Shell fuels green initiatives with digital twin deployment
Earlier this week, the UK’s governing body for cycling, British Cycling, announced it was partnering with energy company Shell with hopes that the long-term sponsor would help “accelerate British Cycling’s path to net zero.”
The partnership immediately received online backlash with environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth accusing British Cycling of encouraging Shell’s ‘greenwashing’ and providing a platform for the fossil fuel giant (which is the fourth biggest carbon emitter in the world) to brand itself as environmentally friendly.
“The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan,” said Greenpeace UK policy director Dr. Doug Parr.
Parr’s criticism highlights the conundrum currently facing oil giants like Shell: How can a business that makes its fortune from pollutant fuels continue to operate and grow in a climate-threatened world?
To this end, Shell is working on its own goal of becoming net zero by 2050. It’s currently undergoing an ‘Energy Transition Strategy’, in which it will move from fossil-fuel energy products, to low-carbon products and solutions, and it is looking towards cutting edge technology to achieve this.
To start, the energy firm is looking to turn its customers towards more environmentally products such as biofuels, charging for electric vehicles, hydrogen, and renewable power.
It’s also planning on achieving net zero goals by looking to offset its emissions through investments in technologies such as carbon capture and storage (as well as nature-based offsets).
In its Energy Transition Report, Shell’s CEO, Ben Van Beurdeon wrote that it is cutting down emissions from its own operations, but will continue “to provide the oil and gas products our customers need today, whilst at the same time helping them move to a low- and zero-carbon future.”
To help cut down on its carbon, the firm is looking at Industry 4.0 to completely digitalise its energy transition, where it is looking at new technologies such as digital twins and IoT. Khadar Hassan, digitalisation project manager at Shell, spoke to TechInformed about what Shell is doing.
Digital twins for greener factories
In order to cut down energy consumption in factories, Shell must first know how much energy is being used, which it does through digital twins.
“Of course, we want to reduce the amount of energy we use in the production environments,” says Hassan, “and right now, we’re getting those insights from digital twin digitalisation.”
As it stands, Shell currently has a digital twin operational at its large gas processing hub, Nyhamna, in Norway. The digital twin, built in partnership with SaaS firm Kongsberg Digital, focuses on ‘optimising production and energy use’, as well as safe and effective work processes.
The twin allows Shell to visualise the processes within production, apply machine learning and automation, as well as collect real-time data on how much carbon is emitting from the factory, and how much energy is being used.
“We have a lot of old factories that are producing relatively high CO2, and with getting information and visualising those assets, we know where to actually maintain it, and we know what equipment is using a high amount of CO2,” explains Hassan.
With this, “the more information we get, the better we get into actually shortening our trajectory.”
According to Shell, the digital twins help operators at Nyhamna witness real-time controls that help them achieve more consistent and optimised process operations, which will allow them to set things closer to operating limits and therefore lower energy consumption.
Ultimately, the technology allows operators to reduce the carbon intensity of its emissions, the energy consumption and the operational costs of an entire facility.
As digital twins help the old factories to maintain and cut down CO2 emissions, new factories are built with the hopes of digital twins helping prevent CO2 levels from getting too high.
“Now, with the new factories, you can see all the data coming in which also helps us keep the CO2 levels down and keep the building much more energy efficient,” says Hassan.
Currently, “we are building a hydrogen plant which is really digital and online,” explains Hassan.
Shell’s new hydrogen plant was announced last July, to be built in the Netherlands and expected to be ‘Europe’s largest renewable hydrogen plant,’ according to its press release.
The plant will host a 200-megawatt electrolyser, which is a system that uses electricity to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, and is powered by an offshore wind farm.
The electrolyser will produce up to 60,000 kilograms of renewable hydrogen per day, which will supply the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam. The aim is for the hydrogen to partially decarbonise the facility’s production of energy products like petrol, diesel and jet fuel.
According to Shell, its goal is to help build a global hydrogen economy by developing opportunities in the production, storage, transport, and delivery of hydrogen to end customers.
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