Multiple-Effect Evaporators A number of approximate methods have been published for estimating performance and heating-surface requirements of a multiple-effect evaporator [Coates and Pressburg, Chem. Eng., 67(6), 157 (1960); Coates, Chem. Eng. Prog., 45, 25 (1949); and Ray and Carnahan, Trans. Am. Inst. Chem. Eng., 41, 253 (1945)]. However, because of the wide variety of methods of feeding and the added complication of feed heaters and condensate flash systems, the only certain way of determining performance is by detailed heat and material balances. Algebraic solutions may be used, but if more than a few effects are involved, trial-and-error methods are usually quicker. These frequently involve trial-and-error within trial-and-error solutions. Usually, if condensate flash systems or feed heaters are involved, it is best to start at the first effect. The basic steps in the calculation are then as follows:

1. Estimate temperature distribution in the evaporator, taking into account boiling-point elevations. If all heating surfaces are to be equal, the temperature drop across each effect will be approximately inversely proportional to the heat-transfer coefficient in that effect.

2. Determine total evaporation required, and estimate steam consumption for the number of effects chosen.

3. From assumed feed temperature (forward feed) or feed flow (backward feed) to the first effect and assumed steam flow, calculate evaporation in the first effect. Repeat for each succeeding effect, checking intermediate assumptions as the calculation proceeds. Heat input from condensate flash can be incorporated easily since the condensate flow from the preceding effects will have already been determined.

4. The result of the calculation will be a feed to or a product discharge from the last effect that may not agree with actual requirements. The calculation must then be repeated with a new assumption of steam flow to the first effect.

5. These calculations should yield liquor concentrations in each effect that make possible a revised estimate of boiling-point rises. They also give the quantity of heat that must be transferred in each effect. From the heat loads, assumed temperature differences, and heat-transfer coefficients, heating-surface requirements can be determined. If the distribution of heating surface is not as desired, the entire calculation may need to be repeated with revised estimates of the temperature in each effect.

6. If sufficient data are available, heat-transfer coefficients under the proposed operating conditions can be calculated in greater detail and surface requirements readjusted.

Such calculations require considerable judgment to avoid repetitive trials but are usually well worth the effort. Sample calculations are given in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Testing Procedure for Evaporators and by Badger and Banchero, Introduction to Chemical Engineering, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1955. These balances may be done by computer but programming time frequently exceeds the time needed to do them manually, especially when variations in flow sheet are to be investigated. The MASSBAL program of SACDA, London, Ont., provides a considerable degree of flexibility in this regard. Another program, not specific to evaporators, is ASPEN PLUS by Aspen Tech., Cambridge, Ma. Many such programs include simplifying assumptions and approximations that are not explicitly stated and can lead to erroneous results.

Optimization The primary purpose of evaporator design is to enable production of the necessary amount of satisfactory product at the lowest total cost. This requires economic-balance calculations that may include a great number of variables. Among the possible variables are the following:

1. Initial steam pressure versus cost or availability.

2. Final vacuum versus water temperature, water cost, heat-transfer performance, and product quality.

3. Number of effects versus steam, water, and pump power cost.

4. Distribution of heating surface between effects versus evaporator cost.

5. Type of evaporator versus cost and continuity of operation.

6. Materials of construction versus product quality, tube life, evaporator life, and evaporator cost.

7. Corrosion, erosion, and power consumption versus tube velocity.

8. Downtime for retubing and repairs.

9. Operating-labor and maintenance requirements.

10. Method of feeding and use of heat-recovery systems.

11. Size of recovery heat exchangers.

12. Possible withdrawal of steam from an intermediate effect for use elsewhere.

The type of evaporator to be used and the materials of construction are generally selected on the basis of past experience with the material to be concentrated. The method of feeding can usually be decided on the basis of known feed temperature and the properties of feed and product. However, few of the listed variables are completely independent. For instance, if a large number of effects is to be used, with a consequent low temperature drop per effect, it is impractical to use a natural-circulation evaporator. If expensive materials of construction are desirable, it may be found that the forced-circulation evaporator is the cheapest and that only a few effects are justifiable.

The variable having the greatest influence on total cost is the number of effects in the evaporator. An economic balance can establish the optimum number where the number is not limited by such factors as viscosity, corrosiveness, freezing point, boiling-point rise, or thermal sensitivity. Under present United States conditions, savings in steam and water costs justify the extra capital, maintenance, and power costs of about seven effects in large commercial installations when the properties of the fluid are favorable, as in black-liquor evaporation. Under governmental financing conditions, as for plants to supply fresh water from seawater, evaporators containing from 12 to 30 or more effects can be justified.

As a general rule, the optimum number of effects increases with an increase in steam cost or plant size. Larger plants favor more effects, partly because they make it easier to install heat-recovery systems that increase the steam economy attainable with a given number of effects. Such recovery systems usually do not increase the total surface needed but do require that the heating surface be distributed between a greater number of pieces of equipment.

The most common evaporator design is based on the use of the same heating surface in each effect. This is by no means essential since few evaporators are "standard" or involve the use of the same patterns. In fact, there is no reason why all effects in an evaporator must be of the same type. For instance, the cheapest salt evaporator might use propeller calandrias for the early effects and forced-circulation effects at the low-temperature end, where their higher cost per unit area is more than offset by higher heat-transfer coefficients.

Bonilla [Trans. Am. Inst. Chem. Eng., 41, 529 (1945)] developed a simplified method for distributing the heating surface in a multiple-effect evaporator to achieve minimum cost. If the cost of the evaporator per unit area of heating surface is constant throughout, then minimum cost and area will be achieved if the ratio of area to temperature difference A/AT is the same for all effects. If the cost per unit area z varies, as when different tube materials or evaporator types are used, then zA/AT should be the same for all effects.

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