How to use a lifecycle digital twin to streamline carbon capture processes

A lifecycle digital twin used for startup, commissioning and operations can help ease implementation of sustainability technologies.

By Judith Ponniah and Geeta Pherwani June 8, 2023
Courtesy: AspenTech

Digital twin insights

  • An offline digital twin during the early phases of a project allows engineers to ensure an optimized, low capital expenditure (CAPEX) design process.
  • Carbon capture is one of several imminent technologies helping organizations meet sustainability goals faster as we transition to a decarbonized economy.
  • By using a digital twin from feasibility to operations, can align quickly on goals of sustainability and operational excellence while reducing risks to production.

Most companies fall short of capital project expectations for return on investment, but using a lifecycle digital twin provides process optimization more quickly, resulting in capital expenditure savings of as much as 20% and operational savings of 15-30%. Industries are faced with unpredictable market requirements, and stakeholders are finding projects chronically behind schedule or over budget. As a result, they are seeing missed market opportunities and decreased asset profitability. Asset intensive industries are investing in digital technologies to create contingency plans, manage execution, optimize construction sequences and prevent budget and material overruns. In addition, they are reviewing assets from a sustainability outlook, garnering support from the public and financial institutes as they promote sustainability in the design and work process to increase energy efficiency while reducing waste and emissions.

To achieve a more effortless execution, the solution method must be simple and frictionless. The common issue facing engineering service companies and owners is that the current digital technologies do not focus on the overall project lifecycle aspects, necessitating the need for multiple digital technology solutions to achieve sustainability and profitability goals during an asset’s lifecycle.

Digital twin technology

The industry needs a holistic solution that starts in design and is utilized throughout start up, commissioning and operations. It can become the cornerstone for the implementation of more digital solutions to support predictive maintenance, spare part inventory, advanced process control and supply chain optimization.

Digital Twin provides the complete solution from a bird’s eye view that’s necessary for different applications and use cases, whether greenfield or brownfield. No matter where in the digital transformation journey a company is, a digital twin can be easily implemented to help improve asset performance with advanced visualization. An offline digital twin during the early project phases allows engineers to design the most optimized, lowest capital expenditure (CAPEX) process. An online digital twin delivers previously unattainable critical insights to optimize operations while dealing with ever-changing environmental regulations.

As industries pivot to meet ambitious net-zero targets, the energy transition projects are bringing in new opportunities for licensors and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms.

Licensor and EPC firms can help owners secure the benefits from a holistic digital twin model by transferring this digital twin from the feasibility stage, to final investment decisions, through operations and maintenance.

Lifecycle digital twin for carbon capture process

Carbon capture is one of several imminent technologies helping organizations meet their sustainability goals faster in efforts to transition to a more decarbonized economy. Leading companies seek solutions that can help support tactical, strategic and business decisions through key phases of design and operations.

Organizations supporting greener and newer technologies such as carbon capture, storage and utilization (CCUS) can alleviate growth pains through implementation of a lifecycle digital twin. This holistic approach helps with increasing project feasibility and risk mitigation. Courtesy: AspenTech

Organizations supporting greener and newer technologies such as carbon capture, storage and utilization (CCUS) can alleviate growth pains through implementation of a lifecycle digital twin. This holistic approach helps with increasing project feasibility and risk mitigation. Courtesy: AspenTech

Organizations supporting greener and newer technologies such as carbon capture, storage and utilization (CCUS) can alleviate growth pains through implementation of a lifecycle digital twin. This holistic approach helps with increasing project feasibility and risk mitigation.

A lifecycle digital twin can support organizations by providing insights into new technologies and making informed decisions for each phase of the asset life.

  • Investment decisions: Technology evaluation takes place during the initial conceptual design of a project to assess potential technologies available for adoption. Based on future energy and renewables prices and emissions targets, many capture technologies are available. Low-carbon hydrogen production also is accelerating momentum towards carbon capture projects. With a diversified mix of available technologies, investors are challenged with evaluating tradeoffs between the return on investment (ROI) and total CO2 captured. Digital technologies help investors look at different system configurations to identify the conditions where risk across the entire CCUS system is minimized including the efficiency gained through scale and integration of system components. In the case of carbon capture employed to achieve low-carbon hydrogen, there are more energy and process efficiencies to be gained.

  • Risk and planning: Models can provide insights to compare available technology options quickly for technical and economic feasibility, reducing and quantifying the risk associated with CAPEX investment. In addition, better insights enhance collaboration between investors and other key stakeholders, aiding with informed selection of the best technology to support organizations with long-term profit and sustainability goals. For example, amine-based absorption for carbon capture is a mature technology, but it is energy intensive, hence necessitating new solvents innovation to find the balance between energy and CAPEX investment.

  • Scenario analysis for conceptual design: Scenario analysis is crucial for exploring possible financial outcomes based on different factors. With the business environment being ever-changing and filled with uncertainty, conducting regular what-if scenario analysis will allow organizations to see how different internal and external inputs might cause business key performance indicators (KPIs) to change. This can help organizations make proactive planning decisions that account for a range of positive and negative possibilities in design.

Most projects involve engineers using multiple files to represent various scenarios with topological differences. Inputs are manually changed in a series to better understand the system. All these steps are time consuming and error prone.

Process simulator models integrated with economics can help to perform techno-economic evaluation through rigorous modeling of the carbon capture process. Robust process simulators (and associated integrated workflows incorporating safety and layout) help innovate and drive down CAPEX by up to 20% and operational expenditure (OPEX) by 15-30%. In addition, offline digital twin models offer agile workflows to quickly run thousands of scenarios in parallel while leveraging high performance computing or cloud-based parallel computing, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and visualization tools for data analysis. Scenario analysis can provide early visibility into how design decisions may constrain feedstock selection, environment and climate impact, equipment availability, reliability and maintenance strategies. These early insights into identification of process operation strategies enable stakeholders to make better decisions for profitable and sustainable operations.

  • Front-end and detailed design: Once the technology has been selected and finalized, a robust design becomes essential for seamless startup and operations. As process decisions made early on lock in capital costs, a collaborative front-end tool that digitalizes front-end engineering deliverables lowers the risks of late design changes through transparency across disciplines, ensuring communication of each change made. A front-end digital twin lets organizations visualize 5-dimensions (5D) of the project early in the design phases. Early visibility into 3D layout plus cost and schedule at the design stages allows organizations to make informed decisions to improve sustainable outcomes, avoid project risks and estimate the impact of proposed changes in the design. You can obtain this visibility through conceptual layout, conceptual cost and schedule modeling. This can help avoid dealing with change orders and project overruns, hence eliminating financial risk associated with upcoming high value sustainability projects. Eliminating the delays early in the design have helped companies accelerate the project duration by nearly 20%. In addition, 5D visibility with front-end digital twins have helped organizations select the design concepts 87% faster.

  • Startup and commissioning: During start up and commissioning, robust digital twin models that are already prepared validate the process control system and the operating guidelines, enabling faster operator training. Running a digital replica in parallel with the actual plant operation creates a valuable means of training operators and technicians to familiarize them with the control schemes and processes before start-up in an offline and risk-free environment. Hence, making them better equipped to successfully control any process upsets or abnormal operational situations by rehearsing such events. For newer, complex processes such as point source and direct-air capture (DAC) technologies for carbon capture, which have less than 30 operating facilities, proficient training and expertise is crucial in creating a risk-free environment.

  • Operator training system: With the industry struggling to attract talent and much of the experienced workforce heading to retirement, ensuring operators can practice in the safety of an office environment — or remotely if they choose — is essential to reducing risk, enhancing production and attracting a new generation of skilled workers. Also, adding technologies such as carbon capture requires experienced operators to revise their training. Companies are seeking dynamic ways to train employees quickly and efficiently. Software simulator-based digital twins have been expanded into using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to speed up learning through an immersive and scenario-based virtual environment. Operators can now perform multiple scenarios in a simulation environment which mimics high stress conditions and allows for object recognition. Sophisticated technology and digital twins help companies close the talent gap and allow for a seamless approach to reducing training costs and mitigating operator driven risks.

  • Operations and maintenance: Once the plant is operational, the accuracy of the digital twin can be continuously enhanced with plant data taken directly from the process as it becomes available. This real time online digital twin model provides critical insights into operations for continuous monitoring of equipment and increased plant performance. Greater insights into equipment health helps operations to avoid risks associated with unscheduled downtime. In addition, online digital twin models can be used to optimize process control targets to maximize captured CO2 while minimizing energy consumption to reduce total capture costs based on the current process inputs.

Digital twins add value to carbon capture processes

Capital project success is critical to keeping companies competitive and profitable, especially during trends of market instability or volatility. Digitalization is the key to meeting these business goals, making new and sustainable technologies easily accessible and cost friendly. By using  a digital twin from feasibility to operations, organizations can align quickly on goals of sustainability and operational excellence while reducing risks to production.

Digital twin is more than just a visual, virtual representation of process, operation, or system. It is an approach that aligns with industry needs to enable collaboration, transparency and improvements across an asset’s lifecycle.

A lifecycle digital twin then becomes a holistic solution for new and sustainable technologies, including, but not limited to, carbon capture, hydrogen, biofuels, bio-feedstocks and process improvements associated with circular economy.

Judith Ponniah is industry marketing director, AspenTech and Geeta Pherwani Sr. is product marketing manager, AspenTech. Edited by David Miller, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: Digital twin, carbon capture


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Author Bio: Judith Ponniah is Industry Marketing Director at AspenTech. Geeta Pherwani is Senior Product Marketing Manager at AspenTech.