The goal may be clear, yet the path to achieving it can seem complex and should not be underestimated. The steel industry, for example, produces tons of gaseous by-products, such as COG (Coke-Oven Gas), BFG (Blast-Furnace Gas), and BOFG (Basic-Oxygen-Furnace Gas), which carry a huge amount of chemical and thermal energy. If these by-product gases are burned to generate electricity, the amount of electrical energy that can potentially be generated is normally higher than the energy consumed by the plant. If these by-products are used as fuel for processes inside the plant, the purchase of external fuel can be greatly reduced or even eliminated. In times like these, when natural gas availability and prices are unstable, this is a very promising concept that offers a much wider range of possibilities. In fact, the whole process can be optimized to achieve higher energy efficiency levels.

Nevertheless, despite the seemingly promising prospects, achieving these objectives is not an easy task. Such improvement opportunities come with tremendous difficulties. The problem is especially complex because it involves having to deal with huge volumes of data and variables from different areas, which, although dependent on each other, do not work in a fully integrated manner. For example, if off-gases from steelmaking are used as fuel in the process, it is difficult to align and synchronize the timing between the production and consumption of gases if the gasometer capacities are limited. Because of that and many other factors and restrictions, the gases are burned off multiple times in flares, while natural gas and other fuels need to be bought in to meet demand.

Five software solutions to reduce energy costs

When dealing with such a large array of objectives, variables, restrictions, and uncertainties, finding a feasible and optimal solution is not practical without the use of artificial intelligence tools. We are now in the era of industrial digitalization. In pursuing the goal of meeting the industry’s need for more efficient, economical, and sustainable processes, Vetta developed Viridis, a suite of digital solutions that contains several applications, with each application addressing a specific challenge.

The first step to overcoming the challenges is to integrate the information from the many different areas of the plant. This not only means having a centralized source of information: much more than that, it means integrating and centralizing the management of the multiple KPIs, ensuring that the goals from the different areas and organizational levels of the company are aligned. This is where our Viridis Performance solution comes in. This is an integrated energy and resource tracking application, which collects huge amounts of low-level data and provides performance management capabilities with KPIs, targets, analyses, events, measurement as well as verification of efficiency initiatives, and standard operating procedures. It is a single source of truth for information about all energy flows and all relevant items of equipment. The application enables the information to be analyzed in its context and not separately, which means that the performance indicators define quantitative relations between assets at any level of the hierarchy and energy resources that represent their energy behavior. Context analysis dramatically increases the accuracy of forecast models, including adaptive targets. It is also used to provide a detailed breakdown analysis of consumption-influencing factors. Furthermore, the tool enforces the use of standard operating procedures, which are triggered in response to operational events perceived from the data. This helps operators to respond quickly and assertively. The application increases efficiency accountability across the organization and enhances the transparency and governance of energy and resource utilization.

Dealing with the management of steel plant gases means dealing with a multitude of process restrictions, various objectives, and a number of unexpected events. AI tools are necessary to predict these events and make the best decisions to achieve the set objectives, while observing all the relevant restrictions. Viridis Dispatch is responsible for the optimal dispatch of the process gases and fuels within the global process. It collects the production data and deploys forecasting, simulation, and optimization gas-flow models that enable the optimal use of off-gases and other fuels. With Viridis Dispatch, more than 50% of the excessive gas that would be burned in flares is used within the process or for electricity generation. The results can be achieved solely by adjusting the process, without having to make any equipment modifications or disrupt production.

Viridis Process is an application that simulates the outcome of performance metrics under varying conditions and with different parameters, finding the best set for each operational state and helping decision makers to achieve the optimal condition. The application makes predictive analyses, provides accurate estimations for the process, and issues predictive alerts and feedback that serve to guide process operators. Viridis Process is capable of identifying and intervening in suboptimal process execution conditions as well as reducing electricity consumption, refractory and electrode wear, and nitrogen pick-up. Viridis Process can achieve a reduction in resource consumption in specific processes and equipment of up to 15%.

As well as off-gases from steelmaking, however, several energy flows also need to be managed and optimized. Viridis Grids is responsible for the management of flows within the process, comprising electrical energy, nitrogen, argon, oxygen, and others. The application detects abnormal behavior and virtually eliminates leaks, resource waste, and unplanned load peaks by deploying precise consumption models developed with real-time data from the process and automated AI tools. It also provides detailed consumption forecasts based on the production plan and order schedule simulations. Viridis Grids enables the reduction of distribution issues due to overloading or a lack of resources, the reduction of financial losses from resource leaks, and contractual overage fines. 

The management of emissions is a complex and time-consuming task, especially as the data are required from multiple sources and various calculation methods are involved. Viridis Carbon is the application that tracks in detail and in real time all the gaseous and particulate matter emissions from each process step right down to the final product. It is able to issue certificates with information regarding the carbon footprint of each steel piece produced, thereby adding value to the products. The application does not work using estimates or averages, but rather with direct and indirect measurements, encompassing scopes 1, 2, and 3. It provides customers, stakeholders, and the relevant tax authorities with an additional level of transparency and governance.