What is Pinch Technology?
Meaning of the term "Pinch Technology"
The term "Pinch Technology" was introduced by Linnhoff and Vredeveld to represent a new set of thermodynamically based methods that guarantee minimum energy levels in design of heat exchanger networks. Over the last two decades it has emerged as an unconventional development in process design and energy conservation. The term ‘Pinch Analysis’ is often used to represent the application of the tools and algorithms of Pinch Technology for studying industrial processes. Developments of rigorous software programs like PinchExpressTM, SuperTargetTM, Aspen PinchTM have proved to be very useful in pinch analysis of complex industrial processes with speed and efficiency.
Basis of Pinch Analysis
Pinch technology presents a simple methodology for systematically analysing chemical processes and the surrounding utility systems with the help of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law of Thermodynamics provides the energy equation for calculating the enthalpy changes (dH) in the streams passing through a heat exchanger. The Second Law determines the direction of heat flow. That is, heat energy may only flow in the direction of hot to cold. This prohibits ‘temperature crossovers’ of the hot and cold stream profiles through the exchanger unit. In a heat exchanger unit neither a hot stream can be cooled below cold stream supply temperature nor a cold stream can be heated to a temperature more than the supply temperature of hot stream. In practice the hot stream can only be cooled to a temperature defined by the ‘temperature approach’ of the heat exchanger. The temperature approach is the minimum allowable temperature difference (DTmin) in the stream temperature profiles, for the heat exchanger unit. The temperature level at which DTmin is observed in the process is referred to as "pinch point" or "pinch condition". The pinch defines the minimum driving force allowed in the exchanger unit. The basic concepts of Pinch Analysis are discussed in the next section, Basic Concepts of Pinch Analysis.
Objectives of Pinch Analysis
Pinch Analysis is used to identify energy cost and heat exchanger network (HEN) capital cost targets for a process and recognizing the pinch point. The procedure first predicts, ahead of design, the minimum requirements of external energy, network area, and the number of units for a given process at the pinch point. Next a heat exchanger network design that satisfies these targets is synthesized. Finally the network is optimized by comparing energy cost and the capital cost of the network so that the total annual cost is minimized. Thus, the prime objective of pinch analysis is to achieve financial savings by better process heat integration (maximizing process-to-process heat recovery and reducing the external utility loads). The concept of process heat integration is illustrated in the example discussed below.
A Simple Example of Process Integration by Pinch Analysis
Consider the following simple process [Figure (a)] where feed stream to a reactor is heated before inlet to a reactor and the product stream is to be cooled. The heating and cooling are done by use of steam (Heat Exchanger -1) and cooling water (Heat Exchanger-2), respectively. The Temperature (T) vs. Enthalpy (H) plot for the feed and product streams depicts the hot (Steam) and cold (CW) utility loads when there is no vertical overlap of the hot and cold stream profiles.
An alternative, improved scheme is shown in Figure (b) where the addition of a new ‘Heat Exchanger–3’ recovers product heat (X) to preheat the feed. The steam and cooling water requirements also get reduced by the same amount (X). The amount of heat recovered (X) depends on the ‘minimum approach temperature’ allowed for the new exchanger. The minimum temperature approach between the two curves on the vertical axis is DTmin and the point where this occurs is defined as the "pinch". From the T-H plot, the X amount corresponds to a DTmin value of 20 oC. Increasing the DTmin value leads to higher utility requirements and lower area requirements.
Development of the Pinch Technology Approach
When the process involves single hot and cold streams (as in above example) it is easy to design an optimum heat recovery exchanger network intuitively by heuristic methods. In any industrial set-up the number of streams is so large that the traditional design approach has been found to be limiting in the design of a good network. With the development of pinch technology in the late 1980’s, not only optimal network design was made possible, but also considerable process improvements could be discovered. Both the traditional and pinch approaches are depicted in Figure bellow.
Traditional Design Approach: First, the core of the process is designed with fixed flow rates and temperatures yielding the heat and mass balance for the process. Then the design of a heat recovery system is completed. Next, the remaining duties are satisfied by the use of the utility system. Each of these exercises is performed independently of the others.
Pinch Technology Approach: Process integration using pinch technology offers a novel approach to generate targets for minimum energy consumption before heat recovery network design. Heat recovery and utility system constraints are then considered in the design of the core process. Interactions between the heat recovery and utility systems are also considered. The pinch design can reveal opportunities to modify the core process to improve heat integration. The pinch approach is unique because it treats all processes with multiple streams as a single, integrated system. This method helps to optimize the heat transfer equipment during the design of the equipment.
Areas of Applications of Pinch Technology
Pinch originated in the petrochemical sector and is now being applied to solve a wide range of problems in mainstream chemical engineering. Wherever heating and cooling of process materials takes places there is a potential opportunity. Thus initial applications of the technology were found in projects relating to energy saving in industries as diverse as iron and steel, food and drink, textiles, paper and cardboard, cement, base chemicals, oil, and petrochemicals.
Early emphasis on energy conservation led to the misconception that conservation is the main area of application for pinch technology. The technology, when applied with imagination, can affect reactor design, separator design, and the overall process optimization in any plant. It has been applied to processing problems that go far beyond energy conservation. It has been employed to solve problems as diverse as improving effluent quality, reducing emissions, increasing product yield, debottlenecking, increasing throughput, and improving the flexibility and safety of the processes.
Since its commercial introduction, pinch technology has achieved an outstanding record of success in the design and retrofit of chemical manufacturing facilities. Documented results reported in the literature show that energy costs have been reduced by 15-40%, capacity debottlenecking achieved by 5-15% for retrofits, and capital cost reduction of 5-10% for new designs.