Digital DCS underpins precision process control in 80% waste-recovery technology.
Digitalization and scalability prove pivotal for innovative sustainability project.
As a society the world has a lot of catching up to do if it is to successfully address the ecological issues facing the planet.
Advances in technology, digitalization and connectivity are helping to drive up efficiencies – allowing industry to do more with what is available in terms of production, processing, and output. But sustainability professionals agree that there are significant gains to be made from combatting waste.
Whether it is food waste, supply chain inefficiencies, single-use plastic, or packaging of any kind, waste is a significant contributor to the sustainability equation.
The problem is that convenience-based packaging and materials are not ideal candidates for traditional recycling or reuse. And it is for this reason that significant private and government-funded research is being used to back more efficient and cleaner ways of reducing or even eliminating waste’s impact on the environment.
A leader in this field is Spanish company Greene Enterprise. Formed in Elche, Spain in 2011 by four entrepreneurs – all chemists by training, two consultants and one investor. The company has developed a gasification process that can eliminate up to 80% of waste, turning it into clean energy (electrical and thermal), biofuel products that can be used as raw materials in a variety of industrial processes and an inert ash that can be used for civil engineering applications.
According to Jesus Martinez, sales director at Greene Enterprise: “Our innovative thermal-conversion technology uses any organic waste feedstock that contains carbon – such as biomass, urban solid waste (MSW), industrial or hospital, WWTP sludge, coal and wood, plastics, used tires – regardless of its humidity, composition, calorific power and morphology. What is more, we have proven that we can do it in a profitable way.
“Our mission,” he continues, “is to install and manage profitable treatment plants for companies or entities that must manage large amounts of waste and want to be aligned with the circular economy and the objectives of Horizon 2020-2030.
“The key to the success and the effectiveness of our technology is the multi-stage approach we have developed,” Martinez continues. “Other recovery technologies use a similar physical/chemical process, but the level of detail in terms of batch-specific control is simply not there. By segmenting our recovery process into multiple steps, we gain much greater control of each stage – which is essential, due to the potential variety in feedstock. However, the challenge of this multi-stage approach is greater process complexity due to all the additional variables.”
This need for a highly capable process-control solution led Greene Enterprise to approach Rockwell Automation.
“We were looking for a complete process control solution from an experienced industry provider that could support us during all the development processes – from the automation of our prototypes and pilot plants up to a complete production plant,” explains Carles Blasco González, automation engineer at Greene Enterprise.
“Before commercializing our solution,” he continues, “we had some concerns about scalability; it seemed too huge a step from a prototype to an industrial plant. But the PlantPAx distributed control system (DCS) from Rockwell Automation proved to be the ideal platform to help us grow.
“With the DCS at the core of the project, the tools that we are now using allow us to create the automation skeleton in just a few steps, starting from our engineering database. A unified library, that includes all software and hardware – from the PLC to the SCADA – helps us create a well-defined project in just a few steps, saving us significant amounts of working and configuration hours. It’s all done automatically! The standardization of supervision routines also makes life much easier for our operators, since all the elements of our plants have common faceplates.”
Although the installed projects are currently only on the Spanish mainland, there are still geographical hurdles to overcome. “A remote control and supervision center is in the process of being developed,” Martinez explains, “which will allow our engineers and supervisors to verify the KPIs of the different facilities in real time.”
Greene Enterprise has also fully leveraged the digitalized nature of the entire system by using digital twin technology. “Over the years, our industrial digital twin has allowed us to test all the control architecture that we want to install,” Blasco said, “in a sustained process that has been influenced by our own learning and operating needs. The scalability of the solution has made it possible to enrich the system without the need to recreate the entire architecture.
“We started with a simple system, with a PLC, remote periphery and a supervision PC,“ he adds, “and we have now added hardware redundancy, thin clients and multiple points of operation. The ability to simulate the behavior of devices easily allows us to verify the control routines by linking the PLC with our digital twin.
“The support from Rockwell Automation has been very helpful,” Martinez concludes,” and this is one of the reasons why we chose them. We have received national and European support, with our needs being escalated automatically and receiving the help of specialists in their respective fields.”
Eric Chalengeas, regional vice president sales, south Europe, at Rockwell Automation explains: “Sustainability is a challenge for many companies, but modern digital solutions can not only help to cut waste during production, but also, as in this case, after disposal, with more tightly controlled process control. In this application, our PlantPAx DCS proved to be the ideal process control platform, as part of a wider digital-tools deployment, which included digital twin simulations too. This was also a great example of collaboration within our PartnerNetwork™, with Greene benefiting not just from our process industry expertise, but also domain experience from our specialty distributor, TCA Automation."