AI, AIoT, digital transformation, AI, artificial intelligence

The Story Behind the Story: A Personal Look at OPTIMIZE 2021 Day One

May 19, 2021

Any way you look at it, OPTIMIZE 2021 is a major meeting point for asset intensive industry executives and subject matter experts. It is unique in drawing a wide range of participants, from CEOs to Division and Plant Managers, to engineering experts, to software users, and to students. 

The numbers are big. Over 200 sessions were developed for this virtual edition, many by customers, often from their homes around the globe. The registrations for OPTIMIZE 2021 are more than ten-fold those for the in-person event held two years ago and climbing!

OPTIMIZE has always been unique for the number of customers who line up to present, for the quality of the presentations developed, and for the extent to which AspenTech customers have gone out of their way to share best practices. Under the unique trust relationship among many of these customers they know that the best practices they are sharing, often with competitors, are being paid forward. Often, those other customers are back at OPTIMIZE in future years, sharing their best practices with the global community. The hardest job I had in the years I was responsible for selecting speakers and organizing the agenda for this event was the difficult task of telling some individuals that we couldn’t fit their presentation into our agenda. Sometimes I instinctively knew that a particular presentation was going to be meaningful and bent our selection rules to include the presenters.  

What is missing, though, this year is some of the networking: Across companies, among the champions of innovation, of optimization and of digitalization. The networking that builds important professional relationships that last for years.  

So, let me relate a few personal stories about OPTIMIZE 2021, day one, behind the scenes … and one from 2013.


Matthew Campbell gave an excellent presentation on carbon capture modeling using Aspen Plus. He is a senior technologist at Technology Center Mongstad. (If you didn’t catch the presentation, you can still view it on replay, and I highly recommend it.) While we were both waiting for questions to come in on the chat line, we were connected by cell phone and chatting. I reminded him we had first met in Boston at OPTIMIZE 2013. He was presenting then, also on carbon capture, on behalf of Shell’s CANSOLV business. So, Matthew’s been modeling carbon capture for at least eight years! He asked me if I knew the story of his modeling journey in 2012 and 2013, and I didn’t. He was having a few challenges getting the model to produce the predictions he was expecting and got in touch with AspenTech.  At the time, AspenTech’s groundbreaking carbon capture modeling approach, based on rate-based distillation models, was led by Chau-Chyun Chen, also the inventor of the approach. After talking to Chau Chen by phone a few times, and exchanging emails, Chau Chen asked Matthew, why don’t you just come to Boston and work with us for a few days and we can get this all straightened out?  Matthew spent a week at AspenTech’s R&D offices, and the Aspen Plus R&D team worked with him helping to solve the physical properties and modeling challenges he was having. And the rest is history. Partly to thank AspenTech for our help with his project, he presented his modeling effort at OPTIMIZE 2013. Now forward to 2021, he’s offering more excellent insights and answering questions on the topic of his presentation, broadcast Tuesday. He told me that the connections he made on that trip to Boston have stuck with him. An important moment.  

Our highly attended Energy Industry Decarbonization panel Tuesday morning also had a few interesting behind the scene stories. It involved four presenters, spanning four time zones. And when we recorded it, there were a few twists. Ahmad Khowaiter, who was participating from his office in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, was having trouble connecting from his office laptop for a reason we couldn’t diagnose since ARAMCO has excellent network bandwidth. He went down to his car to get his tablet while we waited. Dr. Rob Socolow was participating from his office at Princeton, which was closed for COVID, and he had gotten special permission to access the building for the broadcast. Unfortunately, he hadn’t factored in that the power would be completely shut off, so he was anxiously working off the battery power on his laptop and counting the minutes that went by while Ahmad got his tablet, hoping that his battery wouldn’t run out before the session ended (somehow ironic, since our subject is the energy transition). But it all went fine, and we got some fantastic feedback from the session. You can view the panel discussion on replay by going to the OPTIMIZE 2021 website and registering. One viewer wrote in, for example: “Thank you both for an excellent and useful session. This helped me to see the unbiased big/high level picture on decarbonization where one is overwhelmed with information from multiple sources with little time delve deeper.” 

I mentioned that I first met Matthew Campbell at OPTIMIZE 2013. There was another interesting personal story from OPTIMIZE 2013. A few months before the 2013 event, I received a proposal for a presentation from Eric Okeke, then at the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. Everyone else involved in the selection committee told me to reject the paper. They didn’t see the value. But I really wanted to include the paper, I thought it could be interesting. And besides, I wanted some presenters who were not coming from the leading global players, the marquee companies and marquee presenters. So, I accepted the paper. When Eric presented it, I was delighted. It was excellent. And by the way, fast forward to 2021. The topic he presented was in a way before its time and extremely relevant today. He focused on using Aspen Plus for modeling the conversion of biofeedstock, in this case palm oil which was in good supply in Nigeria, to chemicals, drilling muds that could be used in substitution for hydrocarbon based chemicals.  

I also got a few emails at the end of day one of OPTIMIZE 2021 from attendees following up on some of the questions and answers in the sessions I moderated. Keep those personal communications coming! It is those connections that are so important in driving the alliances that will make innovation continuous in the industry. Now more than ever, with the challenges of profitability, sustainability and operational excellence in sharp focus, the exchange of ideas between companies and innovation are crucial.   


To hear more from our OPTIMIZE 2021 speakers, register now and join colleagues from around the globe. 

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