How Digitalisation Drives Resource Efficiency for the Chemicals Industry

Article by Anahita Khanlari

Anahita Khanlari says digitalisation can help boost efficiencies with minimal investment

THE chemical industry is confronted by a complex mix of opportunities and challenges today. On one hand, an increasing consumer demand is putting pressure on chemical manufacturers to increase production. On the other hand, the industry is facing environmental crises: global warming and a steep increase in plastics pollution, to both of which the chemical industry is a major contributor. In addition, volatility and uncertainty in markets brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by the Ukraine war and subsequent economic uncertainty, is putting many chemicals producers in a difficult position.

So, what’s the solution? At AspenTech, we believe that a focus on resource efficiency is key to making operations profitable and to minimise environmental footprints. As attested by chemical executives, accelerating digitalisation across the sector is the number one priority to face resource and economic uncertainties. Chemical companies are increasingly using digital solutions to gain a holistic view of the operation and capitalise on opportunities with the minimum required investments.

Some focus areas for the industry with minimal upfront investments include asset optimisation, supply chain management, and improving energy efficiency. Integrated planning and scheduling tools, for example, can help chemical producers remain profitable even in the face of ongoing market disruptions. As an illustration, PTT Global Chemical, an olefins and aromatics producer, used AspenTech planning solutions to choose the most profitable feedstock, production plan and products to maximise created value. Similarly, digital twins can help chemical producers identify opportunities to enhance energy efficiency without needing capital investment. LG Chem, for example, used Aspen Plus and Aspen Energy Analyzer to create a digital twin of their 900,000 t/y ethylene plant in Korea. An energy analysis identified about 60 energy savings opportunities. After reviewing commercial and operational feasibility, 20 of these were selected for further consideration and implementation. These changes resulted in 3-4% reduction in overall plant energy use, with an estimated US$10m/y in additional profits for the plant.

Digital twins can also help with the monitoring of emissions at the equipment level, locating emission sources, and helping to validate and reconcile site-wide data that can be used for reporting and decision-making. This capability can be extended to create a holistic view of the utilities systems as well as the main process. In one example from our own experience, SABIC developed a utility digital twin model in one of their sites in the Middle East using Aspen Utilities Planner. The model could determine energy losses at the equipment level and perform an overall utility system optimisation to maximise energy gains. This model helped to identify site-wide opportunities and answer questions such as boiler selection; steam source; the impact of maintenance activities on steam system optimisation; steam supply balance in high, medium, and low-pressure levels, and the selection of proper driving force (ie steam vs electric motor) for the equipment. The findings of the model were used to implement changes which ultimately resulted in 130 GJ/h of savings in energy usage. This is equivalent to reducing nearly 60,000 t/y of CO2 (assuming natural gas usage).

Tackling the needs of the circular economy

Article by Anahita Khanlari

Industry marketing director of chemicals at AspenTech

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