Plants Thirst for Energy Efficiency

Current economic conditions aren’t quenching efforts to achieve savings.

By Seán Ottewell, editor at large

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Seconding the Opinion
The industry’s quest to boost energy efficiency isn’t flagging, agrees Brendan Sheehan, senior marketing manager for chemicals and energy for Honeywell Process Solutions, Phoenix, Ariz. “Although feedstock is cheaper now, we are not seeing a falloff in interest in improving energy efficiency. This is because margins are very tight at chemical plants and the big fall in demand means that people are not pushing throughput as hard. Bear in mind that the cost of natural gas accounts for more than 80% of the operating cost of an ammonia plant. So anything you can do to reduce energy use is important,” he explains.

“We commonly hear from customers that they expect energy prices to pick up as the global economy picks up. They don’t think it will go to the $140/bbl that we saw last year but the perception is that $60–$70/bbl may not be unexpected. On top of this, the continued focus on carbon emissions in Europe — the regulations for which are certainly going to get tighter — really drives the need for improved energy efficiency,” he adds.

Its strategy involves capturing energy data from plants to create energy models that demonstrate the difference between what plants are doing and what they could be doing. This performance assessment serves to identify possible solutions.

For example, the company has installed its Profit Suite collection of advanced process control and optimization products at the Yeochun ethylene plant at Yeosu, South Korea. Here, 17 different controllers linked by an optimizer and a nonlinear model predict the yield coming from the site’s seven furnaces. The result has been a 3% increase in production and a 3.25% decrease in energy consumption, which was essentially achieved by improving furnace efficiency and reducing steam consumption in downstream processes.

“The project paid back in under five months. In ethylene plants generally it would be typical for this type of project to increase ethylene production by between 1% and 5% and reduce energy consumption by between 2% and 4%,” notes Sheehan.

Emissions Trading
Sheehan’s point about European carbon emissions highlights a key issue on the continent at the moment following the adoption of a new European Union (EU) package of measures to tackle climate change. Alterations made to the original draft have failed to quell concerns in the chemical industry about the lack of support for its investment in energy efficient processes such as combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

The planned auctioning of emissions certificates poses a threat to the competitiveness of energy-intensive industries because they are unable to pass on higher costs to their customers, warns Harald Schwager, executive director of BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany.

“The result will be that energy-intensive production and the associated jobs will move to non-European countries where climate protection and — more so — the cost of carbon dioxide certificates or carbon dioxide taxes is not an issue. This is not the way to serve the interests of climate protection,” he says.

Figure 2 -- A significant turn:
EU plans to boost energy efficiency
could cost BASF up to €600 million/yr
($792 million) for emissions certificates.
Source: BASF.

This could cost EU industry €9 billion/yr (∼$12 billion), Schwager points out, with BASF alone facing a bill of as much as €600 millions/yr (∼$792 million) for emissions certificates (Figure 2).

The North-East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), which represents more than 500 chemical, pharmaceutical and biotech companies across the U.K.’s North East chemical heartland, also faults the new agreement for not allowing free carbon credits to be given to companies that generate their own electricity using CHP plants. So, for example, a £26-million (∼$37 million) CHP plant installed at Wilton by Sembcorp Utilities U.K. won’t be recognized.

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