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Reboiler Exchanger and System Type Selection

How do you select the basic reboiler system for your service?

Subject: Question - reboilers.
Date: Sat, 09 Jun 2001 03:54:48 -0000


What are some of the differences between reboiler types? How can we select a reboiler for a new column?

B., Asian Chemical Plant

To: B.
Subject: Reboilers.
Date: Wed, 18 July 2001 15:34 -0500


Reboilers generate vapor to drive fractional distillation separation. In classical fractional distillation services all the vapor to drive the separation comes from the reboiler. (Alternate systems may use externally generated vapor, feed preheat, or inter-reboiler systems). Proper reboiler operation is vital to effective distillation.

The most critical element of reboiler design is the selection of the proper type of reboiler for a service. Most reboilers are shell-and-tube exchangers. Specific services may use other specialized designs including stab-ins, plate-fins, spiral-plate and others. The purpose here is not to go into design details of each specific type but rather to examine the selection criteria that favor one configuration over another. Since shell-and-tubes are so common, most of the discussion focuses on them but some factors favoring other designs are covered as well.

Many factors influence reboiler type selection. In the end, all these factors reduce to economics. Every plant will weight the trade-off between these factors differently. No one-size fits all selection exists. Major factors include:

All these affect the configuration desired. The major configuration selections include:

Figures 1 to 4 show common types of reboilers. Figure 1 shows two horizontal, shell-side boiling configurations. Figure 1A is a recirculating thermosyphon. Figure 2A is a once-through thermosyphon. Figure 2 shows vertical configurations. Figure 2C is a tube-side boiling configuration with once through flow and Figure 2D is a shell side boiling recirculating thermosyphon. Figure 3E shows a kettle reboiler and Figure 3F shows a forced-circulation reboiler. Figure 4G illustrates a stab-in bundle and figure 4H shows a forced-circulation, fired heater. Table 1 includes the major factors in making an exchanger system choice.

Figure 1
Horizontal, shell-side boiling reboilers


Figure 2
Vertical reboilers


Figure 3
Flooded bundle reboilers


Figure 4
Stab-in and fired heater reboilers

 Factor Favored types Disfavored types
Low bottoms product fraction compared to boilup Recirculating
High bottoms product fraction compared to boilup Once-through Recirculating
Low relative volatility systems Recirculating  
High relative volatility systems Once-through Recirculating
Large exchanger size or high duty requirements Horizontal Vertical
Small exchangers Vertical
Leaks hazardous or difficult to deal with Stab-in  
Exotic materials Stab-in  
Tight temperature approach Spiral-plate
Solids present Kettle
Thermally unstable products Recirculating (no baffle) Kettle
Once through
Tight plot plan Vertical Horizontal
Ample plot plan Horizontal  
High temperatures Fired heaters  
High heat fluxes Forced circulation
Flooded bundles
Natural circulation

Other systems in addition to the ones shown here are also possible. Of course, every system's final choice will depend upon specific design details involved. Many systems have specific characteristics that favor designs that might not be immediately apparent.

Andrew Sloley

Images have been sized for full screen display on an 800x600 monitor.

This page updated 18 July 2001.
© 2001 Andrew W. Sloley. All rights reserved.