Flaring is a crucial safety operation to protect chemical plant personnel and equipment during plant start-up. However, it generates huge amounts of off-spec products, and causes negative environmental and social impacts, as well as results in tremendous raw material and energy losses which could be saved to generate much more needed products. Thus, cost-effective start-up flare minimization strategies which is a double-win practice, simultaneously benefiting both the industrial and environmental sustainability, are becoming more and more important and attractive to the industries.
The chilling train is a very important section for the ethylene plants and accounts for more than 50% of the total start-up time and flare emissions of the whole ethylene plants. Within this section, the charge gas from the upper stream process is refrigerated to a very low temperature (lower than -160 °C) to separate hydrogen and methane. Meanwhile, the left charge gas is liquidized for cryogenic separation. The chilling train system consumes over 40% of the refrigerating capacity of an ethylene plant. During the chilling train start-up, different operational conditions with different compositions and flowrate of precooling process will affect both product separation efficiencies, start-up stability time and flare emission.
Traditional start-up scenarios are developed based on experience and improved by trial and error, which is inefficient and dangerous. In this study, a general methodology on flare minimization for chilling train start-up operations via rigorous dynamic simulation is presented. The methodology starts with setup and validation of chilling train steady-state and dynamic simulation models. The initial state of start-up in the real plant is achieved through systematically transforming from the validated dynamic model, and several operation conditions with different compositions and flowrate of precooling stream are examined to identify an optimal initial state of start-up based on the obtained initial state. Thereafter different flare minimization strategies for the chilling train start-up are conducted on the optimal initial state model. Also, emission source characterization under different flare minimization strategies for chilling train start-up is investigated. Deep insights of the start-up strategies, emission source distribution and dynamic emission profiles are provided. This study provides detailed technical support for both the industry and environmental agencies on evaluating and developing cost-effective flare minimization strategies in the future.
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