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of Chemical Engineering

Science, Vol. 49, Na. 13, pp. 2089%2095,1994

Copjri&t Q 1994 l3lsc~
Scima Ltd
Printed in Great Britain All r&hts ervcd
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University of Edinburgh, Kings Buildings, EH9 3JL, U.K.

16 September 1993; accepted

29 January


developing the control system for a process it is desirable to know precisely the number of
process variables which the system designer is entitled to attempt to regulate, commonly known as the
degrees of freedom of the process. An extremely simple procedure is described; the maximum degrees of
freedom for any process is shown to be the total number of process streams, including streams of heating
and cooling media. If inventory in processing units is excluded unless, it affects some more significant
variabte, such as pressure or composition, then the effective degrees of freedom arc generally determined by
subtracting one from the total for every additional phase contained in a unit.


The degrees of freedom concept is frequently used in

the development
of control
strategies and control
system design. The original approach, first developed
by Kwauk (1952) in the context of design, has somewhat different constraints
and is rather tedious to
apply by hand.
A simple adaptation
of the method,
specific to
control, is presented. It does not require the complete
set of equations describing the process to be written
out, but still allows identification
of certain optional
constraints. It is thus flexible in use, and can conveniently be applied either by hand or, by suitable software, as an automatic procedure.
The degrees of freedom of a process are here defined
as the number of process variables: temperatures,
pressures, compositions,
flow rates or component flow
rates, which can be set by the designer, operator or
control system. In the present case the control situation will be considered, and so the control degrees of
will be the number of the above types of
process variable which may be set, for example by a
control system, once non-adjustable
design variables,
such as vessel dimensions or numbers of trays, have
been fixed.
In this context, the number of degrees of freedom
thus corresponds
strictly to the number of manipulated variables which may be used in control loops.
this is also
control loops and of regulated
variables in the loops. It is sometimes more useful to
regard the state variables measured and thus regulated as the degrees
of freedom
these, in effect, will be fixed, at their setpoints, by the
control loops. The procedure which will be described
is, however, a counting process which identifies potential manipulations,
but does not directly
variables which may be regulated.

Analysis of this sort is normally performed

only the steady state equations, thus an adjustment
which affects only holdup or inventory as such is not a
degree of freedom. However,
in certain systems, e.g.
single phase closed vessels, inventory
is related to
pressure which is a state variable appearing
in the
steady state equations. If only these equations
considered then it is implied that the system is indeed
maintained at steady state. Thus arrangements within
the process must be made to ensure that material
balances do balance, and that equipment intended to
contain several phases does in fact do so. To achieve
this will require either additional actual control loops,
or implicit control through the design of equipment,
e.g. with overflows or weirs. Any control loops of this
sort are not included in the count, unless they also
affect state variables such as pressure.
It is our contention that inventory should normally
be regarded as the least important of all variables to
be regulated. In a systematic, hierarchical technique
for developing control system structures (Ponton and
Lain& 1993) inventory loops are left until more important loops for strategic variables, those affecting
product rate, quality or process energy consumption,
have been chosen. It transpires that it is quite easy to
identify the need for inventory control at the same
time as the control
degrees of freedom
as defined
above are being counted. However,
the derivation
below does not include these, and fuller consideration
of inventory and its relationship
to these other variables is contained in a later section.

The technique will be developed

by applying the
Kwauk method, as described by Smith (1963). Consider a unit with ni inlet streams and n, outlets. If there
are C components,
then in the case of design degrees
of freedom, (C + 2) are assigned to each input. This
implies that the designer has free choice over feed
stream composition,
temperature and pressure. While




this may be true in design, it is not the case in control,

where in general the only manipulation which can be
performed on a stream is to change its flow. Thus a
feed stream contributes only one item to the units
degrees of freedom.
Total degrees of freedom associated with streams
are thus:
If there are n, energy inputs or outputs, either of heat
or mechanical energy, the total degrees of freedom are
n, = ni + n, + 2n, + Cn,.
Constraints are contributed firstly by C material balances and by one energy balance, a total of C + 1.

We assume that each output stream connects with a

single phase only, since this is a design objective for
most process equipment. The number of constraints
will now be the sum of
(C + 1) balance equations,
2(n, - 1) output temperature.and pressure equalities,
each output stream having the same composition
as a phase, i.e. n,(C - 1) composition equalities,
(P - 1) sets of phase equilibrium relations, giving
a total of C(P - 1) such constraints.
n, = (C + 1) + 2(n, - 1) + n,(C -

Single phase systems

If we consider the case where there is a single phase
present in the unit, then all outlet streams will have
the same composition,
implying (C - l)(n, - 1) or
(Cn, - C - no + 1) further constraints.
All outlet streams can be assumed to have the same
temperature and pressure, a further 2(n, - 1) constraint equations.
The total number of constraints is thus
n, = (C + 1) + (Cn, - c - n, + 1) + 2(n, - 1)
= Cn, + ?I,.
Subtracting from the number of variables gives the net
degrees of freedom as just
nd = ni + n, + n,.
That is to say, the control of degrees of freedom, nd, is
just the number of connected material and energy
This surprising but elegant result may be justified
intuitively by the following argument. In any process,
a valve on every stream would be expected, if manipulated, to affect something. In some cases valves on
different streams may affect the same quantities, but
clearly in a control situation, where the structural
parameters of the process are fixed, it will not be
possible to manipulate more process variables than
there are available adjustments. The total number of
material and energy streams in the process thus represents an upper limit to the degrees of freedom in the
Multiphase systems
If we consider the case of a unit containing more
than one phase it can be seen that the above result is
indeed an upper limit, but that the actual number of
control degrees of freedom can still be easily determined.
If the unit contains P phases in equilibrium, this
provides an additional (C - 1) composition variables
per phase, i.e. P(C - 1) in all. The total degrees of
freedom are now
n, = ni + n, + 2n, + Cn, + PC - P.

1) + C(P -


n, = n, - n, = ni + ne + n, - P + 1.
Note that this more general relationship does reduce
to the single phase expression when P is one, Checking the relationship for some specific examples confirms its applicability. A total vaporiser or condenser
has two material streams, one energy stream and two
phases. Thus n,, = 1 + 1 + 1 - 2 + 1 = 2 degrees of
freedom, e.g. feed rate and temperature or pressure,
but not both, which is correct. Note that the count is
correct where the product stream is not actually in
equilibrium with the vapour feed, or if it is subcooled.
Here there will still be a relationship between each of
the intensive properties of the two phases, i.e. equality
of phase compositions rather than an equilibrium
relation, and a rate equation relating temperatures
rather than an equality.
A three phase vapour-liquid-liquid
adiabatic flash
has one feed, three outputs and no energy streams.
Here n,, = 1 + 0 + 3 - 3 + 1 = 2 also. Typically feed
rate and pressure could be regulated.
An intuitive explanation for the reduction of degrees of freedom in multiphase systems is apparent
when a typical control system for this latter device is
considered, see Fig. 1.
The flexibility associated with the additional outputs is lost because these must be used to regulate
interface levels to maintain the correct number of
phases in the vessel. As noted earlier, these are not
degrees of freedom variables but inventories.




Determination of the total degrees of freedom for a

complete process is now trivial. Connected units sharing a stream lose one degree of freedom from the sum
of those for the individual units. Thus the stream
related degrees of freedom is simply equal to the total
number of material and energy streams in the process.
The degrees of freedom for the complete process
may be determined by either of two equivalent procedures.

Degrees of freedom analysisin process control


seems worthwhile. Nonetheless it is sensible to confirm that units which do not simply contain lumped
phases in equilibrium are also correctly treated by this
approach. Two illustrations are given below.
Furthermore, the method gives the maximum number of degrees of freedom in a complex unit or process.
Standard practice for many types of equipment involves not using all available degrees of freedom. The
unused degrees of freedom are generally associated
with pressure.

Fig. 1. Three phaseflash.

(a) Using the approach above determine the degrees of freedom for each unit. Sum these, and then
subtract the number of shared streams to obtain the
final count.
(b) Count all the streams in the process. Separately
count the total number of extra phases, i.e. add up
all occurrences of phases greater than one in all units.
A convenient way of determining and illustrating
the process control degrees of freedom by the second
method is shown in the accompanying flowsheet,
Fig. 2. All streams represent potential degrees of freedom and possible adjustable variables, but beside
each unit is written the number lost as a result of the
presence of multiple phases in the unit. Total process
degrees of freedom is easily determined and their
localisation at particular points in the process



As with the classical method for design degrees of

freedom it is possible, if desired, to create lists of
degrees of freedom for particular complex units. However, the procedure here is so simple that it hardly

Total streams = 11

A process-process heat exchanger or interchanger
can be thought of as a heater or condenser (if phase
change occurs) connected to a cooler or vaporiser by
an energy stream. The magnitude of the energy flow is
however not adjustable, being constrained by a rate
equation involving the stream temperatures, area and
heat transfer coefficient. In such an arrangement two
degrees of freedom are lost from the sum of those of
the two units, one for the connecting stream and one
for the rate equation. The energy interconnection
being hidden in the combined unit, the sum of the
visible streams, two inputs and two outputs, less any
deduction for two phases present, still gives the correct degrees of freedom. By analogy, a process heat
exchange bundle on any other type of unit should also
be correctly dealt with.
This can be thought of as a generalisation of the
rule for connecting
streams, so that units sharing a
material or energy stream lose one degree of freedom
from those of the individual units.
Countercurrent cascades
A single countercurrent equilibrium stage has three
degrees of freedom. A stack of N such units built into
a cascade, e.g. as in an absorber, will have (2N + 2)
streams, N two phase elements, and thus (IV + 2)
apparent degrees of freedom. These would never all be

Extra phases - -3

Total d. off. I 6
Fig. 2. Absorption processwith solvent recovery flash separator.

Degrees of freedom analysis in process control

If the extents of reaction are determined by kinetics,
then the situation is somewhat more complex. Clearly
the extents will here depend on residence time, and
thus on inventory. Here is a case where inventory, see
discussion below, is a control degree of freedom. Since
changing inventory will change the composition of
reactor products it will be possible to use an adjustment which affects inventory as a means of effecting
composition or conversion control. The effect of inventory on conversion will restore the degree of freedom lost in multiphase systems by each phase in
which a kinetically determined reaction occurs.


In the preceding analysis it has been assumed that

(a) material balances will always be somehow balanced, and (b) that an adjustment which affects only
inventory is not as such a control degree of freedom.
An alternative view of (b) is that inventory control
should be regarded as a taking up a degree of freedom.
Under this assumption the number of degrees of
freedom will always equal the number of material and
energy streams. Thus for the three phase flash there
would be five degrees of freedom rather than three, the
additional two being the inventories of the two liquids. This alternative approach does have the advantage of identifying all the potential control loops,
explicit or implicit, which will exist in a process.
As previously noted, inventory should normally be
regarded as the least important of all variables to be
regulated, since it does not usually affect product rate,
quality or process energy consumption. Inventory
control loops should thus be left until those involving
quantities such as the above have been chosen. This
view can be justified by considering the two liquid
inventories in the three phase flash; there are likely to
be few circumstances when the actual values of these
will be critical to profitability or operability.
Nonetheless, inventories do require to be regulated
somehow, as mass balances must balance. It is often
possible to design equipment so that inventories are
self regulating, for example by the use of standpipes or
overflows. These are, however implicit control
loops, and require to be counted as such. Similarly, if a
potential control loop is omitted, as in the countercurrent cascade, an implicit control loop also exists,
the quantity being controlled, in this case tray
pressure, having a variable but acceptably small offset
from that of the adjacent unit or tray. Degrees of
freedom associated with pressure, are frequently unused, as can be seen from the example below.
It is quite straightforward to identify when and
where inventory regulation, implicit or explicit,
should be provided. Two trivial but useful rules provide the designer with this information.
If n streams join together in a process or part of a
process over which mass must be conserved (normally any process), then the flow of only (n - 1) of
these may be set by control loops other than one


regulating inventory within the process or part

In any unit containing P phases, P explicit or
implicit control loop must be provided to maintain
P inventories, which may include combinations of
phases such as total inventory. This number allows
for a loop to regulate total inventory.
There appear to be three circumstances in which
inventory affects strategic process variables, and thus
should be counted as a control degree of freedom.
Firstly, the case of holdup dependent reaction conversion, as discussed in the previous section.
Secondly, in situations where inventory determines
pressure. In principle any change in inventory may
have some effect on pressure. For example in the three
phase flash, if the liquids have different densities then
any change in any inventory will affect the pressure at
the bottom of the vessel. Most equipment is conventionally regulated at a single nominal pressure. Only
one of the inventory loops can then be a pressure
loop. If the system contains a vapour, this would
normally be the loop associated with vapour inventory. In a single phase system the relationship
between inventory and pressure is always accounted
for in the counting procedure described. However, in
practice the designer should be wary of the practical
difficulties of attempting to regulate pressure in an allliquid system.
Finally, the construction of certain types of equipment means that a change in holdup will affect performance, for example by changing the surface area
available for heat transfer. An example of this is the
classic flooded condenser method of adjusting the
heat transferred in a heat exchanger containing two
phases. As the exchanger, normally mounted vertically, fills with liquid, the tube area available for phase
change heat transfer is reduced, thus reducing the heat
transferred. This does not provide an additional degree of freedom, but only an alternative way of manipulating the system. See also the discussion of distillation below.
It should be noted that where inventory affects
several strategic variables there will still only be one
degree of freedom. Thus a vapour phase, adiabatic
kinetically constrained reactor has two streams and
thus two degrees of freedom even though inventory
affects both pressure and conversion. A control
scheme for such a reactor could regulate throughput
and pressure, or conversion and pressure, but not all
three quantities.




the analysis procedure is applied to a distillation

process then more degrees of freedom can be seen to
exist than are normally used. Figure 3 shows the
analysis of a conventional column with integral reboiler and separate total condenser, yielding five degrees of freedom. A typical control strategy for such a
process would use only four of these, for example feed
rate, column pressure, top and bottom composition.



Fig. 3. Distillation

column, total

degrees of


This is because the column and condenser are normally maintained at the same pressure. However, a
valve could be placed in the line between them. This
would actually be undesirable, as reducing the condenser pressure will decrease the temperature driving
force available from the cooling medium.
In practice, the whole of the system comprising
condenser, reflux drum and column is often kept at
the same nominal pressure with no valves other than
those shown in Fig. 4(a). Treating the condenser and
reboiler as a single unit, within the dotted envelope,
we can see that the degrees of freedom are accounted
for. There are four external streams and two phases,
hence three degrees of freedom for the subsystem. One
is deliberately unused by maintaining column and
condenser at the same pressure, one is used for pressure regulation, and one is occupied by setting the
flow of the reflux stream.
The alternative flooded condenser method of pressure regulation, Fig. 4(b), requires that there be liquid
in the condenser. The cooling water here is not adjusted, but acts as an implicit interface maintenance
control; it must be set so as to keep some liquid in the
condenser. It thus does not provide an additional
degree of freedom.
There appears to be no particular reason to maintain two phases in the reflux drum in this case; indeed
it will not be possible unless condensate flashes as a
result of a significant
pressure drop, which seems
undesirable, or the drum is vented in some way. The
reason for keeping an interface in the drum in the
previous scheme is that it is easier to measure it there
than in the condenser itself. However, if it is feasible to
measure an interface in the condenser, then it should
be possible to dispense with the reflux drum, saving an
item of equipment and improving safety and economy
by reducing inventory, as shown in (c).
Finally, experimenting with unusual overhead configurations led to the structure shown in (d). This
eliminates the reflux drum inventory, and while it
appears to add another heat exchanger, the partial
condenser Cl which provides reflux, could be built
into the same shell as the total condenser C2 which


Fig. 4.



Alternative top end column control structures.

Degrees of freedom analysis in process control

condenses the product. Indeed both could be built
into the top of the column as a variation on the rather
old fashioned dephlegmator. Not only is inventory
minimal in this system, but there are no valves on the
process side, a further advantage if the material
handled is corrosive or toxic.


included or disregarded dependent on the significance

of its effects.
The technique is so simple that it hardly seems
worthwhile to automate it, but this can be done very
easily if required.



above confirms the approach implicit in (Ponton and Laing, 1993) that the
design of a control strategy can proceed by looking at
the number of potential adjustments, i.e. the total
number of streams, including energy inputs and outputs. The result is a trivially straightforward method
for counting degrees of freedom in which the effect of

Dohertv. M. F. and Buzad. G.. 1992. Reactive distillation bv

design. Ch.E.R.D. 70, 448-458.
Douglas, J. M., 1988, The conceptual design of chemical
processes. McGraw-Hill, New York.
Kwauk, M., 1952, A.I.Ch.E. J. 2, 240.
Ponton, J. W. and Lain& D. M., 1993, The hierarchical
design of process co&o1
systems, Ch.E.R.D.
71, A2,
Smith, B. D., 1963, Design of equilibrium stage processes,
Chap. 3, McGraw-Hill, New York.





can be accounted

for explicitly,

and either