Process synthesis is the step in design where the chemical engineer selects the component parts and how to interconnect them to create his flowsheet. This paper reviews the rapidly growing process synthesis literature of over 190 articles, almost all of which have been produced in the last decade.
The paper first introduces the nature of the synthesis problem and outlines the variety of approaches which have appeared to solve aspects of it. The problems include developing a representation, a means to evaluate alternatives, and a strategy to search the almost infinitely large space of possible alternatives. As the article demonstrates, effective solutions are very dependent on the nature of the synthesis problem being addressed.
The article covers in detail the following five synthesis topics: chemical reaction paths, separation systems, heat exchanger networks, complete flowsheets, and control systems. Readily apparent are the development of industrially significant insights to aid in the design of heat exchanger networks. Reasonable progress exists in the synthesis of separation systems based on nearly ideal distillation technology and in the development of computer aids by chemists for reaction path synthesis leading to desired complex organic molecules. More work is needed for the remaining areas to become industrially significant.