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Xiongtao Yang1 Qiang Xu1 Kuyen Li1
Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, USA.
Flare Minimization Strategy for Ethylene Plants
Flaring is an important but passive method in ethylene plants to protect plant personnel, facilities, and the ambient environment. However, excessive flaring emits huge amounts of CO, CO2, NOx, and hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which may cause locally transient air pollution problems and negative societal impacts. Flaring may also cause high losses of raw material and energy that could generate more desired products for the industry. Thus, flare minimization has great benefits to environmental, societal, and industrial sustainability. Based on current industrial practices, a general strategy for flare minimization under various ethylene plant events is presented.
Keywords: Dynamic simulation, Ethylene plants, Flare minimization, Pollution prevention, Steady-state simulation Received: December 3, 2009; revised: April 28, 2010; accepted: May 7, 2010 DOI: 10.1002/ceat.200900588
Ethylene plant activities such as start-ups, shutdowns, maintenance, upsets, and routine operations will generate off-spec product streams that are typically sent to flares for destruction. This flaring activity emits large amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), highly reactive VOCs (HRVOCs) (defined in the Texas air quality regulation as ethylene, propylene, isomers of butene, and 1,3-butadiene), and partially oxygenated hydrocarbons (e.g., formaldehyde), which will cause severe air pollution problems and negative societal impacts. Flaring also results in tremendous raw material and energy losses that could generate much needed products for the industry. For instance, an ethylene plant with a capacity of 1.2 billion pounds of ethylene production per year may send five million pounds of ethylene for flaring during an ordinary start-up . Based on the flaring efficiency (destruction efficiency) of 98 % for estimation, the total emission during the start-up generates 7.5 Klbs of NOx, 40.0 Klbs of CO, and 100.0 Klbs of HRVOCs. This is just a normal scenario of the flaring emission for the ethylene stream. If all the other flaring species are included, such as ethane, propylene, and propane, huge amounts of air emissions will be produced through flaring emission. It should also be noted that flaring may cause localized and transient air pollution events, which are harmful to people’s
Correspondence: Prof. Q. Xu (Qiang.firstname.lastname@example.org), Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering, Lamar University, 4400 MLK Blvd, Beaumont, TX 77710, USA.
health. For instance, the industrial flare emission of HRVOCs and NOx has been identified with associating high concentrations of ozone as observed in the Texas Houston/Galveston area, which violates the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone [2, 3]. Thus, flare minimization (FM) has great benefits to environmental, societal, and industrial sustainability. In the last two decades, ethylene producers and researchers have been enthusiastically implementing approaches to reduce flaring. Loring and Smith  reduced the flare load to ensure a smokeless start-up. Shaikh and Lee  used natural gas during commissioning of an ethylene plant to diminish off-spec material generation. The Westlake Petrochemicals Carlyss plant reduced start-up flaring through a recycle method . The Nova Chemicals Joffre site minimized flaring through procedural changes during ethylene plant start-ups and shutdowns . The Dow Chemical Freeport site implemented the Six Sigma methodology for FM during plant upsets . Shell Chemical’s Deer Park OP-III olefins unit developed a parking mode to reduce feed rates to the unit when an unanticipated flaring occurs . Lyondell Chemicals implemented several FM projects within its olefins sites [10, 11]. Xu and Li’s research groups at the Lamar University systematically addressed FM methodologies in chemical plants through dynamic simulations [12–16]. Based on the current literature survey, comprehensive studies on major FM opportunities at ethylene plants are still lacking. As ethylene plants are important flaring contributions, which will experience numerous flaring events in the lifetime, a comprehensive FM study is necessary. Based on current industrial practices, a general FM strategy for ethylene plants is presented. In this strategy, various flaring activities are classi-
Chem. Eng. Technol. 2010, 33, No. 7, 1059–1065
© 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
which includes deethanizer (DeC2). The C2 and C3 reactors are used to convert acetylene to ethylene and convert MAPD (methyl acetylene/propadiene) to propylene. LPG.g. www. Technol. Typical flow sheet for an ethylene plant. The bottom stream consisting of C2 and heavier components is sent to the recovery section.com © 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. C3. which will be used as a cold stream in the chil- 2. The main products of ethylene and propylene are separated from the tops of the C2 and C3 splitters. The significance of modeling and simulation for helping ethylene plants to conduct FM is also highlighted. 2010. respectively. No. is then forwarded to the quench tower where the cracked gas is cooled and partially condensed. Hydrogen is separated from the top of the flash drums.. and plant trips. The quench tower overhead vapor is then sent to cracked gas compressors (CGCs). In DeC1. naphtha. 33. During these activities. Weinheim Chem. fied and many possible FM measures are presented and discussed. while the bottom streams from the C2 and C3 splitters. and debutanizer (DeC4) to separate the C2. 2.1060 X. The furnace effluent. 7. which include: – CGC suction.cet-journal.2 Identification of Flare Sources Major flare activities in ethylene plants are start-ups. shutdowns. depropanizer (DeC3). the cracked gas is fed to the chilling train. process upsets. methane is separated from the cracked gas as the overhead product stream mainly used as the fuel gas. where the cracked gas becomes chilled and then is directed to flash drums.1 Ethylene Production Process ling train and the reactants thereafter for C2 and C3 reactors. and light diesel) is sent to furnaces for cracking. After being compressed and dried. respectively. KGaA. Fig. respectively. Yang et al. 2 Ethylene Process and Flare Source Description To reduce flaring emission sources. the ethylene plant process should be analyzed first. Liquid accumulated in the bottom of flash drums is fed to the demethanizer (DeC1). are circulated to the upstream as the feedstock. The feedstock (e. and C4 components. 1 illustrates a typical flow diagram for an ethylene plant. containing ethane and propane distinctively. Cracked gas will be diverted to the plant flaring system from CGC suction during situations that com- Figure 1. Eng. 1059–1065 . called cracked gas. eight flaring locations are identified.
In this section. it is apparent that FM at ethylene plants is a very challenging task. Recently. off-spec products with lower purity will be directed to the flare system. FM activities related to these two categories will be extensively addressed. Generally. the modifications should be scheduled during plant turnarounds. Figure 2. advanced planning is critical in order to avoid excess downtime [18. This needs experienced operators.1 Planned Plant Events Planned events provide enough time for orderly and controlled actions in plants.3 FM Project Management 3 General FM Strategy Based on the introduction. The final products are high-purity ethylene from the C2 splitter overhead and high-purity propylene from the C3 splitter. Fig. C2/C3 reactor outlets. FM strategies can also be optimized. The plant expertise-assisted dynamic simulation will be a cost-effective and promising way to examine FM opportunities in the future. many plants used a trial-and-error approach to gain expensive and sometimes painful experiences . FM measures for these scenarios should be identified in advance.cet-journal. When validated FM measures are put into practice. When DeC2/DeC3 overhead products do not meet the feed requirements to the C2/C3 reactor distinctively. Eng. respectively. 3. Once the unqualified outlet streams are sent to the downstream units. The majority of flaring during ethylene plant start-ups and process upsets occurs at the C2/C3 reactor outlets. To reduce the downtime loss. The customer requirements are around 99. 7. Examining efforts should be conducted in advance instead of during the flaring. tions [12–16]. 4 Major FM Activities 3. Weinheim www.95 vol. The project should also be scheduled at stages. they can be classified by planned and unplanned categories. 2 presents this methodology framework.com . These events mainly include plant shut- Chem. Their methodology can be generally divided into three steps: (i) develop and validate steady-state simulation (SS) models. 1059–1065 © 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. or compressors are already shut down while the cracked gas still keeps coming. 2010. 3. Thus. the C2/C3 splitters will be contaminated and require at least several hours to recover. KGaA. Previously. many planned FM projects involve plant operational and design modifications. Once possible FM opportunities (measures) are identified. both of which involve different scenarios. Qualified personnel is required to execute the projects.60 vol. It deals with such a complex system that synergistic effects should be sought and utilized whenever possible and at all possible scales. and training. compressors are unable to receive cracked gas during start-ups. the major flares that an ethylene plant experiences can be classified into planned and unplanned categories. Under this situation. No. Since very low concentrations of acetylene/ MAPD are specified at their outlets. 33. Technol. General methodology framework. DeC2/DeC3 overheads. The developed strategy contains three steps as explained in the following sections. Chilling train tail gas outlet. When the top product flow rate of DeC1 overpasses the pipe limits to the fuel gas network. the products will be diverted to the flare system to prevent catalysis deactivation. the excessive products will be directed to flare in order to protect the systems.2 FM Feasibility and Reliability Examination As aforementioned. their execution should be well managed. Note that based on the methodology framework. Because the conditions and root causes for each flaring scenario are generally different.1 FM Classification and FM Opportunity Identification Flares occur when off-spec products are generated or operational emergencies are met. and various tasks of each stage should be well-monitored to ensure that the tasks are accomplished with quality on time. 19]. Therefore. Since a typical turnaround takes only 20–50 days.-% and 99. engineers. The potential FM opportunities can be identified based on the cooperation of researchers and site expertise. A special team should be organized and equipments and pipelines must be ordered well in advance of the date required onsite . For instance. C2/C3 reactors easily suffer upsets. the affected facilities or even the entire plant should be in shutdown mode to protect the personnel and equipment safety.-%. the unqualified streams from the C2/C3 reactor outlets should flow to the flare system directly. C2/C3 splitter overheads. Xu and Li’s research groups systematically studied FM problems in chemical plants through dynamic simula- 4. (ii) upgrade the SS models to dynamic simulation (DS) models with real validations. (iii) use the validated DS models to examine FM procedures for their operational safety and operability . they need to be examined and validated to ensure their feasibility and reliability. scheduling.Pollution prevention 1061 – – – – pressors trip. and administration. along with effective planning.
chilling train. 1059–1065 . With the help of simulations. fluids are heated up or cooled down to normal operating temperatures. the following measures are identified [7. 6. and pull furnaces off as quickly as possible. For such a start-up. bring the C2/C3 reactors on specification. the feed stream to the CGC suction will be flared off until the require- ment is met. and a short recycle from the DeC4 top to the DeC2 bottom. the units are depressurized. the DeC2 control tray temperature set point was tuned from 62. the off-spec product still needs to be flared. 10]. Yang et al. This principle is also used in the C3s separation. – Start up furnaces one by one and control the feed ramping rate carefully. The second case is about an ethylene plant start-up flare minimization via plant-wide dynamic simulation .cet-journal. Two reported case studies are employed to demonstrate the DS application significance. Technol. DS-based studies for start-up FMs have made a significant progress. from the activating CGC to the normalizing product quality.2 Plant Start-up Start-up involves operating the process from its initial state to its normal operation condition. then trip out CGC. The operation transition generates off-spec products. which are released to the flare system. DeC1. During the start-up. – Add imported high-purity ethylene into the reflux drum of the C2 splitter to reduce its settling time. – Pre-inventory and operate distillation towers on total reflux. In detail. downs. 33. – Recycle the C2/C3 reactor effluents back to the CGC suction when product streams from the C2/C3 splitters are no longer on-spec. 10.1 Plant Shutdown Shutdown is a transient operation plants experience from normal operation to an idle mode. the total flaring emission could be as high as millions of pounds . the reactor effluent will be fed into the C2 splitter for the separation of ethylene and ethane. – Start up the CGC section with artificial gas before start up the cracking furnaces. flaring emission could be as high as millions of pounds . off-spec product or intermediate product streams will be generated and flared. 4. Very recently.1062 X. and bring ethylene and propylene products on specification. After the CGC has started. while pushing high-value components out of facilities as product with uncracked ethane/propane. and start-ups. equipment data.1. KGaA. To avoid excessive flaring. the feed is directed to flare [5. 11]: – Replace all plant-produced hydrogen to the C2/C3 reactors with imported hydrogen to maintain reactor effluents on specification. which improved the temperature distribution of DeC2 from Figs. For such a shutdown. These recycles were www. start up DeC1 through DeC4.1. During this period fresh feeds increase gradually and equipments are pressurized. and thus enhanced its operation stability during the start-up. which studied the OP1 plant of Equistar Chemicals Channelview complex. and recover sections. 7. DeC3. The first case is about a DS-assisted flare minimization project . the flaring source will be the offspec effluent (acetylene is higher than the limit) from the reactor. and instrument data. – Ensure that the normal operating conditions of the DeC1 through the DeC4 are almost achieved before directing the bottom stream of one tower to the downstream of the next. The following measures have been summarized to minimize flares [4–8. 3a to 3b. It will then start up the CGC section.2 /C (144 /F) to 57. this section will focus on these two planned events. hydrogen is added to the reactor to start catalytic reactions. Then take the furnaces offline. Historical start-up procedures would ramp up furnace feeds to provide the CGC feed and help generating super high-pressure steam to drive the compressors’ turbine. After that. the actual start-up flaring load in OP1 plant was significantly reduced by 75 % compared with the earlier startup of the OP2 plant (OP1 and OP2 plants have the same design and production scheme) on that site. and C2 reactors and the C2 splitter on the basis of process flow scheme. As the flaring emissions during shutdowns and start-ups account for a significant portion of the whole plant flaring. and depressurize the left hydrocarbons in the process to the flare system. In order to reduce flaring and recover the high-value gas. DeC2. before C3s contained in the DeC2 overhead stream meet the composition requirement of the C2 reactor feed. – Use ethane and propane cycles to gradually replace the fresh feedstock until the plant runs in full recycle. – Recover ethane from the C2 splitter and direct it to the fuel system until the C2 splitter bottom is drained out. – Slowly take refrigeration systems offline. During this period. Once the reactor effluent is on-spec. and DeC3 to the CGC suction. As reported. Circulate plant-produced hydrogen and tail gas to the CGC suction. start up the chilling train. 20]: – Establish appropriate recycles to recover off-spec products. 10–16. furnace feed rates begin to increase. It is a cost-effective way to help plants identify and improve their start-up strategies. The DS was performed to cover the DeC2. maintenances. the flow is routed forward through the C2 reactor. At that time when C3s meet the requirement. This study covers the CGC.2 /C (135 /F).com © 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. 4. and the process is brought to an ambient temperature. shut down the CGC operation. the raw feed to the furnace section is worked offline. Then. Historical practices during shutdowns would firstly reduce the feed flow rates to the lowest point of plant stability. No. the tail gas from the chilling train and the DeC1 top will be flared until the chilling train and the DeC1 systems finally chill down. After products are on-spec. Before ethylene from the C2 splitter overhead meets all customer specifications. Similarly. This process results in a huge number of flaring from the CGC suction. Weinheim Chem. reduce the furnace coil outlet temperatures (COTs) to suppress cracking reactions. 2010. – For an ethane/propane feedstock. allowing that methane and hydrogen separations are guaranteed. – Speed up the chilling-down rate while maintaining the chilling train within equipment constraints. Eng. multiple recycles were established including the major recycles from the DeC1/chilling train.
(ii) install all project-required equipments and pipelines. work. the team should include representatives from the operators. and (iii) what is needed to meet Temperature Chem. (iv) ensure carrying out the project smoothly. perTray Index sonnel in specified numbers should be brought in to (b) accomplish the work at each stage and released when their jobs are completed. 1059–1065 -45. the plant will be Once a planned FM project is approved. (iii) minimize project duration. and it not only involves a lot of experienced staff and various stages of work. schedule assignments. the team goal is then set up: minimize flaring during plant start-up and/or shutdown. maintenance staff. DeC2 tower temperature profiles . When necessary it is charged with removing any barriers so as to make sure the project is accomplished smoothly.8 °C 65. the steps to be done are: plan activities. and further equipments are required. welding engineers. 2010.com . Detailed engineering execution begins once the PFDs. and field construction supervisors . construction engineers. The key operability of the plant start-up procedure when setting up these recycles. and safety or environmental 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 incidents [21. Weinheim www. and provide commented in a systematic way.5 °C -17. cost control specialists. poorscheduled and/or extended shutdowns can result in excessive costs. the contingency plan ensures that unforeseen issues can be handled promptly and effectively . The objectives connected to this goal are usually as follows: (i) reduce volume and duration of flaring. organization ensures that roles and responsibilities are met. everyone who participates in the project should be in agreement with the concept . and the flaring emission was sion. used to recover off-spec materials during start-up operations. collect information.1. and monitor work progress at stages. supervithe plant start-up operation. It starts with marking up an existments and suggestions for further improving the procedures.6°C (100 °F) (150 °F) DeC2 Temperature Profile © 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. In this stage. equipment specifications. and a contingency plan. ing process flow diagram and providing a project description Process engineers measure the success of the modified processthat defines (i) which modifications are to be made. Upon the completion of construction.cet-journal. but also consumes much time. To plan. KGaA. purchasing staff. The plant-wide DS was performed to test the feasibility and excavation and foundation supervisors. Advance planning and realistic scheduling are the keys to make this ideal a reality.6°C (-50 °F) (0 °F) (50 °F) (100 °F) (150 °F) Temperature -45. Once a collaborative environment is established. Ideally. schedule. operators conduct the ered from the systems’ engineering point of view and impleimproved procedures. 22]. and execute the project. supervision ensures that daily and weekly schedules are 4. define work scope. It was reported that the DS successfully helped to execution is good communication. the project time should fall within the scheduled downtime. marshal internal and external sources. This personnel includes project engiFigure 3. Within these objectives. it is very Tray Index essential to organize a team to support and direct the pro(a) ject. (ii) which es/procedures and test operators’ suggestions. set up jobs. material engineers. Communication ensures that the right people receive the required information to execute their reduced by over 50 % from the estimation.8 °C 10 °C (-50 °F) (0 °F) (50 °F) 37. it should be considcommissioned. recording and file keeping supervisors. Technol. Planning and scheduling helps ensure project quality and efficiency . Eng. According to workload at stages. process engineers. On the contrary. neers. transportation and delivery experts. 7.3 Execute a Planned FM Project executed. During this period. business losses. rotating equipment specialists.8 °C 65. and plant leaders . No.5 °C -17. and eval0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 uate project quality. The project for upgrading start-up and shutdown operations to reduce flaring is a nontrivial job.Pollution prevention 1063 other significant project requirements . This team will be responsible to develop strategic planning. P&IDs. execute tasks and monitor work progress. and the overall scope of the project are completed . 33. piping supervisors.8 °C 10 °C 37. organization. Therefore. manage DeC2 Temperature Profile human power.
As the flaring source is the furnace sector. Under this situation. Weinheim Chem. The most significant flaring scenarios during process upsets occur when off-spec products are generated and have to be burned. equipment malfunction. The ambient environment is usually polluted. dynamic simulation-based decision making can be helpful. piping and equipments in the system should be depressurized to flare to protect personnel. equipments. assign responsibility for further improvements.com © 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. and the ambient environment. as well as tremendous raw material and energy losses. 33. Plant trips usually cause the partial or total shutdown of a plant immediately.2. Too big flow rates will cause further unstable operations as a result of the snowball effect. The significance of modeling and simulation for helping plant flare minimization in terms of examining operation feasibility and safety and developing training programs and SOP to improve operators’ performance is also highlighted. 7. flare minimization has great benefits to environmental. The team leader needs to conduct meetings to evaluate the project. update documents. For the former option. Eng. Two major options are available to route the off-spec components: one is to line the recycle to the CGC suction. because ethylene and/or propylene are brought to cracking again.cet-journal. reducing the furnace load as quickly as possible is the best option [8. the cut rates can be optimally determined with the help of a simulator. Like Shell Chemicals at Deer Park. power outage. Also note that operators’ faultless handling of emergencies definitely helps plants accomplish flare minimization.2 Plant Trips Plant trips usually bring plants to emergency situations. Simulations can also be used to develop a standard operation procedure (SOP) and train operators to improve their operation when facing these emergencies. result of a power outage. Simulations can virtually create these situations so that operators can have a better training. and the environment. The following rules may be useful: (i) shut down large-capacity furnaces before small-capacity furnaces. facilities. To determine the best FM way.2 Unplanned Plant Events Unplanned events occur in plant operation as a result of fault operations. Thus. 4. 2010. KGaA. etc. Excessive flaring causes air pollution problems and negative societal impacts. Flaring is one of the most frequent choices during these unplanned events. Technol. Under this scenario. primarily as a Acknowledgements This work was supported in part by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas Air Research Center (TARC) in the United States. two types of unplanned events contribute to a significant part of flaring: process upsets and plant trips. operators seldom have experience to handle them. plant. societal. equipment malfunctions.2. 1059–1065 . Most plant trips are CGC or refrigeration compressor tripping. To reduce the flaring caused by process upsets. 9]. plants can develop an emergency shutdown sequence for furnaces based on their flaring impact . instrument air failure. and facilities. allowing very little time for specific planning. because it is a quick and effective way to protect the plant personnel. plant safety is always the first priority. In these cases. etc. recycling offspec materials to the upstream process for reprocessing presents a good choice. a general solution strategy is presented to minimize ethylene plant flaring. Another choice for handling the off-spec propylene stream is to store it temporarily because of its noncryogenic temperature for the liquid phase.1064 X. plant situations and upset root cause should be investigated case by case. Yang et al. because it is often impossible to make adjustments necessary to minimize flaring to the same extent as what should be done during a scheduled shutdown. etc. FM activities should not jeopardize plant safety and should be very carefully implemented. Operation during this period is for troubleshooting and ensures that the plant start-up. www. There are some situations that furnaces just need to be cut down instead of shut down. and shutdown are performed safely. and the other is to tie it to the furnace feed [6. under which quick and effective actions are a must. improve the process. so as to protect plant personnel and facilities. 8]. and efficiently. various flaring activities are classified and major possible flare minimization measures are presented and discussed.1 Process Upsets Process upsets mean that facilities run in an unstable or an undesirable situation that may jeopardize product quality and/ or plant safety. 4. Under such situations. the feed flow rates should be well controlled within equipment constraints. and industrial sustainability. there are limits for the recycled flow rate. will generate more acetylene and MAPD and subsequently take a longer time for product streams to come back on-spec. 5 Concluding Remarks Flaring is an important but passive method in ethylene plants to protect the personnel. Note that when shutting down furnaces. (ii) shut down cracking furnaces with lighter feed first. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. the furnace COT set point and the flow rate of raw feed should be considered to decrease to some extent. Such events require immediate and synergistic actions to reject process disturbances and suppress process upsets. reliably. The simulation can be helpful to identify which way is the most effective and which shutdown rate is the safest and fastest for flaring reduction. As some emergencies happen occasionally. In this strategy. FM details of these two events are discussed below. In practice. For unplanned events. No. lightening weather. Based on various industrial practices. conclude the project. daily operation. Despite this situation. 4. The latter option. there are still actions that can be taken to reduce flaring.
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