Balancing Profitability And Sustainability In The Industrial Sector 63f7bdd6213fc

Balancing profitability and sustainability in the industrial sector

March 9, 2023
A holistic view of asset optimization strategically uses technology to design and operate for the future.

Asset optimization companies like Aspen Technology are realizing the ways in which sustainability can benefit business. 

“We help our customers holistically optimize their assets across the lifecycle,” says Dr. Vikas Dhole, general manager of sustainability, industry business unit of AspenTech. “Increasingly, we are leveraging machine learning and AI to drive consistency of decision making across these different activities,” Dhole says. With the use of technology and data analysis, departments working on different aspects of the operation see more alignment, collaboration, and consistency across department teams, he adds. 

Increasing focus on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has led to incorporating sustainability into the system design from the beginning. “It’s all working together to go forward for goals like profitability and sustainability. And increasingly, these two need to be addressed together. You cannot just have sustainability without profitability,” Dhole says.

AspenTech has experience working with many global customers to improve sustainability in a way that makes sense for business. To those ends, it has worked with Korean companies S-Oil, a petroleum and refinery company, and Lotte Chemical, a conglomerate serving diverse industries from food and beverage to retail, financial services, electronics, and IT with Lotte able to reduce emissions by 17.5% across one of its sites. Cepsa, a multinational energy company headquartered in Madrid, Spain, saved more than €450,000 a year by minimizing hydrogen losses to flare by 71% and steam methane reformer (SMR) carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5%.

AspenTech also conducts refinery-wide emissions monitoring at Bharat Petroleum (BPCL), and worked with Saudi Aramco, an integrated energy and chemicals company, to optimize upstream assets and improve energy efficiency.

The company is also working with research institutes like the Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), the world’s largest facility for testing and improving carbon dioxide capture technologies. TCM uses AspenTech’s modeling solution to predict the performance of carbon capture facilities for customers as part of research activities.

In December 2022, AspenTech announced a partnership with Saudi Aramco to introduce a modeling and optimization solution for capital intensive industries to achieve practical and economic solutions for Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU). CCU is the process of capturing carbon dioxide to be recycled for further usage, such as converting captured carbon dioxide into plastics, concrete or biofuel. CCU configurations are a balance between emissions and profitability objections, which can be optimized by the software solution. It can also evaluate energy costs, carbon fees, and raw material and product costs, which are impacted by uncertainty.

The new solution was developed by Saudi Aramco Technologies, the research arm of Saudi Armaco, which specializes in developing downstream technology solutions in the refining and petrochemical industries, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST). Aramco has licensed the technology to AspenTech as part of its broader solutions for carbon emissions reduction. The project will consider CCU innovations, in conjunction with economics, process design and operations constraints, and carbon dioxide reduction.

Sustainability has many dimensions for plants and factories, but the primary dimension is about GHG emissions, Dhole says. On par with the standards set for at the 2015 Paris Agreement, or Paris Climate Accords, many are making the commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by the year 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Making it to a 50% reduction in GHG emissions will require the use of many different tactics, Dhole says. For more on global emissions standards and sustainability regulations, click here.

To start the path toward emissions reduction, operational improvements are the first step. “This could be improving equipment performance, putting in advanced process control, improving efficiency, doing some optimization, and that gets you to maybe five or 15% improvement in terms of efficiency,” Dhole says. 

Next, facilities look to identify the asset opportunities for operational efficiency gains through value chain optimization and utility system optimization, which can add another five to 10% reduction in emissions. 

Then, capital expenditure improvements should be considered. “CapEx fundamentally changes the asset itself to create new possibilities. Facilities can revamp existing assets, for example, by doing heat recovery in a better way, or new equipment like a steam turbine for the utility system. CapEx improvements can provide another 10 to 20% GHG emissions reduction, but to reach anticipated GHG emissions goals, end users need strategic investments such as carbon capture, bio-based feedstocks, hydrogen economy, renewable electricity, and materials circularity to find the remaining reduction in GHG emissions.

BASF, multinational chemical company based in Germany, worked with AspenTech to reduce the carbon footprint of its methanol production process. Through modeling and simulation software, a holistic view of the whole process was developed including partial oxidation, methanol synthesis, distillation, Oxyfuel boiler, proprietary OASE processes, and utility systems. (OASE are post-combustion capture and acid gas removal technologies, and the Oxyfuel process incinerates waste gas streams of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen.) This modeling and optimization helped develop an emission-free methanol synthesis process. 

Determining the right mix of these solutions to balance profitability and sustainability is key. “We as a company help our customers do the economic analysis of investment versus returns. But more importantly, we help our customers to really bring it all together because these options also interact with each other. Sometimes they eat into each other's benefit. Sometimes they add to each other's benefit,” Dhole says. Optimization and modeling software do the deep analysis and drive that correct alignment, he adds, further driving profitability with sustainability goals.

One of the key challenges for industry as a whole is training, Dhole says. Training and education opportunities should be geared with the younger generation in mind. Competency in a particular engineering discipline in industry takes on average five to seven years, Dhole suggests. In the past, older experts guided the new generation: “You do the training first, then you expose them to projects, then you let them run parts of the project and let them lead parts of the project,” Dhole says. Now that journey of competency development needs to be accelerated to fill the workforce gap.

To help bridge this gap quicker and for sustainability specifically, AspenTech created a modular-based, bite-sized online curriculum focused on different pathways for sustainability. The Sustainability Training Program has 18 classes in total, with modules focused on the different pathways and different experience levels. “Our Sustainability Training Program is fulfilling a need for the next generation of industry users to quickly expand their competency and practical knowledge of the proven digital solutions their companies are relying on to help solve sustainability challenges. Our program addresses the key sustainability technology pathways and gives customers and partners the right skills to identify the most profitable actions to mitigate their environmental impact,” Dhole says.

Technology to develop the many sustainability pathways are rapidly evolving, Dhole says. This evolution means even experienced engineers will need training on new approaches too. 

“Technology helps you identify the right mix of actions you need to take to achieve those targets,” Dhole says. 

Technology will also optimize assets to drive efficiency and execution. Digital modeling tools will help end users optimize investments and new designs under rapid innovation, and digital technology will accelerate research and development of emerging sustainability practices.

About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

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