An Indicator to Evaluate the Thermodynamic Maturity of Industrial Process Units in Industrial Ecology


Address correspondence to:
Signe Kjelstrup
Department of Chemistry
Norwegian University of Science and Technology—NTNU
NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway


The article suggests a measure to evaluate the thermodynamic maturity of industrial systems at the level of single process units. The measure can be quantified with reasonable confidence on the basis of entropy production as defined by irreversible thermodynamics theory. It quantifies, for one process unit, the distance between its actual state of operation and its state with minimum entropy production or optimum exergy efficiency, when the two states are constrained with a fixed production capacity of the process unit. We suggest that the minimum entropy production state is a mature state, or that processes that operate at this state are mature. We propose to call the measure “the thermodynamic maturity indicator” (π), and we define it as the ratio between the minimum entropy production and the actual entropy production. We calculated π on the basis of literature data for some examples of industrial process units in the chemical and process industry (i.e., heat exchanger, chemical reactor, distillation column, and paper drying machine). The proposed thermodynamic measure should be of interest for industrial ecology because it emerges from the entropy production rate, a dynamic function that can be optimized and used to understand the thermodynamic limit to improving the exergy efficiency of industrial processes. Although not a tool for replacing one process with another or comparing one technology to another, π may be used to assess actual operation states of single process units in industrial ecology.