In conversation with: Jeff Choong, Piller Blowers & Compressors

Jeff Choong, Regional Sales Manager for Piller Blowers & Compressors, shares his thoughts on carbon neutrality, and how the region has to cope with post-pandemic recovery and unrelenting pressure to decarbonise.

Thank you for joining us for this interview! To start off, could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Thank you so much. My name is Jeff, I’m from Piller Blowers & Compressors – I work as the regional sales manager. We’re a German blower manufacturer with over 100 years of industry experience, so we produce a lot of blowers, and of course the special ones specifically for the petrochemical industry. In this case, we have the vapour recompression technology as well, by using our Piller heat pump system. With this, we’re able to help end-users reduce energy costs and their carbon footprint.

What’s a typical day in your role like?

For my typical day, I support my company in creating business pipelines with both existing and potential clients. So we meet customers, we identify opportunities, and more importantly, we help companies like the petrochemical companies to conduct feasibility studies, and strategise market approaches to make sure that the industry knows about our technology, and that we can help them to achieve what they want to do.

But of course, there are challenges… One of the challenges right now is to bring more awareness to the industry, because to have vapour recompression is not something that is as common as the other energy recovery solutions. This is what we strive to do in order to let the industry know what we are capable of.

Tell us a little about this vapour recompression technology. What sets it from the more mainstream technologies that we see in the industry?

We have over 10 installations in the petrochemical industry for vapour recompression, but compared to other energy recovery solutions it’s not all that common at the moment. What we do with this system, generally, is take the overhead vapour from an oil and gas company, for example, and this overhead vapour is normally unwanted. So it will be dispersed through the condenser and wasted to the environment.

So we capture the overhead vapour from the distillation column or the stripper, and recompress it with our heat pump solution – from there, we further compress it to the pressure and temperature that the customer wants, and we can make it into a closed loop to feed back to the channel and turn it into a closed-loop system.

How does this affect energy-saving costs?

When we create this closed loop, we actually saved the amount of steam required from the boiler, so the boiler capacity can be lowered – and from there, we reduce not only the production costs, but the energy costs as well, and most importantly, we also reduce the carbon footprint.

So you mentioned reducing the carbon footprint, and we see that sustainability is one of the growing concerns of the industry today. Besides sustainability, what are some other key concerns for refiners when it comes to the current state of the industry?

Personally, when we talk to customers, we know that sustainability is always something that customers want to do. But companies are still running businesses, so to them the profit, or the return of investment (ROI), plays a major role in deciding if they should take on a project or not. In this case, we work closely with the clients to make sure that our solution helps with sustainability and is also able to benefit the customer in terms of their ROI.

Right. And in working with these clients, do you have any case studies that you could share with us?

Absolutely – we have this customer in Korea, they are a very famous petrochemical industry. And in 2008, we worked together to have our first vapour recompression solution with them. Ever since then, we have had a lot of projects with them subsequently, because the first one was successful. We actually helped them to save about 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

What about the rest of the ASEAN region? Do you see this technology becoming more and more popular with the industry here?

Yes, definitely. Right now, the industry is always talking about carbon neutral, and carbon net zero. For example, the Singapore government is pushing for even higher carbon taxes in the near future, so I don’t see why companies wouldn’t look into new solutions that could help them.

Our application is fairly simple, because we work with steam and vapour, and most if not all gas companies require steam, and have overhead vapours to be dispersed to the condenser. It’s really about spreading awareness, and for a customer to understand more – because when they understand more, it gives them more confidence to go through the feasibility study with us, and maybe explore business technologies in the future.

Are there any unique challenges to bringing this into the ASEAN region?

Of course – and this is just my personal thought, but in the ASEAN region we’re not typically technology providers. We lean more towards the operator here. Based on what I see from other industries, not particularly in Petrochemical industry, our risk appetite may not be as high as compared to European companies, in terms to be able to try out new technologies like the European companies do.

For us, we have to bring more references, we have to explain more to the customers, and more importantly, once we have references, it gives confidence to the customer and from them, we don’t see that it will be a problem anymore.

Let’s move on to the downstream oil and gas industry as a whole; in the past few years with COVID, we’ve had to navigate quite a lot. In your opinion, what should operators prioritise in order to survive and thrive in this post-pandemic era?

In the past two years, a lot of projects have been either put on hold or postponed because of COVID… So this definitely hurts a bit, but I think this is also one of the times where the companies realise that they no longer can rely on just the price of the oil; it may be the main driver for the short term, but it will not be the long term driver for the company to survive. So, in this case, personally, I think that they are moving towards digitalisation more and more.

And they are also looking into how they could reduce production costs, because when they are able to, they can increase the profit as well. So, I see digitalisation and solutions to reduce production costs as two main priorities for the industry in the future.

Ever since the signing of the Paris Agreement, many countries have increased their efforts in order to achieve carbon neutrality. In the medium to long term, I think the carbon tax and government initiatives will be the main driver causing change in this industry, and this will affect company decisions and profitability. Of course, it also falls to the company’s social responsibility as well, to accelerate this push into a sustainable future.

You mentioned the social responsibility that companies; how do you think companies should balance that the focus on turning profit, while also maintaining this responsibility to the environment and society?

They have to explore technologies that are able to help them in both ways. And in this case, I think our technology will be one of the solutions that could help them to achieve both sustainability and also profitability.

This is like the question of the chicken and egg; which comes first? While it may not sound very sustainable, at least we see that companies are trying their best to attain sustainability, so that at least when they are generating profit, they’re also reducing or minimising the environmental impact they have, as well as their carbon emissions.

Last but not least – at this year’s Asian Downstream Summit, sustainability and the energy transition are overarching themes. What can we look forward to from Piller at this year’s conference and event?

For this year’s Asian Downstream Summit, we’ll be providing some examples of how our technology actually works, as well as references. It’s interesting, because our references have proven that our technologies work, and more importantly, we have successful facts and figures that we can show to attendee. We hope that with such presentation, we can work together closely with them, and then create a win-win situation for both parties.