Chapter 8. Evaluating Environmental Performance During Process Synthesis by
David T. Allen, David R. Shonnard, and Scott Prothero
The design of chemical processes proceeds through a series of steps, beginning with the specification of the input-output structure of the process and concluding with a fully specified flowsheet. Traditionally, environmental performance has only been evaluated atthe final design stages, when the process is fully specified. This chapter presents methodologies that can be applied at a variety of stages in the design process, allowing the process engineer more flexibility in choosing design options that improve environmental performance.
The search for "greener chemistry", described in the previous chapter, can lead to many exciting developments. New,simpler synthesis pathways could be discovered for complex chemical products resulting in a process that generates less toxic byproducts and lowers the overall risk associated with the process. Toxic intermediates used in the synthesis of commodity chemicals might be eliminated. Benign solvents might replace more environmentally hazardous materials. However, these developments will involve newchemical processes as well as Green Chemistry. The art and craft of creating chemical processes is the topic of a number of excellent textbooks (see, for example, Douglas, 1988). A fundamental theme that arises in each of these texts is that the design process proceeds through a series of steps each involving an evaluation of the associated environmental impacts. At the earliest stages of a design, onlythe most basic features of a process are proposed. These include the raw materials and chemical pathway to be used, as well as the overall material balances for the major products, by-products and raw materials. Large numbers of design alternatives are screened at this early design stage, and the screening tools used to evaluate the alternatives must be able to handle efficiently large numbers ofalternative design concepts. As design concepts are screened, a select few might merit further study. Preliminary designs for the major pieces of equipment to be used in the process need to be specified for the design options that merit further study. Material flows for both major and minor by-products are estimated. Rough emission estimates, based on analogous processes, might be considered. Atthis development stage, where fewer design alternatives are considered, more effort can be expended in evaluating each design alternative, and more information is available to perform the evaluation. If a design alternative appears attractive at this stage, a small-scale pilot plant of the process might be constructed and a detailed process flow sheet for a full-scale process might be constructed.Very few new design ideas reach this stage, and the investments made in evaluating design alternatives at this level are substantial. Therefore, process evaluation and screening tools can be quite sophisticated.
Traditionally, evaluations of environmental performance have been restricted to the last stages of this engineering design process, when most of the critical design decisions havealready been made. A better approach would be to evaluate environmental performance at each step in the design process. This would require, however, a hierarchy of tools for evaluating environmental performance. Tools that can be efficiently applied to large numbers of alternatives, using limited information, are necessary for evaluating environmental performance at the earliest design stages. Moredetailed tools could be employed at the development stages, where potential emissions and wastes have been identified. Finally, detailed environmental impact assessments would be performed as a process nears implementation. This chapter and Chapter 11 present a hierarchy of tools for evaluating the environmental performance of chemical processes. Three tiers of environmental performance tools...
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