Chemical firms lower energy use with new technologies

Optimizing Energy

11 August 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Chemical firms plug into new technologies that reduce energy consumption in manufacturing

WHILE CARBON emission regulations are debated worldwide, chemical companies and engineering firms are already responding to the challenge, with new technologies that not only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG), but also increase energy efficiency and lower manufacturing costs.

The US chemical industry has already been ahead of the energy efficiency curve for years, and it has reduced its fuel and power energy consumed per unit of output by 53% since 1974, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Last May, the ACC recognized 17 member companies for energy efficiency improvements in 2008 under its annual Responsible Care Energy Efficiency Award.

ACC president and CEO Cal Dooley noted total annual energy savings of 18.9 trillion BTUs (British thermal units) achieved from 56 US projects implemented by several chemical firms last year. The total carbon dioxide emissions reductions achieved by the projects were 3.3m tonnes.

"This year's recipients are further evidence that our industry is applying innovation and new technology to save energy and reduce GHG emissions in our own operations, while offering the products that enable consumers and businesses around the world to do the same," Dooley said in a statement.

One of the award recipients is German chemical giant BASF, which has had an energy efficiency strategy for years. Last year, BASF set a goal of improving specific energy efficiency of production processes by 25% compared with its baseline of 2002.

"The use of combined heat and power (CHP) plants, also called cogeneration, energy optimization of production processes, as well as structural changes, increased our energy efficiency by 22% from 2002 to 2008," says Ulrich von Deessen, BASF's climate protection officer and head of the environment, health and safety (GU) Competence Center in Ludwigshafen, Germany.

"We are evaluating the most energy-intensive plants at our Ludwigshafen site. Over the next three years, we aim to review and identify potential savings at these plants, which account for around 80% of our total site energy consumption," he adds.

BASF also uses in-house solutions at 17 plants in Ludwigshafen that provide real-time data on energy and raw material consumption. "Since 2006, this information has helped reduce annual costs in these plants by over €1.5m ($2.1m)," says Deessen. Energy, he adds, is one of the main cost factors in the production of chemicals.

Germany-based Evonik Industries notes that with its Efficient Energy Management (EEM) system operated under the company's Operational Excellence (OPEX) program, it was able to identify 29 chemical plant sites worldwide that have the potential to save energy costs of up to 20%.

"The OPEX organizational unit, a team composed of 30 employees, systematically analyzes the energy savings potential of plants and suggests improvements such as multiple reuse of cooling water and the use of turbines for power generation," says Hans-Juergen Kress, head of Evonik's OPEX.

"With the EEM, optimizations identified so far could reduce energy costs throughout the group by more than €20m," he adds.

For implementing its EEM, Evonik was awarded third place in the 2009 International Energy Efficiency Awards, given last April by the German energy agency Deutsche Energie-Agentur.

According to US-based Dow Chemical, the chemical industry is improving energy efficiency mostly in five areas: improving existing processes, commercializing new processes, recycling waste, investing in renewable materials, and creating products that enable energy savings.

The chemical industry accounts for 6% of energy usage in the US, say Dow's Jeremy Patt, senior strategy leader for global research and development (R&D), and William Banholzer, vice president and chief technology officer. The two co-wrote "Improving Energy Efficiency in the Chemical Industry," an article published this summer in the National Academy of Engineering's The Bridge magazine.

"One improvement that is a major change throughout the chemical industry is the recent and ongoing implementation of advanced control and optimization (AC&O)," the Dow officials noted. "With AC&O, engineers create a predictive model for the entire process based on either matrix algebra or a set of first-principle equations, compared to traditional process control, which involves monitoring and manipulating parts of the chemical plant."

With AC&O, Dow says it has improved production capacity by 3-5% and decreased energy intensity by 4-6%. The company's cumulative savings from AC&O are reportedly projected to be more than $1bn in 2009.

An example of a breakthrough process cited by the Dow officials is the new hydrogen peroxide to propylene oxide (HPPO) process developed jointly by BASF and Dow. BASF's new 300,000 tonne/year HPPO plant in Belgium cuts energy use by 35% compared with conventional HPPO.

Last June, US-based Honeywell launched its new Energy Management Solutions, which provides customized hardware, software and services to help improve energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions.

The portfolio features Honeywell's new Energy Dashboard technology, which enables users to establish specific goals for reducing energy consumption, costs and the associated GHG emissions, as well as measure actual performance against those goals. Honeywell plans to market the Dashboard later this year.

"The combination of volatile energy prices and increasingly stringent regulations have made energy efficiency one of the biggest issues the process industries have faced in decades," says Harsh Chitale, vice president of global marketing and strategy for Honeywell Process Solutions.

"With Energy Management Solutions, we can help manufacturers build a holistic energy management strategy that can reduce energy costs and return those savings back to the bottom line," Chitale adds.

Celanese, which was another recipient of this year's ACC Energy Efficiency award, along with Dow, says its focus is on processing improvements. The company has implemented both technology, and process development improvements over the past two years, says spokesman Travis Jacobsen.

"Overall, we have saved between 10% and 20% of total energy use," says Jacobsen. "Our 2010 goal is to reduce our overall energy index reduction by more than 35% and at the present, we are on-track to meet and possibly exceed this milestone."

Celanese says that its acetic acid process, or AOPlus Technology, which has been implemented at all of Celanese's acetic acid production sites worldwide, has been key to reducing energy use.

"Another energy-saving innovation, Vantage Plus, is currently undergoing optimization in our vinyl acetate production sites and also contributes significantly to energy savings," says Jacobsen.

Since 1990, the efficiency of the US chemical industry has improved by nearly 28% - a 1.9%/year compound gain, according to the ACC.

In the EU, total energy consumption between 1990 and 2005 was said to be stable - but chemical production rose by 60%, according to a recent report from the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). "This means that the EU chemical industry has cut its energy intensity by 3.6% annually," the ICCA says.

The Japanese chemical industry, meanwhile, has reduced its 2006 unit energy consumption by 82% of the 1990 level, while members of the Brazilian chemical association ABIQUIM reported that they were able to reduce overall energy consumption between 2001 and 2007 by 25%, according to the ICCA.

"By 2007, more than 50% of energy used by Brazilian chemical companies came from renewable sources," adds the ICCA.

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Environmental protection and energy efficiency often go hand in hand. Energy efficiency is one of the largest and most cost-efficient sources of GHG emissions abatement, according to the ACC and the ICCA.

The global chemical industry is currently pushing for government incentives to support the development of new technologies, including new catalysts, new syntheses, process intensification and integration, use of cogeneration, and carbon capture and storage, that reduce energy consumption and at the same time reduce GHG emissions.

Several chemical firms are even going toward the renewable-based routes to save energy consumption either in processing or feedstock.

Evonik says it is producing cosmetics esters via biotechnological process, which saves more than 60% of energy during production compared to the conventional chemical process.

Last year, US-based Eastman Chemical launched its own green biocatalytic process to make esters for cosmetic and personal care use. An early lifecycle assessment identifies the process as vastly improved over conventional processes especially in energy use, says Eastman.

Dow Chemical cited as examples its glycerine-to-epichlorohydrin (EPI) process and natural oil-based polyols production. The new EPI process enables Dow to reduce wastewater generation by more than 70%, while the new polyol chemistry uses less than half of the petroleum-based fuel and raw materials of current technology.

By: Doris de Guzman
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