Many of the people who are aware of Process Integration equate it with the design of heat exchanger networks. This is a popular misconception. Although the design of heat exchanger networks is part of Process Integration, the discipline is far wider. Process Integration has the objective of the design and optimization of integrated chemical manufacturing systems. Process Integration starts with the selection of a series of processing steps and there interconnection to form a manufacturing system to transform raw materials into desired products (see Figure).
However, Process Integration does not stop with the synthesis of process flowsheets for individual processes. Individual processes would normally operate as part of an integrated manufacturing site consisting of a number of processes serviced by a common utility system. Linking processes to the common utility system creates interactions between the different processes through the utility system. If understood properly, these interactions can be exploited to maximize the performance of the site as a whole. Even further, the individual processes on a site can exchange materials in such a way that raw materials efficiency is maximized.
Chemical processing should increasingly form part of a sustainable industrial activity. This means using raw materials as efficiently as economic and practical, both to prevent the production of waste than can be environmental harmful and to preserve the source of raw materials as much as possible. Energy should be used efficiently, not only to reduce costs, but to prevent the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and to preserve the reserves of fossil fuels. Water should be consumed in sustainable quantities that does not cause any deterioration in the quality of the water source or the long-term quantity of the reserves. Aqueous and atmospheric emissions must not be environmental harmful and solid waste to land film must be avoided. Finally, all aspects of industrial activity must feature good health and safety practices.
During the coming months we shall explore different aspects of Process Integration, review recent results and speculate on the impact of new developments in the future.