A knowledge-based approach to automated conceptual design (flowsheet synthesis) of thermal energy systems with strong interactions between heat/power/chemical transformations is presented. The approach is based on a computer-oriented state-space search guided by specially developed heuristics, and makes use of Second Law (exergetic) analysis, rather than mimicking the strategy of a human designer. The original design problem, formulated in terms of an equipment units network, is decomposed and reduced to a level of a network of elementary processes, with a resulting reduction in the search space. A special form of fundamental equations for steady-state open thermodynamic systems, based on a “temperature interval” approach, allows one to determine the effects of work, heat and chemical interactions within the system on the magnitude of Second-Law infeasibility, and on the overall exergy loss over any particular temperature interval, prior to the completion of the design. Based on this treatment, a set of generalized transforming operators, a plausible move generator, and a state evaluation function are formulated. The search algorithm is discussed in detail.

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