Optimisation-based retrofit of heat-integrated distillation systems

  • Victor Manuel Enriquez Gutierrez

Student thesis: Phd


Distillation systems consist of one or more distillation columns, in which a mixture is separated into higher-value products, and a heat exchanger network (HEN) that recovers and reuses heat within the system. For example, crude oil distillation systems comprise crude oil distillation units (CDU), in which crude oil is distilled into products for downstream processing, a HEN and a furnace. Heat-integrated distillation systems present complex interactions between the distillation columns and HEN. These interactions, together with the many degrees of freedom and process constraints, make it challenging to retrofit or modify the operating conditions of existing distillation processes to accommodate changes in process operating conditions.Retrofit designs aim to re-use existing equipment when process objectives change, for example to increase throughput, improve product quality, or reduce energy consumption or environmental impact. To achieve these retrofit objectives, operational, structural and/or flowsheet modifications to the overall system (distillation columns and HEN) may be considered, subject to specifications and system constraints. This work proposes an optimisation-based approach to retrofit design for the capacity expansion of heat-integrated distillation systems, with a particular focus on crude oil distillation systems. Existing retrofit approaches found in the open research literature consider operational optimisation, replacing column internals, adding preflash or prefractionation units and HEN retrofit to increase the capacity of existing systems. Constraints considered usually relate to the distillation column hydraulic limits, product quality specifications and heat exchanger performance (e.g. minimum temperature approach and, pressure drop). However, no existing methodologies consider these possible modifications simultaneously; thus, beneficial interactions between flowsheet modifications, operational changes, heat integration and equipment modifications may be missed.In this work, retrofit design solutions for crude oil distillation are developed using a stochastic optimisation framework implemented in MATLAB to optimise the system operating parameters and to propose flowsheet, column and HEN modifications. Within the framework, the optimiser can propose addition of a preflash unit, modifications to the CDU internals and changes to its operating conditions; the separation system is then simulated using Aspen HYSYS (via the MATLAB interface) and the hydraulic performance of the column is analysed using published hydraulic correlations. The optimiser also proposes modifications to the HEN (i.e. installed heat transfer area, HEN structure and operating conditions), which is then simulated to evaluate heating and cooling utility demand. Either simulated annealing and global search optimisation algorithms are applied to identify the optimal design and operating conditions that meet the production requirements and product specifications. Industrially relevant case studies demonstrate the effectiveness and benefits of using the proposed retrofit approach. The case studies illustrate that combined structural and operational modifications can be effectively and systematically identified to debottleneck an existing crude oil distillation system with a relatively short payback time, while simultaneously reducing energy consumption per barrel of crude oil processed.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRobin Smith (Supervisor) & Megan Jobson (Supervisor)


  • Crude oil distillation retrofit
  • HEN retrofit
  • Distillation column hydraulics
  • Stochastic optimisation

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