Energy and Environmental Assessment of Steam Management Optimization in an Ethylene Plant

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 22;18(22):12267. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182212267.


Steam crackers (ethylene plants) belong to the most complex industrial plants and offer significant potential for energy-saving translated into the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Steam export to or import from adjacent units or complexes can boost the associated financial benefit, but its energy and environmental impact are questionable. A study was carried out on a medium-capacity ethylene plant using field data to: 1. Estimate the energy savings potential achievable by optimizing internal steam management and optimizing steam export/import; 2. Quantify the associated change in air pollutant emissions; 3. Analyze the impact of the increasing carbon price on the measures adopted. Internal steam management optimization yielded steam let-down rate minimization and resulted in a 5% (87 TJ/year) reduction in steam cracker's steam boiler fuel consumption and the associated cut of CO2 emissions by almost 4900 t/year and that of NOx emissions by more than 5 t/year. Steam import to the ethylene plant from the refinery proved to be purely economic-driven, as it increased the net fuel consumption of the ethylene plant and the refinery complex by 12 TJ/year and resulted in an increase of net emissions of nearly all considered air pollutants (more than 7000 t/year of CO2, over 15 t/year of NOx, over 18 t/year of SOx) except for CO, where the net change was almost zero. The effect of external emissions change due to the associated backpressure electricity production surplus (over 11 GWh/year) was too low to compensate for this increase unless fossil fuel-based electricity production was considered. The increase of carbon price impact on the internal steam management optimization economics was favorable, while a switch to steam export from the ethylene plant, instead of steam import, might be feasible if the carbon price increased to over 100 €/tCO2.

Keywords: carbon tax; energy management; fuel consumption; greenhouse gases; steam cracker; steam let-down.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Ethylenes
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Greenhouse Gases*
  • Steam


  • Air Pollutants
  • Ethylenes
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Steam
  • Carbon Dioxide