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Rebecca Liebert, President & CEO, Honeywell UOP

Image: Honeywell

Industrial Automation “The demand for refinery products will always be there”

May 28, 2018

…says Rebecca Liebert, President & CEO, Honeywell UOP, in this interaction with Suchi Adhikari. She elaborates on why the recent demand for electric vehicles will not significantly affect the global refinery business in the near future and further puts light on the latest trends and solutions in the automation sector within the refinery industry. Excerpts from the interview…

Can you brief us on the Honeywell UOP Business Model? How is Honeywell implementing global best practices in India?

Honeywell specialises in converting crude oil into refinery products or plastics and also specialises in processing natural gas. Though we do not make any of these end-products, we sell the technologies and associated equipment with it, including catalysts, which help the refiners’ petrochemical gas processors to run efficiently and have the best outcome. So, our business model includes making profits by selling these technology solutions with a major focus on becoming our customer’s trusted partner in.

In terms of our Indian operations, for the Honeywell UOP business, we have approximately 700 employees in India, who handle R&D, engineering and equipment design services. Our R&D centre is world-class, deploying the most effective power plant capabilities and analyticals to develop next-generation technologies. We also execute projects on a global basis from our engineering centre and they make use of the latest tools and capability sets.

India has to move towards being an early adopter of technology in order to meet its rising energy needs. What are some of the challenges that the Indian industry is facing in adopting the latest technologies and how is Honeywell helping them overcome such challenges?

While our industry is conservative globally, in terms of investments, the Indian market has been stepping up to the recent BS VI challenge. The oil and gas industry has been putting in more processing units to remove sulphur and has also been putting units to increase octane in order to meet the BS VI standards and there has been a fast-paced technology adoption in this area. In terms of solutions offered by Honeywell, keeping in mind the trend towards Industry 4.0, we have the Honeywell Connected Plant, which helps connect processes, assets, people and enterprise. The plant also provides improved liability, improved optimisation, better trained workers and better running assets.

The Indian government has recently announced its decision to move to BS VI emission standards by 2020. How will this affect the refining technology business in India and how is the industry preparing to adopt to the BS VI regime?

From the refining technology perspective, most of the technologies that need to be implemented in order to meet the BS VI standards have already been chosen and sold to the refineries. To be prepared by 2020, they had to start doing this a couple of years ago. Hence, the technology adoption has already happened and now, it is just about implementation of the projects. This implementation will be happening in phases and the entire nation will have to be BS VI-ready by 2020.

Given the growing demand for increased productivity, what are the solutions being offered by Honeywell in order to meet this demand?

The Honeywell Connected Plant is a solution for driving productivity. However, we also offer energy-efficient designs and are innovating new catalysts, which help improve refineries.

Amidst talks of the Indian market moving entirely towards electric vehicles by 2030, what is the future of refining business in India?

We believe that electric cars, at some point, will take a significant amount of demand away from refined products. However, the demand for refined products will always be there, including jet fuel for the shipping and the aerospace industry, diesel as well as plastics, which need crude oil or natural gas. Hence, although electric vehicles may take some demand away from the crude oil barrel, we will still need refineries for the other products.

Recent studies that we conducted indicate that for the next 15 to 20 years, the amount of electric vehicle penetration is going to be very small and it will take only 1 to 2 million barrels per day of demand away from the market. This is in comparison to almost 100 million barrels that we use today per day. These figures highlight that ultimately, the electric vehicle demand will only affect 1 to 2 per cent of the entire global refinery business, thus leaving a miniscule impact. The reason for this is that there is not enough infrastructure for electric vehicles to become mainstream; also, there is not enough lithium and chromium batteries, on which these vehicles would operate, thus, reducing the number of electric vehicles significantly in the market. Furthermore, battery technology also has to change significantly for far greater adoption in the market.

The demand for jet fuel and diesel fuel is only going to continue to grow in the future due to the booming aerospace and shipping industry. The demand for plastics, using crude oil, will also grow significantly globally. Hence, the impact on refining technology, despite the demand for electric vehicles, will not be significant in the near future.

Would you like to highlight the trends in the area of automation in the refinery industry? How prepared, do you think, are Indian refineries to adapt to the new technologies, such as, IIoT/Industry 4.0?

Some of the biggest trends in automation will be using Virtual Reality to check the health of assets and processes. So, pumps, compressors and other equipment will be better connected through Augmented Reality. Keeping in mind these trends, we are starting a Virtual Reality training, where operators can be trained. This solution has especially been put in place, as mistakes are common especially when it comes to resolving maintenance issues. Hence, with our Augmented Reality solution, we are planning to better monitor and resolve these concerns.

In terms of adapting to the latest technologies, Indian refineries are very open to adopting them within their enterprises. Many enterprises are still gaining an understanding on how impactful these latest technologies can be, in terms of enhancing their productivity, processes and efficiency. However, the larger enterprises are highly interested in the total solution package of the connected plant while there are others, who are more interested and focused in parts of our solution, which connects only processes. At Honeywell, our engagement with our customer base is very high and therefore, they have a great understanding of our latest technological offerings. Hence, we anticipate greater demands for our solutions from the Indian market.

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