Designing processes of chemical products for sustainability: Incorporating optimization and the sustainability evaluator

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The perception of how sustainability issues should be addressed in design has changed over time. It is no longer appropriate to evaluate processes for economic feasibility alone; social benefits and environmental impacts must be considered. Addressing sustainability concerns after the fact in chemical process design is no longer acceptable as this could result in more expensive consequences. Hence, we introduce a methodology for incorporating sustainability concerns into early stages of process design. The proposed framework involved the use of ASPEN PLUS to simulate processes, calculate mass and energy balances, complete sensitivity analysis and lastly optimize processes. The base case and optimized processes are evaluated with the SUSTAINABILITY EVALUATOR, a newly developed impact assessment tool. An overall sustainability impact, which has been incorporated into the SUSTAINABILITY EVALUATOR, was developed to quantify sustainability issues in process design. The methodology was demonstrated on the acrylonitrile process. The application of the methodology on this process resulted in a more economic, environmental, and socially acceptable process. © 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Environ Prog, 32: 762–776, 2013