Managing emissions in the carbon world |

Managing emissions in the carbon world

By Norbert Meierhoefer, Business Support Director, AspenTech

We live in a world reliant upon carbon. We exploit it, consume it, shape it, burn it, wear it and, in fact, this chemical element is the basis of all known life. The irony is that our dependence on carbon and the energy rich way of life it has given us has led to a world where there are more carbon sources than sinks in our aosphere and one where we spend enormous efforts trying to mitigate its environmental impact.

Managing carbon emissions and meeting environmental regulations is a high priority for governments and manufacturing businesses across the globe. Leaders fiercely debate the significance of climate change that has occurred in recent decades and the threat the industry is having on the planet. While industrial technology is partly responsible for leaking carbon emissions into the atmosphere, technology can also play an important role in helping to manage and reduce CO2 output. In addition, companies need to explore the use of more sustainable biofuels that can provide considerable emission reductions compared to the use of fossil gasoline and diesel.

Tracking the impact of the carbon footprint

The majority of greenhouse gases (GHG) derive from burning fossil fuels to produce energy. The petroleum industry has been widely cited as the main offender when it comes to releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the aosphere.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the chemical and petrochemical industry accounts for 30% of global industrial energy use and 16% of direct CO2 emissions. More than half of the hydrocarbons used in industry are for feedstock, which cannot be reduced through energy efficiency measures.

Climate scientists have reported that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the aosphere have increased significantly over the past century. It is this increase in CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gases that is being held responsible for climate change. Concern over the earth’s global warming and the impact of CO2 emissions has fuelled much debate and prompted industry leaders and governments to work more collaboratively. The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that sets binding obligations on industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the agreement, many developed countries have agreed to legally binding limitations or reductions in their emissions. The European Union is committed to a 20% reduction in energy consumption and 20% fewer emissions by 2020 (this forms part of the 20-20-20 energy plan). The IEA has identified energy efficiency improvements as the most significant solution in reducing emissions associated with energy consumption.

In the UK, climate laws require a reduction in emissions of at least 80 percent (from the 1990 baseline) by 2050. The country is now looking at various methods to combat climate change and manage carbon emissions more effectively, including a technique to bury CO2 from power generation and industry under the seabed.

In contrast, Russia is an energy super power that is still finding its way in modernizing plants and address energy efficiency measures. Russia’s manufacturing constantly emits large quantities of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter mainly from chemical and petrochemical plants, the steel industry, power generation and other type of manufacturing, which in turn cause serious respiratory problems and environmental damage. Converting to energy efficient technology will allow Russian companies to lower energy costs and GHG emissions.

Similarly, China has emissions issues, albeit for different reasons. As one of the world's fastest growing economies with annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates averaging 10% for the last 30 years, energy demand in China has radically accelerated and spurred major industrial development. China’s reliance on coal has contributed significantly to the pollution problem. Coal combustion generates the largest share of CO2 emissions and this has consequently placed the country in the ignominious role of being the largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, resulting in significant pollution in cities across the country from Beijing to Shanghai.

As one of the world’s most developed nations, the US has witnessed tremendous industrial growth through the shale gas revolution. However, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), of the total amount of US greenhouse gases emitted in 2011, about 86% was energy related and 92% of those energy-related gases were carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels. Petroleum is the largest fuel source of carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption in the United States, followed by coal and natural gas.

Further afield, the growth in oil and gas production in the Middle East has seen carbon emissions increase in recent decades. The huge demand for energy both domestically and internationally has meant that the use of petrochemicals and other environmentally noxious materials has contributed significantly to the deterioration of the region’s air quality and aospheric conditions. The oil and gas industry, electricity production, transportation, industrial heating and air-conditioning are responsible for the vast majority of carbon emissions from the Middle East. Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are all among the world’s top 10 per capita carbon emitters. Although the Middle East is not bound to GHG emissions reductions by the Kyoto Protocol, Middle East owner operators and governments are making commients to reduce CO2 emissions. Interestingly, many global companies are reluctant to embark on emissions reductions initiatives due to the misconception that such measures would be unprofitable.

A report published by Booz & Co. reveals that “recent experience in the oil and gas industry in the Middle East proves otherwise. One national oil company, for example, identified the potential for a 43 percent reduction in emissions with a net present value of several billion U.S. dollars using a systematic and programmatic approach.”

Software helps to model, track and reduce CO2

Process manufacturers face increasing regulatory requirements, emissions penalties and rising operating costs. Process plant design and optimization, therefore, requires rigorous management of carbon emissions to mitigate the effect of carbon on the environment. Leading engineering modelling software can help the process industries to better identify and define opportunities to reduce carbon emissions.

The steps for reducing the carbon footprint of a facility should be firstly to select a different process route – one which is inherently “cleaner” in terms of CO2 emissions, secondly to maximize / optimize energy efficiency to reduce the plant’s dependency on fossil fuels and as a last measure to consider carbon capture. For example, the use of biomass converted from CO2 (e.g. algae) or left over from an industrial process and either using it as a feedstock material to reduce the plant’s dependency on fossil fuels or to produce biofuels can offer the opportunity to further reduce carbon emissions.

The software tools themselves contain powerful features to model, track and reduce CO2 emissions more effectively and earlier on in the design process. Companies could achieve emissions reductions of up to 40 percent through improvements in operations and maintenance, invesents in energy efficiency measures at the equipment and process levels and the use of cutting-edge software tools to model and manage their operations.

Software solutions, such as AspenTech’s aspenONE can help better understand and reduce their carbon footprint as it contains tools that design new plants, re−design existing plants and simulate and optimize plant processes. This manufacturing software is designed to optimize day−to−day processing activities, enabling process manufacturers to make better, more profitable decisions and to improve plant operational performance. With this type of integrated software, process manufacturers can optimize their engineering, manufacturing and supply chains more effectively. Oil and gas companies are better able to achieve operational excellence increasing capacity, improving margins, reducing costs, becoming more energy efficient, ensuring safety and shrinking their carbon footprint.

Managing a cleaner and better world

A world with more effective carbon management will mean a major reduction of CO2 emissions. The result will be improved urban air quality, greater use of fossil fuel resource and more efficient running of industrial operations to maximize energy usage.

In the future, it will be critical that companies nurture innovation and support more sustainable biofuels that provide considerable emission reductions compared to the use of fossil gasoline and diesel. The ability of companies to monitor and track emissions from their plants is essential in the effort to meet regulations. Companies that also adopt innovative software can accurately manage their carbon footprint and assess the effectiveness of their greenhouse gas emissions while safeguarding the long-term competitiveness and profitability of their business.