Computer Modeling of Thermodynamic Flows in Reactors for Activated Carbon Production

University essay from Karlstads universitet/Institutionen för ingenjörs- och kemivetenskaper


There's a big demand for activated carbon in Ghana, it's used for the country's mining industry as well as in a multitude of other applications. Currently all activated carbon is imported despite the fact that the country has a large supply of agricultural waste that could be used for its production. This study focuses on activated carbon production from oil palm kernel shells from the nations palm oil industry.

Earlier research points to a set of specific conditions needed for the production. The pyrolysis process produces biochar from the biomass and the process is set to take place for 2 h at 600  °C after a initial heating of 10 °C/min. The activation process then produces the activated carbon from the biochar and is set to take place for 2 h at 850 °C with a heating rate of 11.6 °C/min.

Two reactors are designed to meet the desired conditions. The reactors are both set up to use secondary gases from diesel burners to heat the biomass. The heating is accomplished by leading the hot gases in an enclosure around a rotating steel drum that holds the biomass. To improve the ability to control the temperature profile in the biomass two outlet pipes are set up on top of the reactor, one above the biomass inlet and one above the biomass outlet. By controlling how much gas that flows to each outlet both the heating rate and the stability of the temperature profile can be controlled. The secondary gas inlet is set up facing downwards at the transition between the heating zone (area of initial heating) and the maintaining zone (area of constant temperature).

The two reactors are modeled the physics simulation software COMSOL Multiphysics. Reference operating parameters are established and these parameters, as well as parts of the design, are then changed to evaluate how the temperature profile in the biomass and biochar can be controlled. A goal area was set up for the profile in the biomass where it was required to maintain a temperature of between 571.5 and 628.5 °C after the initial heating to be seen as acceptable. Similarly a goal area was set for the biochar between 809 °C and 891 °C after the initial heating.

It's found from the simulations that the initial design of the reactors work well and can be used to produce the desired temperature profiles in the biomass and biochar. Furthermore it's concluded that the initial design for the pyrolysis reactor can be improved by having the gas outlet pipe situated by the biomass inlet face downwards instead of upwards. The redesign improves the overall efficiency of the reactor by increasing the heating rate and maintained temperature.

The evaluation of the operating parameters led to the conclusion that the secondary gas inlet temperature effects the temperature profile to a greater extent than the gas mass flow in both reactors thereby making them more energy efficient. The increase in efficiency comes with a drawback of more unstable temperature profile. If the temperature profile becomes too unstable it will include temperatures that are too high or too low to be seen as acceptable.

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