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Optimization of systems, energy management and environmental impact in process engineering

Final Activity Report Summary - INSPIRE (Optimization of systems, energy management and environmental impact in process engineering)

Around 80.3 per cent of the world's total primary energy supply is provided by converting fossil fuels (natural gas, crude oil and coal) into thermal energy - mainly through combustion - 11.2 per cent is provided by combustion of wood (biomass) and waste. Notwithstanding the need to develop alternative methods of energy conversion, through solar and wind power or biomass utilisation for example, this century will belong to fossil fuels as far as energy conversion is concerned. The effect of increased greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate has become apparent over the last two decades or so, and drastic reductions are needed if the Earth's temperature is to be kept under control. In particular carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be substantially reduced if our planet is to remain inhabitable in the long run. In short, CO2 emissions must be rapidly and drastically reduced, and now we must look towards the development and implementation of technologies and policies to achieve this goal. Only two options are practically applicable in this area: energy savings and improving the efficiency of fuel conversion. There is an urgent need to improve the existing technologies and perhaps even develop new ones, these will be based on the combustion of both alternative and conventional fuels.

The INSPIRE network stems from the need to update existing state-of-the-art energy management and environmental impact assessment methods. This is largely due to market forces, the availability of new fuels and recently instituted environmental regulations. The ultimate objective of the project is to produce specialists in the optimisation of energy conversion and usage.

Today, energy usage optimisation in industry is mainly based on simple energy and mass balances over the individual components of industrial plants, the total production level of the plant is subsequently analysed to generate a figure for overall energy consumption. Although numerous energy streams are taken into account, these are evaluated exclusively on the basis of the first law of thermodynamics.

The substitution and replacement of these streams with new 'secondary fuels' is also evaluated, primarily on the basis of their energy content and preparation requirements. Within the INSPIRE project a thermo-economic analysis (TEA) and lifecycle analysis (LCA) have been used. The latter has been expanded into the Exergy Life-Cycle Analysis (ELCA), which offers a unique opportunity to provide the optimum framework for comparing and assessing different technological options for carbon/CO2 separation and sequestration.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has made a tremendous impact in hightech industries over the last decade or so; new aeroplanes and engines have been designed using CFD. CFD is also used in both the process and power-generating industries to assist in process design. The CFD user must possess a more complete understanding of numerical methods, the physics of reactive flows and also heat transfer and chemistry, a demanding combination by any standards. More importantly, the CFD user is often in no position to assess the quality of the predictions unless he or she possesses measured data.

The INSPIRE network has provided young engineers with the opportunity to conduct fuel characterisation experiments and develop fuel specific sub-models. This has been followed by comprehensive CFD simulations of semi-industrial and industrial scale plants.

The research carried out by the INSPIRE network has advanced both the theoretical and experimental methods used in energy engineering. Details can be found in the 15 scientific papers as well as the 50 conference presentations made by network researchers, while two comprehensive books were published. However, there is no doubt that the main achievement of the network is the training of a number of engineers experienced and confident in using modern design methods. Altogether, 32 young researchers have spent between six months and three years gaining experience in both industry and academia. While working on the network, three researchers defended their PhD exams, and another seven were likely to do so in 2010.