The present invention provides for a method for the treatment of waste
caustic streams from process industries such as refining and petrochemical. More
particularly, the present invention provides for a process for treating caustic
waste or spent streams containing sulfur compounds with a packed column recycle
reactor for the oxidation of the sulfur compounds in the waste stream.
Due to the presence of sulfur compounds in crude oil, refined products
such as gasoline, LPG and diesel fuel contain sulfur compounds including mercaptans
and sulfides. These sulfur compounds must be removed from the hydrocarbon products
for odor control and to avoid corrosion problems. A common post-refining sulfur-removal
method is caustic washing in which the hydrocarbon streams are contacted with concentrated
solutions of caustic soda. The caustic soda reacts with hydrogen sulfide to form
sodium sulfide and with mercaptans to form sodium mercaptides. The caustic stream
loaded with the above compounds is called spent caustic. A typical spent caustic
stream from a refinery contains as much as 10 to 170 g/l of sodium sulfide, 100-1000
ppm of mercaptans and traces of phenols and disulfides. The composition of the spent
caustic stream from a petrochemical industry is very similar.
It is economically prudent to regenerate and recycle the spent caustic;
the sulfur compounds present in the spent caustic must be oxidized and removed for
this purpose. The oxidation could be performed with air or oxygen. During oxidation,
the sodium sulfide is converted to thiosulfate or sulfate; however complete oxidation
to sulfate is preferred. The mercaptans are more resistant to oxidation as compared
to sulfide. It is known that in a strong oxidizing environment, mercaptans are oxidized
to disulfide and subsequently to sulfonic acid.
The spent caustic is very odorous and its Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)
is very high. Hence, even in places where recycling of the spent caustic is not
practiced, the mercaptans must be destroyed and the sodium sulfide must be oxidized
to environmentally acceptable sulfate for caustic neutralization followed by biological
treatment and disposal. This invention describes a process with a packed column
recycle reactor for the oxidation of the sulfur compounds in the spent caustic stream
for its regeneration and recycling or environmentally acceptable disposal.
U. S. Patent No. 5,439,556 discloses a method for oxidizing sodium
sulfide present in white liquor utilized in the pulping of wood to sodium sulfate.
An oxygen-containing gas and the white liquor are contacted in a column where oxygen
and sodium sulfide react to form an oxidized white liquor which is withdrawn from
the bottom of the column. The concentration of sulfide in streams from refineries
and petrochemical installations is four to five times higher than in white liquor
streams. Further, mercaptans which are present in process streams as well as other
compounds such as phenols are absent from white liquor streams.
US Patent No. 2 425 414 discloses a method for oxidizing sulfur compounds
in spent caustic streams comprising contacting an oxygen-containing gas and said
spent caustic stream in a packed column thereby producing an oxidized spent caustic
and withdrawing said oxidized spent caustic. But this patent is silent about a further
treatment of the spent caustic with calcium hydroxide.
The present invention provides for a method for oxidizing sulfur compounds
in spent caustic from process industries.
According to the present invention there is provided a method for
oxidizing sulfur compounds in spent caustic streams comprising contacting an oxygen-containing
gas and said spent caustic stream in a packed column thereby producing an oxidized
spent caustic, withdrawing said oxidized spent caustic into a mixed reactor wherein
said oxidized spent caustic is reacted with calcium hydroxide.
Preferably the oxygen-containing gas and spent caustic are contracted
in a column having structured packing by introducing the spent caustic stream and
the oxygen-containing gas into the top and the bottom of the column respectively.
The partially oxidized spent caustic is withdrawn from the column bottom into a
vessel where it is drawn from the bottom of the vessel and recirculated. The gas
phase from the column top is directed into the vessel where the gas phase disengages
from the liquid phase and is recirculated to the packed column.
The fully-oxidized spent caustic is withdrawn into a reactor vessel.
The sodium sulfate present from the oxidation of the sulfur compounds in the packed
column is transferred in solution to a reactor vessel where it is reacted with slaked
lime (calcium hydroxide) to form calcium sulfate and sodium hydroxide.
The calcium sulfate is relatively insoluble and precipitates. The
precipitate can be removed to a clarifier with the calcium sulfate removed as a
slurry and the supernatant caustic stream recycled and mixed with the make-up solution
prior to its use elsewhere, for example, in caustic washing.
As such, the present invention represents an improvement in that destruction
of mercaptans is achieved without the use of ozone or peroxide and the disulfides
that result from the mercaptan oxidation are fully oxidized to sulfates. With the
elimination of the expensive ozone or peroxide polishing step, a lower capital and
operating cost results. Additionally, organics such as phenols are partially destroyed
which will reduce the load on subsequent biological treatment.
The method according to the invention will now be described by way
of example with reference to the accompanying drawing:
- Fig. 1 which is a schematic representation of the apparatus for carrying out
a method in accordance with the present invention.
Apparatus 10 consists of a liquid/vapor contacting column 12 of approximately
9.84 meters in height by about 0.9 meters in diameter. Column 12 is provided with
an oxygen inlet 14 and a spent caustic inlet 16 to bottom and top regions 18 and
20 of column 10 respectively. An oxygen stream is introduced into the column through
inlet 14 and a spent caustic stream is introduced into the column through inlet
The spent caustic and oxygen are brought into intimate contact by
contacting elements which are preferably formed by beds of structured packing designated
by reference numeral 22. As would be known by those skilled in the art, liquid distributors
would be located between pairs of beds. The spent caustic is introduced into structured
packing 22 by a liquid distributor 24 and the oxygen rises through the open area
of structured packing 22. Structured packing is efficient and has a very low pressure
drop. This allows the recycling of the gas stream without a blower. As will be discussed,
a simple eductor is sufficient. It is to be noted that to preclude clogging of the
packing by particulates, the packing type and crimp angle are important. In this
regard, structured packing 22 can have a packing density of between about 500 m2/m3
and is preferably Koch Type 1X or 1 Y which can be obtained from Koch Engineering
Company, Inc., of Wichita, Kansas. Random packing and trays could also be used with
In order for the reaction to proceed as mentioned above, an oxygen
containing gas can be used so long as the total pressure during the reaction does
not drop below about 9.2 atmospheres absolute. The oxygen preferably has a purity
as high as is economical with 90% and above being preferred. The reaction proceeds
at a pressure between 9 and 20 bar. The reaction preferably proceeds at a total
pressure of no less than about 9.2 atmospheres absolute and more preferably at least
about 11.2 atmospheres absolute. Additionally, the reaction between the oxygen and
the sodium sulfide preferably occurs at a temperature between 110°C and 200°C. A
minimum reaction temperature of about 120° C is more preferred and reaction temperatures
at or above 150° C are particularly preferred. A particularly preferred temperature
and pressure are about 200° C and about 18 atmospheres absolute. As mentioned above,
the minimum pressure for conducting a process in accordance with the present invention
would increase fivefold in air.
The reaction of oxygen and sodium sulfide is an exothermic reaction.
However, to start the reaction, heat must be added to the spent caustic to raise
it to the requisite reaction temperature. To this end, a heat exchanger 25 can be
provided before inlet 16 in which the incoming spent caustic is heated by indirect
heat exchange with steam. After the reaction progresses, heat exchanger 25 can be
shut down. The heat exchanger could also be charged on the hot side with treated
The oxidized spent caustic collects as a column bottom 26 of column
59. At the same time, an oxygen-containing tower overhead collects within top region
20 of column 12.
It is possible to conduct a method in accordance with the present
invention in which a stream of the column overhead is continually vented. In such
case, a high rate, approximately three to four times the stoichiometric rate of
pure oxygen, would be supplied through oxygen inlet 14. This would produce excess
oxygen which when vented as tower overhead could be used for other oxygen applications
elsewhere. In order to prevent cooling of the column through evaporation of water,
the oxygen should be pre-saturated at the column temperature.
For the most common concentrations of sodium sulfide, it is necessary
to recirculate the tower overhead rather than vent it so that the oxygen added into
the column is a saturated gas at the desired column temperature. Cold, unsaturated
gas can serve to cool the column and thereby inhibit the reaction. This recirculation
is effected by pumping a stream of the column overhead into the bottom region 18
of column 12. Not only does this conserve oxygen, but also it has been found to
make the vapor/gas conditions, such as temperature and composition, more uniform
throughout the packing, and to flatten the vapor flux profiles along the column
length. The end result is that less packing has to be utilized with recirculation
because all parts of the column are operating in high efficiency regions.
Because of the heat generated by the reaction, the column must be
cooled. Any conventional means for cooling the packed column may be applied such
as a cooling jacket 13 or cooling coil wrapped around the column.
Although a blower could be used to recirculate the column overhead
stream, it has been found that, more efficiently, the column overhead stream can
be circulated by an eductor 30 having a low-pressure inlet 32. A stream of in-process
spent caustic is directed by a pump 38 through line 31 through eductor 30. Low-pressure
inlet 32 of eductor 30 draws the column overhead stream from top region 20 of column
12. The pumped oxidized spent caustic is introduced into a high-pressure inlet 36
of eductor 30 and a combined stream of column overhead and oxidized spent caustic
is discharged through line 34 to a vessel 59 which connects with the column bottom
where the gas phase is recirculated.
Stripped gas impurities and reaction products which may serve to dilute
the tower overhead stream and thereby lower oxygen partial pressure can collect
at the top of column 12. In order for such gas impurities and reaction products
to not affect the reaction, they can be periodically or continually vented through
the use of a small vent 40 provided for such purpose.
Although not illustrated, the incoming spent caustic feed could be
preheated by introducing it into a heat exchanger located within bottom region 26
of column 59. The heat exchanger would be provided with a conduit connected to liquid
distributor 24. Additionally, part of the pumped spent caustic stream could be diverted
from eductor 30 to spent caustic inlet 16 to preheat the pent caustic by direct
heat exchange. In addition to preheating the spent caustic feed through the use
of a heat exchanger in bottom region 26 of column 59, an external heat exchanger
utilizing steam could be used to further heat the spent caustic feed prior to its
entry into liquid distributor 24.
A line 61 leads from the bottom of the vessel 59 to a line 62 and
connects with a pump 38 where the partially oxidized spent caustic is recirculated
through eductor 30 to the packed column. Line 61 also connects to a heat exchanger
64 where the hot spent caustic stream is cooled prior to entering mixed reactor
74 through line 66.
Line 66 leads from the heat exchanger 64 to mixed reactor 74 where
the caustic stream is reacted with slaked lime, Ca(OH)2, which is added
through line 75. The sodium sulfate present in the fully-oxidized caustic stream
reacts with the lime and calcium sulfate precipitates. The calcium sulfate slurry
is removed via line 76 into a clarifier 78 and is removed from the bottom of the
clarifier through line 79 where it can be treated either biologically or by other
treatment to render environmentally acceptable for disposal. The supernatant caustic
stream exits the clarifier through line 80 where it can be either recycled and mixed
with make up solution for use elsewhere in caustic washing or disposed in an environmentally
Typical industrial flow rates for apparatus 10 can be about 178.0
liters/min of spent caustic containing 10-170 g /l of sodium sulfide. The recirculation
factor (recirculation rate in kg/sec. divided by rate that oxygen is supplied in
kg/sec.) of tower overhead should be between 3.0 and 4.0 to maintain an Fs
(allowable gas load or gas velocity times gas density0.5) of between
1.0-1.3 (m/s)(kg/m3)0.5 where structured packing 22 (Koch
FLEXIPAC 1 Y) is most efficient. The resulting pressure drop is in the order of
0.017 to 0.008 meters of water per meter of packing. A 0.15 meter diameter eductor
30 (such as can be obtained from Baker Process Equipment Co., Inc., Corropolis,
Pa.) with a large nozzle and a pumped spent caustic flow of about 303.0 liters/min
at about 16.4 atmosphere absolute will produce the necessary gas recirculation.
Consequently, only a very small recirculation pump need be used having low power
Mercaptans are more resistant to oxidation compared to sulfides. Typically,
mercaptans are oxidized in the presence of a catalyst. However, the oxidation of
mercaptans in a caustic solution without a catalyst was tested in an autoclave reactor
at elevated temperatures and pressures. A sample caustic waste was prepared as 25
wt % sodium hydroxide with less than 1000 ppmw of propyl mercaptan. This solution
was then loaded into a 1 L autoclave reactor and oxidized with oxygen at 150° C
and at 14.6 ATM absolute. Samples were withdrawn at regular intervals and analyzed
for propyl mercaptan. The reaction was followed by measuring the depletion of mercaptan
over time. The mercaptan was completely oxidized without a catalyst in about 10
minutes. Spent caustic contains primarily methyl and ethyl mercaptans which are
more reactive than propyl mercaptans and should be readily oxidized in the packed