The process industry utilizes thermal energy on a massive scale and rejects a significant proportion into the environment as a low grade heat. The definition of low grade heat is fuzzy and is somewhat related to the temperature of the stream carrying such thermal energy. Estimates of low grade heat emissions are hard to compile accurately on a global scale but these are likely to be of the order of thousands of trillions of BTUs. In some cases, up to 50% of thermal energy consumed is eventually rejected as low grade heat. This waste is not only uneconomical but also environmentally damaging since it carries a carbon footprint. Modern process plants reduced a great deal of thermal energy losses through heat integration and energy recovery. However, due to process temperature requirements, a vast amount of thermal energy denoted as low grade heat is still rejected. The objectives of this work include evaluating the possibility of utilizing the low grade heat outside the process generating, in a useful manner that has both economic and environmental benefits. In the Middle East where the oil and gas industry rejects vast amounts of low grade heat, recovery and utilization for desalination is becoming a serious option. This work proposes utilization of low grade heat in membrane distillation for desalination and establishes a balance between capital and operating costs as well as carbon footprint reduction. The work is based on a couple of case studies involving well established processes, namely the vinyl chloride monomer and gas-to-liquids processes. The recovery of low grade heat will be coupled with seawater cooling thus providing a warm source of salty water feed to the membrane distillation system. The work indicated that quality potable water may be produced for the petrochemical plants and neighboring living quarters at a reasonable cost. This approach may reduce the demand for fresh water from desalination plants in major industrial complexes making these self-sufficient in fresh water. Benefits are both economic and environmental.


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