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How digital tools change the game for decarbonization

Nov. 21, 2023
Another benefit of digital transformation technologies is their ability—especially remote sensors—to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement, minimizing energy consumption and maximizing efficiency and carbon capture rates.

The need to address climate change is more urgent than ever. As the theme of this year’s COP28 climate change conference indicates, industry and government are focused on taking action to address climate issues. Meanwhile, asset-intensive industries continue to face pressure to reduce their carbon footprint.

As industrial organizations prioritize their role in the energy transition, carbon capture has emerged as a crucial tool in helping industry advance their decarbonization targets. In fact, about two-thirds of energy and chemical companies indicate they already invest in or actively plan to invest in carbon capture.

See also: How smart industrial technology factors into ESSA, corporate culture

But to achieve long-term success, organizations must adopt digital solutions that drive down costs, speed up implementation, and improve the viability of sustainability projects as more carbon projects are realized. Without a strong technology infrastructure, and a smart digital strategy to guide investments, most carbon capture projects will struggle to make it past the pilot stage. 

Overcoming the obstacles of carbon capture

Investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) has more than doubled since last year to hit a record high of $6.4 billion. Carbon capture has proven to be a technically viable way to reduce CO2 emissions in fuel, chemicals, even directly from the atmosphere, helping companies achieve sustainability goals. However, carbon capture projects face technology limitations and economic challenges in both capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx).

The fusion of advanced digital technologies with carbon capture processes represents a critical turning point. Digital solutions help to improve feasibility and reduce energy consumption, optimizing the design, day-to-day operations, and long-term viability of systems. Furthermore, the demands for auditable data from a monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) program are foundational throughout a project lifecycle, from permitting to payment, including custody transfer, tax credit, market trading and more.

Digital transformation is paving the way for a more economically viable and environmentally friendly future—if leaders know the right way to get there. Here are three steps to help industrial organizations optimize carbon capture processes via digitalization.

See also: IoT’s game-changing role in modern asset management

Embrace a born-digital mindset: Transitioning from a carbon capture concept to implementation can be an arduous process. However, there are incremental opportunities to embrace a “born-digital” approach from the start, which allows teams to leverage the digital foundation used during crucial feasibility and design stages to ultimately drive down costs and enable peak performance throughout the entire project.

A major challenge is that many facilities are just starting operations and do not have much data available. Digital twins that create virtual replicas of carbon capture facilities can provide insights into operations before they even start collecting data. This allows for analysis, and optimization that ensures facilities achieve top performance from the start.

Teams can then monitor and analyze the data continuously collected from sensors throughout physical facilities to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement—minimizing energy consumption, maximizing efficiency and capture rates, and ultimately reducing CO2 emissions and cost of capture.

Organizations can integrate these data management and digital tools from the project's inception to enable seamless integration of various systems and optimize performance across the carbon capture value chain and project lifecycle. Often, these digital advantages are difficult to introduce if they aren’t factored in from the beginning. Flexible digital solutions also enable seamless integration of rapidly evolving technologies, which allows organizations to foster innovation and stay at the forefront of cutting-edge developments. 

Identify opportunities to drive ROI: Organizations in asset-intensive industries must balance the financial viability of their technology investments against the environmental benefits of capturing CO2. Digital solutions play a pivotal role in enabling more informed investment decisions, while also making projects more attractive for investors. 

These tools provide rich insights into the technical and economic feasibility of available technology options, allowing organizations to quantify and mitigate risks associated with capital expenditures across the entire CCUS value chain—and empowering investors to assess the trade-offs between return on investment and total CO2 captured. Carbon tax credits—now valued at $85 per tonne of CO2 captured and stored for point source carbon capture and $180 per tonne for direct air capture—have created even greater incentives for carbon capture projects. 

Other technology advancements have further reduced the “green penalty” typically associated with carbon capture (when the costs of environmentally friendly initiatives are greater than the benefits). With these technology and economic improvements, reducing CO2 and driving ROI are no longer mutually exclusive. 

Maintain operational excellence: CO2 is a global challenge, with emissions arising from numerous sources spread across different geographies. Sustainable carbon capture initiatives require organizations to bridge global efforts and scale technologies across the enterprise. The born-digital approach allows organizations to shorten the time frame for success, but it’s possible to lose sight of your overarching goals.

See also: New research sees buy-in for digital transformation growing among manufacturing stakeholders

Technology advancements ensure organizations cannot only scale efforts but sustain excellence over time. For example, Advanced Process Control (APC) solutions make it easy to gain and track the progress of carbon capture programs. By leveraging data analytics, AI/ML, and real-time monitoring techniques, APC optimizes process performance, reduces operating variability, and curtails energy consumption. Through intelligent analysis of this operational data, APC systems continuously adapt and optimize carbon capture processes to maximize carbon capture efficiency.

Predictive monitoring, on the other hand, enables the simulation of various scenarios and operating conditions. It predicts outcomes under each circumstance to uncover the most effective processes and environment for carbon capture, while reducing energy consumption and operational costs. 

Finally, the integration of AI capabilities enables systems to identify potential bottlenecks and predict equipment failures, leading to reduced downtime and enhanced operational resilience. These digital tools are just some of the resources that can enhance operational efficiencies throughout facilities, making them more replicable and scalable when ready. 

As the world transitions to a low-carbon future, digital technologies hold the key to achieving more sustainable, efficient operations—and unlocking the full potential of carbon capture for industrial organizations. But the shift will require business leaders to take steps today to make carbon capture pay off in the long run.

With so much at stake, there’s no time to wait.

About the Author

Seth Harris

Seth Harris is director of sustainability for the Americas at Emerson, which assists customers in achieving their sustainability goals while growing the company’s sustainability initiatives and sales.

About the Author

Gerardo Muñoz Sr.

Gerardo Muñoz is senior sustainability solutions marketing manager at AspenTech, an asset optimization software provider. He develops the positioning of AspenTech solutions on key sustainability areas, such as hydrogen, CCS, bio-based feedstocks and plastics circularity.