Many everyday products contain petrochemicals derived from oil or natural gas. This comes at a price in terms of environmental impact and global warming. The EU-funded MORE project has developed systems that help to improve resource efficiency in chemical processing plants, and they are already saving energy and costs in several plants.
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Chemicals are present in virtually all modern day-to-day products. Plastics, soaps and detergents, synthetic textiles in clothes, and even electronic equipment would not exist without them. Unfortunately, most chemicals are produced from oil and natural gas. Currently, energy prices are low due to a high supply, but this may change in the near future. If oil and gas are not used efficiently, the carbon footprint increases, contributing to global warming.
Resource efficiency — the key to remaining competitive
In view of both sustainability and competitiveness, the chemical industry is continuously improving its resource efficiency. In other words, the industry is trying to use smaller amounts of the raw materials needed to produce a tonne or kilogram of a final product. The consumption of non-renewable resources is influenced by the design of the plants but also by the way in which they are operated.
The MORE project has defined real-time energy and resource efficiency indicators that industrial chemical and process industries can use in daily operations to provide information about the current efficiency of a plant and about the possibilities to improve it. “These indicators are based on the processing of real-time data that is available from existing standard measurements or new analytic measurements,” explains MORE’s scientific coordinator, Sebastian Engell.
The MORE project has developed a platform that integrates easily with existing software applications used in chemical plants to gather and report real-time data. The resource efficiency indicators are presented in carefully designed dashboards for plant operators and managers, supporting them as they make decisions that improve resource efficiency. In turn, these decisions reduce the costs and the environmental impact of production.
Cutting CO2 emissions through efficiency
As part of the project, MORE’s real-time data and dedicated online decision support system has been implemented and tested at four industrial sites: a refinery, a petrochemical complex, a chemical plant that processes renewable feedstock, and a plant that produces cellulose from wood. The project has also assessed the environmental and cost impacts of using the systems at these sites. The feasibility studies demonstrate that the approach used in MORE can be applied to other sectors, such as the pulp and paper, and sugar industries.
At the cellulose fibre factory in Lenzing, Austria, efficiency gains thanks to the MORE project’s solutions have saved the plant more than EUR 300 000 per year so far. “The cost savings were the result of the optimisation of single evaporators and cooling towers,” explains project coordinator Svetlana Klessova. In addition to cost savings, “resource efficiency contributes to creating a more economically competitive European process industry with a smaller carbon footprint”, she adds.
For example, the optimisation of single evaporators at the cellulose fibre factory resulted in energy savings of about 1 million m3 natural gas each year. This is equivalent to a reduction of 2 700 tons of CO2 emissions a year. The optimisation of the cooling towers, which are closely connected to the evaporators, led to energy savings of about 250 000 m3 natural gas each year. This equates to CO2 emissions that are nearly 700 tons less each year.
Towards the end of the MORE project, a set of recommendations will be published by NAMUR, the international user association of automation technology in the process industries. They will form the basis for international standardisation efforts through relevant standardisation bodies.