Best supporting sustainability actors

Feb. 24, 2023
Sustainability maxi-series 2023—Day 10— Optimation combines traditional system integration skills to develop new sustainability solutions

While addressing one’s own consumption and emissions remains essential, sustainability also means helping others determine and achieve their green goals.

“We’re a system integrator and custom engineering and manufacturing company that also provides fabrication and construction services, so our sustainability is in the way we practice—and in the devices and software we produce that can makes our clients’ processes and products more sustainable,” says Steve Beyer, business development director at Re:Build Optimation Technology LLC in Rochester, N.Y., a certified and founding member of the Control System Integrators Association. “We also make hydrogen fuel cell equipment that can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and incorporate the software code that helps users increase efficiency, use less energy, and reduce emissions. Our role is making equipment that our clients can employ to convert from carbon-intensive processes and achieve their sustainability goals.”

New, labor-intensive, costly requests 

Beyer reports that sustainability is prompting Optimation’s customers to ask for equipment and capabilities they never requested before, which can make design and integration more challenging, labor-intensive and costly. Some of these sustainable projects include flare gas applications converting from methane to greener methanol, or turning waste gas into more sustainably produced jet fuel. He adds that more customers are seeking to incorporate fuel cells, reformers, lithium-ion batteries and other green technologies into their industrial production strategies. Plus, they want them to continuously improve and be produced in greater numbers, so they can be used in multiplying applications, such as hydrogen-fueled trucks and increasingly popular electric vehicles (EVs).  

“One client in New Jersey was asked to make greener jet fuel for a flyover at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, so Japan could show its commitment to sustainability. So, we helped develop and produce the equipment, and set up their application there,” explains Beyer. “We’re also working on electric vertical takeoff and landing (e-VTOL) aviation projects, which need hydrogen equipment for fuel cells, as well as battery power, so they can produce electricity, charge batteries and run motors.

Supplement essential skills

Despite the obstacles that sustainability throws up, and the initial redesigns and retooling it requires, Beyer reports that he and his colleagues at Optimation already had the core skills they needed to complete their sustainability projects.

“Our decades of chemical engineering expertise prepared us to size and safety architect the efficiency systems required for converting waste gas,” explains Beyer. “We’ve also been active in the oil and gas industry for nearly 20 years, so we’re competent at designing, building and welding high-pressure, high-temperature vessels and systems that may be three miles down in the earth, working at up to 40,000 psi and 300 °C. These oilfield services need precise control, so we use safety PLCs. However, we can also pivot, and safely apply this experience in sustainable applications, such as fuel cells and hydrogen processes, which also need high-pressure, high-temperature equipment.”

Similarities aside, however, working with hydrogen requires construction materials and procedures that are quite different because the gas can embrittle many regular metals. For example, in some applications Optimation uses Inconel, a nickel-chromium, super-alloy, which is very costly and challenging to machine. “It’s also difficult to assemble equipment for hydrogen because we have to account for joints and threading, use 304 and 316 stainless-steel in many places, and follow other hydrogen-specific protocols,” says Beyer. “Our staff is trained, but there are many new tricks of the trade to learn.”

Beyer concludes that Optimation’s staff already had deep experience in real-world manufacturing, and is simply reapplying their know-how to sustainability. “You just have to think about your foundational strengths, think about how they can be applied to advance sustainability, and seek more knowledge and partners, such as select providers of raw materials and special components. When it comes to sustainability, you must jump in with both feet. This isn’t the time to just put a toe in.”

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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