New reports exploring the European petrochemicals industry reveal over 80% of its process engineering professionals are concerned their current power equipment could affect refinery operations.

The new Aggreko whitepapers, titled Process Matters, included surveys from independent research partner Censuswide, questioning over 600 process engineers working in in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg petrochemical industries on operational challenges.

As well as identifying opportunities for improvement around existing power equipment, respondents were also aware of the age of these solutions could impact facility performance.

Specifically, those surveyed stated their existing on-site power equipment was five years old on average, with a significant number of units being even older. According to Jordi Camanyes, Petrochemical and Refining Sector Leader – Europe for Aggreko, these statistics, combined with findings that half of respondents are experiencing outages between three to ten weeks annually, suggest clear opportunities for action to be taken.

“The European petrochemical sector is highly aware of the challenges it faces if it is to maintain its competitiveness globally,” he explains. “Through this new research and reports, we are looking to provide further insight into how plant process performance can be optimised.

“The results have been eye-opening and shows European refinery operations are in an interesting position. Ageing plant utility equipment is causing concern, as potential situations could arise where whole facilities may be knocked offline for almost 20% of the year. This will require a multi-pronged approach if it is to be resolved, involving identifying process improvements alongside better procurement and maintenance strategies.”

The situation is made even more complex by ongoing pressures for the sector to decarbonise in line with the European Union’s transition pathway for petrochemicals, which was set out in January 2023. Given the pace of regulatory change and increasing feedstock costs, Jordi is advocating the need for short-term bridging solutions for production – especially given the report respondents’ enthusiasm for sustainable alternatives.

“Though it is clear new power equipment is needed to replace existing solutions, tough economic conditions are affecting capex investment choices,” he concludes.

“Legislative changes and the rapid development of sustainable generator technologies are also further complicating decisions. However, as our Process Matters reports clearly show, the vast majority (95%) of petrochemical process engineers surveyed said they were willing to pay 25-50% extra for greener utility solutions.

“With 94% also saying it was important to work with suppliers possessing a clear environmental and social responsibility strategy, the appetite clearly exists to reduce the downtime risks identified in this report while also limiting emissions.

“I would therefore advocate that petrochemical industry stakeholders review existing equipment procurement strategies and ensure they can better address current market pressures. By doing so, they can identify suppliers capable of dynamically providing modern, sustainable solutions on a modular basis to suit this sector’s rapidly fluctuating demands.”

To download the latest Aggreko reports, Process Matters: Rethinking Cooling Processes in European Petrochemicals, and Process Matters: Rethinking Power in European Petrochemicals, click here.