Effect of liquid flow patterns on distillation trays

  • C.J. Hine

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis describes experimental work on sieve trays in an air-water simulator, 2.44 m in diameter. The liquid flow pattern, for flowrates similar to those used in commercial scale distillation, was observed experimentally by water cooling experiments, in which the temperature of the water is measured at over 100 positions over the tray area. The water is cooled by the rising air which is forced through the tray. A heat and mass transfer analogy is drawn whereby the water temperature is mapped to liquid concentration in mass transfer, and the water temperature profiles reveal how liquid channelling may reduce the tray efficiency.
The first experiment was to observe the flow of water only over an unperforated tray. With the exception of very low weir loads, the flow separated at the ends of the inlet downcomer. This caused liquid to flow straight across the tray between the downcomers and large circulating regions to be formed in the side regions of the tray. The effect of the air crossflow on the flow pattern was then observed on a sieve tray of 10% free area with 1 mm diameter holes (such as is used in cryogenic distillation).
The flow patterns developed on the tray were similar to those produced with water only on the unperforated tray, but at low weir loads the air crossflow prevented separation of the water flow and the associated circulating regions. At higher weir loads, liquid channelling down the centre of the tray and circulation in the side regions occurred. The percentage of the tray occupied by circulating liquid depended upon the velocity of the liquid entering the tray, which was set by the weir load and size of the gap under the inlet downcomer.
The water cooling experiments showed that the temperature of the water in a circulating region is much lower than in other parts of the tray, indicating that the driving force for heat transfer is reduced. In a column section where trays (and circulating areas) are mounted on top of each other, the circulating regions will cause air (or vapour) passing through them to have a reduced change in temperature or concentration leading a loss in tray efficiency.
Date of AwardOct 1990
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKaren E. Porter (Supervisor)


  • distillation
  • sieve trays
  • flow patterns
  • scale-up
  • performance
  • heat and mass transfer

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