OPTIMIZE 24 – The Key Role of Technology and Partnerships on the Road to Net Zero

May 13, 2024

The world will face a difficult journey in decades to come as we work to provide affordable, reliable clean energy on the path to net zero, but with collaboration and innovation across asset-intensive industries, those goals are within reach.

That was the message delivered by AspenTech Chief Product and Sustainability Officer Rasha Hasaneen as part of a panel discussion earlier this month at OPTIMIZE™ 24, the company’s premiere global customer conference. 

“We know that technology exists today that can make existing operations greener, cleaner, safer, more efficient and more profitable,” she told attendees. “We also know the industries we serve are hard to abate. New technologies, new solutions are going to be critical…and it’s that innovation that’s really going to turbocharge our industry.

“But we also know we can’t do this alone,” she continued. “Solving that intersection of affordability and reliability and sustainability is going to take the entire set of industries coming together and collaborating in ways we’ve never collaborated and with partners we’ve never worked with before.”

The ability of existing technology to move the needle in the near-term while new technologies are developed was highlighted by many of the panel members, including one who described his company’s efforts to put existing technologies – from repurposing gas-fired power plants to run on renewable fuels like biomass or hydrogen to expanding clean energy technology like wind, solar, geothermal and more – in place as part of a plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from their portfolio by 2030.

While those steps will bring the company close to its goal, achieving net zero will require additional investments in new and emerging technologies, from virtual power plants and long-duration battery storage to grid-scale technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and sequestration.

In addition, the company is working to ensure their zero-carbon plan comes at a reasonable cost by taking advantage of grant funding and pursuing operational excellence in a bid to limit rate increases to no more than the rate of inflation, and is maximizing community benefits by improving air quality, providing new, clean-energy jobs and involving customers in their clean energy journey.

Other companies are making similar investments, including one panelist whose company is pursuing sustainable fuels, and is about to bring the largest renewable diesel facility in the world online.

The complex, located in the San Francisco Bay area, is already producing 30,000 barrels of fuel per day, and later this year will ramp up to 50,000 barrels per day, and will produce about 10,000 barrels of sustainable aviation fuel by the end of the year.

While the plant is poised to significantly increase the use of sustainable fuels, the company is careful to invest in projects that meet a rigorous set of criteria, including return on investment, and technologies that have been proved to be effective at scale.

Another panel member, meanwhile, outlined his company’s efforts to pursue renewable energy technology like wind and solar as part of their upstream energy production, as well as making significant investments in new technology, like flow batteries, to bring down the cost of storing that green electricity.

In an effort to help decarbonize the atmosphere, the company is also exploring new ways to produce hydrogen and working on direct air carbon capture projects. 

The panel also addressed the challenges associated with plastic circularity and which strategies could have the biggest impact on industry’s circularity goals. Part of the challenge in this area, one panel member said, is that the material is so widely distributed, and must be collected, sorted and cleaned before it can be used as new feedstock for the chemical sector. What will be key to making that process work, he said, is partnerships.

In addition to collaborating with companies to provide existing plastic as feedstock, the company is working to create a 120-kiloton advanced recycling plant, and plans to eventually build other plants with a total capacity of 600 kilotons.

Such partnerships are essential given the high stakes around the affordability and security of energy and the challenges industry faces in meeting growing demands for it, agreed another panelist. If companies are unable to forge key partnerships in the decades to come, he warned, it may be even more challenging to reach the world’s net zero goals.

While it’s undoubtedly important to forge relationships between companies, one panel member emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnership with policymakers and researchers. It will be critical going forward, he said, for policymakers and industry to be on the same page regarding capabilities and timelines.

Creating relationships with research institutions will also be crucial, he said, because many researchers are already working to develop novel solutions to the challenges of climate change.

While there are certainly challenges to overcome on the road to global net zero, Rasha said the commitment from the companies represented on the panel and the innovations now underway and in the future leave her optimistic that the world will reach its goal.

“Personally, I am incredibly optimistic for the future when I hear all the things these amazing people and amazing companies are doing,” she said. “The companies you represent are going to be where the transformation is made in the energy sector and the chemical sector and all the sectors we serve. I know we can make a better outcome for our children, for their children, for the future and the world, and it’s going to be all of us doing it together.”

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