A Transformative Approach to Carbon Emissions Management

A Transformative Approach to Carbon Emissions Management

By Ron Beck, Senior Director, AspenTech

Asset-intensive companies face significant hurdles in achieving ambitious emissions reduction goals. They are faced with the challenge of visualising enterprise emissions in real time and prioritising the right moves to reduce emissions without compromising operational efficiency.

And let's not forget the need for transparency. Multiple external stakeholders are all looking to see validated and auditable reporting of carbon emissions and emission reduction initiatives – which generate value via carbon credits.

The challenge is clear – in the UAE, for example, there has been a steady increase in annual CO2 emissions, peaking at 243.90 million tonnes in 2022, and 662.55 million tonnes for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia according to data collected by Our World in Data. The Global Carbon Atlas has ranked Saudi Arabia as 9th in the world for CO2 emissions.

However, most businesses struggle to gain comprehensive visibility and achieve accuracy into the volume of carbon emissions across their global asset portfolios in a timely manner. That’s a problem because they need to be able to measure their emissions before they can make best choices on reducing them.

This information is needed accurately and granularly, in order to know which units or locations are the biggest emitters to tackle, and it is needed close to real-time, so that it becomes actionable rather than simply a reporting activity.   

For most upstream, downstream, chemical and metals assets, there is an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions a further 15-30%, simply by taking operational actions to adjust production strategies.

For instance, we are working with one of the region’s largest chemical producers, and found that emissions could be reduced by 8% while impacting margin and profits less than 1%. Even bigger impacts are possible.

The GCC has made great strides in this endeavour, primarily due to making greater progress with regard to energy shifts toward renewables, and natural gas.

The UAE especially has been taking strides towards diversifying its energy mix; today, only about 30% of its exports are oil and gas and nuclear and renewables are big contributors to in-country electricity generation.

As a region that has heavily depended on oil, they are beginning to advance in their understanding and actions regarding carbon emissions. Just last year, KSA, UAE and Oman revised their 2030 climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement and announced the use of decarbonisation levers to meet these goals.

However, there is much work to do across multiple countries, which has given rise to regional climate cooperation. Most notable - the Middle East Green Initiative, aiming to plant 40 billion trees and reduce carbon emissions by 60%, and the Global Methane Pledge, of which all 6 GCC countries are participants.

Scoping a solution

A transformative approach is required, where technology and people unite in pursuit of sustainability goals. Mere emissions reporting tools fall short in this context. Any process chosen also needs to be auditable, of course.

Using a secure and auditable digital solution instead of internal spreadsheets allows for more accurate, transparent, and controlled details to be sent to the right people.

And beyond auditability, it needs to present the real time tradeoffs between emissions, energy use, quality production, and operational excellence that can enable agile decision-making.  The best tools will mobilise more of the data, contextualise data quickly, and apply industrial AI to guide analysis.

Workers will see the impacts of their work and take ownership of and pride in more sustainable operations.

This kind of digital technology is now unveiling some interesting emission trouble spots across industrial facilities. Consuming materials demands significant energy and forms the foundation of various production processes.

Leaks represent another common issue, often challenging to detect, particularly in aging pipelines and equipment. Furthermore, when equipment failures force sudden shutdowns at plants, restarting production always requires a surge in energy consumption, leading to heightened emissions.

Digital solutions can pinpoint and address these blind spots for manufacturers, alerting teams in advance by offering targeted identification and remediation strategies.

Many process units have complexity. Industrial AI will be crucial in better insight into the energy intensive process units leading to improved operations.

We are already seeing improvement in energy use and production of such units leading to several percent all the way to 15% improvement just by applying so-called hybrid models (combining AI and rigorous process models).

This is simply harvesting the value of the data that is already being collected, but typically not effectively used.

By providing an enterprise-wide view of key metrics, such solutions, which are increasingly coming on stream, empower informed decision-making, enabling businesses to identify and prioritise actions for managing and reducing carbon emissions.

To truly advance sustainability objectives, this decision support capability can be complemented by digital twin and planning solutions. These additional tools act as catalysts, propelling organisations towards their emission reduction targets with greater efficiency and precision.

Reaping the rewards

Today, digital tools are enabling better emission-control approaches in multiple ways. Manufacturers can precisely identify areas with high carbon emissions or operational inefficiencies within their facilities, allowing them to invest strategically in emission reduction while maintaining business objectives.

These include energy efficiency, electrification of process equipment such as heat exchangers, broader use of proven approaches such as advanced process control, digital twins that combine AI with rigorous modeling to more precisely operate while minimizing emissions, and value chain efficiency.

Collaboration  and consistency are fostered by digital tools. Teams across all organisational levels can promptly identify and address issues in real-time, preventing delays that might render problems unsolvable.

Moreover, teams working on different aspects of emissions reduction can collaborate effectively using the same data and interfaces. Industrial AI will make much better use of already collected data, further to these goals.

Digital solutions introduce a new level of transparency, catering to regulators, auditors, investors, and company leadership. In the near future, emissions auditing will parallel financial audits.

Providing up-to-date, detailed emissions reports ensures compliance, streamlines reporting, and facilitates efficient audit processes. Since 2015, the UAE has used the Digitalisation Impact Tool to support the Green Information and Communications Technology strategy. Converting to the electronic system has helped offset 36,984,147 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Unlocking environmental gains

Manufacturing and operational facilities addressing the identified blind spots have the potential to significantly improve overall energy efficiency within a short timeframe.

This boost directly translates into CO2 reduction, cost reduction and boosting economic growth. When applied across numerous energy-intensive assets, the reduction in emissions achieved is expected to be even more significant.

For asset-intensive industries, optimising energy efficiency to reduce emissions stands out as a readily achievable and impactful step towards advancing their ambitious sustainability goals. A side benefit are associated improvements in water conservation.

Looking ahead, the path to sustainability demands the integration of cutting-edge technology with human expertise. Armed with comprehensive insights and a strategic approach, asset-intensive companies can steer towards a greener and more sustainable future.

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