Process Synthesis and Optimization of Biorefinery Configurations



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The objective of this research was to develop novel and applicable methodologies to solve systematically problems along a roadmap of constructing a globally optimum biorefinery design. The roadmap consists of the following problems: (1) synthesis of conceptual biorefinery pathways from given feedstocks and products, (2) screening of the synthesized pathways to identify the most economic pathways, (3) development of a flexible biorefinery configuration, and (4) techno-economic analysis of a detailed biorefinery design.

In the synthesis problem, a systems-based "forward-backward" approach was developed. It involves forward synthesis of biomass to possible intermediates and reverse synthesis starting with desired products and identifying necessary species and pathways leading to them. Then, two activities are performed to generate complete biorefinery pathways: matching (if one of the species synthesized in the forward step is also generated by the reverse step) or interception (a task is determined to take a forward-generated species with a reverse-generated species by identifying a known process or by using reaction pathway synthesis to link to two species.)

In the screening problem, the Bellman's Principle of Optimality was applied to decompose the optimization problem into sub-problems in which an optimal policy of available technologies was determined for every conversion step. Subsequently, either a linear programming formulation or dynamic programming algorithm was used to determine the optimal pathways.

In the configuration design problem, a new class of design problems with flexibility was proposed to build the most profitable plants that operate only when economic efficiency is favored. A new formulation approach with proposed constraints called disjunctive operation mode was also developed to solve the design problems.

In the techno-economic analysis for a detailed design of biorefinery, the process producing hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulose via the carboxylate platform was studied. This analysis employed many state-of-the-art chemical engineering fundamentals and used extensive sources of published data and advanced computing resources to yield reliable conclusions to the analysis.

Case studies of alcohol-producing pathways from lignocellulosic biomass were discussed to demonstrate the merits of the proposed approaches in the former three problems. The process was extended to produce hydrocarbon fuels in the last problem.