My colleague, Deb Franke, pointed me to a great article in her RSS feeds. The article, Innovative Fixes for Saving Energy in Plants, describes some ideas to help reduce plant energy costs. Although energy costs have come down in recent weeks, they are still one of the largest controllable costs as I have mentioned in an earlier post.

The article points out innovative solutions including dual drive pumps, variable speed motors, water/glycol systems, automated blowdown systems, low BTU sweep gas and wireless sonic leak detectors. Give the article a read if you think some of these might apply in your plant processes.

I forwarded the article to Emerson’s Lou Heavner, whom you may recall from earlier advanced process control application posts. I asked what new and innovative, energy saving ideas he might have to share.

Lou had a couple of ideas. But, being the modest sort, he added a caveat that they may not qualify as new or innovative. To me, if you’re looking for ways to reduce your energy costs and you didn’t consider one of these, it’s definitely new.

Lou’s first thought was on distillation processes. He writes:

In distillation, relative volatility and hence difficulty of separation tends to improve at lower pressure. When cooling water and/or air are used to condense the overheads, the pressure is often tightly controlled for stability in the face of changing ambient conditions and the extra cooling capacity available during nights or colder weather is not fully utilized. If pressure is allowed to “float” and as much condensing occurs as is possible, pressure will fall in the column and separation will normally improve. This means less heat is needed in the reboiler and hence energy savings when using steam or some other “costly” utility stream to provide reboil.

His second thought was around combustion processes burning fuel gases with changing compositions. Lou notes:

In heaters or boilers where the gaseous fuel consists of a hydrocarbon mixture of varying composition (like refinery fuel gas), a change in fuel can have an effect on the heat generated by combustion and on the excess air level in the flue gas for a given fuel flow rate. Sometimes, if variability of the flue gas justifies, companies will install fuel quality analyzers that measure composition or heating value. In many cases, the same thing can be achieved and better flow control at the same time, by using a Coriolis mass flow meter. It turns out that the mass flow of a hydrocarbon and the “btu” flow are directly related since both are related directly to MW.

You can’t do this with PT compensated flow, because it knows nothing of MW. But Coriolis measures mass directly and can be used to reduce variability of “btu” feed to the burner. This can be dramatic where the fuel gas varies significantly. It is not a good solution if the “btu” content changes due to the presence of inerts (like N2 or CO2) or non-hydrocarbons (like H2 or CO), since they do not exhibit a linear relationship between mass flow and “btu” flow. But if they are present in small quantities and don’t vary much, the concept can still work.

On processes that degrade the “quality” of energy, Lou shares:

Saving energy can be as simple as minimizing thermodynamically irreversible operations. Mixing, heat transfer, and throttling of process flows are common examples of irreversible processes. In general, industry should avoid over-purifying/heating/cooling followed by mixing or blending to achieve the target composition/temperature. Process design should attempt to get as much work as possible out of utilities and recover as much heat as possible. Pinch technology is one approach to heat integration design used by process engineers. Of course, there are practical limitations like capital cost considerations, dynamic response and controllability, and availability/reliability of utilities, especially ambient cooling.

Also, control valves should be selected to minimize throttling losses and allocation and valve position should be used to minimize overall pressure drop in systems like utilities where resources are shared by different units or equipment. For example, if multiple reactors are cooled with a shared refrigeration unit, the coolant temperature setpoint can be raised (reducing the refrigeration required) until one of the user’s demand exceeds the capability of its corresponding control valve to deliver.

Let’s hope that something between the article and Lou’s thoughts provides you at least one idea that can help reduce your plant’s energy bills.

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