Future Downstream

Online | 21 November 2023


An integrated refinery-petrochemical complex will shape the refinery of the future, designed for the flexibility to cost-effectively address changes in market conditions in the short term and the coming decades. Critically, the future refinery will be digitally connected to manage molecules efficiently for the greatest profitability. Cloud-based connected plant technologies that can analyze plant performance data with digital twins will improve process optimization and operational reliability, minimize energy consumption and emissions, eliminate waste products and conserve water. 



The pathways taken to decarbonization will be unique to each refinery and defined by regional resources and capabilities, regulation, and a robust business case. Some of the low-hanging fruits that the industry can grasp include increasing energy efficiency, utilizing carbon capture and changing feedstock. Other pathways include fuel switching, electrification, hydrogen, new low-carbon products, and a circular economy approach. A clear roadmap to 2030, 2040 and 2050, running parallel paths and prioritizing pilot projects will be essential for future-proofing organizations.



Successful decarbonization and digital transformation will come from smarter collaborations with other organizations within and outside the downstream industry – reaching across government, industries, sectors, and value chains. Future Downstream was proud to welcome world-leading tech companies whose applications are not confined to the downstream industry alone. 



The industry needs to learn how to experiment and embrace an element of risk. It must make investments in technologies and capabilities that will be applied from 2030 to 2050 without fully understanding how that will happen. Smart decisions on assets must be made today as the industry can’t afford to wait for the perfect solution.



By applying a hybrid digital twin, using the data from a digital twin as an input to a virtual twin, refiners can increase production rates, improve energy efficiency, measure, track and reduce emissions, and optimize systems design, predictive maintenance, and asset management. However, for the twin to be useful, data must be of high quality, verified, and referenced. Moving from reactive and preventative maintenance to a predictive approach will bring huge benefits, but the real value will only come by understanding truly human-machine interactions.



Employees are the first line of defence. Train, train and re-train your workforce to be aware of cybersecurity requirements for your organization. Use exercises to review practices and response/report protocols to help identify gaps. For a healthy cybersecurity culture, IT, OT and Cybersecurity must collaborate and share understandings and skills, and risk assessments should include all three. The time to implement an incident response plan is today!




The downstream industry needs to improve its level of digital readiness. But strategy, capability, culture and technology all need to align to work towards a successful digital transformation. Organizations should start their digital journey with the end-user in mind. Communicate widely and communicate deeply. By creating a culture of innovation, using a continuous improvement model and identifying change champions, complemented by top-down endorsement and bottom-up championing, adoption rates will be higher. Companies must be comfortable with failure.