Photo by Keith Larson
“When you look at all the dramatic climate change events happening around us, it’s clear we need to do something—and fast. But it’s also a great time for engineers who enjoy a challenge.” Emerson’s Mike Train and Peter Zornio took the Immerse keynote stage to discuss the role of automation in achieving industry’s sustainability transformation. But first, they drew a laugh from the crowd as brothers Jake and Elwood “Green”—recycled monikers for a new industrial age based on past musical cameos as the Blues Brothers.

Automation, digitalization to power sustainability innovations

Oct. 9, 2023
Emerson’s Mike Train and Peter Zornio discussed automation's role in achieving industry’s sustainability transformation—and drew a laugh from the crowd as brothers Jake and Elwood “Green”, recycled monikers from past musical cameos as the Blues Brothers.

If society’s ambitions to curb carbon emissions and stem climate change are to be achieved, industry will have played a leading role. The effort must include optimizing the energy efficiency of traditional facilities and finding ways to capture or sequester what carbon emissions remain; integrating new sources of clean and renewable energy into the industrial value chain; and developing and scaling entirely new processes that fundamentally transform—in quantity and/or nature—the energy required to support society’s needs.

“When you look at all the dramatic climate change events happening around us, it’s clear we need to do something—and fast. But it’s also a great time for engineers who enjoy a challenge,” said Emerson Chief Technology Officer Peter Zornio, addressing a conference center hall packed full of just that sort of engineers. Zornio, together with Mike Train, Emerson chief sustainability officer, delivered the closing keynote address at Emerson Exchange Immerse 2023. Together, they discussed how automation plays a critical role in enabling the innovations that will stem the tide of climate change.

“Sustainability is a conversation everyone is having,” added Train. “And we have both a front row seat and the honor of participating in many of them.”

A ‘greening of’ update

Indeed, Emerson’s sustainability pledge consists of three pillars of concerted effort: the greening of, by and with Emerson. The greening of Emerson refers to how the company improves its own internal sustainability performance. Greening by Emerson relates to how Emerson technologies, solutions and expertise enable customers’ sustainability journeys. And greening with Emerson encompasses how the organization fosters collaboration and innovation among its global value chain partners.

Train first updated attendees on Emerson’s own greening, which features a reduction by half in scope 1 and scope 2 emissions since 2018 largely from energy efficiency gains (53%), renewable electricity investment (22%) and grid decarbonization efforts (25%). “It’s about activating, unleashing our people to identify opportunities,” Train said, citing more than 50 employee treasure hunts to identify opportunities for efficiency gains and 4,200 Earth Month Challenge participants.

The company has pursued a series of gatherings to share sustainability ideas with its suppliers and customers, Train said. “These include Greening Together Supplier Summits, Sustainability Executive Summits, and Green Innovation Days held around the world,” Train explained.

Transformation of industry

Emerson has also been active in road-mapping sessions to chart the innovations that can remake the current industrial energy landscape. “For traditional industries, the focus is on enabling the decarbonization and clean energy transition of a broad range of critical industries,” Zornio said.

The four pillars of this effort include:

• Energy source decarbonization, including low carbon power (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, biomass), low carbon fuels (biofuels, biogas, LNG), plus hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels;

• Energy & emissions management, including emissions monitoring & control, carbon capture (utilization, storage, removal), plus advanced controls, analytics and simulation;

• Electrification & grid systems, including smart grid and network management, energy transport and storage, workforce safety and productivity, plus critical mineral value chains; and,

• Circularity & waste management, including new molecule production, materials and minerals recycling and circulation, water and waste management.

Zornio and Train went on to highlight a range of projects where Emerson has participated in the transformation of representative industries—not only with established players who know Emerson’s standing in the automation arena, but with start-ups that stand to reinvent how industry operates. With Neste, for example, where Emerson technologies helped the oil refiner to expand capacity for sustainable aviation fuels and green diesel. With Albioma, where Emerson expertise helped the independent renewable energy provider convert a coal-fired facility to 100% renewable electricity from biomass. With Burns McDonnell, where Emerson helped the engineering firm to design and build the world’s largest battery storage facility. And with PureCycle Technologies, where Emerson technologies are helping transform polypropylene recycling to yield near virgin-quality resins.

Further, on the green energy front, Emerson is working with Mitsubishi Power to create green hydrogen storage facilities to augment electrical supply during peak demand periods, with KoHyGEN to build the first of 35 high-capacity hydrogen refueling stations in South Korea, with Li-Cycle to build recycling capacity for spent vehicle batteries, and with Origin to convert biomass to chemicals with zero carbon loss in the process.

These and other industry players are using Emerson technologies to get new projects up and running quickly, leveraging “born digital” methodologies such as automatic commissioning, electronic marshalling, robust data foundations and a reliability architecture to build new processes that are optimized from the start. “Some of these start-ups may not know Emerson, but they know experience counts when it comes to project execution,” said Zornio.

Digital today, boundless tomorrow

While Train and Zornio are justifiably proud of the Emerson innovations that are transforming industry today, they also pointed to the company’s Boundless Automation vision that will continue to break down the last obstacles left by the automation industry’s analog, proprietary past.

To take automation further, Boundless Automation is centered on a cohesive software platform that spans the entire enterprise—from field to edge to cloud, Zornio explained. Siloed system architectures will yield to Boundless Automation, data islands to a unified data model, defense-in-depth cybersecurity to inherently secure designs, a focus on hardware to data-centricity, device administration to fleet administration, single-site operations to cloud-enabled enterprise operations, and from mostly CAPEX spending to mostly OPEX investment.

“Today’s architecture is good, but issues remain,” concluded Zornio. “Boundless Automation is designed to capitalize on the opportunities.”

About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.

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