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Making the downstream industry sustainable

Interview with Bhaskar Patel, Senior Vice President Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals and Circularity

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Bhaskar Patel is Senior Vice President Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals and Circularity of Technip Energies.

Since joining the company in 2008, Bhaskar has held several business development and operational leadership positions, most recently as SVP Process Technology and Americas Business Unit, and as Managing Director of Technip Energies India.

Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals and Circularity covers such a vast range of technologies and applications, what are the common priorities for this business line?

This business line covers our traditional markets – Refining, Petrochemicals, Ethylene and Fertilizers, as well as newer markets such as Biofuels, Biochemicals and Circularity. My role is to ensure that as we implement our energy transition strategy, we bring more focus to those technologies, so that globally, we take a consistent approach across all these domains. This means working very closely with our Technology and Innovation group (T&I), to drive continuous improvement of existing technologies and at the same time, evaluate and develop new technologies and solutions.

It’s a team approach. This means making sure that knowledge is shared around the group. Our commercial and One T.EN Delivery teams are regionally based, they work closely with our clients to understand their specific needs and challenges. Our T&I group reviews appropriate technologies or solutions for specific prospects and wherever needed, suggests ways to decarbonize these processes. We develop ideas and processes that have worked in certain markets and look to apply them globally. Our role is one of strategic input and coordination, to ensure that we have a consistent message to the market.

How does Technip Energies contribute to make traditional industries – ethylene, refining and chemicals – more sustainable?

As a process integrator, we have a wide knowledge of the different technologies and solutions that can be deployed. Energy and material efficiency, heat integration, electrification, use of low-carbon fuels (such as blue or green hydrogen), feedstock substitution, carbon capture and utilization, all form part of our decarbonization portfolio. In addition, we have alliances with a large number of technology partners, which means that we bring a holistic approach to develop process flowsheets in a more decarbonized way. And we can bring this knowledge and applicable technologies at a very early stage of the process, at the conceptual design, Basic Engineering or FEED stage. An added benefit from Technip Energies is our substantial knowledge and experience of EPC that provides additional solutions to our clients.

The challenge for traditional business is to bring about change. It’s progressing but we still have clients who look at building projects at lowest cost and fastest time to market. This is the economic reality. That’s why decarbonization or plastic circularity is currently not always on the agenda because the return on investment is not yet apparent. But this is no longer sustainable, and it’s our strategy to present them with alternatives and show them that decarbonization is possible, and provides a longer term, financial benefit.

How do you see demand in this area evolving?

We now see more and more clients, principally in Europe, looking to decarbonize traditional plants by adding carbon capture, having more energy efficient furnaces, using renewable energy, considering electrification options, or heat integration. We also have clients looking at using hydrogen as a fuel in furnaces.

Some technologies are available right now, and I believe the more we start implementing, the more synergies we’ll see, the more benefits we’ll achieve and the more cost effective these processes will become. Costs will come down as we move forward. We’ve started the journey over the last couple of years and I think that as an industry, we will continue to develop and make these technologies much more economical, much more friendly in terms of carbon emissions.

Is more plastic recycling the answer?

Plastic is indispensable in many applications, so we’re looking at many ways to dispose of plastics, including plastic pyrolysis, enzyme depolymerization or catalytic technologies. We need to have multiple solutions; there is no silver bullet.

Technologies exist to convert plastic waste into feedstock, but different types of plastics require different technologies. To address this, we have established a number of joint development agreements for advanced recycling with Synova, Agilyx, Alterra Energy and others, to bring feedstock back into the loop. We have a technology called PLAnet™, in collaboration with Sulzer and Futerro, that makes plastic products from glucose that can be degraded over a period of years rather than decades. And we’re working with some customers on a new recycling framework and circular economy for polyester.

However, the other side of the equation still needs to be solved. We’re still in single digits in terms of plastic recycling and separation, so we have a long way to go. But I believe that once the collection and sorting problem is resolved, then we can make quick strides in recycling plastics, doubling the volume between now and 2030.

What are the main challenges and opportunities for Technip Energies in this field?

The main challenge we have right now is there are a lot of technologies coming onto the market, but they need to have a more robust design in terms of continuous operations to bring them to a level at which they can be economic.

This is an opportunity for Technip Energies. We can bring our experience and know-how to make these more continuous, to take new processes from lab scale to commercial scale. We have expertise in this area through our Weymouth lab in Boston as well as our Frankfurt lab in Germany.

The other way we act is as an integrator. We look at processes, our own as well as those of our partners, and we find ways to integrate them within a more sustainable flowsheet. A successful example is the long-standing partnership we have with Neste around their NEXBTL™ technology. It allows the conversion of second-generation feedstock like vegetable oil or waste fat into renewable diesel and other renewable products. We have designed and built two major biofuel refineries in Europe and Asia and are currently working on their expansion. LanzaJet is another example. They have a biological conversion process, and we are adding our Hummingbird® technology through the front-end engineering package, to produce sustainable aviation fuel. It’s still early days, but it’s an example of how we integrate existing technologies with new technologies to help them scale up.

I would add that being a technology company and EPC contractor with our own research labs, differentiates us from many of our competitors. It’s also an element that attracts good young talents, because we’re a company that embraces technology development and new processes.

Both internal and external partnerships are very important. We can only tackle the energy transition as a group and not as individual companies. Engineering companies, feedstock suppliers, and off-takers, we all have a shared interest to work together to find the most practical solutions across the value chain.

Technip Energies’ leading position in the area of Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals and Circularity can make a difference to the world we live in.