Our most recent Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project has been awarded an outstanding rating – the highest possible – by an independent panel of assessors from Innovate UK. Working with Process Integration Limited (PIL) and the University of Manchester, KTP Associate Dr Lluvia Ochoa-Estopier developed a new approach for optimising refinery crude units.
A new Artificial Neural Network (ANN) technology was used to create and capture the complex behaviour of crude distillation units, which is a radically different method to previous approaches. To field test the research findings, this leading research knowledge was applied in a live consultancy project for a European refinery. As a result of this real industrial application, the ANN technology has been validated by PIL’s clients and has led to increased interest in the development of the online tool, which in turn will help achieve a sustainable and profitable solution for future clients.
Dr Megan Jobson, Reader of The University of Manchester, Centre for Process Integration, School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science and Knowledge Base Supervisor of KTP commented, “Research in the Centre for Process Integration at the University of Manchester aims to change process design practice to achieve efficient use of capital, energy and materials. The KTP provided an excellent vehicle for enabling our research to make a real impact. It was hugely satisfying to support a talented PhD graduate in this project to realise the potential of the research results through their further enhancement and application to meet clients’ needs.”
It is expected that by combining the optimisation of the distillation process with the associated heat exchanger network, PIL will be able to deliver significantly better solutions, resulting in profitable new business for PIL worldwide. In the following, we interviewed Dr Lluvia Ochoa-Estopier to find out how the KTP experience further benefited her career as well as provided new business opportunities for Process Integration Limited.
Process Integration Limited – a Cheshire based chemical engineering consultancy – offers a list of services and industry-specific expertise for refinery owners to choose from, depending on their business needs. This includes optimisation in the Crude Oil Distillation units (CDU), Industrial Utility System and in Refinery Hydrogen Management improvements, etc. PIL is also the provider of state-of-the-art technology in process improvement techniques for the oil and gas, petroleum, petrochemical and chemical industries. Its in-house software applies advanced technologies that can typically help refiners identify millions of dollars in savings.
Transcript of Interview with Dr Lluvia Ochoa-Estopier:
- What has your experience been like?
It has been a very rewarding experience. The KTP was a wonderful opportunity to exploit my personal and professional skills, and exceeded my expectations. What I value the most about this experience was working with a team of experts, passionate about chemical engineering and passionate about sharing their knowledge and expertise. Personally, it was the perfect opportunity for me to develop competencies related to project management, effective communication and business development. The KTP was the best framework to grow both personally and professionally.
- What were the challenges you have encountered?
The biggest challenge I encountered was filling the gap between academia and industry. That is, adopting these new techniques I developed in the PhD to real-life projects. For example, adapting algorithms to accommodate new types of process constraints, more restrictive operating scenarios, working on a tight schedule and capturing our client’s concerns. Another aspect that was challenging was the language barrier, particularly when working on Chinese projects and team members that spoke little English; but I guess these are the perks of working in a global company.
- What major activities were covered under the 2.5-year collaborative project?
I was responsible for managing and developing a new methodology for optimising crude oil distillation systems. Although I had a work plan to guide my activities during the project, one of my main tasks was balancing the original project objectives with new opportunities found throughout this project. I coded all the algorithms and built the user-machine interface for our in-house software i‑CDU. I was also responsible for transferring this knowledge to my colleagues at PIL through supervision, mirror-working, knowledge transfer sessions, marketing and working with the business solutions team. I also prepared journal papers and presented my work at four international conferences.
- What new opportunities have been opened by applying your technology?
My contribution to PIL during this KTP resulted in the release of our in-house software i‑CDU. This software allows faster, better and more robust exploration of profit improvement options, compared to traditional optimisation methods developed for this type of distillation systems.
The methodology has been very well received in industry and in academia. In academia, it has opened the path for new research projects at the University of Manchester and has been successfully received at international conferences.
In industry, our new approach has been effectively applied to one European refinery and we are planning to apply it in further refineries. Although sometimes this technology is received with some scepticism and curiosity, as it is hard to believe that so many economic benefits can be achieved with no capital investment. Fortunately, we were able to verify such benefits via the real industrial implementation carried out at the European refinery.
- How has PIL benefited from the use of your technology? Specifically, what was the step change outcome using this approach?
The new way of approaching crude oil distillation system optimisation in i‑CDU allows us to provide our clients with better solutions for profit improvement with no capital investment. This new capability is very attractive to our clients as it represents immediate economic benefits with no capital investment, thus these are very low-risk projects. For us, it is an advantage over our competitors and makes our job a bit easier.