The virtual conference and exhibition, organised by the Cavendish Group, brought together petrochemical and refinery operators, downstream service companies, automation and digitalisation specialists and technology solution providers to explore how disruption, digitalisation and innovation are shaping the downstream oil and gas sector.
In its fourth year and revised format, the Future Downstream conference analysed the key challenges and opportunities for the refining and petrochemical industries.
A series of fireside chats, panel sessions and presentations focused on machine learning, AI, asset life cycle management and performance, supply chain management, data analytics, cybersecurity, and digital transformation. The programme was packed with real-life business cases demonstrating best practices within the industry, applications, and technology solutions.
Following two days of high-level debate, discussion and dialogue, the main message throughout the event was clear. With strict environmental regulations and changing consumer demand, futureproofing the downstream industry means new and innovative business models, smarter collaborations, and digital transformation as the world races towards net zero. But the industry needs to act now and act decisively.
Adam Soroka, Managing Director of Cavendish Group, said: "A new downstream is evolving. We're heading towards an exciting next 10 years as the industry transforms itself to help the world get to net zero by 2050 or sooner. But what does this mean for refiners and their business models and ways of working in a post-pandemic world? How do they strike a balance between safeguarding today's business and investing in the future?
"Future Downstream 2022 mapped the pathways towards sustainability and survival, but due to the complex nature of downstream operations, it's clear there's no one-size-fits-all solution for refiners to respond to the paradigm shift. Scaling both new technology and transformational innovations will give sites a competitive edge."
While it was evident from discussions throughout the two days that the road ahead for the traditionally conservative industry will not be easy, and standalone refiners will be hit the hardest, the optimism throughout the Future Downstream conference was notable – after all, the sector has shown before it can adapt and build resilience into its businesses.
Delegates heard that the industry has the skills and capabilities to lead the way in decarbonisation. Whether it's tackling scope 1 or 2 emissions by increasing efficiencies with new or improved processes including biofuels, implementing CCS, hydrogen, electrification, or renewable energy or tackling scope 3 emissions by providing new low-carbon products including E-fuels and green hydrogen to the market, while leveraging waste streams to build a circular economy.
While geographic region, regulation and capital will determine how individual downstream companies navigate the energy transition, organisations were advised to start implementing energy efficiency solutions that make sense now and over the next decade, collaborate more, embrace risk and prioritise pilot projects.
Bob Maughon, EVP Sustainability, Technology, and Innovation, CTO & CSO at SABIC, said: “All clean technologies will play a part in our reducing carbon intensity, but we can’t just wait for the perfect solution. We must make smart decisions on our assets today. And we must make sure that we’re investing now in these more transformative technologies and capabilities that will enable the second phase of the transition.”
Sharing his thoughts on the refinery for the future, Bryan Glover, President and CEO of Honeywell UOP, said: “I believe we will see a shift to heavy petrochemical production, with strong and careful molecule management and smarter ways of achieving conversion to minimise the number of processing steps in the product cycle. Cleaner fuels will be prioritised throughout the process before bringing on renewables fuel production.”
The future refinery will also be shaped by digital transformation, and digitally connected to a degree never before possible. But open digital twin technologies have a key role to play in improving process optimisation and operational reliability, minimising energy consumption and emissions, eliminating waste products and capturing tribal knowledge in refineries, today.
Feeding good data into AI and machine learning models for predictive maintenance will bring huge benefits to the downstream industry, but the real value will only come by understanding truly how humans and machines interact.
Shane McArdle, SVP Production at Kongsberg Digital, said: “We have reached a threshold in digitalisation in the downstream industry where we are demonstrating tech value across the board. But it's not just about the technology, it’s about the change management that goes hand in hand with it.
“Industry 5.0 is where we empower people again and a digital twin is where we put people central to that technology. It's not about connecting machines but delivering a user experience. User empathy is so important.”
On driving adoption in digital transformation, Jason Gislason, Chief Digital Officer at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, said: “If you can start capturing all the emissions data and waste data of all your plant operations, someday, soon, that data is going to drive the optimisation of your plant. But implementing that data capture technology needs to start with the end-user in mind. If you bring users along during the design process, you will typically be more successful in achieving higher adoption rates.”
Closing the event with Adam Soroka, Alessandro Pistillo, Director of Digital Strategic Projects at BASF SE, said: “These are certainly exciting times to be involved in the downstream industry. I expect to see more change in the oil and gas and chemical markets in the next 10 years than seen over the past 80.
“There was so much to learn from so many excellent speakers at Future Downstream 2022. Events like this facilitate and cultivate knowledge sharing and nurturing of business partnerships which is crucial for an industry reinventing itself. Mastering the challenges ahead will require much tighter collaboration across geographies and value chains than today.”