Exergy analysis as a scoping tool for cleaner production of chemicals: a case study of an ethylene production process

Ali Ghannadzadeh*, Majid Sadeqzadeh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Web of Science)


High energy consumption is one of the main challenges of the chemical industry. The energy footprint of most processes can, however, diminish through the solutions presented in the current paper, leading to cleaner ways of producing chemicals. Ethylene production process is selected as a case study to demonstrate the approach as it is one of the most energy consuming processes in the chemical industry. The study involves an exergetic diagnosis and does not only find the low-exergy-efficient unit operations, but also proposes tools to improve these units based on their key sources of irreversibility. For the ethylene production process, this is conducted by first splitting the flowsheet into four main functional blocks (namely cracking, compression, refrigeration, and separation and purification) according to their exergy losses. This results in identifying the cracking block as the most inefficient block with more than 45% of total exergy losses and thus the first block to be improved so that overall losses reduce (examples of which include increasing the number of furnace tubes while reducing their lengths). Although the compression block is-found to have the lowest contribution to internal exergy losses, the inefficient unit operations such as the water cooler (with an exergy loss of 214 4J/kg) can still be improved through solutions such as system isolation. The refrigeration block is also shown to have the second highest exergy losses with its ethylene and propylene compressors being the main contributors. Solutions are again provided to improve the block performance with specific focus on intercooler design improvement and system isolation. Finally, exergy losses in the purification and separation block are identified to be mainly due to demethanator, deethanator, and ethylene column where modifications in column design might be helpful as concentration and temperature gradients along the towers are the main sources of exergy losses. The approach used in the current study can also be applied to other chemical processes and the findings suggest that even for a well-developed process technology, there is still opportunity for thermodynamically justifiable energy efficiency improvements. Therefore, it is important for process developers to continuously revisit existing processes, in order to ensure lessons learned in one area can be applied to another one. Using a panel of solutions, which has been constructed from a number of previous case studies helps to make this approach more systematic and user-friendly. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-520
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Sustainability
  • Cleaner production
  • Exergy
  • Ethylene
  • Process integration
  • Process design

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