Liquid Distributors A liquid distributor (or redistributor) should be used in any location in a packed column where an external liquid stream is introduced. Liquid redistributors are also used between packed beds to avoid excessive bed lengths that may impair packing efficiency or mechanical strength. It is best to have the packing supplier also supply the distributor, with the user critically reviewing the design. The user must provide the supplier with concise information about the plugging, corrosive, and foaming tendencies of the service as well as the range of liquid flow rates that it needs to handle and the physical properties of the liquid.

Olsson (Ch iem. Eng. Progr., p. 57, October 1999) discussed the key for successful distributor design and operation. He states that it is critical to correctly evaluate the fouling potential of the service and design for it (e.g., preventing small holes, filtering the feed, etc.); to avoid gas entry into liquid distributors (e.g., no flashing feed into a liquid distributor); to systematically check the irrigation pattern using a method such as the circle analysis of Moore and Rukovena [Chem. Plants and Process (European ed.), p. 11, August 1987; described in detail in Kister's Distillation Operation, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1990]; to water-test any liquid distributor (major suppliers have dedicated test stands that are available for those purposes at cost); to ensure correct entry of a feed into a liquid distributor; and to thoroughly inspect a distributor. Kister [Trans. IChemE. vol. 81, Part A, p. 5 (January 2003)] found that between 80 and 90 percent of the distributor failures reported in the literature in the last 50 years could have been prevented if users and suppliers had followed Olsson's measures.

A minimum of 40 irrigation points per square meter has been recommended, with 60 to 100 per square meter being ideal [Strigle, Packed Tower Design and Applications, 2d ed., Gulf Publishing, Houston, Tex., 1994; Kister, Distillation Operation, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1990; Norton Company (now Koch-Glitsch LP), Packed Column Internals, Bulletin TA-80R, 1974]. Commercial-scale tests with both random and structured packings showed no improvement in packing efficiency by increasing the irrigation point density above 40 per square meter [Fitz, King, and Kunesh, Trans. IChemE 77, Part A, p. 482 (1999)]. So going to larger numbers of irrigation points per square meter provides little improvement while leading to smaller holes which increases the plugging tendency. In orifice-type distributors, which are the most common type, the head-flow relationship is given by the orifice equation

where Q is the liquid flow rate, m3/h; KD is the orifice discharge coefficient, with a recommended value of 0.707 (Chen, Chem. Eng., p. 40, March 5, 1984); nD is the number of holes; dh is the hole diameter, mm; and h is the liquid head, mm. Equation (14-163) shows that at a given Q, increasing n leads to either smaller d or smaller h.

Figures 14-68 and 14-69 show common distributor types used for distillation and absorption. An excellent detailed discussion of the types of distributors and their pros and cons was given by Bonilla (Chem. Eng. Progr., p. 47, March 1993). The perforated pipe (or ladder pipe) distributor (Fig. 14-68a) has holes on the underside of the pipes. It is inexpensive, provides a large open area for vapor flow, and does not rely on gravity. On the debit side, it is typically designed for high velocity heads, 500 to 1000 mm of water, which is 5 to 10 times more than gravity distributors, requiring [per Eq. (14-163)] either fewer irrigation points or the use of plugging-prone smaller holes. The high hole velocities make it prone to corrosion and erosion. These disadvantages make it relatively unpopular. A gravity variation of this distributor uses a liquid drum above the distributor that gravity-feeds it.

Spray distributors (Fig. 14-68b) are pipe headers with spray nozzles fitted on the underside. The spray nozzles are typically wide-angle (often 120°) full-cone. Spray distributors are unpopular in distillation but are common in heat transfer, washing and scrubbing services

(especially in refinery towers), and in small-diameter towers where a single spray nozzle can be used. They are inexpensive and offer a large open area for vapor flow and a robustness for handling of fouling fluids when correctly designed, and the sprays themselves contribute to mass and heat transfer. On the debit side, the spray cones often generate regions of over- and underirrigation, the sprays may not be homogeneous, the spray nozzles are prone to corrosion, erosion, and damage. With highly subcooled liquids, the spray angle may collapse when pushed at high pressure drops (above 100 to 150 kPa) (Fractionation Research Inc., "A Spray Collapse Study," motion picture 919, Stillwater, Okla., 1985). The design and spray pattern are highly empirical. Sprays also generate significant entrainment to the section above [Trompiz and Fair, Ind. Eng. Chem, Res., 39(6), 1797 (2000)].

Orifice pan distributors (Fig. 14-69a) and orifice tunnel distributors (Fig. 14-69b) have floor holes for liquid flow and circular (Fig. 14-69a) or rectangular (Fig. 14-69b) risers for vapor passages. When they are used as redistributors, a hat is installed above each riser to prevent liquid from the bed above from dripping into the risers. Unlike the ladder pipe and spray distributors that operate by pressure drop, orifice distributors operate by gravity, and therefore use a much smaller liquid head, typically 100 to 150 mm at maximum rates. Using Eq. (14-163), the lower head translates to either more distributions points (nD), which helps irrigation quality, or larger hole diameters, which resists plugging. However, the low liquid velocities, large residence times, and open pans (or troughs) make them more prone to plugging than the pressure distributors. A good hole pattern and avoidance of oversized risers are essential. Orifice distributors are self-collecting, a unique advantage for redistributors. Orifice distributors are one of the most popular types and are favored whenever the liquid loads are high enough to afford hole diameters large enough to resist plugging (>12 mm).

Orifice trough (or orifice channel) distributors (Fig. 14-69c-f are some of the most popular types. The trough construction does away with the multitude ofjoints in the orifice pans, making them far more leak-resistant, a major advantage in large towers and low-liquid-rate applications. Liquid from a central parting box (Fig. 14-69c, e) or middle channel (Fig. 14-69d) is metered into each trough. The troughs can have floor holes, but elevating the holes above the floor (Fig. 14-69c-g) is preferred as it enhances plugging resistance. Tubes (Fig. 14-69c, d, f) or baffles (Fig. 14-69e) direct the liquid issuing from the elevated holes downward onto the packings. Orifice trough distributors are not self-collecting. When used for redistribution, they require a liquid collector to be installed above them.

Turndown of orifice distributors is constrained to about 2 : 1 by Eq. (14-163). For example, a 100-mm liquid head at the design drops to 25 mm when the liquid rate is halved. Lower heads give poor irrigation and high sensitivity to levelness. Turndown is often enhanced by using two rows of side tubes (in the Fig. 14-69c type) or of side holes (in the Fig. 14-69d or e types). Perforated drip tubes (as in Fig. 14-69d) are popular in either orifice trough or orifice pan distributors. The lower, smaller hole is active at low liquid rates, with the larger upper hole becoming active at higher liquid rates. Use of perforated drip tubes is not recommended when the vapor dew point is much higher than the liquid bubble point, because liquid may boil in the tubes, causing dryout underneath [Kister, Stupin, and Oude Lenferink, IChemE. Symp. Ser. 152, p. 409, London (2006)].

A popular type of the orifice trough distributor is the splash plate distributor (Fig. 14-69e). The splash plates spread the issuing liquid over their lengths, making it possible to reduce the number of irrigation points. This is a special advantage with small liquid rates, as fewer irrigation points (at a given head) translate to larger, more fouling-resistant

Liquid Distributor

FIG. 14-68 Pressure liquid distributors. (a) Ladder pipe. (b) Spray. (Courtesy of Koch-Glitsch LP.)

FIG. 14-68 Pressure liquid distributors. (a) Ladder pipe. (b) Spray. (Courtesy of Koch-Glitsch LP.)

hole diameters [Eq. (14-163)]. Lack of the drip tubes eliminates the possible in-tube boiling issue (above).

Multistage orifice trough distributors (Fig. 14-69/) also attempt to provide good irrigation at low liquid rates without resorting to plug-ging-prone small holes. The primary stage uses fewer irrigation points. Liquid from the primary stage is further split at the secondary stage. The secondary stage is of small size, so leveling and small flow variations are not of great concern. The secondary stage may use the same or a different liquid splitting principle as the primary stage. Even short layers of structured packings have been used as a secondary distribution stage.

Notched trough distributors (Fig. 14-69g) consist of parallel troughs with side V notches. This distributor obeys the triangular notch equation instead of the orifice equation, which makes the flow proportional to h2 5 [instead of h05 in Eq. (14-163)]. This high power renders the distributor highly sensitive to out-of-levelness and hydraulic gradients and makes it difficult to incorporate a large number of distribution points. Since the liquid issues sideways, it is difficult to predict where the liquid will hit the packings. Baffles are sometimes used to direct the liquid downward. Overall, the quality of distribution is inferior to that of orifice distributors, making notched-trough distributors unpopular. Their strength is their insensitivity to fouling and corrosive environments and their ability to handle high liquid rates at good turndown.

With any trough distributor, and especially those with V notches, excessive hydraulic gradients must be avoided. This is often achieved by using more parting boxes.

The hydraulic gradient is highest where the liquid enters the troughs, approaching zero at the end of the trough. The hydraulic gradient (between entry point and trough end) can be calculated from [Moore and Rukovena, Chemical Plants and Processing (European ed.), p. 11, August 1987]

Distillation Distributor CalculationFractionating Reflux Still
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