The current macro-economic pivot toward sustainability and energy transition and the momentum behind it, make investments in those areas especially attractive today for energy companies today.

It is clear, however, that achieving energy transition leadership with industrial-scale hydrogen production and carbon capture technologies will require an unmatched level of innovation, agility and execution. This is, after all, a complex landscape. Renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind, and geothermal generation are of unequal potential geographically.

Many parts of Asia are challenged by limited access to locations that can generate substantial solar or wind power. Moreover, liquid fuels are difficult to substitute in several applications such as air and ocean transport and electrification of vehicles and other applications will create a large future demand for metals processing, and prices of those metals have already begun to rise, along with concerns about rare-earth metals reserved concentrated in a very small number of countries.

That’s where hydrogen fits in, offering the potential to fill a significant fraction of the world’s need for energy and the ability to be generated carbon-free. However, hydrogen also presents challenges around storage, transport, cost of electrolysis generation, sources and availability of renewable electricity for electrolysis, cost and efficiency of carbon capture (in the case of blue hydrogen) and safety.

Despite these challenges, the hydrogen economy is witnessing strong growth, reflected in recently announced capital projects that aim to deliver hydrogen generation and storage at scale. In fact, several regions are investigating the feasibility of a hydrogen economy as a zero-carbon alternative.

Scoping out the role of digital technology

Digital technology will be key to delivering the hydrogen economy, accelerating and de-risking innovation and adoption and enabling faster and better scale-up and optimization of the hydrogen value chain. It will be fundamental in particular in maximising commercialization, design and supply chains, and boosting production and economics.

In short, digital technology will be a strategic asset as the industry navigates the energy transition. In the case of the hydrogen economy, it will help drive down cost, evaluating and optimising value chain alternatives and removing constraints to safely scale the chain. And industrial AI is poised to play a growing role in that technology mix.

Drilling down further, here’s how today’s digital technologies can expedite the transition to hydrogen, impacting key functional areas.

 

  • Employing advanced methods for innovation and optioneering, while driving down costs.

Rigorous process simulation software can represent hydrogen reformer processes, hydrogen electrolysis, other innovative hydrogen synthesis approaches and hydrogen liquefaction and pipeline transport—accelerating commercialization and improving access to capital[1]

  • Specific digital technology opportunities to accelerate innovation include:
  • Hybrid models incorporating AI together with first principles models for new processes, including membrane technology, combining reforming, carbon capture and novel processes
  • Rigorous models that handle electrochemistry, able to optimize between renewable energy sources and the energy-hungry electrolysis of water
  • Rate-based simulation modelling for carbon capture to optimize the complexity of those processes
  • High-performance computing to evaluate multiple alternatives in an optioneering context
  • Integrated economics to screen techno-economic alternatives during concept design and pilot plant testing

 

  • Integrating collaborative engineering workflows. Cross-functional teams will be able to rapidly select concepts, scale-up designs, execute projects and use modular design to accelerate industrial implementation. This will drive down project timetables 50% or more. [2]

 

  • Facilitating advanced, integrated supply chain planning. New software advances optimally integrate the hydrogen economy value chain with existing natural gas and power networks.

 

  • Automating processes to create the self-optimising plant paradigm. New technologies such as hydrogen electrolysis, carbon capture, crude to chemicals and industrial scale fuel cells to be deployed as autonomously as possible to compensate for shortages of highly skilled operators. [3]

 

  • Optimizing the value chain with risk and availability modelling. Use new capabilities to evaluate hydrogen production, transportation, storage and end-use options together with the risks to achieve reliable energy goals.

 

Solution: Digitalisation across the value chain

For both fuel cells and hydrogen electrolysis, the ability to simulate electrochemistry, handle dynamics and consider stochastic variation are all critically important. Advanced modelling and digital twin solutions have played a prominent role in the hydrogen generation research and development arena for the past three decades – from electrolysis and steam reforming to carbon capture and fuel cells.

As the industry transitions to hydrogen, it’s key that companies look for asset optimization software that extends across the entire value chain, addressing the crucial areas of production, distribution and storage and usage.

This kind of technology will be key in assisting companies as they explore all avenues of the hydrogen economy including choosing between different energy choices, given all the different variables they may have to consider around regional energy options, industrial players and government policies.

It will be crucial also in supporting the adoption of innovative new approaches: from green hydrogen electrolysis to carbon capture, or process models from integrated economic and cost modelling to, energy efficiency optimisation and risk modelling workflows.

Short term energy optimization opportunity

Meanwhile, oil demand will continue to grow through at least 2030, according to IHS ‘s Dan Yergin.  To meet short term carbon mitigation targets, the global energy giants are focusing more than ever on energy optimization.  According to MOL group’s Bela Kelemen, “the opportunity for energy optimization continues to be limitless… “Here again, technology will play a key role, with AI-supercharged adaptive process control and online digital twins reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions in refineries, LNG plants, and upstream fields. This saved energy consumption will moreover help finance these energy transition projects.

 Moving beyond hydrogen: Short-and long-term sustainability

The energy industry today is facing a raft of challenges – the need to drive to net-zero carbon, macroeconomics impacting global demand for hydrocarbons and an energy transition that’s gaining momentum and driving demand for renewable electricity and zero-carbon mobility solutions.

There are unique and differentiated technologies available today with respect to innovating, scaling and achieving competitive advantage in the hydrogen economy, biofuels and other energy transition strategies. There is significant opportunity for organisations to accelerate the time-to-value for the hydrogen economy, carbon capture and biofuels by leveraging today’s digital solutions that help ensure faster adoption, scale and competitive advantage. Those that do so will be well placed to claim a leading role as the hydrogen economy plays out.

 

Author: by Ron Beck, Senior Director, Industry Marketing, AspenTech

 

1 Carbon Capture Inc, Bill Gross at OPTIMIZE™ 2021, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUST).

2 ExxonMobil, Don Victory at Optimize 2017 and Optimize 2021

3 Air Products at Optimize 2021