The Process Integrationand Systems Optimization research Group, led by Dr. Mahmoud El-Halwagi, focuses on sustainable process synthesis, design, operation, integration, and optimization. The key theme is the development of systematic methodologies that enable chemical engineers to identify optimum, sustainable, and creative strategies that lead to productivity enhancement, yield improvement, debottlenecking, pollution prevention, and energy conservation. Fundamental chemical engineering principles are coupled with systems engineering approaches to develop graphical, algebraic, and computer-aided optimization tools that are generallyapplicable and can address a wide variety of existing and new processing facilities such as the petroleum, petrochemical, fiber, pharmaceutical, food, mineral processing, and micro-electronics industries. In particular, the following research topics are currently investigated by our group:
Our group is internationally recognized for pioneering work in developing mass integration science and methodology. Mass integration is a holistic approach to the generation, separation, and routing of species and streams throughout the process. It is a systematic methodology that provides a fundamental understanding of the global flow of mass within the process and employs it in identifying performance targets and optimizing the allocation and generation of streams and species with the objectives of enhancing yield, conserving resources, debottlenecking, mitigating environmental impact, and conserving energy.
Recently, we have introduced the novel area of property integration. We define the new paradigm of property integration as a functionality-based, holistic approach to the allocation and manipulation of streams and processing units which is based on tracking, adjustment, assignment, and matching of functionalities throughout the process. The new concept of clustering has been introduced to enable the conserved tracking of surrogate properties. Hence, the process design can be optimized based on integrating properties instead of chemical species. This design is referred to as component-independent design. The objective of our research in this area is to develop systematic techniques for this new paradigm and to illustrate its applicability to industrial processes.
Most processing facilities employ significant quantities of utilities including fuel, power, heating, and cooling. Our energy integration research has the objective of optimizing and reconciling the usage of the various forms of energy by capturing the global insights of energy flow and allocation, establishing rigorous bounds on utility consumption, and providing optimum strategies to attain the targets. Systematic design and operation tools are developed to optimize heat-exchange profiles, steam generation and consumption, heating-cooling utility integration, combined heat and power, cogeneration, and novel heat-exchange devices.
Sustainable design of hydrocarbon processing facilities is a major industrial activity. Our group focuses on the synthesis of novel pathways and the optimization of existing pathways. In addition to the utilization of conventional fossil fuels, we are also interested in monetization of shale gas into value-added products while optimizing the economic, technical, environmental, and societal aspects of the process.
Biomass Processing and Integrated Biorefineries
Fossil fuel usage for energy and chemical production is a large contributor to the generation of anthropogenic green house gas (GHG) emissions. Several policies and energy consumption related actions have been proposed to limit net GHG emissions. A key example is the Paris Accord dealing with the GHG emissions, mitigation, and finance. Substitution of fossil fuels with bioenergy feedstocks is one of the most promising alternatives for GHG reduction because carbon is withdrawn from the atmosphere via photosynthesis during feedstock growth and then is released upon combustion. In a more general sense, a biorefinery is a processing facility or a cluster of processing facilities that transform biomass into various value-added chemicals and forms of energy. Our research in this area focuses on identifying and creating integration opportunities, new production pathways, and a sustainable supply chain. Life cycle analysis and techno-economic optimization are integrated to aid in the synthesis of cost-effective, environmentally-friendly biorefineries.
Macroscopic System Integration and Pollution Prevention
As a result of the staggering environmental problems associated with manufacturing facilities, the process industry has gradually shifted from downstream end-of-pipe pollution control to the more effective practice of in-plant pollution prevention. Nonetheless, in order to undertake any modifications in the core processing units, it is inevitable to fully understand and appreciate the integrated nature of the process. Our research employs process integration to overcome these challenges through the application of systematic and generally applicable approaches which transcends the specific circumstances of the process and view the environmental problem from a holistic perspective. The result is the development of cost-effective and sustainable pollution-prevention strategies at the heart of the process.
In a broader sense, we also investigate the impact of industrial products and processes on biocomplexity in the environment. Our research in this area focuses on two major topics:
- Eco-industrial parks and industrial symbiosis of a cluster of industrial facilities.
- Ecological modeling of water sheds and development of integrated strategies for sustinable development.
- Global analysis and mitigation of green house gases
- Assessment and optimization of the use of agricultural sources (e.g., switchgrass) in producing biofuels/bioenergy and in biorefineries.