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Glycol Dehydration Instrumentation and Controls

Most glycol dehydration units are sufficiently automated that they can operate unattended. The
degree of automatic control of the equipment can vary considerably and depends largely on the
specifications by the owner company. The discussion in this section highlights the main control
points, which may be considered as the minimum control of a dehydration unit. The controls
relate mainly to gas flow, temperatures, pressures, glycol circulation, and lean glycol
concentration. Pressure gauges should be installed on all vessels, including the reboiler, and on
the discharge side of the pump. Similarly, thermometers should be installed on all vessels, as
well as ahead and after all heat-exchange equipment on both cold and hot lines.
Control of Gas Flow
Gas flow is usually controlled with a flow control valve upstream of the inlet separator. The
operator can set the flow to a certain rate. If the set rate is not met, then the valve opens fully and
allows the available gas flow to enter the separator and the contactor. Downstream of the
contactor, there may be a meter, which meters the gas flow, or the meter may also be located
upstream of the separator. At some point downstream of the contactor, there usually is a back-
pressure valve. This valve ensures that the pressure in the contactor is steady without abrupt
changes. The pressure is set above the downstream line pressure to ensure steady operation of the
contactor.
Lean Glycol Circulation Rate
To achieve the required water dewpoint depression, it is necessary to circulate a certain amount
of lean glycol per pound of water to be removed from the gas. The rate of glycol circulation
depends on several conditions, which are all interrelated. These conditions are lean glycol purity,
after regeneration, which depends on the reboiler temperature and whether or not stripping gas is
used, with zero or one stage contacting for the stripping gas; water content of the gas, which
depends on gas temperature and pressure in the inlet separator; number of actual trays (or
equivalent packing height) in the contactor; and the design approach temperature in the contactor.

In general, a circulation rate of 3 to 5 gal of lean glycol per pound of water to be removed from
the gas is required. If the glycol purity is not sufficiently high, any larger circulation rate might
not give the necessary dewpoint depression.

Usually there is an attempt to match the circulation rate to near the minimum required rate to
achieve the necessary drying. Overcirculation has disadvantages: the heat load on the regenerator
is increased, requiring more fuel gas consumption; the lean glycol returning to the contactor is at
a higher temperature because of less efficient heat transfer; more hydrocarbons are absorbed,
especially compounds such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene (BETX), if these
compounds are present in the gas; and additional acid gas is absorbed, if sour gas is being
dehydrated.

Because there is concern about the absorption of other compounds besides water, as well as for
energy efficiency, the glycol circulation rate should be set to remove the required water only. In
field installations, using gas driven pumps, the pumps are set to the required pump rate by a gas
control valve. This is usually a manually operated needle valve. The manufacturer of the pump
provides a chart for the pump that shows the pump rate in volumetric units per time vs. the
number of strokes of the plunger per minute.
Reboiler Temperature
The temperature of the glycol in the reboiler determines largely the purity to which the glycol is
regenerated. However, there is a limit on the temperature to which the glycol can be heated. This
limit is a few degrees below the decomposition temperature, as shown in Table 5.3, because
above this temperature, the glycol molecule breaks down. In light of this, the normal temperature
in which TEG is heated in the reboiler is about 380 to 390F. This temperature range results in a
lean glycol purity of just under 99% on a mass basis, the other 1% being water.

Thus, it is very important to control the reboiler temperature to the range of 380 to 390F or
some other range that provides adequate regeneration of the rich glycol. In most glycol
dehydration units, the heat for regeneration is supplied by burning a small amount of the gas in a
fire tube in the reboiler vessel. The size of this vessel is determined by the maximum design rate
of glycol circulation, and the size of the fire tube itself is designed for a limit on the heat flux
from the fire through the steel tube to the glycol on the shell side of the fire tube. The larger the
fire tube, the lower is the heat transfer rate per unit area. The flame should be burning along most
of the tube, as opposed to an intense flame at the front of the burner. The fire tube should be
designed for a heat transfer rate per square foot of fire tube no greater than 7,000 Btu/h.
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A thermowell located in the shell of the reboiler and immersed in the glycol is equipped with a
temperature regulator that controls the instrument gas supply to a control valve on the fuel gas
supply line to the burner. By setting the regulator at the desired temperature, the gas flow to the
burner is automatically controlled, resulting in a narrow operating temperature range for the
reboiler. A pilot light ignites the gas to the main burner when the controller allows the gas to
flow. The reboiler controls also include a high-temperature shutdown and a shutdown of the fuel
supply in case of pilot-light failure.

Most glycol reboilers are equipped with a flame arrestor at the air inlet to the burner. The flame
arrestor consists of a tightly wound metal sheet, with sufficient space between the wound metal
to allow sufficient air through the arrestor into the burner. If an external source of flammable
vapors is sucked in with the air through the flame arrestor, such vapors will not ignite outside of
the flame arrestor, as the temperature of the gas is cooled below the ignition point, thus
preventing a backflash or explosion.
Liquid Level Controls
The main liquid level of concern is the level of the condensed liquids in the inlet separator. This
vessel can be a two-phase or a three-phase separator. It is very important that no condensed
liquid flows with the gas into the contactor. If condensate or salt water gets into the contactor,
the result could be foaming or deposits of salt occurring on the fire tube. Heavy hydrocarbons
will eventually gum up the packing in the reboiler column or plug the filter. Flashing of
hydrocarbons in the still could damage the packing in the still column. In light of this, most
glycol units are equipped with high-level alarms and shutdowns, which activate when the liquid
level is exceeded in the inlet separator.

The glycol level in the contactor is also important, as any increase in level above the gas inlet
pipe can result in interruption of circulation of glycol because of insufficient glycol returns. Both
liquid levels, in the inlet separator and the contactor, are controlled by conventional liquid level
floats and outlet valves.

Where a flash tank is employed, it is again important to ensure that the level of the glycol be
maintained at a set level. The liquid outlet valve must be the throttling type, as opposed to snap
acting, to ensure a smooth and steady flow of rich glycol to the regenerator. The glycol level in
the surge drum should be at about 2/3 to 3/4 full. In small units, the heat-exchanger coil is in the
surge drum and has to be totally submersed to be effective in heat transfer.
Pressure and Temperature Indicators
All vessels are usually equipped with pressure gauges, as well as pressure relief valves. An
operator checking the operation of the glycol unit can quickly see the pressure at which each
vessel is operating. The same cannot, in many instances, be said about the temperature,
especially in the glycol lines upstream and downstream of each heat exchanger. Ample
installation of dial thermometers on the glycol lines is helpful but lacking in many cases.
Thermometers are usually installed in the inlet separator and the reboiler. As a minimum,
additional thermometers should be installed on the glycol line ahead of the contactor after the
heat exchanger and ahead of the reboiler still. Ideally, dial thermometers are installed on all lines
entering and leaving the heat exchange equipment.