Explosion Protection The Future of Explosion Protection
Challenges for manufacturers of explosion protection solutions – LNG, hydrogen, and digitalization of process plants with Ethernet-APL are focal points for manufacturers of explosion protection solutions. We talked to Dr Andreas Kaufmann, Head of Marketing and Innovation at R. Stahl, about how the Ex specialist is dealing with these future challenges.
Dr Kaufmann, what demands do operators of process plants place on modern explosion protection?
Dr Andreas Kaufmann: Above all, the requirements for efficiency are becoming more stringent every
year. This affects the entire process plant, and explosion protection plays a significant role in this. We are seeing greater customization of plants. Plants are being converted from continuous to batch operation, in the pharmaceutical industry, but also vice versa. This allows more flexible response to market demands. This is a trend that’s reflected in the increasing modularization and digitalization of plants, which we are taking into account with our equipment located in potentially hazardous areas. These annual productivity increases are certainly one of the greatest challenges, and according to our customers, they can only be achieved through digitalization.
The process industry has had a hard time with digitalization in the Ex area so far. What’s the reason for this?
Kaufmann: Technologies for digitalization in the Ex area have been around for years. In the past, however, many of them were proprietary and not compatible with each other. We experienced this with one of our first Ethernet-in-the-field solutions. We implemented it at a customer’s site, but it was based on a proprietary approach. Companies with single-source solutions have a hard time in the market. But that is changing now.
From our point of view, markets of the future are LNG, hydrogen and synthetic fuels.
Why does it change?
Kaufmann: We see increased networking in the vertical direction, from the field device via the Ex interface into the higher layers of the automation pyramid. Only when you have end-to-end transparency you can properly optimize the plant. Signals must be digitized in order to run diagnostics and Asset Management with them. In which form or via which channels this will be done in the end is still being discussed. We have been doing this for a long time with service channels that transfer signals to higher levels, and vice versa. Until now, the bandwidths and thus the possibilities were limited, but Ethernet is changing that. We are now talking about the transmission of digital device data via Namur Open Architecture (NOA) or the Open Process Automation (OPA) standard — all this needs an infrastructure with fast transmission rates and standardized network protocols.
What could a standardised solution for the Ex area look like?
Kaufmann: As I said, Ethernet is one way. We are currently creating a standard with Ethernet-APL. Well-known end customers, manufacturers and all the big associations are supporting and pushing this Advanced Physical Layer concept with all their might. I’m sure that if we succeed in creating a uniform, standardized solution, it will be accepted.
What makes you so sure?
Kaufmann: Of course you can never be sure! We rely on a broad base of 12 manufacturers and cooperation with the leading technology associations Fieldcomm Group (FCG), ODVA, OPC Foundation, Profibus and Profinet international. These have created the basis for the standard in cooperation with the IEEE. Explosion protection is included via the APL project. The manufacturers, together with Dekra Exam, take care of the intrinsic safety. In the meantime there is the technical specification 60079–47 via the IEC, in which we are also involved. That means there are two big players: the IEC and the APL group define explosion protection, while the IEEE guarantees the basic standards. So we are confident that this will become a reality.
What do the two additional data transmission channels NOA and OPA mean for you as an Ex-protection company?
Kaufmann: We used to have a second physical signal line in addition to the classic automation pyramid in order to get additional information from the field. NOA and OPA are essentially software-based, so we now use these additional functionalities as a service hub, which is accessible thanks to the bandwidth of the Ethernet APL.
Digitalisation, APL and NOA affect your daily business. Where do you see the markets of the future?
Kaufmann: From our point of view, these are LNG, hydrogen and synthetic fuels.
Where do you see your opportunities specifically?
Kaufmann: Regardless of the process, whether it’s LNG, hydrogen or power-to-X, operators have to
deal with explosion protection. We have been very active in the LNG sector for a long time, in gas transport, and also in liquefaction and regasification. Due to the unfortunate developments in Russia, the demand for LNG will increase even more. But even without the Ukraine war, LNG is growing globally and so it’s an interesting market for us. On the one hand, there are the producing countries such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and North America. On the other hand, there are the customers in Europe and Asia, and in between there is transport — so there is a lot of potential for experts in Ex-protection.
And how do you assess the much-hyped topic of hydrogen from the point of view of explosion protection?
Kaufmann: Hydrogen is absolutely relevant for us, and we are already very busy with it. Hydrogen’s importance is also shown by the many national hydrogen initiatives worldwide, in Europe and especially in Germany. We assume that the value chains will be similar to those for LNG: producer — transport — consumer. There will be breaks in these value chains; we’re not talking about closed processes here. Wherever there is a pump, a compressor or any other machine, there is a risk of potential releases of hydrogen in the process, and we have to get these risks under control. Hydrogen is also an extremely exciting and multi-layered field because it affects not only industrial customers but, at the end of the day, consumers too.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
Kaufmann: The hydrogen value chain starts with electrolysis, then we move on to storage and transport. That raises questions for the industry: How will the hydrogen be stored, how efficiently will that happen, how expensive will storage be, what transport routes will there be? But if we really want to become CO2-neutral, we have to move into cities and residential areas. That means dealing with consumers, who of course are non-technical. If we look at this side, we face quite different challenges. Let’s take hydrogen-powered heating systems as an example. This is still a dream of the future, but there are discussions about whether gas heating systems can be converted to hydrogen. Then it’s a question of safeguarding against leaks, for example. These are classic tasks for explosion protection experts. an extremely exciting field that is opening up here for the future.
Thank you very much for the interview.
* The interview is conducted by Anke Geipel-Kern