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Sponsored: Automation technology plays a vital role in environmental sustainability

A range of factors is forcing industrial organizations to make a strategic shift in environmental sustainability. Manufacturers must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and comply with stricter environmental laws or risk being exposed to lawsuits over non-compliance. Activist and institutional investors alike are pursuing low-carbon economic strategies and greater risk aversion, while social pressure from environmentally conscious consumers has never been greater.

As a result, more and more industrial companies are committing to ambitious strategies for decarbonization and environmental sustainability. Decarbonization of energy resources through increased use of low-carbon energy sources and fuels will be fundamental, but all power generation, heavy industries, and manufacturers will play an important role. This requires increased utilization and storage of carbon capture, electrification, energy supply optimization, energy storage, energy efficiency and optimization, and improved waste management. Automation technology will be crucial to achieving these goals.

The transition from fossil fuel to a sustainable energy system and meeting decarbonization targets is not easy and requires significant investments. While fossil fuels will dominate the global energy landscape for some time to come, it is essential for high-emitting sectors to have alternative low-carbon energies, including biofuels and green hydrogen, available at the right time for key investment decisions. Hydrogen is rapidly emerging as the fuel of the future because it offers a high calorific value and energy density, multiple transport and storage methods, and most importantly, virtually no GHG emissions when burned with oxygen. As the world moves away from traditional gray or brown hydrogen production, blue hydrogen will make a significant contribution to decarbonization, especially in parts of the world with abundant natural gas resources. Within refineries, hydrogen will most likely transition from existing production methods to a steam methane reformer, followed by carbon capture after combustion.

New infrastructure is needed to meet this increased demand, including large-scale electrolysis production using renewable or low-carbon energy sources. Electrolysis technology providers are looking for ways to scale up and improve their designs that need to handle higher current density and provide high efficiency over a longer lifetime. Technology suppliers must also prepare their designs for production chain production, reducing costs per kilogram of hydrogen.

Control and operational strategies for factories are very important. Operational setpoints must be established and the installation’s components and subsystems must be developed, integrated, and optimized. To that end, one solution that is proving to be a game-changer is the digital twin technology.

A digital twin is a software-based virtual replica of a manufacturing facility’s entire physical assets, including the process equipment, instrumentation, and controls, as well as manufacturing processes. Through this replica, the operation of these assets is modeled and simulated throughout their life cycle. A typical digital twin usually represents a replica of the control system, operator displays, and alarms, along with process modeling and a real-time execution and integration solution for the automation systems. Digital twins are developed using process design information, including piping and instrumentation diagrams, process flow diagrams, and other data controlling the process. This information is then converted and developed into a software representation of the process using simulation software. Because this software has a wide range of pre-configured unit objects, models can be developed efficiently to give a very accurate representation of the behavior and dynamics of the respective process. The digital twin will become an invaluable tool for analyzing various “what if” design scenarios, such as different rectifiers or water purification systems, various ideas for improving plant balance design, and others. A digital twin can also validate the optimized control and safety schemes, including advanced control models and start/stop procedures.

When the plant is operational, the digital twin can provide data and visibility into equipment and system health, enabling plant management to optimize preventive maintenance practices and avoid costly unplanned downtime. The accuracy of the digital twin can be continuously improved with data taken directly from the process as it becomes available. Since many hydrogen electrolysis projects are built in phases, this allows the digital twin to enable seamless integration of each phase.

Electrification and System Integration
Electrification is critical for decarbonization. As power generation companies significantly reduce their GHG emissions, attention is shifting to end-use electrification to take advantage of both the increasing share of renewable energy and the higher efficiency of electricity-based technologies. This requires the expansion of electricity transmission and distribution networks and new ‘end-user technologies for things like process heating.

For example, Emerson is currently working with Hydro Quebec, a major energy company in eastern Canada, on a solution that combines our industrial compressors with our measurement and control expertise to provide new, sustainable heat pump technology. The heat pump will provide high-capacity heating, cooling, and hot water to commercial buildings, with Hydro Quebec providing power from renewable sources. Ultimately, this technology will be applied in buildings and will help infrastructure owners reduce operational energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Automation providers like Emerson also help transform and digitize operations to seamlessly integrate renewables and improve energy efficiency and reliability. Emerson’s business technology software helps provide generation, transmission, distribution, and outage management by enabling real-time monitoring, control, and resource optimization in the energy enterprise. An example of this is that MainPower New Zealand selected Emerson to deliver a new advanced distribution management system that enables a more reliable, resilient, flexible, and efficient electricity distribution network.

Automation technologies also aid the efficient and reliable operation of microgrids, which allow for self-sustaining energy production and distribution that can accommodate various sources of electricity, including solar, wind, hydrogen, and advanced storage battery technology. A microgrid can act as an ‘island’ operation, connecting and disconnecting from the larger distribution grid to meet its power needs. If weather or other emergency disrupts grid operation, the microgrid can safely disconnect and operate autonomously.

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Emerson’s Ovation™ Distributed Control System ensures efficient and reliable operation of the microgrid, giving the operator a concise overview of all generation resources and implementing the optimal way to meet energy demand while reducing environmental impact. The Ovation system manages internal microgrid operations, including solar photovoltaic and thermal rooftop systems, wind turbines, and battery storage systems, and interfaces to systems that control the microgrid’s connection to the main power grid.

Emissions Monitoring and Control
Emissions usually come from boilers, gas turbines, diesel engines, and flares, but also from continuous leakage of process media from pipelines, tanks, or equipment. Within the process industry, one of the biggest opportunities to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions is to improve the combustion control of fired heaters and boilers. Due to process control variability, fuel gas composition variability, and safety concerns, the equipment operates with a high level of excess air. While the excess air ensures complete combustion and maintains a safer operating margin, the trade-off is excessive NOx emissions and higher fuel and energy costs. Combustion measurement solutions help optimize combustion control by minimizing the need for fuel and excess air. This can result in greater fuel efficiency, lower GHG emissions, and significant operational savings.

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and is a major contributor to global climate change. Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is released into the atmosphere during the production, processing, storage, transportation, and distribution of natural gas and crude oil. Methane emissions can be broadly classified into two categories: emissions caused by daily operations and emissions caused by fugitive equipment (leaks).

Volatile emissions usually come from pumps, valves, connectors, compressors, and pressure relief devices. Worn or damaged seals, valve gaskets, O-rings, and discs can all lead to leakage. These leaks, which are the result of incorrect sizing, configuration, installation, and maintenance, can be very difficult to detect due to the environmental conditions and large areas to monitor relatively small amounts, but when combined they make the largest contribution to the total emissions. Without regular monitoring or inspection, these leaks can often go undetected over time until they become problematic or even dangerous.

Accurate tracking and reporting of emissions data are necessary first steps in achieving mandatory reductions. Setting up problematic equipment and then taking corrective action will lead to better performance. Smart technology, such as intelligent positioners and acoustic wireless sensors, enable monitoring and reporting of short-term failures that can lead to small and/or undetected emissions. Plant-wide networks that support device diagnostics and condition monitoring can help not only identify problems earlier but also reduce emissions.

flaring
Flaring by upstream oil and gas companies has contributed greatly to fugitive emissions. In the current environment, many operators process the gas or use it for reinjection into the reservoir, but flaring is still widely used to provide a venting system to prevent pressure build-up during the process. Protection against pressure build-up is primarily provided by conventional pressure relief and blowdown valves that will vent gases and liquids to the flare when process design pressures are exceeded. High-integrity pressure protection systems (HIPPS) can help operators reduce fugitive emissions from pressure protection. HIPPS are part of a Safety Instrument Equipped System (SIS) and are designed to prevent overpressure by shutting off the well and collecting the pressure in the upstream side of the system, creating a barrier between the high pressure and low-pressure sides of the process installation. The tight seal prevents loss of containment and eliminates fugitive emissions.

Organizations can start developing a strong flare management plan by leveraging wireless pressure relief valve (PRV) monitoring solutions that can quickly identify the source of release in their flare systems and provide the information needed for compliance. Plus, efficient gas analyzer technologies that add a rapid one-minute BTU measurement for accurate flare monitoring enable refineries to easily comply with new regulations tightening the monitoring frequency of flare vent gas components.

Condition monitoring
Gas flaring can be exacerbated by non-routine flaring caused by the poor reliability of devices such as control valves or compressors. To prevent this, organizations can implement predictive maintenance strategies and condition monitoring solutions that prevent unexpected failures. Increasing vibrations can indicate blade, bearing, shaft or clutch problems that can lead to compressor failure and possible shutdown of the unit. Online compressor health monitoring solutions provide early warnings of excessive vibration and bearing wear, allowing technicians to make scheduled repairs or adjustments that prevent unexpected downtime leading to excessive flaring.

These solutions are powered by wireless sensors and networks that instantly interpret key asset health data, with prebuilt analytics that give operators the information they need to make faster and more informed decisions. Likewise, tools like Emerson’s Plantweb™ Insight industrial analytics solution help eliminate the guesswork of PRV monitoring. This application provides an indication of PRV releases, including start and end times and production and emissions losses. This continuous monitoring can reduce unplanned downtime that impacts production, minimize emergency flaring and reduce emissions.

The Plantweb Insight Steam Trap application determines the online health status of steam traps, reducing steam loss and energy waste, while the heat exchanger application provides in-depth monitoring of shell-and-tube heat exchangers by analyzing plant sensor data and providing predictive diagnostics that help operators to maintain optimum performance and energy efficiency.

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These analysis tools extend to pipe corrosion and erosion monitoring, with non-intrusive online applications monitoring metal thickness, which is an important factor in determining pipe health. Changes can be detected in minutes, allowing corrective action to be taken before damage occurs that would otherwise affect the health of the asset and create the possibility of emissions due to leaks.

Leak detection
Earlier detection of leaks is another area where significant improvements can be made. Due to the large physical footprint of many processing plants, this poses constant challenges for detecting gas leaks and fugitive emissions. Experts can help by discovering problem areas and proposing solutions to better control and reduce emissions. With access to a complete line of automated solutions and resources that eliminate the root causes of emissions, organizations can launch a customized emissions control program and know that their factory will comply with environmental regulations.

Advanced technologies are available for accurate flow rate measurement and optimized computational pipeline monitoring to ensure pipeline reliability. Ultrasonic gas leak detection equipment enables the rapid detection of gas leaks in high-pressure processes such as pipeline monitoring or gas compressor stations. These innovative solutions use acoustic sensors to identify fluctuations in sound that are imperceptible to human hearing in a process environment. Unlike traditional gas detectors that measure accumulated gas, ultrasonic gas detectors ‘hear’ the leak, triggering an early warning system. These solutions provide fast detection response times and can be applied to air-cooled heat exchangers, compressor stations, generators, gas meter skids, well spaces, and separators.

Energy efficiency and optimization
Improving energy efficiency and reducing consumption and resulting emissions is another key focus of the process industry. By optimizing the performance of process control loops, major energy efficiency improvements can be achieved at a low initial cost. Control schemes are generally designed to keep the process stable and minimize variability, but in many cases, this does not happen. In a typical factory, nearly two-thirds of the control loops underperform for reasons such as poor valve performance, incorrect loop adjustment, and an inappropriate control strategy. As a result, huge amounts of energy are lost.

Poor tuning leads to greater process variability. This, in turn, leads operators to move the plant away from the most efficient regions, which are typically close to operational constraints, such as quality limits, to allow for a greater margin of error. Despite this, many facilities lack a formal, consistent approach to problem-solving, and the root causes of problems can go undetected for weeks, months, or even years.

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Emerson addresses this problem by providing a range of tools and services that can help achieve significantly better audit performance. One of these is the DeltaV™ Loop Service, which is designed to optimize system reliability and performance. The performance of each control loop is measured and a control performance score indicates how many control loops have limited control, high variability, uncertain input, or are not in normal operating mode. Control performance experts work remotely, provide monthly control performance reviews, identify issues, make recommendations for corrective action, and create a control performance roadmap prioritizing the control loops that will have the greatest impact on the outcome. This aims to maximize the number of automatic and high-performing control loops, resulting in higher product quality and throughput, fewer operator interventions on-site, and greater energy efficiency.

Where there are issues that require more than PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) control, Emerson offers advanced control technologies that automatically account for process interactions and difficult process dynamics, and easily deal with issues such as excessive dead time and loop interactions. Using these advanced control techniques improves product quality by drastically reducing key process variables, increases profitability by working closer to process constraints and limits, and further increases energy efficiency.