5 Minutes with: Jonas Berge, Emerson

Jonas Berge, Senior Director of Applied Technology at Emerson, speaks to Asian Downstream Insights about how sustainability and digitalisation can work together to aid in decarbonisation efforts.

Tell us a little about what you do at Emerson. What’s it like?

I’m the senior director of applied technology which means I’m responsible for helping plants adopt new technology and innovation for two major megatrends: digitalization and sustainability including the energy transition, mostly through focused workshops in our solutions center in Singapore or our customer’s plants.

What does a typical day in your role look like, and what are the biggest challenges of your specific role?

At a high level, my job is easy because companies and plants have already decided to digitalize and go sustainable, so I don’t need to explain ‘why’.

Now, for digitalization there is a lot of hype and inflated expectations around some technologies. Yet downstream industries like refining, petrochemicals, and chemicals must be conservative because they are Major Hazard Installations with large quantities of toxic and flammable substances and they are part of critical infrastructure. There is expectation of new things like robots, drones, machine learning, and neural networks – but permanent sensors, cause & effect AI agents, and first principles models is often the better choice for our industries so I need to explain ‘what’ technology to deploy, and we need to apply more of it in the places that don’t have it yet.

For the other megatrend, sustainability, I must first explain ‘how’ it is done, that is, I show the automation available to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions in existing plants, and the specialized automation required for hydrogen and CCUS.

The refining and petrochemicals industry has seen some major change, especially in recent years. In your opinion, what would you pinpoint as one of the main drivers of change in the refining and petrochemicals industry?

Our customers turn to us for help in the areas of occupational safety, sustainability driven by net zero carbon goals, as well as reliability and throughput driven by the competitive market they are in. Out of these, sustainability is really the one we have seen come to the fore. Plants are looking to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Why do you think so?

Nations and corporations have set sustainability goals. Now they need to deliver on these commitments. Many deliverables to achieve net zero are long-term such as changing energy sources, carbon capture, and building new plants. Production companies, and their plants, are also looking for solutions that delivers results in the near term. Here automation really standards out with solutions like energy management, loss control, equipment performance monitoring, combustion optimization, vent and flare reduction, emissions monitoring and control etc. These solutions deliver results now while projects like energy transition and carbon capture are being planned and seek financing.

Please tell us a little more about what Emerson does for the refining and petrochemicals sector.

First we provide the automation for the production process including specialized solutions for refineries such as in crude/vacuum units, delayed coker, distillation & fractionation, fluidized catalytic cracking, hydrogen generation, naphtha reformer, sulfur recovery, and tank farm etc. For petrochemical complexes like an ethylene plant we have specialized solutions for pyrolysis furnace, fixed-bed reactor, and recovery section etc.

But we also have automation solutions around the reliability and efficiency of equipment such as fired heaters, compressors, heat exchangers, pumps, steam headers, and steam traps etc.

Automation is key to running plants safer, greener, longer, and faster – so there is a lot we do for our customers.

I understand that sustainability and digitalization are key focus areas for Emerson; could you tell us a little more about this?

That’s right. Sustainability and digitalization are key focus areas for our customers so naturally also for us.

Refineries and petrochemical complexes are major energy consumers with large carbon footprint, especially for process heat. Methane emissions is another challenge. Simple improvements using automation to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions has a huge impact here.

Manual work is the other challenge in downstream industries. On any given day you can find a thousand persons, contractors and employees, working in a refinery. Many of these perform tasks which are relatively easy to automate, such as manual data collection, but also knowledge work like data interpretation. So we are helping companies in these areas.

In your opinion, how do you think these two topics of interest can come together and innovate?

Digitalization IS automation, and sustainability requires automation. So sustainability is one of the areas where digitalization has a huge impact. Technologies like non-intrusive wireless sensors as well as cause & effect rule-based AI analytics and first principles models underpin solutions for energy management, loss control, equipment performance monitoring, and emissions detection etc.

Looking back at 2023, what do you think have been some of the biggest changes that the industry has had to go through?

Many changes happen over several years and are exponential so it is very hard to say the change occurred during a particular year. Digitalization has been ongoing for about 10 years. Sustainability a couple of years now. But what stands out from 2023 is large language model-based chatbots like ChatGPT, but it remains to be seen how it will be used for decision making in our industry which has to be conservative and therefore deterministic and verifiable as we discussed.

What trends do you think we will observe in the next year?

AI approaches are changing. Only a few years ago when most had no experience with machine learning most could not judge what is practically possible with machine learning in the way engineers can judge if something is mechanically possible, electrically possible, or within the principles of thermodynamics. People used to believe and think that with machine learning you can simply load some data files and it would then predict problems and prescribe a fix. The sky was the limit.

However, today, as many more have experimented with machine learning, they are much more realistic. They have a much clearer understanding of how many data samples are required for machine training and how hard that is to come by for many of the use-cases they had in mind, so another AI approach is often required. That new AI approach is ‘causation’ or rule-based cause & effect. So rule-based AI and first principles based engineered analytics is the new trend we are seeing.

What plans does Emerson have for the future?

Emerson is innovating to meet our customer’s needs. We have developed many new sensors and valves to meet the very challenging requirements of hydrogen carbon capture, the extreme pressures, the extreme temperatures, and other challenges. This all applies in refining and petrochemicals as we want to decarbonize process heat. And this work is ongoing. The other major area is industrial software. General purpose data management, general purpose data analytics, and general-purpose data visualization have their limitations. Emerson is developing industrial versions of the above; that is, industrial data management, analytics, and visualization created specifically for the needs of processes and equipment in the refining and petrochemical industries.

We’re excited to have you with us for this year’s Asian Downstream Summit! Tell us a little about what we can expect to see or hear from you.

Companies agree that climate change is an issue. And that productivity must continue to increase. Companies have identified they must become more sustainable by reducing energy consumption and emissions, and they must digitalize, meaning automate manual tasks. So ‘what’ exactly are the technologies, architecture, and methodologies for digitalization and to achieve sustainability? Well, I will provide some 20 easily actionable recommendations to achieve these goals.