Akhmad Bayuri | Dreamstime.com
Aluminum Waste

Tackling Waste with Technology

June 1, 2020
How AI, digital twin and analytics can help solve three top problems.

While the word “sustainability” tends to surface thoughts around curbing CO2 emissions and the corresponding targets and goals, there are other aspects of industrial environments that contribute to energy waste and require greater consideration.

Interestingly, technology may be the guiding light for organizations looking to enhance overall energy management and address sustainability targets. Advancements in industry 4.0 technologies certainly offer significant improvement opportunities for the industrial world, enabling new efficiencies and more streamlined operations.

Issue No. 1: Energy Waste

Digital simulation of process operations—a.k.a. digital twins—provide visibility into energy use. Digital twins identify opportunities to reshape processes to make them more efficient, uncovering new configurations, process routes and scenarios. These simulation tools also give organizations the ability to account for more energy savings in the design phase when scaling up an industrial plant, ensuring that sustainability is built into the entire plant lifecycle.

Simulation can also help companies identify opportunities to improve energy use at a site—for example, by applying heat integration to reduce steam consumption—and develop optimal plans for purchase, generation and distribution of utilities for existing and new facilities. For example, Korean chemical producer YNCC used simulation to reduce energy use by 12% and cut carbon emissions, saving $19.2 million per year.

In addition, process control solutions can help boost efficiency while also optimizing energy consumption. Brazilian chemical company Braskem used process control to stabilize production and lower energy consumption of an ethylene unit by 20%.

Issue No. 2: Emissions

Digital twins allow companies to track release of pollutants and greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxides, etc.) in process design and possibly plan an alternate route with less emissions.

In addition, artificial intelligence technology can identify patterns that lead to equipment and asset failure that can cause a surge in emissions. AI gives plant personnel time to address and fix the issues in advance, before they ever become a problem or impact the production process.

A European polymer producer used AI-enable prescriptive maintenance to gain 27 days advance warning of a failure and avoided an unplanned shutdown and probable emissions release.

Innovations that lead to energy savings often result in improved emissions reductions, too. Process simulation tools are critical to achieving emissions reductions. Outside of curbing energy waste, organizations can design plant processes that are specifically structured to reduce emissions and track progress while optimizing. In fact, industrial operations can reduce CO2 emissions by nearly a third by implementing process and energy simulations, according to the International Energy Agency.

Issue No. 3: Off-Spec Production

Reducing production waste is another important target for companies. However, much of material waste comes from poor quality end-product. When a product is flawed, often it cannot be sold and is categorized as waste material. The challenge with off-spec product is that there are so many different variables (many uncontrolled) that occur within any production process, that waste material is an inevitable output for many plants.

Multivariate analyses technologies can change this reality. They can identify irregularities in production, in real-time, that might impact the end-product. Instead of trial and error, plant operators now have so much more control over processes as they happen. Advanced technologies give operators the ability correct irregularities before they impact (or ruin) the end-product. Ultimately, more quality end-product leads to less waste.

Mitsubishi Chemicals used multivariate analyses of a batch process to eliminate off-specification production, which had been running at as much as 15% of production.

Historically, it has been challenging to effectively address issues of energy, emissions and material waste in the industrial world. However, modern technologies and innovations are finally gaining traction in the fight to curb waste issues. In the coming decade, we will see industrial sustainability grow increasingly reliant on tech and innovation – we are just at the very beginning of it now.  And success in these areas will define future competitiveness for companies in all regions.

Paige Morse is industry marketing director at AspenTech, an asset optimization software company.

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