Oxygen production in cryogenic air separation units is related to a significant carbon footprint and its supply in the medicinal sphere became critical during the recent COVID-19 crisis. An improved unit design was proposed, utilizing a part of waste heat produced during air pre-cooling and intercooling via absorption coolers, to reduce power consumption. Variable ambient air humidity impact on compressed air dryers' regeneration was also considered. A steady-state process simulation of a model 500 t h-1 inlet cryogenic air separation unit was performed in Aspen Plus® V11. Comparison of a model without and with absorption coolers yielded an achievable reduction in power consumption for air compression and air dryer regeneration by 6 to 9% (23 to 33 GWh year-1) and a favorable simple payback period of 4 to 10 years, both depending on air pressure loss in additional heat exchangers to be installed. The resulting specific oxygen production decrease amounted to EUR 2-4.2 t-1. Emissions of major gaseous pollutants from power production were both calculated by an in-house developed thermal power plant model and adopted from literature. A power consumption cut was translated into the following annual greenhouse gas emission reduction: CO2 16 to 30 kilotons, CO 0.3 to 2.3 tons, SOx 4.7 to 187 tons and NOx 11 to 56 tons, depending on applied fossil fuel-based emission factors. Considering a more renewable energy sources-containing energy mix, annual greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 50 to over 80%, varying for individual pollutants.
Keywords: absorption cooler; air humidity; air separation unit; compressed air dryer; emission factors; emissions; heat recuperation; power consumption.