Enhanced downstream processing of NGL using intensified fluid separation technologies

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Downstream processing of natural gas liquids (NGL) provides feedstock needed for plastic production, upgraded fuels and heating, but it is one of the largest high-pressure and energy intensive processes. This original study is the first to integrate novel process intensification options from a holistic viewpoint for the full process covering all sections: 1) NGL recovery, 2) NGL fractionation, and 3) isomerization. Intensified fluid separation technologies (e.g. complex columns, thermal coupling, and heat pumps) are explored and integrated into a full NGL process to improve the energy efficiency and mitigate GHG emissions, and to establish the limits of operation, utility usage, and specific product costs. All NGL processes are rigorously simulated in Aspen Plus, and evaluated based on a fair economic and sustainability analysis. The enhanced recycle split vapor process for NGL recovery results in a full heat recovery for the reboiler of the demethanizer (2.9 MW energy savings), while the enhanced gas subcooled process results in 17.9% reduction of the refrigerant duty, 20.2% reduction of the electrical duty, and 19.9% reduction of the total utility cost. For the NGL fractionation section, heat pump assisted double dividing wall process improves energy intensity for a fraction of the utility cost although requiring external incentives (e.g., carbon tax) to become commercially viable. The total utility costs as well as GHG emissions are reduced up to 30% and 49%, respectively, while the specific product cost reduces to $23.45/t or $24.38/t with carbon tax. The heat pump assisted recycled isomerization process for the last section increased AKI from 65.3 to 89.6, with 19.1% reduction of utility usage and 42.4% reduction of carbon emission.