Obtaining Tray Efficiency

Efficiency prediction methods are listed here in decreasing order of reliability.

Rigorous Testing Rigorous testing of a plant column is generally the most reliable method of obtaining tray efficiency. Test procedures can be found elsewhere (AIChE Equipment Testing Procedures Committee, AIChE Equipment Testing Procedure—Tray Distillation Columns, 2d ed., 1987; Kister, Distillation Operation, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1990).

Scale-up from an Existing Commercial Column As long as data are for the same system under similar process conditions, loadings, and operating regime, data obtained in one column directly extend to another. Fractional hole area and the number of tray passes will have a small but significant effect on efficiency, and any changes in these parameters need to be allowed for during scale-up. The empirical information in the section "Factors Affecting Tray Efficiency" can be used to estimate the magnitude of the changes on efficiency.

Scale-up from Existing Commercial Column to Different Process Conditions During scale-up, test data are analyzed by computer simulation. The number of theoretical stages is varied until the simulated product compositions and temperature profile match the test data. Tray efficiency is determined by the ratio of theoretical stages to actual trays. In this procedure, errors in VLE are offset by compensating errors in tray efficiency. For instance, if the relative volatility calculated by the simulation is too high, fewer stages will be needed to match the measured data, i.e., "apparent" tray efficiency will be lower. Scale-up will be good as long as the VLE and efficiency errors continue to offset each other equally. This requires that process conditions (feed composition, feed temperature, reflux ratio, etc.) remain unchanged during scale-up.

When process conditions change, the VLE and efficiency errors no longer offset each other equally. If the true relative volatility is higher than simulated, then the scale-up will be conservative. If the true relative volatility is lower than simulated, scale-up will be optimistic. A detailed discussion is found in Kister, Distillation Design, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1992.

Experience Factors These are tabulations of efficiencies previously measured for various systems. Tray efficiency is insensitive to tray geometry (above), so in the absence of hydraulic anomalies and issues with VLE data, efficiencies measured in one tower are extensible to others distilling the same system. A small allowance to variations in tray geometry as discussed above is in order. Caution is required with mixed aqueous-organic systems, where concentration may have a marked effect on physical properties, relative volatility, and efficiency. Table 14-12 shows typical tray efficiencies reported in the literature.

TABLE 14-12 Representative Tray Efficiencies



Column diameter, ft

Tray spacing, in


% hole (slot) area




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