by Monique A. Hitchings, Editor-in-Chief

A Lifetime of Achievement: Once You’re In, You’re In

October 7th, 2008 mhitchings

And the winners are ……

One of the biggest compliments one can receive is recognition from one’s peers - the accolades that come from those with whom you work. Those who typically receive them are humble, unassuming, and passionate about their work and the industry in which they are involved. They do what they do not for the recognition but for the love of the job, the company for which they work, the people with whom they work and the industry they serve.

This morning the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) during the Q&A Technology Forum in Orlando, Florida, recognized who it believes are the best of the best for 2008, and those in attendance agreed.

Lawrence Lew of Chevron, Glenn Liolios of DuPont Stratco and Elizabeth Mettee of Grace Davison were called out for years of service to the organization as well as the industry itself. These individuals each received a Peter G. Andrews Lifetime Service Award, which began in 2003 to “honor members who have made long-lasting contributions to the value and vitality of the NPRA Q&A Meeting. Recipients of this award have served as Q&A panelists, screening committee members and active participants in the dialogue that is fundamental to the meeting.” These recipients, throughout their career, have “demonstrated a willingness to pass on their knowledge and expertise to future generations in this forum, have made significant contributions to the meeting’s quality and have emphasized the importance of sharing knowledge in making continuous improvements.”

In discussing this event with a friend of mine afterward, he said, “I would feel odd about getting a lifetime achievement award. Doesn’t that basically mean that people believe that you are of absolutely no value once you get that award?”

Lew alluded to a similar thought during his acceptance speech (much more eloquently put than my friend’s response) in which he said, “A lifetime award? I didn’t even know I was sick.”

Lew noted the changes of the industry and organization during his tenure, in which he’s seen companies disappear, new companies arise and “even small nations have merged, such as Exxon and Mobil.” He noted the evolution of NPRA along with the industry, to more accurately reflect the needs of the industry. NPRA, he said, used to have large panel sessions in which 10 to 12 people sat at long tables trying to talk about and answer everything in the industry. This became cumbersome, and with some people filling in and giving presentations for others — some without the same knowledge — questions were met with answers, including “there will be more information in the transcript,” Lew said, “which usually meant, ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out,’” which could take a few months, he admitted.

So one change has been the reduction of panel members and more concise topics that ensures “the answer is more clean and crisp and when you ask a question, you’re going to get an answer then and there.”

Liolios noted the passion he feels for what he does, and believes that is the key to longevity and happiness in the industry. And we all know one of the biggest challenges this — as well as almost every other — industry faces is knowledge transfer and the need for new bodies to replace those who are moving on.

“I think it really comes down to, do you have a passion for what you do, and are you willing to share that knowledge? I really appreciate being acknowledged here because my passion is this industry. I am in the scouting industry, and one of my sayings is, ‘leave a place better than you found it,’ and I really believe I’ve done that with NPRA,” Liolios said after receiving the award.

Elizabeth Mettee, Grace Davison
Elizabeth Mettee, Grace Davison
Mettee, who started with Grace Davison in 1974, shared a medley of “historical” photos with the audience from past NPRA shows as well as Grace Davison events. One of the most interesting sets of slides included Grace coffee mugs from NPRA shows dating from 1970 through today. These were interspersed among photos of events passed, and attendees laughed as they saw themselves or peers in pictures dating 20 or more years.

The event was lively, the mood was light, the reflections were sincere and the messages were the same: “We fully believe in your mission and everything you guys do; we’re tremendously supportive of you,” Mettee said of NPRA.

Increased Energy Efficiency ‘Easy’ Refinery Cost Fix

October 7th, 2008 mhitchings

The financial industry is tanking (for the moment), there is a heavy dependence on foreign crude imports, gasoline growth is becoming weaker, people aren’t traveling and consuming fuel at the same pace as years past, the future of the energy industry is significantly dependent on the new U.S. Administration and the environment’s instability is in our hands to strengthen — no pressure, and no reason to be pessimistic.

Although we received about 50 returned emails to National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) “usual suspect” attendees to whom we reached out — eager to see them again or perhaps to meet for the first time — there was still a significant crowd at the first day of this year’s event. Twenty-two companies sponsored themed hospitality suites open to all attendees and two held private invitation-only events. Some companies had live music or other forms of entertainment and all had great food and open bars. Many suites were decorated according to the particular theme, and some even had interactive video games where attendees could match wits with one another.

Yet, the absence of some company attendance was noted. One industry representative with whom I spoke said there were a number of large companies who did not send employees for reasons ranging from dealings with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast last month, causing preemptive refinery shut-ins (although most are operational at this point); to “company X won’t be there, so I’m not going;” to basic travel budget cutbacks.

However, this year’s attendee number (815) was not far off from those in the past, with the exception of last year’s 979, which NPRA attributed to a high ratio of one-day registrants. Registrant numbers typically hover in the 800s, according to NPRA, which recorded 898 registrants in 2006 and 822 in 2005. Based on the trends of registration during the past few weeks, NPRA said it was expecting about 800 this year.

Despite all this as well as the fact that the industry is in turmoil and refiners are faced with a number of challenges, today’s overall message of the 2008 NPRA Q&A in Orlando, Florida, was that there is hope (short term at least). We just need to think differently.

“Refining capacity is expanding worldwide,” said NPRA keynote speaker Blake Eskew, vice president of Purvin and Gertz Inc.

Refinery projects are occurring globally, and announced crude distillation projects from now through 2016 have been divided into three categories (representing millions of barrels per day in production).
Total global crude capacity additions most likely to occur account for 4.8 million b/d; those with high probability of occurring account for 4 million b/d; and those that are speculative account for 27.6 million b/d — all for a total of 36.4 million b/d, Eskew said.

The Energy Management: Principles & Practices session was aimed to show attendees — a good portion of the turnout representing refineries — ways in which they could easily cut costs by becoming more energy efficient. A lot has to do with just being aware.

“Push energy accountability to operators,” said LyondellBasell’s Lee Wells.

The company participated in an energy study with KBC, and his final presentation slide noted the “path forward” with this study: discovery and benchmarking — modeling, gap analysis, pinch study; identifying and evaluating opportunities; rank and select these opportunities; and implement them.

LyondellBasell’s corporate goal is to have 10% savings during five years.

Automation, said Emerson Process Management’s Doug White, can help reduce energy usage by reducing costs in a number of areas. To reduce overall refinery energy costs, process energy demand and energy supply costs must be reduced. To reduce those costs, internal utility production efficiency must increase while in turn, external purchase costs should be reduced. And there you have it — overall reduced energy costs.

White noted key takeaways for control system improvements, heater controls, fractionization energy savings and site energy supply optimization.

He summarized his portion of the presentation by noting that energy is the largest controllable cost in refinery process operation and that its efficient production and use are keys to refinery profitability. White also pointed out that automation and advanced automation are keys to effective energy use and management in the refinery. And his final point: implementation of a program to save energy requires a disciplined approach to evaluation and analysis.

Fernando Oliveira with Petrobras, who discussed the company’s corporate energy management process, noted that climate change discussions are nowadays in the top agenda of petroleum companies.

It seems simple enough, in theory, that one of the easiest places to begin cutting costs is in energy use — after all, to paraphrase how one speaker today put it: there are a lot of costs that are out of our control, but the one thing we can control is energy usage.

Now Available — Commercial Lithium-ion Battery APS

September 2nd, 2008 mhitchings
Enertek co-principles Paul Baumann (left) and Bruce Wingen discuss their anti-idling technology for the transportation industry. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Enertek co-principles Paul Baumann (left) and Bruce Wingen discuss their anti-idling technology for the transportation industry. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Reducing energy, saving fuel cost and emitting fewer nitrous oxides into the atmosphere are key items for large-fleet companies (in particular) to tick off their “to do” lists. Anti-idling technology, a seemingly small concept, has significant benefits, especially when layers of government (local, state and federal) are on the bandwagon to make it mandatory - and it’s catching on. 

Portland, Oregon-based Enertek Solutions Inc., which brought its anti-idling advanced Infini-Gen-Q hybrid auxiliary power system (APS) and battery-operated Infini-Gen APS prototype to the market during a May 15,000-mile  six-week roadshow across the United States as well as in Generator Reduces Need to Idle in the July issue of FUEL magazine, has released its first lithium-ion battery-powered commercial auxiliary power system for the heavy-duty transportation.

The Infini-Gen APS is designed as a plug-and-play system and takes as few as six hours to install on a standard Class 8 truck for local delivery and long-haul trucks. These systems provide heating, cooling and hotel-load power to the cab, which leverages advanced battery technology originally developed for the military. 

With this technology, gone are the days of sitting at truck stops for short- or long-periods of time, idling to keep the cab cool or warm and emitting harmful gases into the atmosphere that contribute to the already ominous status of climate change. Not to mention the needless burning of fuel (and thus the expense to refill the tank) and not getting any momentum for it.

The company, which has been focused primarily on the United States, is in late-stage negotiations with original equipment manufacturers overseas and aims to take this technology global. Several companies have placed beta test orders in advance of larger ones.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is that the all-electric battery systems do not require a diesel particulate filter, which is especially helpful in light of the newly enforced emissions regulations established by the California Air Resources Board for Class 8 trucks built in 2007 and later.       

 An additional tour showcasing the company’s advanced lithium-ion battery technology is in the works for later this year. The huge success of the road trip during the spring just begs the question — does it get any better than this? Is the rest of the unsuspecting (until now) population ready to have this new technology on the road again and (not) idling up to their parking lot and demonstration sites.

Gas a Thing of the Past?

August 29th, 2008 mhitchings

Alternative energies, reduction of crude usage (and especially dependence on foreign oil) and a continuous quest for technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions as well as the environmental footprint are among the most important items on the “to do” list for companies.

Crude prices have dropped more than US$20 in the past month and most experts (while others have differing views) expect it to go down a bit more and level off for awhile; although the new U.S. administration will determine how well these forecasts play out.

The refining industry has suffered with high crude prices and is expected to reduce new refinery production because of the cost, but refiners and their technology providers are conducting research and development to see what products are cleaner and greener and are looking to alternative fuels and energies to help.

Gas prices and the heavy dependence on crude to operate vehicles have led to some interesting developments in the automobile industry and thus a move away from convention fuel. This industry is moving at a fast pace as car manufacturers continue to crank out the latest fuel-efficient, compact vehicles running on various alternative fuels and with alternative technologies.
The international community is coming together (designed by a German, made with American parts and scheduled for assembly in Finland) to produce a vehicle with an advertised capacity to travel 100 miles (on the open road) without recharging.

With an $80,000 price tag and limited initial production to begin next year, the sleek Fisker Karma is touted as environmentally friendly.

But it doesn’t appear to be the family wagon you’d want to jump in with the kids and dog and go on a road trip. It’s a practical vehicle to toodle around town in, but taking it out on a real drive is tough without a practical place to plug in — and 100 miles is not far at all.

How many of you would (given no fund restrictions as the price may knock some people out of the buying arena) purchase this vehicle, and does your lifestyle match the limitations of the Fisker Karma?

Sustainability — Fad or True Trend?

August 26th, 2008 mhitchings
Armistead Booker/flickr
Armistead Booker/flickr
With so much “going green” and hype about sustainability and energy and alternative solutions in the news, on company Web sites and even down to the food we eat, the grocery bags we use and the clothes we wear, there is a faint whisper from time to time (if you close your eyes, hold really still and listen) about the true meaning of sustainability and whether it has the power to stay over time. 

And who’s to blame for the “bad rep” of “going green” or “sustainability?” Is it one of those very important topics that just has an overused name, to the point people forget, or maybe never truly understood, the real meaning or goal of sustainability? Or, in fact, what the term “going green” means?

 Some groups think it’s a phase the world is going through, with everyone jumping on the “let’s go green” bandwagon. Sustainability and “going green” mean a variety of things, depending on which industry, who and what company you ask, but as to the world’s overall attitude, it seems to be a trend that is here to stay - if anything, to get stronger.

According to Pinnacle Worldwide’s Global Sustainability Strategy Results, “about half of respondents (46%) perceived media coverage of environmental topics as accurate about half the time, with 28% seeing reporting as ‘mostly accurate.’ However, 22% rated media as ‘mostly inaccurate’ or ‘extremely inaccurate.’ When asked how they knew the media was accurate or not, ‘personal opinion about environmental and natural science topics’ was the leading basis for perceptions of media accuracy. 

However, one of the goals respondents in this report cited is education. “Improving perceptions of the company was rated as more important than increasing revenue via sustainability programs.  However, revenue was still seen as ’somewhat important,’” according to the report.

These aspects, while not overly surprising, demonstrate, like most high-profile topics in the world, the power of the press and how much influence the media has on public knowledge and perception. We are stewards of the truth, or thoroughness of cutting through the red tape and getting to the bottom of even the most intricate, confusing and layered of topics. 

Interestingly, 6.7% of the respondents said they believe sustainability is a fad and 4.4% they do not see a way to reduce their environmental impact. Clearly more education is needed among these groups.

For the energy industry, one aspect of “going green” is with investments and clean energy.

Can the refining industry go green? Some say sure, others are doubtful.

The transportation industry already is above many others with alternative fuels such as biodiesel and butanol and vehicles that are more fuel efficient.

I could go on and on but then I’d probably lose your interest and not get my magazine articles written for the next issue … but you get the point. Sustainability and the transition toward “greener” business practices, products and ways of thinking are here to stay.

Is Nuclear Energy the Future?

August 26th, 2008 mhitchings

With the energy topic prominent in the news, on the forefront of the upcoming U.S. elections and at the top of the global list of sustainability needs, governments, industries and companies are looking toward alternative fuels and unconventional energies to help reduce the environmental footprint, lower emissions and bring the global warming threat to a more manageable level.

The controversial topic of nuclear energy as a power source isn’t getting a lot of attention — as there are an array of seemingly more viable renewables involved in the “alternatives” debate — but it is getting some. Scholars, industry experts, political leaders, economists and a variety of other analysts are all reviewing, debating, discussing and weighing pros and cons. Where does it stand in the line up of alternatives (and even with conventional fossil fuels) — behind or in front of ethanol, biofuels, electric hybrids, gas power, hydrogen, waste … the list is nearly exhaustive.
Some sit on the negative side of the equation: thinking too much energy is required to start up plants already in existence, and some think it’s too expensive and will take too long to build and get new plants operational.

They’ll Make Fuel from Anything

August 22nd, 2008 mhitchings
I read an article recently that scientists are close to being able to make fuel from bacteria - a technology that has been in the news for the past couple of months.  Not  surprising, as microorganisms produce gases that turn waste into energy through a metabolic chemical reaction process on the bacteria’s part.

Not only is the waste we produce being used to generate fuel and energy, but now tiny microorganisms are jumping on the energy-efficient bandwagon as well. We are a cyclical world — we use materials, an action that generates waste, which can be used to produce fuel and energy, thus producing more trash to recycle into more renewables. And now, the organisms that help us sustain life in other ways, are transforming nutrients and energy into waste for our fuel use. They’ve been doing this for centuries, but as energy efficiency, renewables and alternative energies are taking a more prominent position in the news in categories including technologies and public policy with the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, creative ways of generating power, fuel and energy are being sought.

Generating renewables from trash is like Native Americans using buffalo in early days — nothing went to waste (bones for weapons, meat for food, hide for clothing and shelter). We use the product that created the trash and then use the microorganisms that result from the decomposing trash to help produce power, for example.

It’s great that scientists, environmentalists and the like are conscious of global warming and the need to make the most of our resources, but is it efficient? Can enough energy be produced from the bacteria to make the process worthwhile and have a noticeable impact on energy production and consumption?

The answer appears to be maybe?

“By working together the two types of bacteria can produce much more hydrogen than either could alone,” said Dr Mark Redwood in the Science Daily article about bacteria producing power. “A significant challenge for the development of this process to a productive scale is to design a kind of photobioreactor that is cheap to construct and able to harvest light from a large area. A second issue is connecting the process with a reliable supply of sugary feedstock.”

It may appear “out there” to some, but some research organizations say the application is closer than we may think.

Weigh in — is this far-fetched science fiction, or plausible science?


Republic of Indonesia Day–New Holiday for Houston, Texas?

August 19th, 2008 mhitchings
During Indonesia's recent celebration of independence at the Houston Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia, dancers perform the "fan" dance native to Sulawesi. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
During Indonesia's recent celebration of independence at the Houston Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia, dancers perform the "fan" dance native to Sulawesi. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Amid native dances from the islands of Java and Sulawesi, eating, drinking and delegate presentations, two nations came together tonight — one in celebration of the other’s independence. Although not occurring on the official anniversary date (but close enough) dignitaries from Houston City Council representing Mayor Bill White’s office, and the state of Texas (with U.S. Congressional representation) gathered at Houston’s Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia amid country officials, neighboring consulate members and invitation-only attendees to help celebrate 63 years of freedom.

On August 17, 1945, Indonesia, a country comprised of more than 17,000 islands and today more than 240 million people, declared independence from The Netherlands after nearly 130 years.

The United States and Indonesia have a close relationship, one Consul General Kria F. Pasaribu tonight called that of friendship, noting a mutual respect and recognition of freedom. He talked about the growing economy and population as well as the positive political influences in the nation.

The country is unified through diversity — a multitude of people with various cultures, languages, beliefs and backgrounds that stand together to celebrate the one thing each and every person has in common: independence; a philosophy very much the same as that of those in the United States.

Opening ceremonies included welcoming remarks from U.S. Congressman Al Green and representatives from the offices of White and U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, each of whom concluded their accolades of the country’s accomplishments with Congressional certificate presentations. Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, speaking on behalf of White’s office, noted the official declaration that Aug. 17 is now known citywide as Republic of Indonesia Day — I wonder if this will become a city holiday where offices, schools and and federal businesses shut down in recognition.

So, congratulations, Indonesia, and happy Independence Day.

Semoga Indonesia akan terus terusan lebih kehadapan lagi

Alternative Vehicles — Necessary Evil?

August 17th, 2008 mhitchings
Old Engraving depicting the 1771 crash of Nicolas Joseph Cugnot's steam-powered car into a stone wall (//
Old Engraving depicting the 1771 crash of Nicolas Joseph Cugnot's steam-powered car into a stone wall (//
Alternative vehicles, like alternative energy, are the way of the future — the move from traditional fueled vehicles such as diesel and gasoline, on which we’ve depended for years, to more environmentally friendly modes of transportation and fueling is inevitable, and is already being implemented. Popular alternative auto technologies on the road include hybrids, smart cars and plug-in vehicles.

The hardest part of the transition is not educating the public about the need to embrace the new world of sustainability - understanding the need to reduce carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions (we all get it) - it is breaking people of their silo-minded habits.

Everyone loves their car — how many times have you been stuck in traffic, creeping along, hearing vehicles puttering along, seeing them emit plumes of black smoke from tailpipes or smoke stacks, or seeing single-person after single-person vehicle?

Car-pooling is another initiative some have embraced since fuel prices began to skyrocket. However, we tend to be creatures of habit, familiarity and fans of comfort. A couple of people in my office car-pooled for awhile, but when fluctuating schedules required coming in early or staying late due to new project initiatives, sharing a car (and the costs) quickly became too much hassle.

What’s the hype about?

An interesting event, Altermobile Europe 2008, is scheduled to take place in Munich in November to help educate attendees (and you can bet we will be in attendance to update discussions along the way) about the importance - and dispel some rumors - of alternative vehicles and fuels and show they really are the wave of the future.

Manufacturers, journalists, think tanks, experts, professors and everyone in between as it relates to the auto industry will be on hand to discuss business models, fuel efficiency, sustainability initiatives and just learn about why it is so important we broaden our mind, think outside the box and really do our part to help save the environment and make the world a better place in which to live.

From the late-1700 steam-powered vehicle to gas to hybrids and electrics, the auto industry has continually been working to make better, more efficient transportation.

How Do You Compare with Your Energy Neighbor?

August 15th, 2008 mhitchings

The list of what is environmentally challenging and not quite right with our world is a little daunting and becoming more so by the minute if you really stop to take stock.

 Sustainability is a tough word to define; it means different things to different people, including those within the same industry and indeed the same company. For Petrobras America’s President Alberto Guimaraes, “it would be a responsibility in all relationships. … A company has to be able to grant a conscientious growth, to deliver to its customers what they expect in any environment, in any type of economy, in any type of a standard of life. … It is very much up to the company to be technologically advanced, to develop a culture of technology.” 

For years we as a global community have worked, to a certain extent, somewhat independently from our neighbors in the environmental arena — not really cognizant that emissions in Asia’s air cause weather changes and affect other countries by way of wind currents. We haven’t realized the need for industrialization as a means to drive the economy and thus workforce has been pumping (albeit relatively small amounts over long periods of time) noxious emissions into systems of the very people on whom we depend to keep the economy and workforce moving forward. 

With the approaching change in the U.S. Administration, the world is perhaps more focused than ever on the growing list of energy related buzzwords and is itching to see the new ideas, and, inevitably, challenges, a change in scenery will bring to the energy space. How will it all play out?

Going Green

The word is out there — we are “going green.” More and more companies are rallying behind the items on the ever-growing “what’s-environmentally-wrong-with-the-world-and-how-can-we-make-a-difference” list.

Shell’s David Sexton has noted his company believes its greatest priorities are ” helping to meet future global demand for energy and playing a full roll in tackling carbon emissions. There is no doubt that by the year 2100, the world will have a radically different energy mix. Our charge is building the bridge from where we are now to where we want to be at the turn of the next century.”

For Thomas O’Malley, Petroplus chairman, ethanol is a thorn in the nation’s political side. “Ethanol is one of the clear culprits” for the current U.S. economic problems, and it is doing little to help the environment and global fuel supply, he has said. However, It is not all doom and gloom for the U.S. ethanol market as he’s noted the European biodiesel policies are causing similar problems.

 BP, also a player in the alternative energy arena, believes demand will increase and that it is the future to which the global community needs to work.

“Demand for alternatives will continue to climb,” Sarah Howell, BP environmental and corporate communications director, has said. “BP believes that the U.S. market will continue to grow as the public continues to demand cleaner and reliable sources of power.”

 Do you have a model or belief about what to do to reduce our environmental footprint before it gets too deep? What corporate, social and individual responsibility do we have and how can we work together?

Where do you fit in this mix?