This paper deals with total system optimization for energy use in complex process systems based on the premise that the sub-systems or local schemes have been optimally designed. The problem, however, has not been solved so far. Based on the three-links-model established for the energy structure of process systems, this paper advances an evolving optimization strategy, in which the results of quantitative exergy-economic evaluation of the sub-systems are taken as the criteria to guide trade-off among them and lead the total scheme gradually towards optimum. The general concepts, evaluation equations, applying procedure, and examples are presented. Notable economical and energy-saving benefits can be (have been) obtained when used on actual industrial plants.

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