few holdup on the plate; and V and L culations using feed composition values
components. The method can deal refer to the vapor and liquid flow rates. for all the plate liquid compositions,

VOL. 50, NO. 5 M A Y 1958 737

These are taken as the compositions flow rates V and L should be one fifth in the case of multiple feeds) and any
for time zero. The first step is the use to one tenth of the plate holdup, H, side product streams.
of the basic equation for the top plate to avoid distortions and instability in All flow rates (vapor and liquid in the
to calculate the composition of the the calculations. Arithmetical errors column, overhead, bottoms, and feed
and side streams). Absolute quantities
liquid from this plate a t the end of the must be eliminated by making an over- are not necessary, but correct relative
first time interval. The second step is all material balance of each component values must be used, and the feed rate
to use the basic plate equation to cal- after each new set of compositions is per interval must be one fifth to one
culate the composition of the sec- obtained. I t is also desirable to check tenth of the holdup per plate.
ond plate from the top, a t the end first and secondary differences in the Holdup on each plate and in reboiler.
of the first time interval. I n the compositions for successive intervals, The final steady-state compositions are
same manner the compositions at the as appreciable changes in these are in- independent of the choice. but arith-
end of the first time interval are cal- dicative of arithmetic errors. metic relations require that the holdup
be at least five times the feed rate per
culated for each of the other plates
and the still pot or reboiler. Alterna- Simplifying Assumptions Initial composition of liquid on each
tively the calculations can begin at the plate and in the reboiler. The final
still pot and proceed upward. In fact, The procedure as explained involves steady-state compositions are independ-
the calculations for the various plates some of the usual simplifying assumptions ent of the choice of initial compositions.
(at any one interval) may be done in of distillation calculations, but these are I t is convenient to use feed composition
any desired or random order, as the not inherent in the method. One ad- as the initial plate compositions.
calculation for each plate is independent vantage is the ease with which these
of that for all other plates. When all assumptions can be eliminated to make Application to Benzene-
the compositions for time interval one the method more rigorous, when de- Toluene-Xylene Distillation
have been obtained, the procedure is sirable. The application of new method may
reported over and over to obtain com- be illustrated by checking the solution
Constant molal overflow
positions for time intervals two, three, Perfect plate efficiency to the benzene-toluene-xylene distilla-
and so on. Negligible vapor holdup tion described by Robinson and Gilli-
I n general, most of the compositions Composition of liquid on a plate land ( 3 ) .
change rapidly at first and then gradu- identical with that of liquid leaving the This involves a 16-theoretical plate
ally approach steady-state values. When plate fractionating column with a reboiler
the latter are reached, the compositions which also acts as a theoretical plate.
The methods of modifying the cal-
no longer change from one interval to The column is to be used to obtain a
the next, and these compositions rep- culations to take these complexities
into account have been described in purified benzene overhead from a feed
resent the desired steady-state solution containing 60 mole % ' benzene, 30 mole
to the particular continuous distillation detail ( 5 ) .
% toluene, and 10 mole % xylene. The
problem under consideration. feed, which is a liquid at its boiling point,
Requirements for Calculation enters the column on the ninth plate
Arithmetical Precautions To carry out the calculation proce- from the bottom. The reflux ratio is
The calculation procedure is purely dure for a specific case, the following set at 2 to 1, and 60.17, of the feed is
arithmetical, but requires special pre- quantities must be known, specified, or to be taken overhead.
fixed by choice of a trial value: The moles of feed per interval are
cautions. The time interval must be
sufficiently small to avoid distortions arbitrarily fixed as 10. The correspond-
Total number of theoretical plates, ing overhead rate is then 6.01 moles with
that result when the quantities flowing reflux ratio, and relative quantities of
during an interval are large compared 3.99 moles as the bottom rate. Thus,
overhead and bottoms.
with the holdup on a plate. In general, Location of feed plate (or feed plates V , is 18.03 moles, L, is 12.02 moles. V ,
is 18.03 moles, and L, is 22.2 moles.
The holdup on each plate and in the
reboiler is taken as 50 moles. The cal-
culation is started with liquid of feed
composition on each plate and in the
All the above data were entered into
a digital computer, together with a
program for repeated calculation ac-
The curves show how the mole cording to Equation 2. The curves at
per cent benzene on various the left show the variation of typical
plates would change from plate compositions from the initial in-
initial startup until the column terval to steady state. At steady state
compositions teveled off when the top composition is 99.5% benzene,
steady state was reached. 0.5% toluene, and no xylene. and the
The steady-state compositions bottom composition is 0.5% benzene,
are the desired solution to 74.4%> toluene, and 25.1% xylene.
the continuous distillation Robinson and Gilliland (3) obtained the
problem same result, using the familiar Lewis and
,Matheson method.

I \ Bottoms
General Use of Relaxation Method
If the Robinson and Gilliland solution
to the benzene-toluene-xylene problem
was not available, and it was desired
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 to solve the general problem by the re-
NUMBER OF INTERVALS laxation method described, the number


a - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - aBOTTOMS
~ a , ~ ~ oPRODUCT
of plates and the feed plate location
would not be known. I t would there- /a-
fore be necessary to choose trial values OoZ4F /
for these items and carry out a series of
trial calculations. The first might be
for ten plates with feed introduced on
plate 5 from the bottom. This would
give inadequate separation. Twenty
plates would give better separation than
that specified. Fifteen plates with feed
on plate 8 would not quite achieve the
desired separation.
The relaxation method does not avoid
repeated trials for a general distillation
design problem. However, each trial
does give the exact answer for distilla-
tion with the chosen conditions. Re-
peated trials give an assembly of correct
solutions for various conditions of op-
eration and a true over-all picture and
understanding of the effect of variation
in conditions on the results. In using
conventional methods, such as the Lewis- 0.0 I I
40 60
Matheson, all the trials except the last INTERVAL NUMBER
give no answer at all, but only a dis- The curves show how the mole fraction of component B of the ternary mixture on
crepancy in material balances that aids the various plates changes from its value of 0.01 2 at initial startup, to steady-
in choosing conditions for the next trial. state values that persist during continuous distillation
The successive trials thus provide but TOP PRODUCT
little over-all information about the ,o-o---rcJ-cJ-o-o--o--o-o-n-u~~~o~cr

problem. The relaxation method is

especially useful in more complicated
problems where the conventional method
encounters serious difficulties in that
selection, of trial starting values is so 4
complex that it is difficult or impossible to c
find an answer even after many trials.
a 0 BO 4-cp-c-p-o-~-~-a-~-~-4-~-~ FEED P L A T E

This situation is most likely to arise in H *-*C-*-e-.-*-

problems whose solution is most worth P L A T E BELOW FEED P L A T E
while-Le., for cases of operation near P
minimum reflux, and where very small 0

changes in composition at one end of

a column are associated with very large
differences at the other end. Such ? 0 60
problems are easily solvable by the re-
laxation method, but difficult or impos-
sible to solve by conventional methods.
This is particularly true of nonhydro- 050- \ -0-
carbon mixtures.

Relaxation Solution for I I I I I

Side Stream Problem
The curves at the right give the solu- INTERVAL+ NUMBERS

tion to a problem in which a ternary The mole fraction of component A of the ternary first decreases and then rises
mixture consisting of two close boiling on the lower plates, as the progression occurs from initial startup to the steady-
less volatile components (B and C) are state compositions that are indicated b y the flat right-hand portions of the curves,
separated from a single more volatile Component C curves are not shown but would appear as approximately the
component (A). Side streams enter and inverse of those for component A
leave an upper plate, and feed is near the
program is given on page 740. This the interval by interval calculations
bottom. is applicable to any constant molal automatically and prints the answers
overflow three-component fractionation as it proceeds after each interval, or
Computer Program problem for any number of theoretical after any specified number of intervals.
The relaxation type of calculation is plates above and below the feed plate, The overhead and bottoms compositions
not easy without any automatic com- and any reflux ratio. The various flow are printed, but any other compositions
puter. rates in the enriching and stripping in the column may also be printed as
The sample benzene-toluene-xylene section, the holdup on the plates and in desired.
problem was programmed for solution the reboiler, th'k feed composition, and
on Pennstac, a medium-speed digital various constants, such as those found l i m e Required for
computer similar to the IBM 650. in the expressions for relative volatility, typical Solutions
The simplified block diagram for the are entered as data. The machine does The rate of approach toward steady-

VOL. 50, NO. 5 * MAY 1958 739

as zero. This in no way upsets the cal-
E n t e r Initial Data
I n t o C a l c u l a t e Storage
I culations of the relaxation procedure,
but does cause difficulty in Lewis-
Matheson and other types of conventional
The relaxation method can be adapted
Equilibrium Vapor for multiple feed and for side stream
S u b m u t i n e (EVSR) products, and can be used to solve mul-
Calculate r e l a t i v e v o l a t i l -
Reset t r a f f i c c o n t r o l s tiple column problems where the col-
an6 c y c l e e s c a p e s f o r umns are interrelated-for example, if
next i n t e r v a l .
bottoms from column one is the feed to
column two and part of the overhead
EVSR T r a f f i c Control. from column two is refluxed to column
ReguLates t h e EVSR so it Vi one. In every case the method proceeds
Tolerance Check
c e r t a i n p l a t e and s t o r e
positively and directly to the correct
See i f s t e a d y s t a t e has
been reached.
answers i n proper p l a c e . product compositions for the conditions
chosen, and when successive trials are
necessary, there is no uncertainty in
selection of new starting values. With
some modification, the method can be
EVSR Cycle Escape.
P r i n t i n t e r v a l number used to determine the time to reach
and d e s i r e d Determines when a l l t h e
steady state from an empty column
start, and to study control problems.
1 I I
Escape Acknowledgment
The investigations underlying this
MBSR CYCIE Escape Vateerial Balance Subroutine
work would not have been possible
Determines when a l l t h e new without financial support from the
l i q u i d compositions have Calculate the liquid
been c a l c u l a t e d . c o m o s i t i o n on a p l a t e h’ational Science Foundation in the form
a t t h e end o f an i n t e r v a l . of a grant to the Pennsylvania State
* I University.

MESR T r a f f i c Control.
R e g u l a t e s t h e hBSR so i t w i l l o b t a i n c o r r e c t
H = total holdup per plate, moles
v a l u e s f o r a given p l a t e and s t o r e L = liquid flow rate, moles per time
answers in t h e c o r r e c t p l a c e . interval
V vapor flow rate: moles per time
state compositions is rapid a t first, but of successive trial values can many interval
extremely slow toward the end. Thus times become very complex, particularly x = liquid composition, mole fraction
a n approximate solution can be ob- if there is but little experience with the of any component
tained quickly, but a precise answer system. Shelton and McIntire (7) have y = vapor composition, mole fraction
requires an unduly long period of com- developed automatic computer pro- of any component
putation. The latter can be greatly grams for Lewis-Matheson type solution SUBSCRIPTS
reduced by determining the form of the called the feed mesh methods. Bonner i = number of time interval
first portion of the curve, and then extrap- (2) has developed a similar method. m = to identify a vapor or liquid rate
olating this to steady state. This ex- However, difficulties are sometimes en- below feed plate
trapolation can be included i n the over- countered in the choice of successive n = to identify a vapor or liquid rate
all computer program, so that compu- trial values and these become critical above feed plate
tation time is reduced to a nominal when they must be completely systema- 1, 2 . .16 = to identify a plate by num-
value. tized in advance in the form of program ber, counting from bottom up
instructions for the computer. Amund- Literature Cited
Evaluation of Method son’s (7) method avoids these difficulties (1) Amundson, N. R., Pontinen, A. J.,
The method presented here is basically by setting up simultaneous equations IND.ENG.CHEM.50, 730 (1958).
different from the Lewis-Matheson for the steady-state conditions, and (2) Bonner, J. S., Pittsburgh Meeting, Am.
method in that it determines overhead solving these by a matrix inversion tech- Inst. Chem. Engrs., September 1956.
(3) Robinson, C. S., Gilliland, E. R.,
and bottoms compositions, given the nique which requires a very large, fast “Elements of Fractional Distilla-
flow rates, number of plates, feed plate computer. tion,” 4th ed., pp. 219-29, McGraw-
location, feed composition, and relative Another difficulty in using the Lewis- Hill, New York, 1950.
volatility relations. The Lewis-Mathe- Matheson method is that of extremes (4) Rose, Arthur, Johnson, R. C., Chem.
Eng. Prugr. 49, 15-21 (1953).
son method essentially determines the in composition. For example, the final (5) Rose, Arthur, Johnson, R. C.
number of plates necessary to produce solution to a problem might indicate Williams, T. J., Zbid., 48, 549-56
overhead and bottoms compositions that the overhead is almost pure light (1952).
which are specified or desired. component and the bottoms contains (6) Rose, Arthur, Williams, T. J., Harnett,
R. T., IND. ENG.CHEW48,1008-19
If a problem involves an existing only parts per million of the same com- (1956).
column with a known number of theo- ponent. Under these conditions, the (7) Shelton, R. O., McIntire, R. L., Pitts-
retical plates, the relaxation method has top composition will sometimes be burgh Meeting, Am. Inst. Chem.
a definite advantage. Using this method vey sensitive to minute changes in bot- Engrs., September 1956.
is equivalent to having a pilot plant toms composition. I n the relaxation RECEIVED for review November 21, 1957
method the only effect of very small ACCEPTED March 7, 1958
column and actually operating it to
obtain the answers. Such a problem quantities of a component is that this Division of Petroleum Chemistry, Sym-
component might disappear entirely posium on Application of Machine Com-
can be solved using a Lewis--Matheson putation to Petroleum Research, 132nd
type method only by trial and error. For from the computer registers (usually Meeting, ACS, New York, N. Y., September
multicomponent problems the choice seven or more decimal places) and appear 1957.