As manufacturing technology continues evolving it not only harnesses the potential to improve industrial efficiencies, but it also can help drive sustainability efforts forward including protecting the environment and reducing industrial emissions and waste output.
In particular, digital technologies such as AI can serve as key enablers for achieving sustainability goals, explains AspenTech Chemical Industry Director Paige Morse. After all, technology solutions can address the key performance areas that companies are targeting including safety and reliability, environmental impact as well as efficiency and innovation.
AI is a perfect example. In a short period of time AI has already shown the ability to accurately predict operational issues before they become problems. It can identify unusual patterns of behavior in equipment/assets and, from there, determine if certain anomalies have a history of leading to certain malfunctions, detecting this sometimes even months in advance of an actual asset failure. The role this plays in sustainability is that AI can help to eliminate energy or material that would be wasted in ineffective or malfunctioning processes by essentially pre-empting those events with alerts to staff about the future issue at hand and then offering prescriptive action to operators on how to address it.
“Additionally, energy management modeling to optimize energy demands of site operations and potential emissions, reducing energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions from 5-20%,” says Morse. “These simulations enable better heat integration to reduce steam use, utility planning for new facilities, and enable potential symbiosis with nearby facilities to enable energy sharing with other local customers. Finally, multi-variate analyses of batch production to reduce off-spec production and associated waste of energy and raw materials.”
Of course, energy efficiency remains an area where many companies can work to improve performance, explains Morse. “The International Energy Agency highlights that industrial companies can use digital solutions to improve energy efficiency as much as 30% (Energy Efficiency 2019, International Energy Agency, Oct 2019). Digital projects have often targeted efficiency improvements but the metrics for success were typically captured in monetary terms instead of emissions avoidance.”
However, Morse acknowledges that like any business initiative, establishing metrics that can be captured, tracked and shared can be a challenge. “Companies are working to establish new targets that encourage employees to focus on sustainability-related performance. For example, energy efficiency improvements may now be tracked as avoided CO2 emissions, instead of financial savings,” she says. “Many digital solutions, including Aspen Plus and Aspen HYSYS, enable tracking of CO2 emissions as part of the process simulation package and can help researchers target process changes that impact emissions.”
According to Morse, innovation will be an important tool for companies as they shift their focus to the circular economy. “This is particularly important for companies in the plastics industry as they search for new products that deliver the necessary performance, without the use of multi-layered materials that are difficult to recycle;” she says. “Some companies are pursuing depolymerization processes to deconstruct plastics back to base raw materials; these processes are inefficient currently and modeling software will be an important tool to boost the speed and efficiency of these experiments and to optimize commercial processes.”