This paper presents a comprehensive simultaneous synthesis approach based on stage-wise superstructure to design cost-optimal heat exchanger network (HEN). It is well known that the simultaneous synthesis model has very complicated mixed integer nonlinear programming formulations, which are non-convex, non-continuous and have many local optima. Up till now, it cannot be expected that an algorithm can find, in polynomial time, the global solution to the simultaneous synthesis problem of HEN. In order to reduce computational complexity, some simplified assumptions for structures, such as no stream splits, stream splits with isothermal mixing, no stream split flowing through more than one exchanger, etc, are adopted to prune the search space at the expense of neglecting certain important alternatives in the network configuration. In this work, a flexible stage-wise superstructure is proposed to control the solution performance and search space efficiently. At each stage of the superstructure, with or without stream splits is determined at random or by the experience of designers. In this way, various candidate series and split network designs featuring the lowest annual cost can be found. Moreover, an efficient two-level optimisation algorithm is employed for solving the presented model utilising genetic algorithm and particle swarm optimisation algorithm. Three case studies are presented to show the applicability of the proposed methodology. In addition, the results show that the new approach is able to find more economical networks than those generated by other methods. © 2012 Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering
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