A new integrated approach for synthesis, design and operation of separation schemes is presented. This integrated approach is based on driving forces that promote the desired separation for different separation techniques. A set of algorithms needed by the integrated approach for sequencing and design of distillation columns and for generating hybrid separation schemes are presented. The main feature of these algorithms is that they provide a 'visual' solution that also appears to be near optimal in terms of energy consumption. Several illustrative examples highlighting the application of the integrated approach are also presented. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.