This paper describes the adaptation of evolutionary algorithms (EAs) to the structural optimization of chemical engineering plants, using rigorous process simulation combined with realistic costing procedures to calculate target function values.

To represent chemical engineering plants, a network representation with typed vertices and variable structure will be introduced. For this representation, we introduce a technique on how to create problem specific search operators and apply them in stochastic optimization procedures. The applicability of the approach is demonstrated by a reference example.

The design of the algorithms will be oriented at the systematic framework of metricbased evolutionary algorithms (MBEAs). MBEAs are a special class of evolutionary algorithms, fulfilling certain guidelines for the design of search operators, whose benefits have been proven in theory and practice. MBEAs rely upon a suitable definition of a metric on the search space. The definition of a metric for the graph representation will be one of the main issues discussed in this paper.

Although this article deals with the problem domain of chemical plant optimization, the algorithmic design can be easily transferred to similar network optimization problems. A useful distance measure for variable dimensionality search spaces is suggested.

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