How to Select Valves for Molecular Sieve Switching Applications

by | Nov 3, 2021 | Downstream Hydrocarbons, Valves, Actuators & Regulators


In a recent article in the October 2021 issue of Plant Services, it describes the unique and difficult challenges associated with molecular sieve switching valves and the new valve options available to address these issues. The article is titled How to Select Valves for Molecular Sieve Switching Applications and it is summarized below.

Molecular sieves

Molecular sieves use a desiccant process to remove water vapor from hydrocarbon streams. The process involves flowing hydrocarbon fluid over an adsorption bed to remove moisture. As a bed reaches saturation, switching valves direct the hydrocarbon gas to another bed while the first bed is regenerated with hot, reverse flowing gas (Figure 1).

Molecular Sieve Process

Figure 1: Typical molecular sieve dehydration unit.

Switching valves are key

From the article, here’s how important the switching valves are to this process.

The performance of a molecular sieve unit is critically linked to the performance of the switching valves. The drying process itself requires tight sealing between the adsorption and regeneration streams to maintain efficiency. Mechanical reliability is also paramount since these units can run for years between turnarounds, while switching two to three times a day.

The valves must seal reliably, despite the presence of abrasive dust and constant thermal cycling between ambient feed and 500°F regeneration gas. Increasingly strict fugitive emission requirements make the design problem even more difficult because the valve must both seal and avoid packing leaks, even as it is constantly operated.

Historically, the industry has used rising stem ball valves (RSBVs) for molecular sieve service. This design employs a mechanical arrangement that first moves the ball off the seat, then turns the ball away from the seat as it opens. The valve closes by first twisting toward the seat, then jamming against it to achieve tight bidirectional shutoff. The RSBV design has two design issues. The mechanical stress on the stem is excessive, eventually warping the stem and creating seat leaks. More detrimental are the higher fugitive emissions associated with a rising stem design, which tend to be 100 times higher than with a rotary valve.

A modern solution

As operating units continue to extend times between turnarounds, industry has sought better performing valve alternatives. One design, the double eccentric C-ball valve, has emerged as the best choice. This design offers the same mechanically assured shutoff as an RSBV, with zero leakage bidirectional shutoff and low-wear eccentric motion, but has further advantages, as I explain:

The double eccentric C-ball valve has a much simpler and more rugged design than an RSBV. It also has no stem wear, and it utilizes true rotary motion to greatly minimize emissions. With the same face-to-face and flow coefficients as an RSBV, a double eccentric C-ball valve is a drop-in replacement.

The new valve design can operate in molecular sieve service for eight years or more without maintenance, and during that time it continues to meet fugitive emission requirements, without the need for packing adjustment.

Double eccentric c-ball design details

Double eccentric C-ball valves incorporate a C-shaped ball, which moves along two axes to achieve tight closure (Figure 2).

C-Ball Valve Cutaway

Figure 2: The ball in a double eccentric C-ball valve moves freely with no contact until it reaches the seat, where a camming motion ensures a very tight seal across the entire sealing surface.

The C-ball utilizes double offset trunnions to create a camming motion that allows the valve to seal independent of process pressure. The camming effect also moves the C-ball away from the seat as the valve opens to minimize wear. The combination of fixed metal seats, mechanical sealing independent of process pressure, low wear, low emissions, and a very long service life make this type of valve ideal for molecular sieve switching service (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Double eccentric C-ball valves (left) are often the best choice for zero leakage severe service applications, such as molecular sieves.


Double eccentric C-ball valves are available in sizes from ½ inch to 42 inches, and pressure classes up to 4,500 pounds. End users are utilizing this technology for molecular sieve switching applications, and they are also deploying the valves in a variety of other severe service applications that demand reliable shutoff and long life.

Visit the C-Ball Valves section on for more on how these advanced ball valve designs deliver performance and efficiency improvements over traditional designs.

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