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HEAT INTEGRATION OF DISTILLATION


INTO OVERALL PROCESSES

COLUMNS

BODO LINNHOFF*
Department

of Chemical

Engineering,

University

of Manchester

Institute

of Science and Technology (UMIST),

P.O. Box 88, Manchester, England


HELEN DUNFORD
ICI, New Science Group, Runcom, Cheshire, England

and

Department

ROBIN SMITH
of Chemical Engineering, Bradford University, Bradford, West Yorkshire,
(Received

21 April 1982; uccepted

26 November

England

1982)

Abstract-There
are many well-known schemes for better energy efficiency in distillation. Examples are thermal
coupling, multiple effect, heat pumping, etc. Usually these schemes are discussed for individual columns in
isolation, independently from the overall process they are a part of.
This paper puts the design of individual distillation columns into context with the heat integration for the overall
process. An insight is discussed which leads to interesting conclusions. Firstly it is shown that good integration
between distillation and the overall process can result in columns operating al effectively zero utility cost. Secondly it
is shown that some of the traditionally well-known schemes referred to above may in certain circumstances turn
out counter-productive.
They can prevent good integration and therefore eliminate the change of obtaining zero
utility costs.
Generally, the paper defines good integration as a column not crossing the heat recovery pinch of the process and
either the reboiler or the condenser beine inteerated with the process. If these criteria can be met, energy costs for
distillation can effectively be zero.
INIRODUCTION

Distillation is the most widely used separation process in


the chemical industry. It is also a highly energy-intensive
unit operation, with some processes consuming a third or
more of their energy in distillation alone. It is thus a
prime target for ehergy conservation.
Over the years much literature has appeared on energy
saving in distillation. This work falls broadly into three
categories:
(1) Energy savings within single distillation columns
(vapour recompression[l],
double effect distillation[2],
etc.).
(2) Energy saving alternatives to distillation (liquidliquid extraction[3], freeze crystallisation[ll], etc.).
(3) Better integration of an individual column with
other columns [S] or an overall process [6].
(4) Better distillation sequences for the separation of a
multicomponent
mixture. This work has been reviewed
recently by Nishida, Stephanopoulos
and Westerberg[7l.
The present paper follows on from Umeda et al.[5] and
from Dunford and Linnhoff [6]. It considers a distillation
column, or columns, not in isolation but against the
background of the rest of the process. lt should be clear
that the quality of solution adopted for the separation
tasks has repercussions
on the total process economics
and therefore on some of the decisions which defined the
separation problem in the first place. There is obviously
an iterative relationship between the design of the overall
process and the design of the separators.
*Author to whom correspondence

should be addressed.

The present paper considers part of this relationship,


the heat integration between the separators (distillation
columns) and the process. It will be assumed that the
mass balance for the process including the separators has
been fixed and only the heat integration between the
distillation columns and the process remains to be
resolved. The importance of the mass balance interactions, should, however, not be forgotten and is discussed later.
The general problem considered in the present paper is
illustrated in Fig. 1. A simplified flowsheet represents the
outline design for an overall process with fixed mass
balance. (The temperatures and heat loads of the streams
in the process are given in Table 1.) The reactor feed is
preheated with other process streams and steam before
passing through a furnace. A recycle stream is also
preheated using process streams before passing to another reactor system. The reactor products are separated
in a conventional
distillation train consisting of two
columns, both of which import steam for their reboilers.
Both columns operate at above ambient pressure to
reduce column diameters and achieve suitable condenser
temperatures.
The energy performance
of the process,
including the separators, is to be evaluated in a brief
study and, if possible, improved.
Close examination of the flowsheet will reveal that the
steam required by the process can be reduced by using
the distillation train feed in the reboiler of the first
column. As shown in Fig. 2, the process then only uses
steam for preheating the reactants (2.52MW) and for
reboiling the second column (3.0 MW).

1175

1176

B. LINNHOFF et al.

Feed1
25oc

I II

Fig. 1. Case study I.

Table 1. Case study data

1.

FEEDTO

10.0

25

190

WthSlpy

Data

H
u'
145
146
190

0
9'::
10.0

2.

RZYCLE

3.3

-20

200

3.

FUJI3

2.4

480

160

3.5

250

173

2.52

140

80

8.0

140

35

GAS

FmFUP?ACE
4.

REXXCR
EXIT

SIRFAM

5.

EETIJ_lS?mSTR~
FRZMCUEMX

6.

FmmTD

DISTILIATI~
Tram

EnthalW
T

140
110
35
7.axJ_wN1
RFBXLER

1.5

6.

C0IJJY.M
1
_FZ3SER

1.6

alm4w 2
REBDILXR

3.0

10. CorJ.l?m2
CCWDF?J!TER

3.1

9.

Data

8.0
2.0
0

100
liq
-20

100
VaP
-20

vap
140

li

lis

140
vap

65
vap

65
liq

Heat integration

of distillation columns into overall processes

1177

Fig. 2. Case study II.

To reduce the energy consumption further one might


be tempted to examine the second distillation column.
Perhaps this load could also be integrated with the rest
of the process? However, any attempt to integrate the
reboiler of the second column simply leads to an
equivalent increase in steam consumption
elsewhere!
The traditional energy saving ideas of, for example,
vapour recompression
or double effect distillation could
now be evaluated. Alternatively, it may be worth changing the sequence of separations. There are many options
to consider and in complex situations, one can hardly
ever guarantee find& the optimal arrangement with a
reasonable amount of design effort.
In conclusion, we have found one simple change to the
process which results in considerable steam savings but
no other improvement
appears obvious. We should
now review the process using the principles of overall
process heat integration. These principles are already
established in the literature for heat exchanger networks.
They will be extended in the present paper to cover
distillation allowing optimal arrangements to be identified
quickly and confidently. Fundamental to process heat
integration is the heat recovery pinch. Its significance
in the design of optimal heat exchanger networks is
outlined in the next Section.
THE HEAT

FLOW CASCADE AND THE HEAT

RECOVEXY

PINCH-A

Rl3vIEw

The following review of heat exchanger network principles contains only as much detail as is required in the
present context. The principles are discussed in detail in
other references&101.
The pinch
Any chemical process can be considered as a series of
streams requiring heating and cooling. This heating and
cooling is achieved by a combination of process interchangers (matches between process streams) and heaters

and coolers supplied with utilities. The temperature


range between the hottest and coldest temperatures
within the process can be divided into a number of
narrower ranges called temperature intervals as shown in
Fig. 3. Heat from the external hot utility (Qh) is supplied
to the first interval and any surplus heat from this
interval (Ql) is passed on, or cascaded, to the second
interval. Surplus heat is cascaded through the other
intervals in the same way until finally heat (Qc) is
rejected to the cold utility from the last interval. Within
the overall cascade heat flows from high to low temperatures. The definition of the temperature intervals will
not be discussed here but they are chosen such that heat
transfer is feasible with finite temperature driving forces.
Detailed descriptions are given elsewhere [8,9].
None of the heat flows (Ql, etc.) can be negative as
this would imply heat transfer from low to high temperatures. Therefore we can use the cascade model to
determine the lowest possible value for the heat input
Qh. This value (Qh min) is that which produces one point
in the cascade of zero heat flow as shown in Fig. 3.
This particular point has been termed the Pinch both
by Linnhoff et al. [8,9] and by Umeda et al.1111. Umeda
et als independent
discovery
followed
the rather
different route of composite heat exchange diagrams
which does not lend itself easily to a recognition of the
heat flow cascade. This is interesting because the heat
flow cascade holds some almost obvious clues for the
use of the pinch concept in design.
As is evident from Fig. 3, the pinch divides the process
into two parts. Above the pinch heat is taken in and no
heat is rejected_ This part of the process acts as a heat
sink. Below the pinch the reverse occurs and the process
acts as a heat source.
By heat balance for the part of the process above the
pinch, any heat that would pass across the pinch would
have to be supplied from utility over and above the
minimum requirement,
Similarly, for the part of the

1178

B.

LINNH~FF

et al.

SOURCE

Fig.

3.

Use of the cascade to minimise utility requirements.

process below the pinch, this heat would then add to the
external cooling load. In other words, any heat transferred across the pinch must lead to an equal increase in the
consumption
of both hot and cold utilities.
By equivalent
arguments
any heat rejected to cold
utility at temperatures
above the pinch and any heating
with hot utility below the pinch roust increase utility
requirements [9].
Utility pinches
The heat flow cascade also allows the optimum levels
of alternative utilities to be determined.
In Fig. 3 all hot
utility is supplied at a temperature
higher than the
highest temperature
within the process. Often, however,
not all the heat is required at such a high level and it is
more economical to make use of more moderate temperature heat sources, such as low pressure steam instead of high pressure steam. Heat can be introduced at
lower levels above the pinch as long as the heat flows
remain positive.
If we maximise
the use of more
moderate levels we may reduce heat flows to zero as in
Fig. 4 and so introduce further pinches. We call these
pinches utility pinches to distinguish
them from the
original process pinch.
Below the pinch the situation is analogous. Often, we
can use reject heat to, far example, raise steam rather
than cooling water and if the use of the higher level sink
is maximised we may create a utility pinch.

TEMP.
SOURCE

PINCH

PINCH

Qs

QCOll
Fig. 4. Multiple

utilities.

Q2

Unpinched

processes
A somewhat special process cascade is shown in Fig.
5. Here no heat at all is rejected to cold utility and we
use utility simply to maintain the enthalpy balance of the
process. The only zero heat flow is that out of the lowest
temperature
interval. This zero heat flow does not indicate a pinch situation but simply the fact that cold
utility is not required. The process does not have a pinch.
We refer to problems such as this as threshold problems
and they are discussed in more detail by Linnhoff and
Hindmarsh[9]. The name stems from the characteristic

LOWER
HEAT
UTlLlTY

Fig.

5. Threshold

Q3

problems.

Heat integration of distillation columns into overall processes


of these problems that large driving forces are feasible
up to some threshold limit with no penalty in terms of
utilities.
We can now return to the process presented in Figs. 1
and 2. The total steam requirement in Fig. 2 is 5.52 MW.
Targeting procedures based on the cascade as in Fig. 3
for minimum utilities give a target of 5.52 MW. Thus the
energy performance of the process is optimal. There is
no heat transfer across the pinch. This explains why any
attempt to integrate Column 2 only resulted in a corresponding steam import elsewhere.
PLACING SIMPLE DISTILLATION COLUMNS INTO
THE OVERALL HEAT FLOW

We are now in a position to look at the integration of


distillation columns into the overall process.
If we have a complex chemical process, within which
there are one or more distillation columns, we need to
determine how best to integrate these columns with the
process to achieve energy savings overall. The key to
this integration is the heat flow cascade.
The basic principle
A conventional distillation column (as in Fig. 6) takes
in heat Qreb in the reboiler at temperature
Treb and
rejects heat Qcond in the condenser at a lower temperature Tcond. Thus it can be thought of as a black box
taking in and rejecting heat whilst achieving a separation.
These heat loads, at their respective
temperature
levels, can be placed opposite the process cascade. It
then becomes clear that it is the position of the column
relative to the pinch that is significant. There are two
possibilities,
either the reboiler and condenser
ternperatures span the pinch temperature or they do not.
Distillation column across the pinch. Heat Qreb is
required at a temperature
higher than the pinch tem-

1179

perature and heat Qcond is r.etumed below the pinch


temperature as shown in Fig. 7. In other words, heat is
taken from the part of the process which is a sink and
added to the part of the process which is a source. As
discussed earlier, an extra Qreb units of hot utility must
be imported as a result and an extra Qcond units of heat
rejected. Heat must be transferred
across the pinch
through the column and we pay for this heat in increased
utility usage, both hot and cold, over and above the
minimum. Fundamentally, there can never be an advantage
in integrating the column!
DistiIIation not (Icross the pinch. Here the situation is
somewhat different, as illustrated in Fig. 8. First consider
a column entirely above the pinch, where only the
process sink is affected. Heat Qreb is taken from above
the pinch and heat Qcond returned at a temperature also
above the pinch. The column borrows heat from the
process and returns it while still usable. Here the change
in the consumption of hot utility to keep the pinch flow
at zero is only the difference between the two loads, i.e.

Ohmin+

0r.b

o,-a.,

4cv.b

Heat
Fig. 7. Dislillation across the pinch.

Ohmi. + (OP.b - *cd)

4-l
01

lkz..i4..dl

0-b

-v*-a,.aFeed

Heat

in

Fig. 6. Distillation column takes in and rejects heat.

Fig. 8. Distillation not across the pinch.

B. LINNHOFF
et al.

1180

an increase if Qreb > Qcond or a decrease if Qcond >


Qreb. However Qcond is often similar to Qreb, in which
case there will be hardly any change in utility usage! In
effect we run the column for free. To explain this, we
might say that the column consumes temperature not
heat.
Below the pinch we obtain the analogous result. We
need no extra cold utilities for Qreb = Qcond, a marginal
increase for Qreb < Qcond and a marginal decrease for
Qreb> Qcond. Again, the column runs on temperature
rather than heat.
Evidently, one cannot get something for nothing and
running the column for free amounts to no more than
the multiple use of heat in a cascaded system. This
practice is well-established and designers in the past will
have made use of cascaded heat to run distillation
columns. What we believe is new is the general insight
that whether this well-established
practice is beneficial
depends fundamentally
on the position of the process
pinch.
Operability considerations
With columns totally above the pinch the heat load
Qreb does not need to come from the process. It can be
introduced directly from hot utility as shown in Fig. 9. In
other words the reboiler need not be integrated with the
rest of the process. However the condenser must be
integrated since it is vital that it rejects heat into the
process and not into cold utility.
Below the pinch the logic is analogous (see also Fig. 9).
The reboiler must be integrated but the condenser need
not be.
Thus only the condenser or the reboiler needs normally to be integrated with the process. This obviously
simplifies operability problems associated with integrated
distillation columns.
Heat load limit
There is a limit on the heat loads that can be borrowed from any process. Sufficient heat flow must
ohnin-Qcond

Mukiple

pinches
Unless multiple utility levels are used there is usually
only one pinch point in the heat flow cascade, i.e. one
point with exactly zero heat flow. However, in practice it
is possible for there to be several points where the heat
flow is too small to allow integration of distillation
columns because of the heat load limit discussed above.
These points effectively act as pinches as far as integration of distillation columns is concerned.
If a
column lies between two such near-pinches
then both
condenser and reboiler must be integrated.

SINK

Fig.

10. Heat

load kimit: general.

1Qhmin- Qcond

+ Qcmin
QrDb

remain in the process at all temperatures spanned by the


column. In Fig. 10 the requirement is that 42 and 43 are
greater than Qcond prior to integration of the column. If
the condenser only is to be integrated, as in Fig. 11 all
must be
heat flows above the condenser temperature
greater than Qcond to begin with. Analogous logic ap
plies below the pinch.

Fig. 9. Control considerations

Fig. 11. Heat load limit: condenser integration only.

Heat

integration

of distillation

columns into overall processes

Also, as outlined earlier, maximum use of moderate


levels in multiple utility systems leads to utility pinches.
Columns which operate across utility pinches require
special analysis. Consider Fig. 12 in which we integrate a
column with a refrigerated condenser. The column lies
totally below the process pinch but spans the utility
pinch at the cooling water temperature. After integration
we still require the heat load Qcond as refrigeration for the
condenser but save the reboiler load. This saving is
accompanied by a corresponding decrease in cooling water
usage.
HOW DO WE FORCE COLUMNS

AWAY

FROM THE FINCH?

is now clear that provided a distillation column


operates away from the pinch, and there is sufficient heat
flow available, only marginal, or no, extra utilities are
required for the distillation. If either of these conditions
is not satisfied then what can be done to achieve favourable column placements? We will now look at various
ways of altering column conditions to make integration
possible away from the pinch.
It

Pressure changes
The pressure chosen to operate a distillation column
influences many important design parameters, e.g. relative volatility, vapour density, shell thickness,
etc.
However its most important influence in the present
context is in determining the condenser and reboiler temperatures, and hence the levels of heating and cooling
required. These temperatures are crucial as they determine the position of the column relative to the pinch. If
they span the pinch, one option is to change the column
pressure. We can in principle either increase or decrease
the pressure, thus changing the columns position relative
to the pinch. However in practice there are limits.
Raising the pressure. Here we aim to integrate the
column condenser by lifting it above the pinch. The
separation will generally become more difficult (the relative volatility decreases) requiring either more plates or a
larger reflux ratio. However, the latent heat of vaporisation decreases,
compensating
to some extent for the

PINCH

01

increased reflux ratio. The increase in the number of


plates is offset by the reduction in column diameter
because of increased vapour density. These conflicting
trends usually result in there being little variation in
column costs with increased pressure until some upper
limit is reached. This limit will probably be defined by
unacceptably high reboiler temperatures, either because
of thermal decomposition
of the bottom product or
because of the lack of a sufficiently hot heating medium
(process or utility).
Lowering the pressure. By lowering the pressure we
hope to integrate the column reboiler. At lower presin general, the separation is easier. Lower limits
sures,
exist, however, and are usually fixed either by the dqsire
to avoid refrigeration or by a reluctance to operate under
vacuum.
Split column loads
Earlier we have discussed
the requirement
for
sufficiently large heat flows within the cascade. It may be
that even after all possible pressure changes have been
explored there is no position which can totally accommodate the distillation heat loads. In such a situation one
possibility is to split the column load into two or more
smaller loads.
This essentially means splitting the column feed and
using two or more columns instead of one (Fig. 13). The
pressures of each column must then be chosen such that
no column operates across the pinch and all intermediate
heat flows in the cascade are positive. Each column
reduces the process heat flows by less than the original
column would.
Once again no extra utilities are needed. However two
columns will be more expensive than one in terms of
capital. The extra cost must be offset against the savings
in energy. Usually, schemes like that in Fig. 13 would
only be worth considering for large distillation loads.
Thermal coupling
An alternative solution when heat flows are limiting
integration possibilities is to reduce the heat load by

PINCb

Utility

Rrfrigcratlon

Fig.

12. Integration

of column

1181

with refrigerated

condenser.

B. LINNI~~FF et al.

1182

*_QQd
I

Feed

Qhmin

+ IOrrb,

-Ocona,)

PI
Qr.bz

pt

I.
0

pf

Or.bz<Q,-=&rb

PINCH
QWb2

or2

O,-Qr*a

eandl

Fig. 13. Splitting the load.

thermal coupling. Thermal coupling is possible when


multi-column
arrangements
produce
a number
of
products
from
a multi-component
mixture,
The
arrangements available when considering a three-product
system
are side-stream
strippers[l2],
side-stream
rectifiers and possibly even the fully coupled arrangement discussed by Stupin and Lockhart[l3].
A sidestream rectifier is shown in Fig. 14. All of these
arrangements consist of two columns coupled via liquid
and vapour side-streams.
This coupling eliminates at
least one reboiler and/or condenser and reduces the total
heat load to be handled as shown in Fig. 14.
Thus, if the flows in the cascade are limiting integration opportunities
thermal coupling is worth considering. It may be possible to accommodate the smaller

Side - stream

Rcctliicr

Fig. 14. Side-stream

rectifier reduces heat load requirements.

loads required by the thermally coupled arrangement


where larger loads associated with the conventional
arrangements will not fit in.
Intermediate reboilers and condensers
In a conventional distillation column, all heat is added
and removed at the extremities of the column, and hence
at the most extreme temperature levels. It is possible,
however, to add or remove heat at any plate within the
column. In traditional design practice, this is only
worthwhile if it allows cheaper heat sinks or sources to
be used, e.g. lower pressure steam or less severe levels
of refrigeration.
Thus when considering a column in
isolation, intermediate reboiling and condensing are only
likely to be worthwhife when there is a large temperature
difference across the column, i.e. the feed is a wide
boiling mixture.
When considered in the light of the present paper, the
case for using intermediate levels can be triggered aff by
smaller changes in temperature. There are two situations
in particular where intermediate reboiling and/or condensing should be considered.
Distiffation across the pinch. Earlier it was suggested
that if a distillation column is situated across the pinch
then, if possible, the pressure should be changed to move
the column away from the pinch. However, this may not
be possible. In this case, intermediate reboilers or condensers can be used to get at least some of the savings
resulting from good integration.
Consider the column shown in Figs. 15(a) and 15(b). It

is operating across the pinch and the heat added to the


reboiler is Qreb. Qcond is removed from the overhead
condenser below the pinch but Qint is removed above the
pinch. Thus the hot utility requirements of the process
must increase by only (Qreb-Qint).
Extra utility is
needed to run the column but not as much as the total
load.
Thus with a column forced to operate across the pinch
it is still possible to rescue some heat and reduce the

Heat integration of distillationcolumns into overall processes

1 ohmin +

PINCH

Q+

1183

oh,,, + (Oh.-

0,
t

Fig. .15. Appropriate placement of an intermtdiate condenser.

utility requirements of the overall process at least partly


by good integration.
Distillafion
not across the pinch. If a distillation
column is not operating across the pinch but there is
insufficient heat flow at some temperature levels in the
cascade to integrate the total loads, then again intermediate reboiling and condensing may provide a remedy.
Consider the situation illustrated in Fig. 15(c). Here a
column has to operate close to the pinch, where it is
usual for the heat flows in the cascade to be low. In this
case the flows Q4 and QS are too low for the load Qreb
to be accommodated.
The situation can be remedied by
an intermediate condenser and we again require no extra
utilities at all.
Below the pinch the logic is analogous. We can use
intermediate
reboilers to ensure that the cascade heat
flows remain positive.
Use
of intermediate
reboilers
and condensers
obviously introduces extra heat transfer equipment and
hence increased capital cost. It also increases the number
of plates required in the column. Again, as with splitting
the column feed, the reduction in utilities must be traded
off against the higher capital cost.
GENERALCONSIDERATIONS
Having established the general principles which govern
the good integration of distillation columns into the
overall process, we must now take account of some
general design considerations
which are important in the
present context.
The implication temperature changes in the exchangers
To integrate distillation columns we must provide heat
to the reboiler or remove heat from the condenser by
interchange with other process streams. We will now
discuss how the type of heat transfer equipment chosen
for these duties can affect the integration possibilities.
The main types of reboiler used are internal, kettle,

horizontal thermosyphon
and vertical thermosyphon.
The first three employ boiling on the outside of tubes.
Mixing occurs as the liquid boils such that all of the heat
(including any for preheating the subcooled liquid) must
be supplied above the dew point of the vapour leaving
the reboiler. If a vertical thermosyphon is used, however,
the liquid boils in the tubes and a significant temperature
gradient can occur along the tubes. This can in principle
be matched with another fluid flowing counter-currently
such that the temperature driving force keeps benefitting.
Usually, however, this would only be justified if heat was
transferred
at low temperature differences
and if the
boiling range was large. It is unlikely that this would ever
be attractive except in low temperature processes. In
general studies, we recommend to assume that all heat
must be supplied above the dew point temperature of the
vapour.
Consider now condensers. The same basic arguments
apply. When a multicomponent vapour condenses it does
so over a range of temperatures. Whether or not we can
exploit this depends on our choice of heat exchanger. If,
for example, we choose in-tube vertical condensation
then we can exploit the condensation curve when heating
a process fluid. If, however, we choose horizontal shellside condensation
then all heat must be removed at a
temperature lower than the bubble point of the liquid.
Again, practical applications
where the condensation
range is exploited for belter driving forces will be few
and far between outside the low temperature
field.
Throughout the present paper it is assumed that heat is
removed in condensers at a constant temperature lower
than the bubble point of the overhead liquid.
Does the pinch change?
So far in our analysis of where to place distillation
columns in relation to the process we have assumed that,
once the column has been integrated into the cascade,
the position of the pinch will not change. In principle, the

1184

B.

L~NNHOPF
et al.

position of the pinch could change if, for example, the


pressure of a distillation column has to be changed to
make integration possible. This is because:
(1) The target temperature of the column feed (which
is one of the process streams making up the cascade)
might have to be changed to maintain near saturation
conditions for the column feed; and,
(2) The top and bottom product temperatures (which
also are amongst the process streams making up the
cascade) will change.
It is unlikely that these effects will be significant in most
processes, as the sensible heat loads involved will usually be small compared to the latent heat changes in
condensers and reboilers. In cases where these effects
are nevertheless
significant, an iterative procedure will
be required. One situation where this latter case is likely
to be encountered is when the column to be integrated
forms a major part of the process.

flows in the cascade signal that the process in question


would benefit from some thermodynamic
improvement
in a gene& sense. The present paper concentrates
on
providing this improvement by running a particular distillation column for free. However, there could be a
number of columns eligible. Also, we should not lose
sight of the fact that there are other possibilities outside
distillation. We may, for example, choose to minimise
the spare heat flow by using utilities at different levels, as
described earlier, or by integrating heat engines[ld].
Alternatively waste heat above ambient may be used to
run an absorption refrigeration
unit. The choice will
depend on the particular site or plant requirements and is
beyond the scope of the present paper. The designer
should be aware of all options. The aini of the present
paper is to draw his attention to an option that might be
described as hitherto non-obvious.

Choosing rejlux ratios


The range of ratios of actual to minimum reflux USU~&
considered is 1.03-1.3. The exact choice depends on
many considerations
such as the cost of utilities used,
materials of construction,
etc. and can only be determined by detailed calculations. As a rule of thumb a
ratio of 1.1 or 1.2 is often used. This traditional optimisation is based on experience gained with distillation
columns operating on utilities, not integrated with the
rest of the process.
If the column is appropriately integrated, as described
in the present paper, there will be much reduced, or even
zero, utility costs. In this situation we could optimise the
design of the individual column based on capital costs
alone. As the reflux is increased the capital cost of the
column decreases with the number of plates but iocreases
as higher vapour loads cause the column
diameter to increase. At the same time, because we are
taking more heat away from the process and are reducing
the driving forces in the process capital costs in the
process will increase.
In practice there will be a trade-off between the
column capital cost and the process capital cost, and a
range of reflux ratios which we would consider. We
expect the optimum to be flat, however, and the exact
choice of reflux will probably be dictated by the ability to
match the reboiler or condenser loads with other suitable
heat loads elsewhere in the process. If we can, for
example, exactly match the reboiler heating duty with a
cooling duty elsewhere in the process then we can save
the capital cost of a balance heat exchanger. Thus it is
difficult to deduce exactly the most appropriate reflex
ratio for an integrated column before an outline overall
design has been considered. All we should do initially is
fix limits on the reflux ratio. The lower limit is clearly set
by the minimum reflux for that separation. The upper
limit may be conveniently set by the heat flow available
in the cascade.

It is now appropriate
to return to the flowsheet
presented in Figs. 1 and 2. As stated earlier, the process
in Fig. 2 is optimal as far as heat recovery is concerned.
Conventional heat recovery procedures confirm that the
energy target has been achieved. However, the procedures also identify a pinch temperature of 135C. This
pinpoints that Column 2 is operating across the pinch.
After this realisation, we can improve our energy
performance further provided we shift Column 2 away
from the pinch. First, we consider changes to the operating
pressure. A very large increase in pressure would be
necessary to place the column wholly above the pinch (i.e.
condenser temperature > 135C). Lowering the pressure,
however, soon achieves appropriate placement of the
reboiler. The cascade identifies the pressure change
necessary so that we can accommodate the reboiler load of
3.0 MW. A reboiler temperature
lower than 110C is
required. Assuming a similar shift in condenser temperature, 65-3X, we can still use cooling water at the top
of the column. An alternative would be a smaller reduction
in pressure along with splitting the reboiler load via an
intermediate reboiler. This would have been worth considering if the pressure change had resulted in a requirement for refrigeration.
This analysis is independent of actual network design.
It provides an indication, prior to design, of what can be
achieved. At a second stage, actual network design studies (using the Pinch Design Method[9])
with the
appropriate pressure adjustment in Column 2, give the
design in Fig. 16. The steam usage for the total flowsheet
is now such that the front-end
plant plus the distillation operates with no more steam than the frontend alone, contradicting the belief that distillation is an
expensive operation in energy terms! By appropriate
integration distillation can require zero utility.
The design in Fig. 16 shows one other change from the
original flowsheet in Fig. 1. In Pig. 1, the condenser on
Column 1 is refrigerated and the column feed is watercooled with the cooling effect being limited by the cooling water temperature. However, vapout leaves the top
of the column at -20C. No use is made of this vapour in
Fig. 1, but in Fig. 16 it is used to cool the feed beyond

CASE STUDY

Are there alternatives to integrating distillation columns?


Large heat flows in the cascade generally mean large
driving forces in the process. In other words, large heat

1185

Heat integration of distillation columns into oveiall processes

BOC:+

Feed

Fig. 16. Case study II.


the cooling water temperature.
As a result, less refrigeration is required in the column condenser.
This
modification is simple enough. It will probably have been
considered when the original design was identified and
then been rejected because of an increase in the reboiler
load. However, now that the coIumn is integrated for
zero utility costs, the extra reboiler load carries no
penalty! Generally speaking, good process integration
sometimes opens up further, indirect, possibilities for
energy savings which are conventional in character but
only become worthwhile once the situation has changed
due to good integration.
A FRESH

UKlK

AT CURRENT DESIGN PRACTICE

The present paper presents a new insight based on the


pinch phenomenon which in itself is a recent discovery.
Therefore, it might be enlightening to re-examine some
conventional practices in the light of these new insights.

Heat pumping in distillation


Heat pumps have often been suggested as a means of
saving energy in distillation[l]. They can replace the hot
utility input by an import of work as shown in Fig. 17(b).
The work requirement
increases as the column temperature difference (Treb-Tcond)
increases. Thus for
heat pump economics to be favourable we must have
columns
with small temperature
differences
(TrebTcodd).
The discussion presented in the present paper shows
that heat import for distillation is only necessary if the
column operates across the pinch, or if it is not acceptable to integrate the relevant reboiler or condenser
because of, for example, operability or safety reasons. In
any case, the economics of a heat pump application must
be justified just as for an individual stand-alone column
with heat pump, allowing for capital costs and the relative costs of heat and work. Clearly then we need

ohmi,

A.

iw +

OC.d - Orrb)

w + (Qcond-Qd
Od3
Cd"

Feed

H.R
W

PIHCH

QC0.d

Fig. 17. Heat pumping:the last resort.


CES Vol. 38. No. S-D

1186

B.

LMNHOFF

columns with small temperature differences. However, in


the light of our earlier discussion, columns with small
values for (Treb-Tcond)
are the ones least likely to have
to operate across pinches because only minor adjustments in pressure are required to achieve satisfactory
placement. Thus, it appears that attractive applications
for heat pumping in distillation are likely to be few and
far between once the appropriate placement concept
has been understood. Heat pumping schemes will probably only be attractive in plant retrofits where there are
severe restrictions on the integrateability of units.

The design trick adopted in Fig. 13 of splitting loads


clearly relates to the well known technique of multiple
effect distillation (see for example King[lS]). Multiple
effect turns out to be a special case of the general
principle described in Fig. 13. The special feature of
multiple effect distillation is that the condenser of the
high pressure column is linked to the reboiler of the low
pressure column (see Fig. 18).
When considering integration of distillation columns
into the overal process, this stipulation may be counterproductive.
If, as is likely because of the increased
temperature difference between reboiler and condenser,
the two columns are on either side of the pinch we
should not pass heat from one to the other. Thus in Fig. 18
the multiple effect principle has led to the unnecessary
use of utilities! The two columns should be integrated
separately.

et al.

within the two columns. We therefore lose the flexibility of choosing different pressures within different
columns to suit integration. Along with this it should be
noted that the heating and cooling duties that remain are
at the most extreme temperature levels. Thus it is possible to envisage the situation shown in Fig. 19 where
thermal coupling actually prohibits good integration. The
conventional arrangement of columns has a larger total
load but the pressures can be chosen independently such
that neither column operates across the pinch. The
thermally coupled arrangement,
on the other hand,
with its wider temperature range and uniform pressure in
both columns, may have to span the pinch. Clearly in
these circumstances thermal coupling is counter-productive resulting in a higher overall utility usage.
We conclude that thermally coupled systems, like heat
pumps and multiple effect schemes, should not be considered in isolation but only after the overall process has
been analysed in terms of the heat flow cascade.
Intermediate

reboilers and condensers


The use of intermediate
reboilers and condensers
normally causes an increased total heat load for the
column. This again may be counter-productive
as far as
integration of the column into the overall process is
concerned. Intermediate reboilers and condensers,
too,
should not be considered prior to completing an outline
design for the whole process.
COMPARISON WITA

Thermally

coupled columns
Returning to Fig. 14, the use of
advocated as a means of reducing
saving energy. However another
coupled arrangements is the need

- Fe1

thermal coupling was


heat loads and hence
feature of thermally
for the same pressure

PREWOVS

WORK

Much work has been published previously both on


energy saving schemes for individual distillation columns
and on the design of whole separation sequences isolated
from the rest of the process (i.e. on Separation Train
Synthesis).

11
P

Cd

fi

Ohmin

*____I

PINCH

PINCt
-

t aem,*+
Qcona,

Fig.

18. Multiple

effect

distillation: dont
tegration studies.

use it prior

to in-

Fig. 19. Thermal coupling of columns.

+ Qcmda

Heat integration

of distillation

columns into overall processes

1187

Individual columns
The present
paper discusses the design of individual
distillation columns in the context of an overall process.
This is important as quite clearly distillation columns do
not usually operate in isolation. Any strict division between distillation columns and the rest of the process is
not one that practising engineers will agree with.
The paper shows that, while it is important for the
engineer to be aware of techniques such as double-effect
distillation, heat pumps, etc. it is equally important that
he appreciates the overall process. Optimising the design
of individual columns in isolation from the rest of the
process
may sometimes
have a counter-productive
effect, spoiling opportunities
later for good integration
and therefore adversely affecting the performance of the
overall process.
On first sight, there seems to be some similarity between the present paper and the work of Umeda et al. [5].
Like the present paper, Umeda et a?. discuss the design
of distillation columns against the background of a wider
heat integration task. (Their background process simply happens to be a distillation train only.) Further,
Umeda et al. quote the pinch concept. However, they do
not make any use of the pinch concept in design. Rather,
they offer a number of heuristic rules for the evolution of
a design. These rules are to be applied on a trial-anderror basis and might or might not improve overall
performance.
The importance of the correct placement
of a column relative to the pinch remains unrecognized
by Umeda et al.

separation train design are coupled. The solution to a


separation train problem on the basis of a fixed mass
balance can only point in the right direction in the context
of an iterative procedure overaH. The present papers insights and principles are therefore not absolute but must
be used iteratively during process design; first roughly to
help the overall design converge on the right mass
batance
and then in a more detailed fashion to provide
the final outline solution. The same comment applies to
all previous work known to the authors in the field of
separation train synthesis.
Lastly
we should remember
that it is always preliminary design, based on rough data, that process synthesis is concerned with and it is interesting to observe
that much work in separation train synthesis attempts to
fine-tune solutions and to find a global optimum. What
point can there be in finding a global optimum if the
data used are preliminary anyway? Is it not much more
important to understand the basic physical phenomena
that apply at the interface between the separation train
problem
and the total process? The present paper concentrates on those physical phenomena and does not
concern itself with optimisation.
It explains how to
eliminate gross errors in a design (by shifting a distillation column which is avoidably placed across the
pinch) before looking at fine-tuning and other more
detailed design tasks. We believe that there is further
scope in process synthesis for the discovery of such
basic physical phenomena.

Separation trains

Acknowledgements-Most
work described in this paper was carried out while all three authors were in the employment of ICI.
The authors are grateful to ICI for permission to publish this
paper. Also, they much appreciate the helpful comments from
the referees.

work on separation train synthesis


only a few studies have considered
heat integration.
Where heat integration was not considered, reboiIer and
condenser heat was added and removed using utilities
and the cost was either expressed
as a function of
temperature or as a fixed cost per unit of heat if a single
heat source was used. Quite clearly such an approach
cannot represent the opportuniCes for heat integration as
expressed by the heat flow cascade.
Apart from Umeda et al. IS], the authors are not aware
of studies with heat integration that would recognise the
pinch and its properties. It is difficult to conceive how
such studies could generate consistently good solutions.
Moreover, all studies the authors are aware of restrict
heat recovery to the reboilers and condensers
of the
separation train itself. Again there is no interaction with
the rest of the process. As mentioned above, this is a
division
with which the practising engineer would not
agree.
In addition, there is yet another reason why this
division should be treated with care. As mentioned in the
Introduction and pointed out by Marquez et ol.[16], the
feed going to and recycles coming from a separation
train depend upon the reactor design. On the other hand,
the economic optimum conversion and selectivity in the
reactor often depend to some extent on the design of the
separation train. If it is costly to separate the recycles
then the optimum conversion
will be higher than
otherwise.
Thus, the problems
of reactor design and
Of

the previous

NOMENCLATURE

H enthalpy, kW
pressure, bars

5 heat flow, kW
Qh hot utility supplied, kW
QC cold utility required, kW
Qhmin, Qcmin

minimum hot and cold utility requirement,


kW
reboiler heat load, kW
condenser heat load, kW
intermediate condenser heat load, kw
temperature, C
reboiler temperature, C
condenser temperature. C
work improt required for heat pump, kW

kW

Qcw cooling water requirement.


Qreb
Qcond
Qint
T
Treb
Tcond
W

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