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Use Digital Tools to Meet Decarbonization Goals


Extending digitalization initiatives to include decarbonization efforts can help chemical producers meet emission-reduction goals.

Chemical producers are committing to achieving net-zero or carbon-neutral operations by 2050 as they face growing regulations and pressures to reduce their environmental impact (1). However, many producers are still in the early stages of their decarbonization journey and are unsure of where to start, what technologies they will need, and where they can make the most significant impact today. Fortunately, digital transformation efforts that are already underway to drive improvements in areas like yield, quality, and uptime can be extended into sustainability functions. In many cases, facilities in the chemical process industries (CPI) can use digitalization initiatives to simultaneously improve their production and sustainability performance.

Converting raw process data into actionable information, for example, can give producers greater insights into not only their asset performance and downtime but also their energy usage, waste, and emissions. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be harnessed to optimize the operational, energy, and material-usage efficiency of production processes.

Each chemical producer’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions will be unique based on its industry segment, sustainability targets, and automation and digitalization maturity. But no matter what a producer’s journey looks like, it will require some key foundational elements. This article discusses how companies can use real-time data, seamlessly connected systems, and digital technologies to improve process operations and efficiency.

Getting the complete picture

Regulations are a critical force driving sustainability in the chemical industry. One regulation that will be especially consequential in the U.S. once published is a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule that will require publicly traded companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions (2). Among the information companies will need to disclose under the rule are their Scope 1 direct greenhouse gas emissions, Scope 2 indirect emissions from purchased energy, and, in some cases, Scope 3 emissions from upstream and downstream sources. To comply, chemical producers must accurately monitor and report on the environmental impact of all their operations and energy usage.

At the same time, emissions are only one of several datasets that producers will need to consider to make progress toward their net-zero goals. They will also need to understand where their biggest energy consumers are, where poor power quality may be impacting their operations, where processes can be optimized or even reimagined to reduce energy usage, and more. Given these challenges, a good starting point for chemical producers in their decarbonization journey is to understand their data foundation. Having reliable, real-time data is essential not only for compliance reporting but also for understanding problem areas in operations and tracking progress against sustainability goals.

Today, all the data that chemical producers need to measure and improve their carbon footprint can be generated from their production infrastructure if the right pieces are in place. The same modern industrial control systems and drives that can be used to run a chemical producer’s processes, for instance, can provide valuable data on the energy usage of those processes. A wide range of smart devices can then provide any remaining data that’s needed to get a complete picture of energy usage or emissions. Some of these devices include:

  • Relays. Relays can help maximize uptime and efficiency in chemical operations. They can protect electric motors from a wide range of issues, including overloads, phase losses, ground faults, and current and voltage imbalances. But more than that, they can provide real-time motor diagnostic information when a motor is having a problem so maintenance personnel can efficiently and proactively address it.
  • Power monitors. Power monitors can track how much power is being used in production, as well as identify the source of major loads in a plant and when a plant has its peak loads. These insights can give a producer a more detailed picture of how they are consuming energy, especially if they are still using antiquated processes like manual meter readings and utility invoice scans to track energy usage. Power monitors can also identify poor power quality that can damage equipment and cause downtime, which increases energy consumption and emissions.
  • Leak detectors. Leak-detection technology (such as ultrasonic flowmeters) can be used to monitor pipes and equipment and detect liquid or gas leaks, including pinholesized leaks that can go unnoticed for an extended time if a chemical producer is relying on an operator to identify leaks...

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