- The objective of this paper is to introduce a novel design paradigm: 'component-less design' which is driven by tracking properties and not components. This new paradigm is particularly useful for (1) systems where applications are driven by properties or functionality of the streams and not by their chemical constituency or (2) when the streams include numerous (almost infinite number of) components. The focus of the paper is to identify optimal strategies for the recovery and allocation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The infinite-dimensional problem is mapped into a two-dimensional visualization domain by introducing the novel concept of clustering. It is based on tracking functionality and properties of the complex hydrocarbon mixtures as opposed to their individual components. The clusters are tailored so as to maintain two fundamental rules for intra- and inter-stream conservation. The new concept of clustering along with its unique attributes are derived mathematically. Its application in visualization tools and revised level-arm manipulation are also illustrated. Finally, these clusters are incorporated into mass integration framework to determine optimal strategies for the recovery and allocation of complex hydrocarbon mixtures. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.