The conceptual design of separation systems can be done systematically for simple mixtures, using simulation tools and heuristic approaches for the generation and ranking of alternatives. We are developing a new generation of tools for the design and synthesis of separation systems for complex mixtures, allowing for the possibility of azeotropes, multiple liquid phases, and simultaneous reaction and separation. The building blocks for these tools are advances in: (i) modeling and data for the phase equilibrium in complex mixtures; (ii) analysis and characterization of nonlinear systems using bifurcation theory; (iii) numerical methods for nonlinear systems; and (iv) systems approaches to chemical processing.
Our main interest is actually in the development of new methods and the software tools provide a test bed for the methods by application to problems here at the University and also in cooperation with our industrial sponsors. Others have also used these methods as the basis for the development of commercial tools for the conceptual design of distillation systems. Currently, we are focused on the application of reactive distillation to the production of biofuels.