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Comments on a Commentary by Professor Levenspiel

Gregory Yablonsky
Department of Chemical Engineering, Washington University, 1 Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1198,
St. Louis, Missouri 63130
Sir: Recentl y, I nd. Eng. Chem. Res. i naugurated a
new ki nd of paper cal l ed a Commentary. The concept
i s excel l ent. The paper must be wri tten by i ndi vi dual s
hi ghl y respected i n the area of chemi cal engi neeri ng. A
Commentary i s meant to be cri ti cal and sel ecti ve
because i t i s based on a broad perspecti ve that i s both
hi stori cal and cauti ousl y propheti c... A Commentary i s
not meant to be exhausti ve, on the contrary, i t i s hi ghl y
sel ecti ve, a product of the authors judgment (ref 1, p
The fi rst Commentary appeared and was wri tten
by Prof. Octave Levenspi el , who i s a worl dwi de wel l -
known author of Chemical Reaction Engineering and
TheChemical Reactor Omnibook
and who i s superbl y
fami l i ar wi th the hi story of chemi cal engi neeri ng. I n our
ti mes of i nformati on overl oadi ng, one cannot emphasi ze
enough the i mportance of i ni ti ati ves such as com-
mentari es.
The message of Prof. Levenspi el s commentary i s the
fol l owi ng: Dont compl i cate a ki neti c model ! Pay more
attenti on to the fl ow model ! He i s somewhat sarcasti -
cal l y descri bi ng the contemporary practi ce of reactor
model i ng wi th some researchers have used as many
as 60 i ndi vi dual el ementary reacti on steps, whi l e at the
same ti me compl etel y i gnori ng the questi on of l ooki ng
for the best contacti ng or fl ow model (ref 3, p 4142).
Certai nl y, Prof. Levenspi el i s ri ght. We have to
anal yze the si mpl e model s fi rst, usi ng even semi em-
pi ri cal ki neti c equati ons for an nth-order reacti on, and
resul ts of anal yses of overcompl i cated model s shoul d be
vi ewed wi th cauti on. However, i n chemi cal reacti on
engi neeri ng there are many probl ems i n whi ch the
compl exi ty of the chemi cal reacti on seems to be un-
avoi dabl e. I t i s obvi ous that, anal yzi ng sel ecti ve oxi da-
ti on reacti ons over oxi de catal ysts, pyrol ysi s, and po-
l ymeri zati on reacti ons, we have to take i nto account the
change of compl ex chemi cal composi ti on i n ti me and
wi th the l ength of the reactor. To cal cul ate these
profi l es, we have to esti mate the parameters of the
di fferent steps of compl ex reacti ons, parti cul arl y for
steps wi th parti ci pati on of the i ntermedi ates (radi cal s
or surface substances). Unfortunatel y, Prof. Levenspi el
does not pay attenti on to these probl ems. Moreover, he
cri ti ci zes an appl i cati on of Langmui r-Hi nshel wood and
Hougen-Watson (LHHW) equati ons for descri bi ng het-
erogeneous reacti ons (Prof. Levenspi el cal l s thi s the
petrotech approach). I n hi s opi ni on, the LHHW equati on
(numerator over denomi nator equati on) i s too compl i -
However, the compl exi ty of thi s equati on i s unavoi d-
abl e too. I ts denomi nator refl ects the fact that some
i ntermedi ates occupy the surface of the catal yst. Even
Prof. Levenspi el wi l l appl y the si mpl e nth-order ki neti c
equati on; the apparent order wi l l be a functi on of the
chemi cal mi xture composi ti on and temperature.
Another i mportant thi ng whi ch i s not taken i nto
account i n Prof. Levenspi el s Commentary i s the speci al
correspondence between the model and i ts goal . There
i s no model for al l ti mes. For some purposes the si mpl e
model i s the best one, and thi s si mpl i ci ty rel ates to the
l evel of physi cochemi cal understandi ng. However, for
other purposes we real l y need a compl ex model . Typi cal
strategi es of mathemati cal model i ng, i n chemi cal engi -
neeri ng as mul ti scal e hi erarchi cal model i ng
or a mul ti -
scal e approach to a mul ti -objecti ve task,
are wel l -
I n our understandi ng, si mpl i ci ty has to be empha-
si zed, and i n that Prof. Levenspi el i s compl etel y ri ght.
However, we al so have to l earn how to l i ve wi th the
unavoi dabl e compl exi ty of chemi cal reacti ons whi ch i s
a real l y new trend i n chemi cal engi neeri ng. I t i s al ways
di ffi cul t to di sti ngui sh the usel ess fashi on and the
new trend. I t i s al so di ffi cul t even for Prof. Levenspi el .
I am very thankful to Prof. Guy Mari n, who brought
to my attenti on the new type of Commentary papers
i n I nd. Eng. Chem. Res., and Prof. Mi ke Dudukovi c for
edi ti ng my comments.
Literature Cited
(1) Paul , D. R. Commentary: A New Type of Paper. I nd. Eng
Chem. Res. 1999, 38, 4139.
(2) Levenspi el , O. The Chemical Reactor Omnibook; OSU
Bookstores: Corval l i s, OR, 1996; Chapter 31.
(3) Levenspi el , O. Commentari es: Chemi cal Reacti on Engi -
neeri ng. I nd. Eng. Chem. Res. 1999, 38, 4140-4143.
(4) Dudukovi c, M. P.; Larachi , F.; Mi l l s, P. Mul ti phase Reactors
Revi si ted. Chem. Eng. Sci. 1999, 54, 1975-1995.
(5) Lerou, J.; Ng. K. Chemi cal Reacti on Engi neeri ng: A Mul ti -
Scal e Approach to a Mul ti -Objecti ve Task. Chem. Eng. Sci. 1996,
51, 1595-1614.
I E001098T
3120 I nd. Eng. Chem. Res. 2000, 39, 3120
10.1021/i e001098t CCC: $19.00 2000 Ameri can Chemi cal Soci ety
Publ i shed on Web 05/27/2000
Response to Professor Yablonsky
Octave Levenspiel
Chemical Engineering Department, Oregon StateUniversity, Gleeson Hall 103, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-2702
Sir: Prof. Yabl onsky rai ses two objecti ons to my
presentati on. Fi rst, l et me expl ai n my rel uctance to use
the Langmui r-Hi nshel wood-Hougen-Watson (LHHW)
equati ons because they are too compl i cated. I f, for
exampl e, a researcher comes up wi th a LHHW equati on
to represent hi s porous catal yst data, then I probabl y
coul d come up wi th fi ve di fferent other LHHW equati ons
whi ch coul d fi t the data equal l y wel l .
Because these
equati ons extrapol ate di fferentl y, whi ch shoul d I use for
extrapol ati on? I do not know.
Even i f I cannot fi nd any other LHHW equati on to
fi t hi s data, l et me ask whether he can use hi s equati on
wi th confi dence to extrapol ate for scal e-up? Does hi s
equati on account for fi l m di ffusi on or how about di ffu-
si onal resi stance wi thi n the parti cl es? What about fi l m
heat transfer at the surface of the parti cl es? Fi nal l y,
how about noni sothermal gradi ents wi thi n the parti cl es?
The LHHW equati ons compl etel y i gnore these physi cal
factors; hence, they are not useful for extrapol ati on.
They si mpl y fi t the data. On the other hand, the
chemi cal reacti on engi neeri ng (CRE) approach accounts
for al l of the perti nent factors, and that i s why i n the
marketpl ace of i deas i t won out over the petrotech
approach, whi ch uses the LHHW ki neti cs.
The second objecti on concerns my i gnori ng extremel y
fast reacti ons. Researchers of such systems use basket-
ful s of el ementary reacti ons, hundreds and hundreds
of them,
to study free-radi cal reacti ons, fl ames, burn-
ers, and other such devi ces, wi th computati onal fl ui d
dynami cs (CFD) to represent the fl ow and mi xi ng. Thi s
type of probl em i s deal t wi th pri mari l y by combusti on
speci al i sts. I see thei r goal s as di fferi ng from CRE,
whereas Prof. Yabl onsky does not. I suppose that thi s
i s a matter of opi ni on.
Prof. Yabl onsky al so says that I do not account for
the correspondence between model and goal . I thi nk that
the goal of CRE i s to come up wi th a good reactor desi gn
to produce effi ci entl y what you want to produce. Ki neti c
model s whi ch use basketful s of el ementary reacti ons or
LHHW mechani sms, but then i gnore perti nent factors
and at the same ti me are unnecessari l y compl i cated, are
real l y unsui ted to the above-menti oned goal .
I n concl usi on, Prof. Yabl onsky says that we have to
l i ve wi th unavoi dabl e compl exi ty of reacti ons ...com-
pl exi ty of equati ons. I am uncomfortabl e wi th such
statements. I feel that we shoul d try to come up wi th
si mpl e model s whi ch do account for al l of the perti nent
factors. As Denbi gh
so wi sel y put i t, I t i s al ways
necessary to abstract from the compl exi ty of the real
worl d...and i n i ts pl ace...to substi tute a more or l ess
i deal i zed si tuati on that i s more amenabl e to anal ysi s.
Literature Cited
(1) Chou, C. H. I nd. Eng. Chem. 1958, 50, 789.
(2) Hougen, O. A.; Watson, K. M. Chemical Process Principles;
Wi l ey: New York, 1947; part I I I , pp 943-958.
(3) Rojnuckari n, A.; et al . I nd. Eng. Chem. 1996, 35, 683-696.
(4) Denbi gh, K. G. The Thermodynamics of the Steady State;
Methuens Monographs on Chemi cal Subjects; London, 1951.
I E001095G
3121 I nd. Eng. Chem. Res. 2000, 39, 3121
10.1021/i e001095g CCC: $19.00 2000 Ameri can Chemi cal Soci ety
Publ i shed on Web 06/24/2000