Lowering the Carbon Footprint by Optimizing Liquids Pipelines

Lowering Carbon Footprint by Optimizing Liquids PipelinesPipelines move the energy required to make our modern world possible. Moving liquids from crude oil to produced end products is energy intensive. Optimizing the flow of these liquids is critical for more sustainable pipeline operations.

Emerson’s Jennifer Worthen joined me in this podcast to discuss ways to drive more optimized performance. Give the podcast a listen and visit the SCADA Solutions & Software for Energy Logistics section on Emerson.com for more solutions to drive more sustainable pipeline performance.


Jim: Hi everybody, I’m Jim Cahill and this is another Emerson Automation Experts Podcast. Pipelines are critical infrastructure across the globe, bringing needed energy for our civilization to continue to advance. Today, Jennifer Worthen joins me to discuss ways to optimize pipelines carrying liquids to their destination for processing and use.

Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Hi, Jim. Thanks for having me.

Jim: Well, we’re glad that you’re here to share your knowledge with us. Well, let’s begin by having you share with our listeners, your background and path to your current role here at Emerson.

Jennifer: Absolutely. My background is I have a PhD in computational science, engineering and mathematics.

So that was really fun to do. It involves doing the mathematics and the development/coding, and then the science as well. And so this is, has been really beneficial in working at Emerson. I have been working on Emerson software for the past 10 years, working on mostly optimization as a subject matter expert, and I’ve applied it to different pieces of software in the company over my time.

Jim: Wow, those are some fabulous credentials there. I imagine college years and all that must have been a whole lot of fun.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Yes.

Jim: Okay. Well, at Emerson, we speak a lot about optimization. So let’s start out by putting it into the right context.

We’ll be discussing optimization of liquid pipelines that transport energy products. So what does optimization mean in relation to pipelines? Are there multiple ways to optimize pipeline operations?

Jennifer: Yes, there absolutely are. If you, I always say, if you ask 10 different people what pipeline optimization means, you might get 10 different answers.

There are so many different things that you can try to optimize. One thing that you can do is try to optimize the volumes of the batches that are going down the line. So you have, X barrels of product one followed by X barrels of product two. And you can try to do some optimization on how large or how small those batch sizes are.

You could also optimize ordering of batches that can affect your costs and your operations quite greatly actually. And the type of optimization that I focus the most on is deciding of, so you’ve got these pumps that are moving the liquids from point A to point B. These pumps are run either on electricity or by fuel.

And so my optimization software goes through and decides how many of these pumps need to be running. How can we run them the most efficiently to make the movement cost as low as possible? We also have an expensive chemical called drag-reducing agent or DRA. And this improves the throughput of a pipeline, but it is very expensive.

So, there’s a trade-off between using more electricity from your pumps or using more DRA in the line to reduce the drag as it’s moving down the line. So the optimization can take that into account and look for a sweet spot between the two in order to minimize the operational costs of moving down the pipeline.

Jim: That’s interesting that, so you have different constraints there that you’re trying to optimize around. So how does optimizing to minimize operational costs differ from optimizing to minimize station emissions?

Jennifer: That is an excellent question. Minimizing operational costs is going to depend on your power contracts at each of the stations and how much DRA you’re using in your pipeline, but minimizing station emissions is a little bit different because it depends on how the electricity for each of the stations is generated.

Some stations may be generated in different ways and it could be a different factor than the actual power contract cost is. And so you may end up weighing different stations differently in terms of their usage, depending on their generation type for that station.

Jim: I guess is we look at it from our customers’ perspectives. What are some of their primary concerns regarding optimizing pipeline operations?

Jennifer: So, one of the biggest concerns is, of course, the spending moving the products from point A to point B, both the spending on the electric or fuel to run the pumps and the DRA, but other things that are concerns as well are the station emissions.

And then just the general efficiency of the pipeline, the asset utilization, the wear and tear of all the assets, you have to be careful that you’re not overusing any of your assets unnecessarily, and then causing them extra wear and tear that’s not necessary.

Jim: Yeah, that sounds like a number of trade-offs there to balance, especially with the push for everybody around more sustainable operations. So how does pipeline optimization benefit our customers that are operating liquid pipelines?

Jennifer: Pipeline optimization can provide a lot of different benefits to these types of customers. In addition to the cost savings that you can achieve, which is obviously quite valuable, there is a lot of really good, different pieces of data that you can get from pipeline optimization software. For example, knowing ahead of time what your power costs are going to be for the next month, six months, a year.

Having an estimate of that value is also something that’s very valuable. This type of software is very good at answering questions that can help you make business decisions. For example, if I need to move extra volume over the next month, how much is that actually going to cost me? Those types of questions are very easy to answer using software like this and provide actual data for making those business decisions rather than just using guesses.

Jim: It’s a unique industry in that way that optimization, there’s so many economic factors that go into just based on the geographic spread of these pipelines and different rates for electricity and everything else. So it sounds like a complex problem that software can help address.

You know, we’ve, we’ve covered some of these broad challenges and some of the things people are optimizing around but getting more specific. What are some software solutions that Emerson offers to support optimization and emission reduction goals for pipeline transportation companies? And do these solutions integrate with other pipeline modeling and simulation solutions?

Jennifer: Emerson has a piece of software called PipelineOptimizer. That is the main software that I work on. And it goes through and does all of these optimization goals that we’ve been talking about so far. So minimizing your operational costs by choosing how your pump should operate and how much DRA you should use.

It can also do optimization on what flow rates you should be running at to minimize operational cost overall. So, that software is very flexible in terms of what it can model and has a lot of different modes, depending on what it is that you’re trying to optimize. Because like we talked about earlier, optimization can mean different things to different people.

So, we have a few different modes, depending on what goals you are trying to achieve. Now, in terms of integration, we do integrate with other pipeline modeling software. Our biggest integration point is with our software that is called PipelineScheduler. In that software, it’s used to come up with the batch plan, the ordering of all the products and their volumes that you want to move over, say, the next month.

And then that can be directly imported into the PipelineOptimizer software so that you can optimize the operations, optimize your flow rates, do all the hard math that figures out how to run things best and then send that back over to the scheduling software so you can get a full picture of what’s going to happen on your pipeline over the next month.

Jim: So PipelineOptimizer and PipelineScheduler. So how did these software tools relate to automating pipeline optimization results?

Jennifer: Automation is a really fun question to think about in terms of optimization. We have a lot of goals for integrating with more software that Emerson has, especially it’s batch tracking software and its leak detection software.

So that while you are running your pipeline as an operator, you would be able to see if you are running optimally or not at the current state of time and decide, oh, maybe I should switch to using these pumps instead, or maybe I should be running at a lower flow rate. Those types of decisions to be able to be made a little bit more in an automated fashion, showing the operator what should be done instead, then leads us to, okay, then can we actually automate these results and run the system with a person watching, making sure everything looks good.

Can we do better in terms of automating this so that we don’t have to think about, oh, maybe I should do this? Maybe I should do that. If we’re doing it in an automated fashion, then things run smoother just by default.

Jim: Yeah, that makes sense. You’ve got the system watching over based on your objectives of what you’re trying to do to do what’s necessary in automated again with the supervision over all of that. It would be interesting to hear some successes that we’ve seen. Can you provide some real-world results, maybe without naming names and all that pipeline operators have experienced?

Jennifer: Absolutely. We’ve got quite a few customers that are extremely happy with the results and data that PipelineOptimizer is providing for them.

We have a few customers that are using PipelineOptimizer to, once they’ve reduced their costs and optimize how much DRA they’re using, they’re able to go back and calculate how much emissions have been reduced by performing these optimization results, which can be quite significant. And then another major US-based pipeline operator is able to use Pipeline Optimizer when optimizing the different flow rates over the system. They can reduce their cost by 10 to 15%. And this cost is the electricity that’s used by the stations and the cost of the DRA as well. So that can be pretty significant in terms of what you’re able to do using PipelineOptimizer.

Jim: 10 to 15 percent that is pretty significant. I’d like my home electricity bill to be lowered 10 to 15%. I guess I had mentioned sustainability a little earlier. So how is our software helping customers calculate and minimize the carbon footprint of their liquids pipelines.

Jennifer: That is an excellent question. Our PipelineOptimizer software does go through and calculate an estimation for what the carbon footprint is of the pipeline for the simulated time period.

So you could run a 30-day simulation and get an estimate for the emissions for that time period. And then one thing that I’ve been working on over the last couple of days actually is doing an actual emissions optimization. So when you do mathematical optimization, you have what’s called an objective function, which is what you’re trying to minimize.

And in most cases, what you’re trying to minimize is the overall operational cost. But for this emissions optimization, instead of doing costs, I’m trying to minimize the emissions generated by the system. Like we discussed, it’s a little bit different. It’s going to give you a slightly different answer, but it’s also something very interesting to study and see what the differences actually look like and how it does change your cost.

And so I’ve been working on that recently that will be coming out in the software relatively soon. And we’re really excited to be able to share that with our customers.

Jim: That is interesting. So does that mean Pipeline Optimizer can be used to calculate the emissions of a pipeline that it would generate if it was not optimized?

Jennifer: Absolutely, that is absolutely the case because you can run both scenarios in the software. You can run a non-optimized scenario and then the optimized scenario and see what the differences between the emissions on the two.

Jim: Oh, that’s great. Well, what role do you see the pipeline industry playing in the transition to a low-carbon economy? And how will our software help facilitate the management of a wider mix of energy products, I guess, to help our customers achieve their net zero goals?

Jennifer: Emerson is taking an approach to the transition to a low-carbon economy by ensuring that our simulation software is able to handle and fully model this wider mix of energy products that we will be seeing in the near future.

We’re already getting asked by different customers, “can you model X? Can you model Y?” And so we are making sure that we can cover all of these different types of compositions of fluids that will be moved in the pipelines. And in terms of attaining net zero goals, I think that the emissions optimization and emissions modeling and Pipeline Optimizer will be a very big benefit to that. Because you can see how much emissions you’re currently using, and then go through and try to reduce that using the emissions optimization mode that I’ve been working on.

It will be different than minimizing costs, but it is an important goal to reflect on and make sure that we are moving towards.

Jim: Well, I know I’m smarter about pipeline optimization than I was before we started our conversation here. So let’s wind things down. Do you have any final perspectives to share with our listeners about pipeline optimization?

Jennifer: Yeah, we’re continuing to closely monitor the energy evolution and the impact it’s having on the industry. We are learning every single day from our customers and how they are preparing to manage this broader mix of products within their existing operations. This information allows us to track changing needs and align our solutions so that we can appropriately handle what it is our customers need.

But based on what we’ve learned so far, we are confident that our current software offerings will be able to handle these newer energy products and provide the foundation that they need. This will absolutely help our customers fully leverage their software investments with Emerson.

Jim: Yeah, that’s an important point. We’re in a very dynamic situation where more hydrogen is going to be coming along and everything else. So I’m glad that you and the team are on top of this change and ready to adapt to whatever our customers need. And I guess just to finish things, where can our listeners go to learn more?

Jennifer: I recommend visiting Emerson.com/EnergyLogistics, where you can see our entire suite of advanced pipeline software, which does include PipelineOptimizer.

Jim: Well, that’s great. Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your expertise on pipeline optimization with our listeners today.

Jennifer: Thank you, Jim. I really appreciate it.

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