For Linde Engineering, FLEXASU is about much more than just modifying hardware components for dynamic load changes. The experts have also developed a tool to determine the optimum operating plan, factoring in energy market forecasts and production volume planning. Big data offers further opportunities to generate these kinds of predictions to a high degree of accuracy. "External service providers, for example, already offer tools that predict trends in energy markets, combining weather records and forecasts with up-to-the-minute reports," says Obermeier. "All of these developments are combining to power the transition to a more sustainable energy mix. Plants that are equipped to master the flexibility challenge will also offer financial benefits."
Although FLEXASU is an ongoing project, Linde's engineers are gradually reaping early rewards. A number of measures that enable flexible operations are already market ready – or will be very shortly. Linde Engineering also aims to use the findings it has gained through this project to modernize older plants, enabling them to be operated in a more flexible way. "This will be possible up to a certain point," says Obermeier. "However, in simple terms, it will involve more than just integrating a digital tool into a plant or installing extra pumps." To capitalize on the full potential of dynamic plant operations, all hardware components must be perfectly aligned. FLEXASU is more than a technical concept. It enables industrial consumers to support the transition to greener forms of energy. But it also represents a paradigm shift in the way air separation units are designed and operated.