Comparing flow-reversal and inner recirculation reactors: Experiments and simulations



The operation of reactors with flow reversal operate similar to a reactor with internal recirculation, which the feed enters through one (say, inner) reactor and then turns around and flows out through (the outer) another, when the heat-transfer coefficient between the tubes is large. In this study, we compare the behavior of a packed-bed reactor operating in flow-reversal or internal-recirculation modes, using ethylene oxidation on Pt/Al2O3 as a model reaction. The reactor was built from two concentric tubes (with 28.5 and 42.5 mm in diameter), both packed with a 20 cm catalytic bed and 10 cm inert beds (of alumina-pellets) on each side. An adjustable opening between the tubes allowed for an internal recycle mode and the whole system could be operated with periodic flow reversal. The reactor can be employed then either as a simple once-through bed or as a bed with flow reversal in the inner tube or as bed with internal recirculation flowing from the inner to outer tube, or in the opposite direction, as well as an internal-recirculation reactor with flow reversal. Due to heat losses, the latter two modes were inferior to the others. The experiments, backed by simulations using a homogeneous model with independently determined parameters, showed that the technically-simpler inner-outer internal-recycle reactor operated better at low flow rates, than that with flow reversal, but the conclusion is reversed at high flow rates. The domain where the internal-recirculation reactor is superior depends on the heat-transfer coefficient between the streams. By lowering the feed concentration, the extinction point was determined for each mode highlighting again the conclusions drawn above that inner-recirculation operation may be superior to flow reversal at low flow rates. Simulations revealed also the existence of solutions with stationary fronts or oscillatory fronts.