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A conversation with Carolyn Seto, Co-Chair of the Energy Innovation Pioneers program at CERAWeek and director, upstream technology and innovation practice, IHS markit

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 Climate Investments sat down with Carolyn Seto to discuss the importance of low-emissions technology and how it can make a difference to achieving climate change goals.

1. What are the goals of the partnership between CERAWeek and OGCI Climate Investments?

Reducing carbon intensity will be at the top of everyone's mind at CERAWeek, featuring prominently in the conversations with senior policy makers, business executives and thought leaders. By partnering with OGCI Climate Investments and hosting Venture Day, we're bringing technology and system solutions, front and centre into the discussion at CERAWeek and looking at how to meet the carbon challenge. This is also an excellent opportunity to showcase the unique value proposition of Climate Investments and build important connections in both the private and public sector.    

2. What can low-emissions technology help achieve vis-à-vis the climate challenge?

The industrial sector consumes one fifth of US primary energy demand and represents a significant point source for emissions. For example, steelmaking or cement manufacturing, require a stable source of energy to power processes, or high temperature heat sources to enable chemical transformation. In these cases, it’s not always feasible or efficient to substitute the energy source needed to drive these processes with renewables. This makes low emissions technology, improvements in energy efficiency critical to meeting the challenge. 

3. This Venture Day is focused on technology that supports 4 key areas; how can these focus areas improve energy efficiency?

i. Materials & Resource

ii. System Design & Process Optimization

iii. Automation & Digitization

iv. Distribution Networks

From resource extraction to materials production, energy is required at each step of the way. Technology that reduces energy consumption, such as new catalysts that allow chemical conversion processes to occur at a lower energy threshold or new drilling materials that allow for faster drilling wells and reduce the energy consumption to deliver a well, means that less CO2 is generated in the production of resources and materials. 

In the area of system design and process optimization, the systems to extract resources and produce materials are complex and interconnected. Energy efficiency efforts must be considered from a holistic perspective. For example, focusing on increasing energy efficiency in one component of a process may have unintended consequences that reduce efficiencies in other areas of the process. This can decrease overall efficiency and emissions performance of the overall system. Technologies like digital twin, which provide a systems-wide perspective of energy and materials consumption over an entire operation, allows operators to make decisions to improve overall efficiency.

Digitization supports collection of data at more frequent intervals, allowing greater visibility into potential process upsets. Combined with automation, these two technologies can enable smoother operations, reducing the occurrence of inefficient events like emergency shut downs and restarts.

If we consider the area of distribution networks, technologies that reduce the amount of energy required to transport resources and materials during production will also contribute to emissions reduction of the overall process. Examples of such technologies are new coatings that reduce the amount of energy required to pump materials or energy recovery technologies, like in-line microturbines, that convert waste heat to power, or wind power for auxiliary propulsion. Such technologies enable the amount of primary generated energy that must be input into the process to be lowered.

These focus areas are interconnected.  By taking a systems view for example, increased transparency from digitization allows more responsive process optimization and can enable higher efficiency operations. By combining technology deployment across these focus areas, synergies could develop, further increasing energy efficiency.

4. How can actors in the industrial and energy value chains work together to advance energy efficiency technology?

There is a natural complement between the energy efficiency efforts of the energy sector and those of the industrial sector. The products of the energy industry are inputs into industrial processes, either direct – through chemical feedstocks or indirect – through energy inputs required to power processes. Fuels which combust at higher efficiency or chemical feedstocks which required less processing will reduce the emissions intensity of industrial processes. 

The products of the industrial sector, like materials for pipes and tubing, are used in the infrastructure to produce energy. By developing lighter, higher strength materials to produce more durable consumable materials, energy usage is reduced because fewer consumables are needed per unit of energy produced. Lighter weight materials also decrease emissions intensity by reducing the amount of energy required in the supply chain.

Common components, like valves and motors, are used in both energy and industrial processes. Energy efficiency technologies, like predictive maintenance solutions (e.g., sensors, analytics algorithms, etc.) that improve performance of these components in industrial processes are also applicable in the energy industry.  By working together, industry and energy value chains can provide the scale for an energy efficiency solution to make a material impact on emissions reduction and provide an attractive market for entrepreneurs to scale their technology.  

5. What do you believe is the next big innovation in energy efficiency?

I believe there is still so much more to be discovered in digitization. Pockets of the energy-industrial value chain, like process intensification, have incorporated digitization and reaped the efficiencies, while the application of digitization is at early stages in other areas of the value chain, such as exploration. We've just scratched the surface of the new types of data and how to derive value from them. As new sensors are introduced, these industries find new ways to make their operations more efficient, making important new gains in energy efficiency.

I also think innovations in materials, including nanotechnology, present a fundamental opportunity to create step changes in material performance that can enhance energy efficiency of components on systems. Areas such as energy storage, quantum computing, micro-grid innovations to name a few are among a rich suite of emerging technologies which can positively impact energy efficiency.

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About Author

Carolyn Seto
Carolyn Seto

Carolyn Seto is a Director in IHS Markit’s Upstream Technology and Innovation practice. In this role, she investigates the roles technology and innovation play in enabling competitive differentiation in the upstream energy sector, from how a company sources new technology to how technology shapes a firm’s strategic goals. Recent research includes understanding the clean energy innovation ecosystem and the implications of the energy transition on the innovation landscape, where she was a contributing author on the Advancing the Landscape of Clean Energy Innovation report, jointly produced with the Energy Futures Initiative and supported by Breakthrough Energy. Ms. Seto is also the Co-chair of CERAWeek’s Energy Innovation Pioneers program, where she tracks emerging energy technology trends and identifies promising start-ups developing game changing technologies across the energy value chain. Ms. Seto has also worked as a reservoir engineer for BP, Shell and Chevron, in development and operational roles, domestic and international. She holds PhD and MSc degrees in petroleum engineering from Stanford University and a BSc in engineering chemistry from Queen’s University.

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