Interview with Dr. Purandar Chakravarty, Head of Innovation and Alternate Energy, Nayara Energy

Industry 4.0 concept engineering

Dr. Purandar spoke about how new technologies can shape the recovery of the industry and questions if we are entering the era of virtual refinery.

What does a typical day in your role look like? What are the biggest challenges?

Every day in my current role is actually very exciting as it entails our continual efforts exploring new approaches to aid business focusing on technology with curated integration solutions.  While that is so, as we are in energy business, it is equally challenging being on a constant endeavor to address the larger challenges our industry faces towards approach to clean energy, betterment of environment and sustainability in a comprehensive manner to value add to all its elements, including to our stakeholders.

How will new technologies shape the recovery of the oil and gas downstream industry? Are we entering the era of the virtual refinery?

In a Post COVID recovery, technology shall play a crucial role.  A combination of digitalization and advanced technologies will come into play bringing together IT and operation technology (OT).  In order to address operational issues in real-time such as monitor events, processes and devices an IT/OT convergence can play a formative role.  Additionally, technologies like AI, IoT and cognitive approaches would play a significant role to address requirements towards maintenance, shutdown, reliability and field issues remotely and thus meeting the need to honour social distancing.

Another prudent technology application in Oil & gas is of AR/VR.  While AR can help technicians real life equipment interfacing, VR can create an immersive experience for a very impactful training, much like a virtual refinery setting.  Together AR/VR can aid in many aspects especially for refineries towards maintenance, training, inspection, planning and even in retail.  AR/VR approaches typically have large data needs and currently this is becoming increasingly possible because of availability and accessibility of data due to this becoming format neutral and customer focused.

What role will hydrogen play in the future of the industry, and your organization? Do you think that hydrogen is a sustainable and viable future for the downstream sector?

Hydrogen certainly has a very strong potential to be a major player among the future fuels.  Its advantage comes primarily being a cleaner fuel reducing emissions for long-haul transport, chemicals, iron and steel, climate goals, and outdoor air pollution.  It can also be produced stored and moved (shipped) in various ways.  Nevertheless, it is not without major challenges and primary among them is cost of production, need for infrastructure, and regulation.  In addition, its primary USP being a cleaner fuel in climate perspective is linked to its production from renewable energy, which is above twice the cost that from NG reforming. Even life cycle Carbon footprint of RE based hydrogen (Green Hydrogen) is actually comparable to Blue Hydrogen (Hydrogen from NG with CCS).

The future of hydrogen thus depends on many factors including its technology advancement towards cost competitiveness and for its applications.  Another major determining factor would be relative development of other competitive technologies such as – EV, Technologies that can offer other alternative fuels competitively such as compressed biogas, Methanol and even ammonia as a transport fuel, fuel cells and so on.  Other factors merit from comprehensive economics of application and business models such as renewable energy for power generation wherein Hydrogen comes in as energy storage for the excess renewable energy, or hydrogen dosed piped gas in cooking applications.

How can digitalization/new technologies help organizations reach their sustainability goals?

Digital technologies can foster inclusive growth and sustainable industry. Major opportunities that stand out are monitoring supply chains more accurately to create transparency in production and optimizing processes to increase productivity while reducing energy and material usage and emissions.  Also on the other hand, access to technology, such as computers, smartphones, and the Internet, has a strong positive correlation with 11 out of 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including on hunger, health, education, water, Clean energy and so  on.

In fact, a new era in human history is emerging with digitalisation helping to aid sustainability in a disruptive manner. Digital technologies can thus enable an accelerated approach toward sustainable organisations and even societies; and can open the door to a quantum leap for the human civilization.

Do you think that sustainability is increasingly becoming a corporate CSR and ESG concern? How can organizations adapt to stakeholders’ sustainability demands?

ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance criteria – and is seen, as core to the way today’s responsible businesses operate and thus the approach of sustainability is now increasingly getting inclusive of CSR and further as ESG.

It is also pragmatic, because sustainability and CSR represents a company’s efforts to have a positive impact on its employees, consumers, the environment and wider community. It is a form of self-regulation that most large companies adopt to and report.  Whereas, ESG, measures these activities to arrive at a more precise assessment as to how businesses:   

Respond to climate change,

Treat their workers,

Build trust and foster innovation, and

Manage their supply chains.

Thus, ESG demands metrics like programmes that demonstrate amount of energy / water saved, tons of carbon emissions avoided, with targets and so on.  This approach thus addresses stakeholder’s sustainability demands in a more quantifiable manner.

The silver line is, it is these very matrices which can practically help a company which is not currently ESG compliant in all areas get ahead of the game in a profound manner.  For example, a company wanting to address low carbon future can achieve it through measuring, and monitoring energy, putting in place energy management and understanding where and how to maximize saving and thus progress towards low carbon future faster.

What would be your tip for young engineers looking to enter the industry?

Oil & Gas is a core sector of the industry and it makes products (which provide energy) which in the true sense are fundamental components to the development and growth of society and civilization.  This sector to remain meaningful in its role and deliverables; requires knowledge and skills from extensive domains and provides opportunity of growth to all.  Because of these main attributes, it offers great stability and an exciting playground of development to everyone who joins this industry.