Saving Energy with Advanced Automation

Emerson’s Doug White sent me his presentations from the recent AIChE spring meeting. Doug is a principal consultant and vice president for advanced process control (APC) services, and has many years of experience justifying, designing, installing and commissioning APC applications for process manufacturers.

Given rapid rising energy costs, his presentation, How to Save Energy through Advanced Automation, caught my attention. He starts by showing an upward trend in natural gas prices (in one word–ouch!) Doug makes the point that process energy usage is often the largest controllable cost in most plants.

Doug shows energy flows for process manufacturers in different industries including chemicals, pulp and paper and oil refining. He also gives some typical percentages of the energy flow inputs and outputs. For example, a typical refinery’s sources of energy include 1% purchased steam, 25% purchased fuel, 64% raw materials consumed as fuel and 10% purchased power. This energy is used in steam production and central power production in the power plant. In the process and offsites areas, the energy is mainly consumed in the process-fired equipment, direct fuel usage and electric motor drives. Energy not consumed in the process is exported as steam, fuel and power.

Applying better automation and APC can help improve efficiencies around individual equipment like boilers, heaters and kilns (links are to earlier posts where equipment efficiency stories have been chronicled.) Savings can also be achieved at a unit, multi-unit and site level by finding opportunities in optimization, waste heat recovery, and off-spec/waste minimization.

As the earlier percentages indicate, you may have a control loop heavily involved in your plant’s energy usage. It may well be worth improving the measurement, control valve performance and loop control performance to reduce variability and energy consumption. Also, your process may have bypasses around production equipment that may be compensating for poor control through the equipment. Optimized control can eliminate the need for these bypasses.

The presentation is loaded with specific examples including stem systems, combustion control, heaters, distillation controls, plant utility systems, facility optimizers, boiler load allocation and site energy balances. Some examples like power boilers include return on investment (ROI) calculations that may assist you in your project justification efforts.

I wanted to highlight some key points Doug makes around heater optimization. If there is resistance in improving heater controls because the damper control is are not reliable, then he recommends adding positioners to the dampers. Bring the feedback to the control system and then analyze and fix any controller problems. If the next objection is on-line analyzers don’t exist or are not maintainable, Doug notes that analyzers are cheaper and more reliable, especially mass flow meters. With today’s higher fuel costs, these analyzers should be well justified.

There are likely many areas to look for energy savings. Doug recommends a disciplined approach to evaluation and analysis to prioritize the opportunities. Given the increasing costs of energy and the fact that this is often the largest controllable cost in a process manufacturing plant, it may make sense to establish a program around saving energy and apply focused efforts in prioritized projects to reduce overall energy consumption.

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