Editorial Comment: Optimization: Advancing the industry’s evolution and benefits to the masses

Optimization—the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource—is not a term that the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) takes lightly: it is a way of life.

Optimization—the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource—is not a term that the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) takes lightly: it is a way of life.

Throughout the history of the HPI, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs, executives and other personnel have strived to optimize plant and business operations. This constant drive for improving existing technologies, workflows and supply chains has led to increased efficiency, safety and profitability. However, most importantly, this effort has advanced modern life for billions of people around the world.

Refining

Advancements in the global refining industry have provided transportation fuels to significantly advance the ability to travel incredible distances in a short amount of time. Who would have known that experiments with kerosene would lead to the development of gasoline and diesel to power the internal combustion engine? These processes led to the development of jet fuel and a better propulsion method other than steam to power marine vessels. Do you think the Wright brothers could have envisioned present-day air travel during their historic first flight in 1903? During the last flight of the day, Wilbur Wright stayed in the air for nearly 1 min. and traveled slightly over 850 ft. Fast forward 118 yr and advancements in jet propulsion and fuel technologies enable commercial carriers to travel more than 9,500 mi in a single flight—that is more than 18 hr in the air.

Throughout the history of the refining industry, engineers, scientists, lab technicians and many more have found ways to optimize the fuels that are used in every part of the world. Advancements in new processing technologies are leading to the production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel with little to no sulfur content. Technology licensors are partnering with owner-operators to develop alternative fuels, biofuels, renewable fuels and sustainable jet fuels. These initiatives and investments in research and development are optimizing the way the world consumes energy, as well as leading to the mitigation of carbon emissions and increasing sustainable operations.

Petrochemicals

The optimization of refining processes has also produced a plethora of petrochemical value chains that have advanced lifestyles and provided lifesaving care for billions around the world. Modern life would not be possible without the work that has been done within this industry.

Although much of the global public is unaware of the petrochemical industry’s products, they use these resources every day. For example, when is the last time you used a computer, smartphone or tablet? Did you take any medications today? Has a family member, friend or colleague needed advanced medical care—an all too common occurrence since the outbreak of COVID-19—to help save their life or cure an ailment? Do you live in a home, use modern plumbing systems, drive a car, wear clothes, store food in plastic containers, use plastics packaging, wear makeup, etc.? The list goes on and on. However, the point is that our industry must optimize the message being broadcast to the public.

Optimizing the message

The refining and petrochemical industry is composed of some of the brightest and hardworking people in the history of the world. Their devotion, knowledge and ingenuity have helped advance humankind, and the work being done within these industries is providing better mobility, energy, conveniences and life-improving products. These advancements and benefits to society are the themes that need to be broadcast to the masses outside the industry. HP

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