Bubble Cap Trays vs. Valve Trays

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At low vapor rates, valve trays will weep. Bubble cap trays cannot weep (unless they are damaged). For this reason, it is generally assumed that bubble cap trays have nearly an infinite turndown ratio. This is true in absorption processes (e.g., glycol dehydration), in which it is more important to contact the vapor with liquid than the liquid with vapor, However, this is not true of distillation processes (e.g., stabilization), in which it is more important to contact the liquid with the vapor.

As vapor rates decrease, the tray activity also decreases. There eventually comes a point at which some of the active devices (valves or bubble caps) become inactive. Liquid passing these inactive devices gets very little contact with vapor. At very low vapor rates, the vapor activity will concentrate only in certain sections of the tray (or, in the limit, one bubble cap or one valve). At this point, it is possible that liquid may flow across the entire active area without ever contacting a significant amount of vapor. This will result in very low tray efficiencies for a distillation process. Nothing can be done with a bubble cap tray to compensate for this.

However, a valve tray can be designed with heavy valves and light valves. At high vapor rates, all the valves will be open. As the vapor rate decreases, the valves will begin to close. With light and heavy valves on the tray, the heavy valves will close first, and some or all of the light valves will remain open. If the light valves are properly distributed over the active area, even though the tray activity is diminished at low vapor rates, what activity remains will be distributed across the tray. All liquid
flowing across the tray will contact some vapor, and mass transfer will continue. Of course, even with weighted valves, if the vapor rate is reduced enough, the tray will weep and eventually become inoperable. However, with a properly designed valve tray this point may be reached after the loss in efficiency of a comparable bubble cap tray. So, in distillation applications, valve trays can have a greater vapor turndown ratio than bubble cap trays.

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