In an era where our reliance on fossil fuels must drastically diminish, the world faces a monumental challenge. However, as long as petroleum and its refined products continue to play an integral role in global energy and production systems, refineries will be needed to sustain economic progress.
Demand for petroleum remains high and driving substantial investments in refining capacity is projected to reach historical peaks throughout the coming years. Yet, there lies an opportunity for refineries to embark on a transformative journey, becoming safer, more efficient, sustainable, and ultimately, more profitable.
Overcoming obstacles in the refinery evolution
Refineries of the future must face up to multiple challenges, including:
Nations and owner/operators increasingly looking to integrate refining and petrochemical facilities to extract and preserve more value for themselves.
The drive to make plants more sustainable through decarbonization, processing of bio feedstocks and process electrification.
The brownfield share of refining capacity will increase as investment in new capacity is taken out due to global decarbonization.
Digital transformation is vital
Digitalization is the essential tool; unleashing the power of data to meet the challenges – and to be more profitable while doing so. But the range of innovations that now fall under the theme of digitalization can be bewildering.
Integrating IT and OT
An underlying enabler of industrial digitalization, the integration of IT and OT has been playing out slowly for decades. But it is now gathering massive momentum and delivering a vast array of new possibilities.
Delivering real-time or historized operational data into the business domain to support more effective decision-making.
Enabling the above in situations where multiple OT vendors might be involved, for example when a new petrochemical plant is integrated with an existing refinery.
Unifying power and process
The techno-commercial and environmental performance of any plant is most impacted by how its key processes perform and how this makes demands of the associated power systems. Until recently efforts to optimize either one of these things were done in isolation. Digitalization is removing these siloes, allowing meaningful optimization during the asset design phase and operations, enabling near real-time optimization across a range of interconnected KPIs.
The Digital Twin’s evolutionary journey
The evolution of the digital twin has become an essential industrial tool. Once a static, predominantly 3D and engineering-focused set of digital asset information, the Digital Twin has now become a true behavioral representation of industrial plants and sits at the center of most digital use cases and capabilities, for example:
The refining workforce of the future needs a digital environment in which to build up the new, higher-value competencies required to operate the refinery of the future safely and profitably; this is the Digital Twin.
The big crew change makes it increasingly difficult to deploy experience and expertise to the plant floor; the Digital Twin is the medium through which connected workers – often thousands of miles apart – can collaborate to tap into a world of knowledge.
The Digital Twin is a necessary pillar of any attempt to optimize the overall business performance of any industrial asset. It provides the true technical or performance insight to underpin commercial decisions such as value chain optimization, for example, the crude purchasing and downstream product mix decisions a refinery operator must continually make. It remains an indispensable tool that propels industrial excellence. Its transformative capabilities, encompassing simulation, optimization and collaboration, empower organizations to embrace the technological future. As the digital twin continues to evolve, it holds the potential to transform refineries for the better.
For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.
Amit Kar is Digital Solutions Leader (Global) – Energies & Chemicals at Schneider Electric. Schneider Electric believes energy and digital access are human rights. It empowers people to optimize energy and resources, ensuring Life Is On for all. Its solutions merge energy tech, automation, software, and services for efficient, sustainable living in homes, buildings, data centers, infrastructure, and industries.