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The Role Of Process Intensification In Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions
School of Engineering & Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt Unversity Riccarton, Edinburgh EH14 4AS, UK
Between 1900 and 1955 the average rate of global energy use rose from about 1 TW to 2 TW. Between 1955 and 1999 energy use rose from 2 TW to about 12 TW, and to 2006 a further 16% growth in primary energy use was recorded world-wide. There are recommendations by the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, subsequently supported by others in the UK, that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by over 50% in order to stabilise their impact on global warming, (CO2 being the principal gas believed to be contributing to this phenomenon). One way in which we can address this is by judicious use of process intensification technology.
Process intensification may be defined as: “Any engineering development that leads to a substantially smaller, cleaner, safer and more energy efficient technology.” It is most often characterised by a huge reduction in plant volume – orders of magnitude – but its contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions may also be substantial.
Potential energy savings due to investment in process intensification were studied by a leading process integration company in the mid 1990s, to assist the UK Government in formulating a strategy on intensification. Overall plant intensification has been identified as having a technical potential of 40 PJ/year, (about 1 million tonnes of oil equivalent/a). The total potential energy savings due to investment in process intensification in a range of process unit operations were estimated to be over 74 PJ/y, (1 PJ = 1015J). Estimates for The Netherlands suggest that savings of 50-100 PJ/y should be achieved across chemicals and food processing by 2050.
This paper relates by discussion and example process intensification to the main themes of the Conference, including process integration. It also identifies the challenges that process intensification is meeting across a range of sectors of industry and commerce, in particular as they relate to greenhouse gas control. By highlighting here the main mechanisms that ‘enhance’ heat and mass transfer in intensified plant, the reader may be stimulated to examine his/her current inefficient processes – further pointers to assist this will be given in the verbal presentation.
Process intensification offers a number of opportunities to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact, see for example de Groot and van Dorst (2006) and Jachuck et al (1997). Many chemical reactions which are currently carried out as batch processes in stirred tanks, could be carried out in continuously operated, intensified reactors such as spinning disc or oscillatory baffle types. The plant used for separations can be made highly compact, while terms such as the ‘pocket-sized nitric acid plant’ are becoming the norm, (Perez-Ramirez and Vigeland, 2005). Here monolithic membranes have specific surface areas of 500-4000m2/m3 – similar to those of micro-heat
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