Is a barrel of oil more technologically advanced than your smartphone?

Image via PlaceIt on CC license

When you think of the oil, gas and petrochemical industry, an old, conservative and polluting one most likely comes to mind.

That was definitely the case for a long time, but in the last decade the industry has changed in a huge way. The need for higher productivity and growing costs of energy has made Oil, Gas & Petrochemical companies branch out into new, even futuristic technology solutions.

Think about subsea electrical machines! Working hundreds of meters below sea level, these machines extract natural gas and oil, cleaning it and boosting it to the surface. The installation and the maintenance of these machines are performed with the support of robotic ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles), piloted from a virtual reality control room. All the subsea equipment is designed to resist extreme environmental conditions like low temperature and high-pressure feed by high voltage, kilometers-long cables. The degree of technological effort needed to operate this kind of equipment is not too different from that of a space exploration program!

In petrochemical plants, product quality and the efficient use of energetic resources, such as fuel or steam, is managed by futuristic control technologies coordinated in a way that reminds us of the A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) seen in movies (remember Terminator’s SkyNet?!). These technologies, known as Advanced Process Control (APC), take advantage of latest studies in the academic world to provide a deeper “self-awareness” to industrial plants, enhancing operation and reducing environmental impact.

What about pipelines? Pipelines run for thousand miles across countries transporting fuels such as natural gas or oil or other precious resources, like clean water. How do you control and monitor this kind of infrastructure? Just one word: SCADA! Knowledge is power and the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition systems provide the best of Telecom technologies, collecting millions of data points, distributing them and synthesizing them into few Key Performance Indicators (KPI). These data are accessible through protected websites via internet browsers so operators and managers can check the pipeline performance on tablets or smartphones with an intuitive and smart interface!

Plants in OGP fields are often associated with pollution: this is often due to the high use of thermal motors such as diesel engines or gas turbines. What if a diesel motor is substituted by a zero-emissions electrical motor? And what if you switch from choking a fixed speed machine to a variable speed driver? You boost the performance of the plant! The best examples are the all-electrical Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) production plants where a high emission huge gas turbine (over 100 MW) is substituted by a zero-emission motor: the efficiency of a gas turbine is barely over 30-40% while variable speed drives efficiency is around 95-97%! And if the power comes from a renewable source, the compression process is performed with almost no impact!

Still think the oil, gas and petrochemical industry is old, conservative and polluting? Think again!

Feature image credit: creative commons on PlaceIt


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About the author

Diego Pareschi

Global Product Manager of rotating machines products and services for the oil, gas and chemical markets. In this role, Diego manages the portfolio of solutions for gas compressors, pumps, turbines and electrical motors, by leading the use of digital and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to ensure predictable, safe and efficient operation. Diego joined ABB is 2010 and has covered various roles in the R&D, product development and marketing in Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. He earned a M.Sc. in Automation and Control Engineering from Politecnico di Milano, Italy.
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