Rockwell V.P. sees emissions control and automation continuing as technical priorities
Given the emphasis on ESG issues in the global upstream industry, it is no surprise that operators are increasingly looking for technologies and methods to both monitor and control emissions, including methane. In addition, the relentless push to be more efficient in operations and generate incremental cost-savings is prompting operators to look more closely at automation of functions, where possible.
With these topics in mind, World Oil Editor-in-Chief Kurt Abraham visited with Rockwell Automation’s Vice President of Sales for the Middle East, Sebastien Grau, in an exclusive interview to get his assessment of the state of emissions and automation technology.
World Oil (WO): Let’s start out by talking a bit about where things are globally with energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, you’ve got the structures for trading gases on cap-and-trade principles.
Sebastien Grau (SG): Thanks for the question. My personal feeling is we've never been so aware about the situation than we are today. We have never been so close to the proper understanding about what we are doing. We never measured an emission in the past as precisely as that done today. And more and more, we will be able to flag where the processes are not efficient, where we are emitting, where we should not; where we are wasting, where we should not; where we are consuming too much energy, where we should not; where we are finally having a negative impact on our carbon footprint.
So, I believe that the world has never been so aware about the situation and how critical it is. Another point—I believe that we have never been so close to having the right solution and the right technologies.
Everything that is developed today, every algorithm is a good use to optimize a process.
One of their top KPIs (key performance indicators) is sustainability. We have the technology. The technologies are sometimes easily accessible, inexpensive and easy to implement. But unfortunately, the ones that are bringing the biggest impact are still quite expensive. I'm talking about CCUS, for instance. Projects by themselves economically are not all viable. Most of them, If they are not highly subsidized by the government, no one private company will invest this way. So, only a change in policy, change management of the mentality, the culture of the people, will really be able to enable this technology to be applied. The more they are applied, the less expensive they will be.
Hydrogen is similar, because for the time being, a lot of projects are not yet economically viable. And unfortunately, it's still the core of every area—a lot of decision-making—it's still business. But we see good things moving. For instance, I was discussing incineration. Incineration of waste is highly polluting, and the source of high levels of emissions. But if we incinerate, it’s because it's the less-costly method. But at the same time, it is a high emitting method. So, we need to change and have new technologies that are going to replace this type of solution.
WO: Let’s talk about the actual act of measuring emissions. Where are the companies in terms of their ability to measure the emissions, and how does that play into the solutions that you're offering?
SG: So, today, there is a legal requirement to measure your emissions and to publish your emission data, especially in oil and gas. Two or three years back, I believe that people were forced to reveal their emissions. Now, there is a much greater willingness to do it as a conscious step, Fig. 1. A step to what? Sustainability. For the time being in the Middle Eastern region, and on the whole, in the world, what I can see in the region is that the people are measuring their emissions because legally, they have to declare it. Not because (as of yet) they really want to ag where is the leakage, or where is the process that is not efficient, or where is the waste. And to improve it. But that is coming.
I will give you an example to answer your last question: Which solution are we putting in place? And that is the way to measure the emissions on a plant that has been done for 20 years, 30 years, I don't know how long. You put analyzers on every sensitive point that you believe creates emissions, on top of the flaring stack for instance. These analyzers are costly, hard to maintain, and not always efficient if they are not well-maintained. And maintenance of a secure analyzer is on the top of that stack at 85 meters high. So, we are talking about something that is not easy to clean, even the features that need to be cleaned. That was always done this way. So, it gives you only a partial, not a global view. And it's linked to where you believe the emission is, but not actually where it can maybe happen.
This emission monitoring process is called a CEMS (Continuous Emission Monitoring System). That's the way it was always done. Now, we are pushing to use digital tools to create a digital twin of what the analyzers are showing. Moving the analyzers in many different places—not buying them, just renting, so that they can build us the model, the 3D model or digital twin of the emissions that are really happening. And this model, you run it for six months and then bring back some other analyzers to recalibrate and check the model, and that is called PEMS—predictive emission monitoring system.
The purpose is great, because with the PEMS, after you modernize, mobilize and change plenty of parameters—temperature, pressure, production—you see how the emissions are evolving, as per the inputs. When you move to the PEMS today, it's an open loop, which means we visualize, understand, and build a model we can declare, and that's okay. And we can ag much better where the issues should be. But the beauty in the future—and it will come—is that the PEMS will become a closed loop, where the emissions will dictate the production. And that's the perfect tool to do it for the time being. We haven’t done that step yet.
That's why we need to have a conscious change of the mindset that we cannot produce at a certain level, yet. We cannot produce 5 MMbbl more per day and reduce emissions without having a proper understanding about where are emissions may be, how we measure them, and what are the parameters that you must apply that will make them less impactful.
WO: We should talk some about autonomous and unmanned operations. Obviously, it's been a long-term goal for the industry, and with some of the advances made recently, we're getting closer to a fully autonomous operation being within reach. Maybe you could speak some to what has been done in the last several years.
SG: Going from automation to autonomy is our core business. In the past, an automation project was always defined by an automation engineer at a point of time; it was fixed, it was clear on the KPIs, it was clear on what to do, when to stop, when to start, etc. Define at a point of time, so that it's running exactly the way you want it to run. That's automation, and the more you bring that up, then your automation is getting the right information to improve.
Autonomy is where most of the process is so data-driven, with a clear understanding of the status in real time. Because you put the sensors in the right place, the system itself will adapt, will be flexible, will be agile, and will take the decision by itself and take the right decision without any human intervention. But really, it’s driven by the algorithm that was developed and which is coming with machine learning and algorithm-created A.I. And that is obviously coming with a perfect understanding about each sensitive asset on the ground, so that you really know the status.
So, going from automation to autonomy is the end of the game, where we can now not just dream, but see that day to day, we are improving our processes by using these latest technologies, which, for us, are no longer ‘latest technology.’ But I think that we are using it every day, and we have a real usage of these technologies. The way that the customers are appreciating it is getting better and better.
So, two or three years ago, when you were talking about augmented reality, the people were looking at it as a cherry on the cake, where it’s not the best, it’s just something that can be good. But I was discussing with AWP that during the Covid time, they were not able to have any experts, because of a lot of expatriates, here in the region, who were taking care of the assets, had to come back to their own houses. And using A.R., enabling advanced reality through the 3D lens, we were actually able to pilot, guide, remotely control, as well as remotely guide, any guys that never touched a pump in their lives with the right guidance from the expert that is sitting 10,000 km away. That was possible, so A.R. became a must.
So, I believe that the situation in the last few years makes the adoption of new technologies much better. Today, we are working to transfer the knowledge through A.R. People that are experts close to retirement, for instance, are an aging workforce but very capable of now recording everything, every step that they are doing by themselves, from small islands or elsewhere. And they all are giving the audience to younger engineers, who finally will be able to do exactly the same by themselves, Fig. 2. And that's brilliant.
Then, we are touching the change management and the expectation of the tools being used, not by the management, who denfinitely see a huge added value and great outputs, but by our own guys on the ground, on the floor, that don’t always have the capacity, but do have the willingness to use technologies. And then change management is the key word here, where we need to ensure that we get the buy-in of everyone when we are doing any digital transformation.
WO: For the benefit of our readers, would you list the various functions and applications that could be taken over by autonomous or unmanned operations.
SG: There are plenty of them if it's oil-and-gas-driven. When we created Sensia, which is the joint venture between SLB and Rockwell, it was to have a dedicated, strong, added value proposition that we can bring to the NOCs and IOCs in the world, especially on the upstream side, and Sensia stands for sensing, intelligence and action. And it's exactly what we are doing, from the immerse pump offshore to the analytics of the reservoir, itself. Every step, we are trying to make them more autonomous—exactly what we were talking about together.
For instance, regarding artificial lift, when you have to inject gas in the wells, to enhance in oil recovery is still controlled manually in many places around the world. An expert looking at the output is defining the most optimized injection rate according to his years of experience. What we are doing is gas lift optimization, which is a sensor and data driven methodology to reach the most efficient rate.
We can capture CO2 and other gases, and reinject them into an empty reservoir. Thus, these gases, which were going various places into the open atmosphere before can now be re-injected in the process. So, there are plenty of things that we are doing and beneficial technologies that we are enabling and using. Some are still on what we call POC, or proof of concept. Some are already running and running well. But as I said many times, technologies are ready. We need to ensure that there is the right adoption by the people in oil and gas. The technology is not adapted or adopted at the pace of either the life science or food and beverage industries, or even the automotive industry, which is always leading the pack on that side. There are still a lot of old mindsets, a bit reluctant to urge usage. And we have always an attitude of ‘but it was better before.’ So, we need to change that mindset and make it evolve. WO
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