Interview Tata Chemicals' Transformation Agenda Built on Sustainability, Digitization

From Ahlam Rais*

With a revenue of 1.4 billion dollars in 2020, Tata Chemicals needs no introduction. Zarir Langrana, Executive Director and President (Global Chemicals Business), Tata Chemicals in an interview with PROCESS Worldwide shares the various measures undertaken by the company in the background of trending concepts such as circular economy, digitalization and decarbonization.

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Zarir Langrana, Executive Director and President (Global Chemicals Business), Tata Chemicals
Zarir Langrana, Executive Director and President (Global Chemicals Business), Tata Chemicals
(Source: Tata Chemicals)

Circular economy is one of the most trending topics across the global chemical industry. How has Tata Chemicals incorporated this concept in its processes?

Zarir Langrana: Our integrated inorganic chemical complex located in Mithapur, Gujarat, India relies entirely on sea water for generating all of the key feedstocks for the portfolio of products we produce there. We do not use fresh water, ground water or any water bodies or rivers, for our huge water requirements. All of the water that we consume in our complex is sea water which too is reused and recycled.

Tata Chemicals’ cement business grew out of a similar philosophy of utilization of waste streams. The cement plant at Mithapur was set up to consume solid waste generated during the manufacturing of soda ash and to utilize other waste streams from unutilized limestone. This is a unique operation that perhaps has no parallel in the soda ash industry. In addition to this, we either utilize or sell all of the fly ash we generate at this complex from our co-gen heat and power plant primarily for in-house construction, roads or brick making.

The carbon footprint of our UK operations has been significantly reduced through the recent commissioning of the country's largest carbon capture and utilization plant. This plant captures a considerable proportion of CO2 from our power plant which is then used as a key feedstock to produce greener, high-quality variants of sodium bicarbonate. In addition to lowering the carbon footprint of the site, this also completely reduces our dependence on outsourced CO2 making us self-sufficient.

Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development has also set up a dry waste processing plant at Mithapur, in partnership with Sampurna Earth under the aegis of ‘Swach Bharat Abhiyan’. The dry waste management plant processes three types of plastic wastes: industrial, municipal and scrap. Recyclable plastic waste is processed into granule/pellet forms that are sent to recycled plastic manufacturing units for reuse, while non-recyclable waste is incinerated and used as fuel in our cement plant. This also helps to reduce fossil fuel usage at this plant.

By recycling Li-ion batteries, we recover valuable materials that are part of these products and leverage science into delivering sustainable solutions. This endeavor has given birth to our latest offering – Insperico, an industrial grade chemical which is also the world's first branded recycled cobalt.

To manage downstream energy footprint, Tata Chemicals dispatches more than 90 % (touching 98 % for Tata Chemicals North America) volume of its total products through rail transport. As the Indian national railways progresses rapidly to moving towards using a hundred percent green energy for electrification, we are proud to be a part of this journey and deliver products to our customers with a low environment shadow.

At our R&D centres, greening is at the core along with adoption of green chemistry principles. Ensuring greener, low carbon and lower energy processes, substitution of hazardous material, the use of Indigenous materials especially with a focus on waste material to the maximum extent possible for robust circular economy models.

Next-gen solutions such as Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence, robotics and so on have been around for some time. How have the company’s plants benefitted from these solutions?

Zarir Langrana: Tata Chemicals is poised for growth with a transformation agenda built on innovation, sustainability and digitization. In line with this, our Mithapur plant has embarked on a journey to become a world-class, smart factory. It is implementing the Digital Enterprise–the connected plant concept–in collaboration with a globally reputed organization. With this, systems, processes and functions are being connected using ‘data’ as an enabler by employing world-class technologies such as analytics, IIOT, Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Language (ML) algorithms, etc.

The company has built a real-time cloud-based safety platform where it captures safety incidents whether real, near misses or unsafe practices. The platform uses analytical tools like Natural Language Processing for generating word clouds and historic data analysis for forecasting vulnerable areas and activities to avoid incidents, monitor safe work practices and behaviors.

Tata Chemicals' Mithapur plant in India is set to become a world-class, smart factory as it's implementing the connected plant concept.
Tata Chemicals' Mithapur plant in India is set to become a world-class, smart factory as it's implementing the connected plant concept.
(Source: Tata Chemicals)

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Digital twins of processes using AI/ML techniques are operated and continue to be built across all key production sections of our complex and attendant utilities. Over the last few years, the company has been able to access live data from all these plants. With a wide range of parameters being captured, analyzed in real time and simulated through algo models, prescriptive analytics and generation of online advisories assist our plant operators to optimize operations and drive greater efficiency and productivity.

We have now embarked on using remote sensing by satellite imaging analytics for our solar salt work operations (which are located in remote areas), thus benefiting us in improving the predictability and efficiency of this key operation.

A mobile enabled CRM (Customer relationship management) system is also in place for providing transparent, self-service options across order placement, delivery tracking, credit management, and accounts to all our customers and, this is integrated with our transport management system to provide a seamless experience.

Please mention some of the other latest solutions used by the plants to increase productivity

Zarir Langrana: Our systems integrate data from multiple applications (distributed control / production systems / ERP / supply chain management / customer relationship management systems) into integrated analytics dashboards for real-time monitoring of plant operations, supply chain optimization and inventory control.

Our new plants producing nutraceuticals, have a state-of-the-art LIMS in place to monitor each step of the batches we produce and provide assurance and traceability to our highly demanding global customers.

Across all our operations, we continuously monitor our performance with online emission monitoring systems. Critical environmental parameters are being measured and tracked in real time through our CEMS online monitoring system and network, then fed in real-time to environmental agencies.

In addition, our continuous focus and performance on energy management through energy audits, improvements in operational efficiency, technology and process upgradation continue to pay dividends on the reduction of energy and environmental loads. Our new facility at Nellore, India for example, where we produce nutraceuticals was designed and built ground up to run on renewables and primarily on solar and biomass. The plant achieved high energy optimization by increasing solar power generation capacity and reducing maximum grid power. The company, through its social initiatives, also focuses on carbon sequestration through the plantation of more than 1 lakh mangroves year on year.

Investments in new technologies are an ongoing program that helps us address not just environmental concerns but improve our efficiency and enable us to manufacture greener products.

The global chemical industry is slowly moving towards decarbonization. What are the initiatives undertaken by Tata Chemicals to reduce or eliminate the emission of harmful gases?

Zarir Langrana: As part of our decarbonization journey, Tata Chemicals is working towards climate change mitigation by reducing our carbon footprint. Our emissions reduction targets for our operations in India, North America, Europe, and Kenya have been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative and are consistent with levels required to keep global warming to well below 2°C.

Tata Chemicals is one of over 1,000 companies, and the only Indian chemical company that has signed up for Science-based Targets under the climate change initiative. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTI) defines and promotes best practices in science-based target setting and independently assesses companies’ targets. Science-based targets are emissions reduction targets in line with what the latest climate science says is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Science-based targets are needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. These targets show companies how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to be consistent with keeping warming below the most dangerous levels. The company is working on a long-term roadmap to address not only the SBTI 2030 target, but also the Net Zero target. Technological interventions along with calibrated shifts of energy inputs and a shift to renewables will play a crucial role in meeting the desired target.

Tata Chemicals Magadi is Africa's largest soda ash manufacturer.
Tata Chemicals Magadi is Africa's largest soda ash manufacturer.
(Source: Tata Chemicals)

At Tata Chemicals, we know that businesses can play a major role in protecting our planet and driving international benchmarks for sustainable practices in the business. We have developed a strategy to reduce carbon emissions by 30 % by 2030, in step with society's progress in achieving the goal of the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. Our commitment to the Science Based Target initiatives (SBTI) and setting ourself an absolute carbon reduction goal in line with Well Below 2 Degrees (WB2D) is a milestone on the path to net zero. We have identified abatement levers, low carbon growth opportunities and carbon offset opportunities towards that end. The company has adopted shadow carbon pricing for reviewing its capital expenditure and ensuring carbon-conscious growth.

The detailed strategy is being further enhanced along with techno-commercial feasibility of implementation, maturity and availability of technologies and magnitude of emission reductions. The company has continued to develop its sustainability capacity at corporate and manufacturing levels while remaining committed to the science-based targets initiative to reduce CO2 emissions.

What are Tata Chemical’s plans for the near future?

Zarir Langrana: The overall demand environment continues to be positive for the company. While this positive momentum is expected to continue, the input supply-side environment, especially energy costs remain high compared to historical levels, and supply chain challenges continue to be seen in the market. The team has responded well to ensure customers are served with agility. We continue our long-term focus on excellence by leveraging digitization and sustainability. In addition to the operational excellence, we continue to focus on executing the growth capex in India.

The company is pursuing a strong transformation strategy that focuses on leveraging science as a key differentiator with an objective to strengthen and aggressively grow the business. Our announced expansion plans primarily and especially in India continue to be on track and products from these to meet the growing, unabated demand from our customers would be available on schedule. In addition, given the favorable growth environment in the domestic and some key growing export markets, we are evaluating and putting in place plans for our next series of expansions focused on our existing core inorganic business and close adjacencies.

* The author is a freelance editor at PROCESS Worldwide. Contact: ahlam.rais@vogel.com

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