July 2019


Editorial Comment: Embracing uncertainty for a better tomorrow

The downstream processing industry is changing.

Nichols, Lee, Hydrocarbon Processing Staff

The downstream processing industry is changing. However, this change will have a positive impact not only on operations, but also on the global population. The industry is researching and developing new technologies to provide safer, cleaner and high-quality products to billions of people every day. The steps and processes to implement these technologies have been a staple in Hydrocarbon Processing for nearly 100 yr. The act of improving and optimizing processes, workflows and technologies have truly revolutionized the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) for the betterment of society, as well as enhanced the lives of billions of people around the world.

Two of these advancements are detailed in this issue of Hydrocarbon Processing: Digital Transformation and Sustainability. Both topics can go hand-in-hand, complementing each other to optimize operations. However, the contributions that digital transformation and sustainability will make to the HPI and society is substantial.

The digital refinery

This month’s Special Focus showcases the latest advancements on digitalization in the refining industry. Chances are that you have read an article, attended a conference or viewed a webinar on how digitalization is transforming the refining and petrochemical industries.

It is no secret that instituting digital technologies can benefit operations in several ways. Many of these topics have been the focal point of hundreds of pages of editorial in this publication. Some of the many examples include:

  • Wireless sensors to monitor equipment reliability and provide operators with data for preventive and predictive maintenance
  • Using artificial intelligence to enhance operations and profitability
  • Building digital twins and using gamification, augmented and virtual reality for operator training
  • Increasing safety by utilizing drones and robots to monitor processing towers for corrosion
  • Using software to better manage capital-intensive projects.

These points are some of the hundreds of ways digital technologies are enhancing operations within the downstream processing industries.


If there is one word that our industry has echoed over the past several months, it is sustainability. As mentioned in Hydrocarbon Processing’s May Editorial Comment, each company defines what sustainability means to its organization. Hydrocarbon Processing defines sustainability as the process of managing available resources, investments and technologies to maintain and optimize operations for greater safety, reliability, efficiency and environmental and social awareness.

This issue features the first installment of HP Sustainability. This section will be devoted to the people, plants, technologies and services that are ensuring and enhancing sustainable operations. These topics include the circular economy, plastics recycling, alternative fuels, biofuels, water management, carbon/emissions mitigation technologies, energy efficiency, digital enhancements to improve sustainable operations, etc.

Sustainability requires a change in the industry. Engineers around the world are researching and developing new ideas, technologies and processes to enhance the way the hydrocarbon processing industry operates. Their efforts can change society for the better. For example, numerous companies are developing new ways to chemically recycle plastics, which has the potential to reduce pollution and carbon emissions from incineration, while satisfying petrochemicals demand for future generations.

Although change comes with uncertainty, the bold will embrace it and shape it to create a better tomorrow. HP

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