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Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Energy Conversion and

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Energy Conversion and Management

journal homepage: Advances in heat pump assisted distillation column: A review

Advances in heat pump assisted distillation column: A review

Amiya K. Jana

Energy and Process Engineering Laboratory, Department of Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur 721 302, India

Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur 721 302, India article info Article history: Received 22 April 2013

article info

Article history:

Received 22 April 2013 Accepted 28 September 2013


Heat pumping Distillation Vapor recompression Hybrid heat pump systems Batch processing


Progressive depletion of conventional fossil fuels with increasing energy demand and federal laws on environmental emissions have stimulated intensive research in improving energy efficiency of the exist- ing fractionation units. In this light, the heat pump assisted distillation (HPAD) scheme has emerged as an attractive separation technology with great potential for energy saving. This paper aims at providing a state-of-the-art assessment of the research work carried out so far on heat pumping systems and iden- tifies future challenges in this respect. At first, the HPAD technology is introduced with its past progresses that have centered upon column configuration, modeling, design and optimization, economic feasibility and experimental verification for steady state operation. Then the focus is turned to review the progress of a few emerging heat integration approaches that leads to motivate the researchers for further advance- ment of the HPAD scheme. Presenting the recently developed hybrid HPAD based heat integrated distil- lation configurations, the feasibility of heat pumping in batch processing is discussed. Finally the work highlights the opportunities and future challenges of the potential methodology. 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

There is a steep rise in global energy consumption mainly be- cause of the increasing industrialization and motorization of the world. Fossil fuels meet 80 percent of our primary energy demands and they are responsible for the major production of greenhouse gases, leading to a number of negative effects, such as climate change, receding of glaciers, rise in sea level and loss of biodiver- sity [1] . Increasing energy consumption, negative growth of fossil resources and greenhouse gas emissions have led to a move to- wards the improvement of thermodynamic efficiency of the well established processes, along with the development of new energy efficient and cost-effective process technology. Distillation is the most mature and widely used separation pro- cess in the chemical and allied industries, accounting for 95% of all separations in chemical process industries [2] , and for an estimated 10% of the US industrial energy consumption [3] . Furthermore, it is reported [4] that 40% of the energy used by a chemical plant is for distillation alone. Because of low thermodynamic efficiency, which is typically in the range of 5 to 20%, and high energy consumption, the distillation has become a potential candidate for thermal intensification. After the oil crises in the 1970s, the interest in thermal intensi- fication appears to have been resurrected. In separation processes, the major energy costs are associated with compressors, reboilers and condensers cooled with refrigerant. Proposing thermal

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integration in fractionation units leads to additional equipment costs that are more than offset savings in utility costs. However, because of increasing utility costs at a faster rate than equipment costs, along with the environmental alarm due to the greenhouse gas emissions, the heat integration approach has received consid- erable research attention in literature and appears to be economi- cally feasible for distillation processes. Among various heat integrated distillation techniques, the heat pumping system has emerged as one of the widely accepted schemes for continuous flow distillation columns. In fact, practical studies have shown the potential of this strategy to drastically re- duce the net energy consumption and hence emissions of green- house gases. However, continuous efforts need to be devoted to make the heat pump assisted distillation (HPAD) scheme more attractive compared to its close competitors. Although a consider- able progress on heat pumping systems is noticed for continuous flow operations, there is almost no research attention paid for batch processing. It is fairly true that the unsteady state behavior of the batch operation makes the heat integration more challeng- ing. The objective of this article is to present the recent develop- ments in the field of heat pump assisted distillation technology, particularly vapor recompression column (VRC) and its hybrid con- figurations, and to identify uncovered gaps in this respect.

2. Heat pump assisted distillation (HPAD) columns

As the cost of energy continues to rise, it becomes imperative to improve overall energy performance of the chemical process units. With this objective, various energy integration techniques for


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distillation columns have been explored so far seeking lower en- ergy consumption and better profitability. Heat pump assisted dis- tillation (HPAD) column is one of the most promising alternatives for the conventional distillation column (CDiC) since HPAD has the potential to separate a mixture with smaller energy consumption compared to CDiC. In a conventional distillation column, the heat is supplied at the bottom reboiler by a hot utility and that is wasted to a cold utility at the overhead condenser, thus causing a substantial energy deg- radation. An obvious way to reduce the energy consumption is to couple the condenser and the reboiler which represent the major source and sink of energy, respectively. In this light, the integration between a heat pump and the distillation column is well-known as an attractive terminology. The heat pumping systems, which can be operated in conjunc- tion with the distillation columns, can be conveniently lumped into two categories: mechanical heat pump and absorption heat pump. In the mechanical heat pumps, instead of using a separate over- head condenser and bottom reboiler, the vapor stream leaving the top tray is compressed to a higher pressure and then used to heat the bottom liquid, or the liquid stream leaving the bottom tray is flashed in a pressure reducing valve and then used to cool the overhead vapor. On the other hand, the later scheme uses a separate closed loop fluid system to transfer the heat up the tem- perature scale by means of heat of mixing. In this article, at first, selected works on both of these heat pump assisted distillation col- umns and their impact on energy efficiency as well as cost are re- viewed. Subsequently, we turn our special attention on the recent developments of mechanically heat pump assisted VRC scheme for finding the further research possibilities. It should be pointed out here that the energetic and economic performances are somewhat case specific and therefore the per- cent savings shown throughout this paper for several example sys- tems are intended to indicate trends rather than precise figures.

2.1. Absorption heat pump assisted distillation column

The first absorption heat pump machine was made by the LeC- arre brothers in 1859 [5] . A historical review of this heat pump sys- tem dating back to the work of Nairne in 1777 is presented by Stephan [6] . Recently, Chua et al. [7] have provided a comprehen- sive update on recent developments in heat pump machines. As illustrated in Fig. 1 , a typical absorption heat pump includes four main components, namely absorber, desorber (usually called generator), evaporator and condenser. In the working fluid loop,

evaporator and condenser. In the working fluid loop, Fig. 1. A typical absorption heat pump arrangement.

Fig. 1. A typical absorption heat pump arrangement.

the generator heats up the solution at high pressure and tempera- ture, releasing vapor to the condenser. Subsequently, the conden- sate goes to the evaporator, in which, it evaporates using low temperature heat and then it is absorbed in the absorption column. Obviously, the system receives heat in the generator and the evap- orator, and rejects heat in the condenser and the absorber. The rich solution is pumped from the absorber to the generator, where the cycle starts again. In a typical heat pump system, the pressure ele- vation and the corresponding higher boiling point of the working fluid are effected by an absorber, a generator and an additional fluid loop (absorbent loop) between these units. Fonyo et al. [8] have evaluated six different variants of the heat pumping system with reference to the base case column with isomerization reactor. These six schemes include: three forms of mechanical heat pump system (vapor recompression, bottom flashing and closed cycle), and three modes of absorption heat pump system (single stage with parallel and sequential operations, and double stage parallel operation). It should be noted that the bottom liquid is boiled up with the use of heat exchangers ar- ranged either in series (sequential operation) or parallel (parallel operation) mode. For the case of C 4 splitter, it is reported [8] that the lowest cost is reached by using the double stage scheme, although its operation is far more difficult. Heat pump assisted dis- tillation research is also extended to absorption heat transformer (AHT) [9,10] , the reverse operation of the absorption heat pump. In the transformer ( Fig. 2 ), the absorber and evaporator operate at higher pressure, whereas the condenser at the lowest pressure. Tufano [10] has shown that the parallel heat pump – transformer allows one to exactly match the heat loads of most distillation col- umns and to reduce the consumption of primary energy by about 40%. A systematic comparison is also presented by Fonyo and Ben- ko [11] between the different variants of the absorption and mechanical heat pumps with the transformer arrangement. For a C 4 splitter, their economic evaluations show that the AHT is the worst performer and the heat pump with sequential arrangement is the best one. For selecting a suitable scheme, however, a general guideline is proposed as: (1) larger heat load and smaller column temperature difference provide shorter payback time for heat pumping, and (2) the absorption heat transformation cycles have an even chance for implementation at larger temperature differ- ence, when the other heat pump configurations are discarded. Ranade and Chao [12] have also detailed the guidelines for the use of different kinds of heat pumping arrangements. They have concluded that if the Carnot efficiency is taken into account, the vapor recompression approach is the most economical solution, but the simplest way of introducing a heat pump into an existing distillation unit is the closed cycle system with working fluid.

However, it is fairly true to say that the performance of the heat pumps is mostly case specific.

the performance of the heat pumps is mostly case specific. Fig. 2. Distillation column in conjunction

Fig. 2. Distillation column in conjunction with an absorption heat transformer [10] [A = absorber, B = bottoms, C = condenser, D = distillate, E = evaporator, EC = econ- omizer, F = feed, G = generator].

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By combining the absorption and mechanical heat pumps, the hybrid heat pump assisted distillation system has appeared in lit- erature [13–15]. This advanced multiple-stage distillation scheme consists of the following principal components, namely absorber, generator and vapor recompression units. Minea and Chiriac [16] have explored the feasibility of the hybrid compression/absorption heat pump for district heating systems. Currently, Li et al. [17] have evaluated this scheme for the production of freshwater from sea- water by the use of wasteheat from process industry in the Shef- field region, UK, showing a substantial energy savings of 80% and coefficients of performance (COP) of 3.1–12.1 in different stages. The absorption heat pumps are mainly used for refrigeration where the temperature of the heat source is higher than that in the heat sink [17] . They can be operated by all kind of thermal en- ergy including waste heat from chemical processes or engines [17] as well as solar energy [18,19]. In order to utilize the wastewater as a heat source in the desalination process, however, the tempera- ture in the heat sink is more than the temperature in the heat source. It clearly indicates the necessity of an auxiliary heat source that needs to be coupled to the system to raise the required tem- perature. Aiming to enhance the heat source temperature, various possibilities have been explored [17] . Among them, the compres- sion/absorption heat pump systems have great potential for use with the distillation column because of their high performance ra- tio and good energy management [17] . It should be noted that absorption heat pumps have been applied extensively in desalina- tion industry [20–23] . The novel application further includes the use of a two stage compressor heat pump system in restoring the absorbent used to clean the flue gases in a pulp mill [24] . In recent years, the use of absorption heat transformer is no- ticed in improving the energy efficiency of desalination plants. Cur- rently, Gomri [25] has presented a comparative study between the single effect and double effect AHT systems for the production of 500 L of drinking water per day from the seawater. A number of experimental studies are also reported [26,27] to show the feasibil- ity of AHT technology. The main difficulty of this heat pumping arrangement is associ- ated with the working fluids. Sulfuric acid–water mixture, used in the early days of the absorption heat pump technique, has turned out to be too corrosive and poisonous [6] . Nowadays, the most widely used working fluid is perhaps the ammonia–water mixture [17] . However, in spite of the many potential advantages, this pair exhibits some drawbacks, such as [6] : (i) it is perhaps impossible to completely remove the water from the evaporator, which leads to raise the evaporation temperature, (ii) ammonia starts decompos- ing above 180 C, (iii) there is a limit of maximum temperature in the generator, and (iv) ammonia is poisonous. Sulfur dioxide and pure ammonia [5,15], which act as a refrigerant, are also poison- ous. Some potential working pairs (working fluid/absorbent) involving chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have been investigated in laboratory size units. Because of current controversy over CFCs and ozone layer depletion, there is likely to be only limited scope for pairs involving CFCs. When water absorbed by lithium bromide is utilized [21–23] , the safety problem may be solved, but other difficulties such as crystallization, arise. Some commercial models of absorption heat transformers operating with water–LiBr are in use [28] . Several other working fluids, such as water–LiCl, water– LiCl/LiBr pairs [28] , aqueous NaOH [29] , aqueous CaCl 2 and CaCl 2 / LiCl solutions [30] , and their merits and demerits are extensively covered in literature. In the view of environmental advantages of the absorption heat pump systems and, if the question for primary energy consump- tion is posed, no doubt the absorption systems will gain more importance in the near future. The scope for the absorption heat pump must be further broadened if environmentally friendly working pairs are identified.

2.2. Mechanical heat pump assisted distillation column

The mechanical heat pumps are electrically driven vapor recompression types. Based on the concept popularized in the early 1950s by Freshwater [31] , subsequently Null [32] has proposed three basic schemes, namely direct vapor recompression, bottom flashing and external vapor recompression. As shown in Fig. 3 , all three mechanical heat pump configurations use an expansion valve and a compressor to alter condensing and/or boiling temperatures so that the heat rejected in the overhead condenser can be reused to provide the heat needed in the bottom reboiler. In the direct vapor recompression column (VRC), the overhead vapor is compressed to a higher pressure to utilize its latent heat for bottoms liquid reboiling. The condensate leaving the reboiler is then flashed across a throttling valve to column top pressure for providing reflux and distillate. In the bottom flashing, the bot- toms liquid is expanded to a pressure corresponding to a saturation temperature of the distillate and used as a cooling medium in the overhead condenser. On the other hand, the external vapor recom- pression, where the heat pump works between the condenser and the reboiler of a distillation column using some sort of working fluid, is known as a closed system. Obviously, the whole absor- ber/generator system of absorption heat pump system shown in Fig. 1 replaces the compressor of mechanical heat pump system. When the bottoms product is a good refrigerant, the distillation column with bottom flashing arrangement is a possible candidate for enhancing thermodynamic efficiency. Moreover, like other mechanical heat pumping structures, this scheme shows its poten- tial in reducing energy consumption, particularly for the separation of mixtures with close boiling points. It is experienced that when the bottoms liquid passes through an expansion value, some amount of liquid is most likely to get vaporized. This, in turn, leads to reduce the rate of top vapor condensation mainly due to the reduction of heat receiving capacity of the flashed vapor over its li- quid state. This problem is further strengthened when the pressure reduction in the valve has increased, i.e. when the boiling point temperatures of the components to be separated are far apart. It should be highlighted that if the additional heat added during isen- tropic compression is not sufficient to make up the difference be- tween reboiler and condenser duties, an auxiliary steam-heated reboiler is required to employ, thereby enhancing both the operat- ing and capital costs. Several research groups have evaluated this scheme in terms of thermodynamic efficiency and overall cost.

in terms of thermodynamic efficiency and overall cost. Fig. 3. Schematic representation of the mechanical heat

Fig. 3. Schematic representation of the mechanical heat pump assisted distillation schemes.


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Importantly, Henley and Seader [33] have presented the applica- tion of the heat pump with reboiler liquid flashing for the separa- tion of propylene–propane (P–P) mixture and shown its maximum thermal efficiency in comparison with other two mechanical sys- tems. Fonyo et al. [8] have compared six heat pump assisted distil- lation columns (3 absorption heat pumps and 3 mechanical heat pumps) for the case of C 4 separations and observed that the bottom flashing scheme is the worst economic performer. Again, for sepa- rating a close boiling mixture of i -butane/ n -butane, Diez et al. [34] have seen a competitive performance between the VRC and bottom flashing. All these results confirm that the bottom flashing is not a good option when the temperature difference between the over- head and the bottom of the column is reasonably large. Lynd and Grethlein [35] have proposed different ways of accomplishing the intermediate heating and cooling in a distilla- tion process under closed system (i.e. external vapor recompres- sion) framework. Their distillation configuration ( Fig. 4 ), consisting of intermediate heat pumps and optimal sidestream re- turn, allows heat to be moved between points in a distillation col- umn with greater efficiency than several other methods of employing heat pumps for distillation. Subsequently, Bjorn et al. [36] have extended this scheme with the additional inclusion of overhead condenser and bottom reboiler in the closed system ( Fig. 5 ). Using a mixture of CFC-12 and CFC-114 as a working fluid, it is demonstrated that the addition of top condenser and bottom reboiler to intermediate heat exchangers in the closed cycle system leads to enhance the energy efficiency from 30% to 75%. Interested readers may consult the work of Mizsey and Fonyo [37] for a sys- tematic design methodology for the energy integrated distillation system enhanced by closed cycle heat pumping. However, this external vapor recompression scheme, like the absorption heat pump system, involves the use of working fluid and hence suffers from the same drawbacks associated with the working pair. This closed system approach is generally preferred when the column fluid is corrosive or is not a good refrigerant [38] . Several research groups are actively involved in making the di- rect VRC technology more attractive from the early 1970s to till date. Danziger [39] has studied distillation columns with vapor recompression and based on his result, the energy saved is over 80% compared to a conventional standalone column. Comparing the most frequently used single compressor and double compres- sor assisted VRC schemes, Quadri [40] claims that the former scheme is about 50% cheaper than its double compressor counter- part in case of the splitting of propylene–propane system, a close boiling mixture. Interestingly, based on a Union Carbide plant, Par- ker [41] has arrived at the opposite conclusion, i.e. two stage heat

has arrived at the opposite conclusion, i.e. two stage heat Fig. 4. A closed-system configuration with

Fig. 4. A closed-system configuration with optimal return of the side-stream.

Fig. 5. A closed-system configuration of a combined overall heat pump system and intermediate heat
Fig. 5. A closed-system configuration of a combined overall heat pump system and
intermediate heat exchangers.

pump compressor case is cheaper than the single compressor case. Annakou and Mizsey [42] have further studied the VRC scheme dealing with P–P system and found that the annual costs get re- duced by 37%. Their investigation also shows that the heat pump

assisted distillation column of vapor recompression type mini- mizes about 60% of the flue gas emissions. The application of VRC strategy is extended to ethylbenzene/xylene and ethylben- zene/styrene separations, showing a substantial savings [43] . On the other hand, Canales and Marquez [44] have designed and built

a laboratory-scale vapor recompression column for separating a

binary mixture of ethanol–water. They have reported a reduction in energy consumption ranging from 45% to 56%, as compared to the conventional column. As mentioned previously, Diez et al. [34] have selected an i-butane/ n -butane mixture to compare the direct VRC, bottom flashing and absorption heat pumps. Perform- ing simulation experiments, it is shown that the distillation with both top vapor recompression and bottom flashing configurations allow reduction of operating costs by 33% and 32%, and capital costs by 9% and 10%, respectively. They have concluded that the absorption heat pump is not worthy for this close boiling system because of its large steam consumption compared to the CDiC col- umn. Very recently, Kiss et al. [45] have proposed a set of guide- lines to select the most promising thermally integrated distillation column based on the following criteria: type of separa- tion tasks, product flow and specifications, operating pressure, dif- ference in boiling points, reboiler duty and its temperature level. In addition to the economic feasibility study of VRC, this scheme

has been a subject of widespread research, focusing on design and optimization (e.g. [40,43,46,47] ), modeling (e.g. [48,49]), operabil- ity analysis (e.g. [42,50] ) and control (e.g. [38,51–53] ). The direct vapor recompression machine is the simplest appli- cation of heat pumps in distillation [54] and perhaps the most pop- ular all over the world [15] . In comparison with the absorption heat pump, the VRC offers a number of appealing advantages, such as simple structure, small ground space requirement, ease of de- sign and operation, low initial capital investment and no involve- ment of working fluid that creates a lot of troubles. In this article, the vapor recompression distillation has been selected as

a potential candidate for review to explore the possibilities of fur- ther advancements.

3. Heat integration indistillation column: emerging approaches

Among the various energy integration techniques scrutinized for distillation processes, most important ones include dividing

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wall column (DWC) [55–59], internally heat integrated distillation column (HIDiC) [54,60–66] and of course, heat pump assisted VRC scheme [8,33,34,53,67]. After several decades of research, the di- vided wall column ( Fig. 6 ), which integrates two columns of a Pet- lyuk system into one column shell, has been successfully commercialized. At present, there are more than 70 packed DWC columns operated by BASF worldwide [68] . Recently, DWCs make

a successful inroad into the refinery world dominated by complex

columns, and this is becoming a fast developing application field. It

is true that prediction of overall performance is becoming a routine

calculation; however, the predictive models capable of dimension- ing a DWC are still not publicly available [68] .

The DWC approach, which is applicable to a specific class of dis- tillation columns, is capable of reducing the energy requirement by around 30% compared to its conventional two-column configura- tions. Aiming to extend the heat integration concept to a general class of distillation processes, the HIDiC scheme ( Fig. 7 ) that com- bines the vapor recompression and diabatic operation has ap- peared with greater promise [69] . An excellent overview of the HIDiC structures can be found in Nakaiwa et al. [70] and Jana [3] , and references therein. Performing bench-scale experimental tests for the separation of a binary mixture of benzene and toluene, it is shown [61] that the HIDiC column can achieve more than 40% reduction in energy consumption. Furthermore, Horiuchi et al. [71] have operated a HIDiC pilot plant at zero external reflux con- dition, and claimed more than 50% savings in energy requirement. Currently, many pilot and industrial-scale projects of HIDiCs are underway in Japan and in the Netherlands [68] . In HIDiC column, the vapor flow decreases from the bottom to the top of the rectifier and increases as it flows up towards the top of the stripper. Usually, the vapor inflow rate to the compressor of a HIDiC is larger than that of a typical vapor recompression col- umn. On the other hand, the VRC involves comparatively large compression ratio (CR). Although the small vapor flow through the compressor can provide benefits for the VRC, the large CR has

a negative impact on the compressor power requirement. It is a

well-known fact that the electricity required for driving the com-

pressor is several times more expensive than the thermal utility used to run the reboiler as well as condenser. However, in compar- ison with VRC, the HIDiC column can achieve better economic ben- efits owing to its lower compression ratio [72] . If this is so,




Side product

Fig. 6. Schematic representation of the divided wall column (DWC).

Schematic representation of the divided wall column (DWC). Fig. 7. Schematic representation of the HIDiC scheme.

Fig. 7. Schematic representation of the HIDiC scheme.

naturally one question arises: why we should go for the VRC? We can find the answer from:

In the case of a stand-alone unit or where there are severe restric- tions on the integrability of the distillation column, the realization of heat pump assisted distillation is the most promising energy sav- ing technique.

Fonyo and Benko [11]

4. Can we make the VRC scheme a strong competitor to the HIDiC column?

Earlier, it was highly recommended to exhaust the thermal inte- gration possibilities first before the use of VRC since the thermal integration is usually cheaper and more economical than heat pumping [11] . Even before adopting the VRC scheme, we should take into consideration its limitation that the VRC is an economic way to conserve energy when the temperature difference between the overhead and bottom of the column is reasonably small [42] . However, these conceptions concerning the limitation of VRC tech- nology have changed with time and now we are in a position to realize that no single heat integration scheme is always the most energy efficient [54] . It is worth noticing that the advanced forms of VRC scheme have proved to be a strong competitor to the HIDiC column and in many situations, even they perform better. For boosting the thermodynamic efficiency of the classical VRC column, the use of intermediate heat exchangers is introduced a long back by Flower and Jackson [73] . It is fairly true that to supply heat at any point in the lower part of the column, the overhead va- por should be compressed to such a pressure that there exists a certain driving force between the saturation temperature of the compressed vapor and the temperature at the point in question. In order to supply heat to a number of intermediate points by com- pressing parts of the overhead vapor stream to appropriate pres- sures, they [73] have suggested the employment of a multistage compression system. In fact, the use of intermediate heat exchangers in regular dis- tillation column is beneficial, particularly when the components being separated have widely different boiling points. Luyben [74] has designed a conventional distillation process with intermediate reboilers for separating a wide boiling mixture, showing a 6.6% lower total annual cost. Recently, Jana and Mane [67] have evalu- ated the VRC scheme having intermediate reboilers ( Fig. 8 ) for a to-


A.K. Jana / Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297

Jana / Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297 Fig. 8. Heat pump assisted vapor recompressed

Fig. 8. Heat pump assisted vapor recompressed RD column with intermediate reboiler [67] .

tal reflux multiple feed reactive distillation (RD) column. For ethyl- ene glycol system, a wide boiling mixture case, this heat pump as- sisted column appears overwhelmingly superior to its conventional counterpart securing an energy savings of 46.2% and a payback period of 2.74 yr. They have further commented that it is economical to use the compressed overhead vapor as a heating medium in the intermediate reboiler and steam in the bottom reboiler; this is exactly what Flower and Jackson [73] have realized. Now, it can be concluded that the VRC configuration is capable of achieving thermal efficiency and cost benefits for all types of mix- tures, including close-boiling and wide-boiling components. Very recently, Kumar et al. [75] have explored and analyzed various heat pump arrangements with intermediate reboiler(s) un- der the VRC framework. An industrial RD column producing ethyl tert -butyl ether (ETBE) is simulated to illustrate the proposed schemes for the separation of a mixture with widely different boil- ing points. The multi-stage vapor recompression column shown in Fig. 9 , which addresses a number of practical concerns, secures a substantial energy savings (= 50.60%) and a reasonably low pay- back period (= 3.23 yr). Shenvi et al. [54] have worked on developing the multi-stage vapor recompression scheme with intermediate exchangers for a binary distillation column. Several alternative configurations of VRC have also been developed to perform a comparative study with the HIDiC column. The authors have finally come to the con- clusion that no single heat integration scheme is always the most energy efficient. For an economically optimal distribution of inter- mediate heat exchanging arrangements, one may consult the guidelines proposed by Agrawal and his coworkers [76,77].

Interestingly, in spite of the encouraging outcomes, no indus- trial application of HIDiC column exists on plant scale [78] , and one of the primary reasons lies in its complex design and structure [79] . Actually, the HIDiC design requires the implementation of internal heat exchangers along the height of the column that is still a challenging problem in the aspect of equipment design. However, it is inspected by several research groups [54,66,80,81] that the reduction of heat transfer locations to a small number has a negli- gible impact on the economic performance. For example, Harwardt and Marquardt [78] have shown that the cost-optimal HIDiC de- signs require only a few heat exchange locations. Even, it is sug- gested to use a single heat exchanger in the HIDiC configuration, which eventually gives rise to a structure similar to the direct VRC scheme. Now, it becomes obvious that to make the HIDiC col- umn implementable in industrial scale, we may need to reconfig- ure its design that tends to a heat integrated configuration close to the VRC column.

5. Introduction of VRC in HIDiC column: hybrid system

One key approach to improving the thermodynamic efficiency of many industrial processes is to recover every possible sources of waste heat and turn them to useful outputs. It is interesting to note that because of the operation of HIDiC rectifier at an elevated pressure, the temperature difference between the rectifier top va- por and stripper bottom liquid may be positive, if not, negative with a reasonably small magnitude. It opens up the possibility of further intensification in the HIDiC column by introducing the VRC scheme. As shown in Fig. 10 , in this intensified scheme (int- HIDiC), a certain amount of thermal driving force is attempted to maintain by the use of a second compressor in order to ensure the optimal use of latent heat of rectifier top vapor for stripper bot- toms liquid reboiling. This novel combination of internal and external thermal inte- grations in the int-HIDiC technique is first evaluated by Mane and Jana [82] . This hybrid system is demonstrated by a simple bin- ary column for the fractionation of an equimolar benzene/toluene mixture. In comparison with the general HIDiC that shows 19.9% energy savings and a payback period of 6.75 yr, they have found that the intensified strategy can significantly improve the effi- ciency of energy utilization (61.12% savings) and cost savings


Subsequently, this concept is further reported by Shenvi et al. [54] . However, they discuss the rational of thermal coupling be- tween the overhead vapor of rectifier and the bottom liquid of stripper with no internal heat exchangers between two diabatic sections. For this configuration, one is no longer constrained to operate the entire rectifier at high pressure. The two columns may be run at the same pressure, and only the amount of vapor needed for reflux and boilup needs to be compressed. This avoids compression of the entire vapor that flows through the rectifier. Obviously, we would expect power savings from this simple heat pump strategy compared to the HIDiC-equivalent scheme. Recently, Kiran et al. [83] have extended this technique to ex- plore the two forms of int-HIDiC for the fractionation of a multi- component hydrocarbon system. Their intensified scheme is classified mainly based on the use of number of compressors. It is examined that the int-HIDiC with single compressor and that with double compressor systems appear superior to the general HIDiC and the conventional column in terms of energy consump- tion and economic figure. In their single compressor scheme, the rectifier is operated at a reasonably high pressure so that a certain thermal driving force between the rectifier top and the stripper bottom is maintained. Without running the rectifier at so high pressure, alternatively the same thermal driving force is main-

A.K. Jana / Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297


/ Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297 293 Fig. 9. Schematic representation of the double-stage
/ Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297 293 Fig. 9. Schematic representation of the double-stage

Fig. 9. Schematic representation of the double-stage vapor recompression RD column with double intermediate reboiler [75] [B = bottoms rate, D = distillate rate, IR = intermediate reboiler, P = pressure, T = temperature, TV = throttling valve, Comp = compressor, V = vapor flow rate, x = liquid phase composition].

tained by the employment of a second compressor in the HIDiC with double compressor system. Among these two investigated schemes, the authors [83] have shown that the double compressor assisted column provides the maximum energy savings of 59.15% and a least payback time of excess capital (3.44 yr). It should be noted that the single compressor scheme is a feasible option only when there exists a positive thermal driving force between the heat source and the heat sink; otherwise, the driving force has to make positive by enhancing the compression ratio. It is worth mentioning that the use of more intensified struc- tures may not always provide cost-effective performance com- pared to a simpler arrangement. In this context, Bjorn et al. [36] have stated that:

The use of more elaborate systems involving intermediate heat exchangers is, theoretically, necessary in order to achieve a higher thermodynamic efficiency; in practice, however, these systems do not always turn out to be economically viable when compared with simpler arrangements.

Moreover, it is fairly true that the degree of heat integration and controllability are likely to have an inverse relation [84] . It is not expected that one would build a highly energy efficient process that is very poorly controllable or even uncontrollable. Therefore,

we should take into account the cost and controllability issues to- gether, along with the energetic performance, when we wish to introduce further intensification in a standard heat integrated column.

6. VRC in batch processing

6.1. Vapor recompressed batch distillation (VRBD)

It is recognized that the heat pump systems are easy to intro- duce and the plant operation is generally simpler compared to other heat integration schemes. In fact, the vapor recompressed column (VRC) designs are often more cost efficient owing to sim- pler equipment [78] . These appealing advantages motivate us to explore the possibility of VRC applications, particularly in batch processing. It has long been recognized that the batch distillation is less en- ergy efficient than the continuous flow column. As illustrated the vapor recompressed batch distillation (VRBD) configuration in Fig. 11 , vapor from the top of the batch column is compressed to the desired pressure (hot stream) and condensed against reboiler liquid (cold stream). This in turn boils the reboiler content, gener- ating vapor that enters the rectification tower. Although the over-


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Jana / Energy Conversion and Management 77 (2014) 287–297 Fig. 10. Schematic representation of the int-HIDiC

Fig. 10. Schematic representation of the int-HIDiC column [82] .

Schematic representation of the int-HIDiC column [82] . Fig. 11. Schematic representation of the vapor recompressed

Fig. 11. Schematic representation of the vapor recompressed batch distillation (VRBD) column [L = liquid rate; V = vapor rate].

head stream keeps changing its phase to liquid state, it leaves the still at elevated pressure. Before entering into the reflux drum, the condensate is therefore depressurized by a pressure relieve valve.

Although the thermal arrangement made in both the VRC schemes operated in continuous and batch modes seems to be the same, the operation of VRBD is comparatively much more challenging be- cause of its transient nature. The author of this review and his team members are involved in developing the VRC and its hybrid config- urations for batch operations. Johri et al. [85] are the first to configure the VRC scheme for batch processing. In their strategy, the thermal driving force be- tween the compressed top vapor and the reboiler liquid is at- tempted to keep constant throughout the unsteady state operation. In order to meet this operational objective, the compres- sor needs to be operated at a variable speed mode and therefore, they prefer to call this structure as the variable speed vapor recom- pressed batch distillation ( variable speed VRBD). To ensure the opti- mal use of internal heat source, an open-loop control policy is further proposed by the authors for the VRBD. Along with the CR, this control mechanism suggests to adjust either the overhead va- por splitting or the external heat supply to the reboiler. For a reac- tive distillation (RD) example, Johri et al. [85] have shown that the variable speed VRBD is capable of reducing about 65.85% energy consumption. The attractiveness of this new thermally coupled structure is also measured by its payback period of excess capital (4 yr). Subsequently, several interesting applications of the variable speed VRBD structure are started reporting in literature. Impor- tantly, Babu et al. [86] have synthesized this heat integrated scheme for a ternary batch distillation with a side withdrawal, achieving a 85.97% savings in energy efficiency and 44.67% in total annualized cost (TAC). For the case of a middle vessel batch distil-

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lation, the variable speed mechanism is also applied [87] and this example system provides a sharp reduction in energy consumption (60%) and a payback time of 2.73 yr. Although the VRC in conjunction with a variable speed com- pressor is much more thermodynamically efficient for batch pro- cessing than the conventional batch distillation (CBD), the major cause of concerns associated in its application is the operation of compressor at varying compression ratio. For smooth operation of heat pump in a thermally coupled batch splitter, a relatively simple VRBD configuration that runs at a fixed CR value is subse- quently proposed by Khan et al. [88] . By separating a binary mix- ture of wide boiling components, they have quantitatively shown how closely the reversible batch operation can be approximated by using the direct compression of overhead vapor. It should be noted that the variable speed VRBD shows a little improvement over its fixed speed counterpart in terms of energy efficiency and cost, but at the cost of an increased operational complexity.

6.2. Introduction of VRC in an internally heat integrated batch distillation with a jacketed still (HIBDJS): hybrid system

Fig. 12 schematically illustrates the principles of an internally heat integrated batch distillation with a jacketed still (HIBDJS). As shown, this thermally coupled scheme uses a jacket as a reboiler (or still) that surrounds the rectifying tower. The vapor produced in this concentric reboiler is compressed and then introduced at the bottom of the rectifier. As a consequence, there exists a pressure difference (temperature difference) between the rectifier and jack- eted reboiler. Accordingly, a certain amount of energy is exchanged from the HP rectifier to the LP reboiler through the internal wall and brings the downward liquid flow for the former and upward vapor flow for the latter. By this way, the reboiler and condenser heat loads can get lowered. This new heat integrated batch distillation is originally config- ured by Takamatsu et al. [89] . After a long gap, Maiti et al. [90] have systematized their idea and clarified the advantages of this approach through numerical simulations. The authors have re- ported their findings for the separation of a binary mixture (etha- nol/water) that the potential energy integration leads to achieving about 56.10% energy savings and 40.53% savings in total annual- ized cost. For boosting further the thermodynamic and economic perfor- mance, the same research group [91] has proposed a novel combi- nation of internal and external heat integrations introducing direct vapor recompression approach in the HIBDJS scheme ( Fig. 13 ). In addition to the heat transferred from HP rectifier to LP still through the internal wall, the latent heat of overhead vapor is also utilized for liquid reboiling. Aiming to run the column at a constant reboiler

Condenser Distillate Heat Compressor

Fig. 12. Schematic representation of the HIBDJS scheme.

Overhead vapor Condenser C 2 Distillate Heat C 1

Fig. 13. Schematic representation of the VRC-HIBDJS scheme [C = compressor].

duty throughout the entire batch operation, an open-loop control policy needs to be devised because of the dynamic behavior of batch processing. This hybrid VRC-HIBDJS scheme demonstrated by a butyl acetate RD column shows a dramatic reduction of en- ergy consumption by 75% and a payback time to 1.74 yr.

7. Scope of future research

7.1. VRC in continuous processing

The heat pump assisted VRC column has been studied exten- sively, particularly for separating the close boiling mixtures. In the recent past, the use of intermediate reboiler(s) in VRC technol- ogy is thoroughly investigated with several numerical examples for the separation of components having widely different boiling points. Till now, however, no industrial application of this multi- stage VRC with intermediate heat exchanger(s) exists according to the author’s knowledge. Truly speaking, the optimal integration of the heat pumping system with a distillation column still remains a challenging R&D task. Efficient use of energy in distillation columns is crucial to the reduction of net energy consumption and hence emissions of greenhouse gases. Recent advances have shown that an intensified energy integrated distillation configuration leads to a significant energy and thus cost savings. However, this cost benefit comes at the expense of operating and control challenges. Tight coupling of various possible heat sources and heat sinks results in the reduc- tion of available degrees of freedom and in feedback interactions, adding further complexities in the process dynamics and control. Although a lot of progress has been made on VRC technology for continuous flow distillation columns, some more efforts need to be devoted to improve their industrial use for separating a wide range of mixtures, including wide boiling mixtures, and their closed-loop control performance to run the columns at optimal states.

7.2. VRC in batch processing

With the eventual acceptance of a carbon/energy tax around the world, energy conservation has become a major concern in many industrial applications. Since the VRC column operated in continu- ous mode has shown promising potential, even in industrial prac- tice, in terms of both thermodynamic efficiency and cost, it is therefore strongly suggested to extend this technology for wide- spread use in batch processing.


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A remarkable shift toward batch distillation technology has been noticed during the last two decades because of the exponen- tial growth of the fine-chemical, food, pharmaceutical and bio- chemical industries. As presented earlier, the development of VRC technology for batch processing has just initiated. Therefore, there is enormous scope and demand for further research in a number of directions, including the equipment design, process optimization, thermodynamic and economic feasibility with exper- imental verification, and controllability analysis.

8. Conclusions

This review paper has portrayed heat pump assisted distillation as an energy-efficient separation technology with enormous po- tential to contribute to chemical, refinery, petrochemical, pharma- ceutical and biochemical industries. Introducing the heat pumping system with its past progresses, it is demonstrated through various literature sources how recent efforts have improved the distillation column energy efficiency by the use of heat pump with intermedi- ate heat exchangers in conjunction with multi-stage compression system. Then the focus is turned to review the various recently developed hybrid VRC based thermally coupled systems, which have further improved efficient use of thermal heat, reduced the TAC as well as carbon emission. Beside the reduction of energy consumption and thereby, over- all cost, the heat pump systems can be considered in grass-root or retrofitting design because of ease of their introduction, simple structure and operation. Keeping these appealing advantages of VRC in mind, it is suggested that continuous efforts need to be de- voted in exploring its widespread use, particularly in industrial applications and batch processing. It is worth noticing that the development of vapor recompressed batch distillation has just started and hence a number of potential issues are still remained untouched. Through this review paper, we hope to convey one key message that further efforts in improving the heat pump assisted distillation technology will optimize the energy use and reduce the carbon footprint of many chemical, pharmaceutical, biochemical and refinery industries.


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