This work reviews the major published studies, both theoretical and experimental, that address the impact of wave motion on packed tower performance. Current practice is to add excess packing to guarantee the required separation is obtained, though there is little data available to derive a safety factor for packing height. This work highlights deficiencies in the current knowledge base and analyzes general trends to address common misconceptions about tower design for floating production.

Tilt and motions imposed on a fractionation column have a significant impact on product specifications due to reduced packing efficiency. Improved awareness of motion impacts will assist the analysis of tower design and allow feedback to the process design. Identifying gaps in available data shows limits in the current understanding and allows the development of appropriate simplifying assumptions.

The current understanding of towers in motion allows only very basic design rules and the safety factor for packing height in literature varies from 1.1 to 2.0. This provides little confidence in the ability to predict packing efficiency for floating production.

Static tilt is more detrimental to liquid distribution than motion at a given amplitude. Still, liquid maldistribution from motion approaches that of static tilt as the period increases. Liquid sloshing, often cited as a significant concern, is a relatively minor contribution to maldistribution except for short periods and tall towers. The relative bed size has a significant impact on liquid maldistribution, limiting the recommended maximum bed height:column diameter to 2 – 3 to maximize the efficiency.

Approach to equilibrium is often overlooked as the major determinant of sensitivity of efficiency to maldistribution. Separations that operate near equilibrium are more sensitive to maldistribution than services with a large driving force. Thus, distillation towers are generally more sensitive to motion than absorbers and sensitivity may vary over column height. Recommendations are provided for a bed-by-bed analysis and feedback to the process design.

Floating production units require additional complexity and conservatism in tower design. An improved awareness of motion effects on towers, and the factors involved, will lead to improved designs and a reduction in the cost of floating production facilities.

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