A transition towards low-carbon manufacturing, the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of ecosystems mean that mining and other energy-intensive industries have a pivotal role to play in sustainable development. To bring a more unified response to these crucial issues, Dassault Systèmes now addresses the Energy, Process and Natural Resources industries through its Energy and Materials business. It provides three categories of solutions.
The first covers solutions for managing the life cycle of major infrastructure. These solutions guarantee that consistent business processes are applied when managing chemical plants, refineries and nuclear power plants. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform ensures digital continuity through governance, engineering, construction, operation and decommissioning solutions. This was the basis of the agreement signed by EDF, Dassault Systèmes and Capgemini in June 2018 to guide EDF, France’s leading electricity company, through the digital transformation of its nuclear engineering businesses. Under this 20-year partnership, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform will help standardize, harmonize and upgrade processes and engineering methods. For example, it will design digital twins of nuclear plants, whether they are in the design, construction or operational phase.
The second area of solutions concerns the life cycle of geological assets. Dassault Systèmes provides solutions to optimize the life cycle of oil and gas fields and mines, from exploration through the various stages of operation to closure. The third area involves optimizing the life cycle of materials (alloys, composites, plastics, coatings, etc.) and chemical formulas. These solutions help customers research and develop new materials from the earliest stages, qualify and formulate them, and perfect their production processes. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform is also essential in guaranteeing compliance and in safeguarding and passing on knowledge.
“Producing renewable electricity, and using the batteries of millions of electric vehicles to store and release it, will soon be entirely commonplace.”
Thomas Grand, Vice President, Energy and Materials, Dassault Systèmes
One way of achieving sustainable development is to increase the use of renewables in the energy mix. But the major drawback with wind and solar power is that they rely on the availability of wind and sunlight, over which we have no control. As the proportion of renewable energy gradually increases, energy storage will be the key to developing dependable ways of ensuring a continuous power supply. Meanwhile, electric vehicles will be developed on a massive scale. By offering users attractive pricing deals, electricity grid operators will take some of the power in their batteries during peak load periods and store it, or use it to manage peak demand. This is undoubtedly where the real electric energy revolution will take place. And innovative, sustainable and affordable materials will get us there.
Efficient motorization for electric vehicles
The future of sustainable mobility depends largely on the development of electric vehicles. What technology should be used for their motorization? There are three main options: fuel cells, internal combustion engines coupled to electric generators and power from battery accumulators. For Dr. Menahem Anderman, founder of Total Battery Consulting, “Lithium-ion batteries have always been the technology of choice for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Their high energy density, durability and acceptable operating temperature range make the solution very appealing.“ The range of these is the key. The most efficient vehicles now approach a range of 500 km (311 miles). The challenge is to expand that distance so BEVs are no longer restricted to urban metropolitan areas – increasing the range while reducing charging time, because no one wants to stop for an hour to recharge their battery, even if they’re driving 1,000km. Improvements in batteries must take into account multiple variables: lower costs, increased volumetric energy density, improvements in charge acceptance rate – while respecting lifetime constraints, ease of manufacture and safety, and ecological requirements from extraction through to recycling. The study of new materials is one way of aligning these constraints. In a lithium-ion battery, the electrodes contain an active material such as graphite or a mixed metal oxide, combined with a polymeric binder, and the electrolyte is a complex formulation of organic and organometallic materials. In the course of charging and discharging the battery, many reactions occur, leading to a change in the underlying chemistry of the battery, which can eventually lead to failure.
Reducing prototype costs
One way to improve energy density and safety is to replace the organic liquid electrolyte and polymer separator with a non-combustible solid electrolyte. Different approaches are in development: polycrystalline metal oxides and sulfides, glass-based metal oxides, polymer electrolytes, gel electrolytes, as well as combinations of two or more of these options. “Batteries are complex material systems,” explains Anderman. “Modeling and simulation can be very useful in discovering new material options and reducing the time and cost of physical prototyping. This is where Dassault Systèmes, through its BIOVIA brand, may have a role to play.”
BIOVIA Materials Studio is an integrated suite of tools that helps researchers understand the properties and behavior of materials at nanoscale. Special additives are included, for example, to modify the properties of an electrolyte. Molecular dynamics are applied to model the diffusion of lithium ions in different formulations, which can be directly related to the conductivity of an electrolyte. Electrolyte simulations also allow understanding of why conductivity changes depending on the formulation. Examination of the precise movement of lithium ions reveals the impact of the local environment on diffusivity, which facilitates the definition of design rules for the development of new additives. The modeling tools provided in BIOVIA Materials Studio, therefore, enable engineers to explore a vast range of potential materials, understand their behavior and select the best option. The use of these tools, based on traditional simulations, but also on quantum mechanics, accelerates the development of the next generation of batteries needed for the success of future electric vehicles.
The development of new materials goes beyond the limits of lithium-ion technology. To recharge a battery first requires production of electricity. Sustainably producing such energy is a major challenge. The seas and oceans play an increasingly important role in renewable energies. Although the first wind turbines were installed on land, it is at sea that wind turbines can reach their full potential, as offshore winds are stronger and steadier than on land. Originally located in shallow waters, wind farms are increasingly being moved further offshore. Hydro turbines are less mature in terms of technology, and use the power of permanent or tidal currents to harness an equally renewable, but more predictable, energy source. In addition, CATIA and SIMULIA solutions complement the molecular aspect of battery engineering to ensure digital continuity, not only in terms of researching new materials but also researching all systems – from propulsion to the entire range of mobility logistics, including the vehicles themselves.
Harnessing the power of tidal currents
French startup EEL Energy develops next-generation tidal machine prototypes that could revolutionize the way alternative energy is produced. The company is aptly named: designed without a turbine or propellers, the machines feature a fiberglass or polymer membrane that, like an eel, undulate under the water with the tidal current. Several models are under development in different shapes or adapted to a specific aquatic environment. In the marine version, the power generators are located on the membrane. The river version has a mast that triggers a generator outside the water. Compared with other sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar power, this solution offers greater predictability.
“Tidal currents have been studied for centuries. We know when and how much clean energy we can produce, and the energy is predictable. That’s not the case with solar power at night or when it’s cloudy, or with wind power when it’s nice out and there’s no wind!”
Franck Sylvain, CEO of EEL Energy
EEL Energy is developing and testing its river prototypes in the reservoirs of the Ifremer oceanographic research institute, and its tidal prototypes off the coast of Brest in northwestern France, with the support of Dassault Systèmes. Digital simulation is used to avoid errors, reduce testing costs and optimize design. The membrane is submerged virtually to measure performance, practicality and profitability before it is physically produced. Thousands of variations of virtual prototypes can be tested on a computer in the time it would take to build just one physical prototype.
Respecting the ecosystem
Different models of membranes are available, ranging in size from 0.8 m for test prototypes to 1.6 m and 2.6 m for small 2-3 kW retail models, and up to 5 m for a 30 kW version developed and tested in late 2018. A 10 m, 100 kW model is being developed for 2020, and after that, possibly a 16 m, 500 kW machine. Admittedly, this is far below the power output of traditional energy generation methods, but the membrane is not meant to compete with tidal turbines, which need stronger and faster currents to operate. However, the solution is perfectly suited to places with weaker currents. Another advantage of EEL Energy’s models is that they respect ecosystems. As they are underwater, there is no visual pollution. Also, tidal turbines take up a lot of space, like a dam, and have the same drawbacks. The membrane, in contrast, does not interfere with the movement of underwater life. “During one of our ocean trials, a dolphin came to play with the membrane,” Franck Sylvain says. “The system is very gentle and not aggressive.”
To promote new forms of renewable energy, the production of which is by nature irregular and unpredictable, we need to have better control over its distribution. Stationary batteries can play a key role in stabilizing grid generation and energy distribution. Storing and releasing power as needed, these batteries balance out peaks in supply and demand.
Reinventing the industry
The mining industry is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the public’s perception of a gentle business that respects ecosystems. But mining is necessary, especially in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. The electric vehicle revolution cannot take place without the extraction of mineral resources, starting with lithium, widely used in today’s batteries. Through digital technology, this longstanding industry is reinventing itself, changing its image and how society views it.
Seeing the unseen
Digital twins can be applied to many business sectors; in mining, it can be used to test, plan and optimize the full range of operations. But the parameters in mining are very different to those in other industries. Within a factory, millions of units of the same product can be manufactured, rolling out processes established when production begins. However, mining involves much more uncertainty. It is not always possible to know what will come out of the earth. The GEOVIA suite by Dassault Systèmes addresses the challenges arising in each new project. Mineral content differs not only from one mine to another, but also within a given mine. Operators have to learn, and change their plans and models, in real-time. On top of that, once the resource is extracted, it cannot be put back. GEOVIA must make predictions and assumptions to provide an accurate idea of what will be extracted, which means it has to see what is currently unseen.
Changing the script in real-time
The platform first creates a geospatial scene. GEOVIA draws on earth sciences, such as geology, importing point clouds developed using data collected from aerial or underground drones to produce a 3D model of underground reality as faithfully as possible, like a future film set. The initial footage shows which path to take to extract the resource from the earth and bring it up to the surface. Naturally, reality has its own rules, and the script sometimes needs to be adjusted. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform brings together the set designers, the scriptwriters and the actors, by factoring in unpredictable data such as terrain-related constraints, mechanical failures and human error. Digital continuity creates an iterative loop between those planning the work and those carrying it out, or between the scriptwriting team and production crew. But the script does not end once the resource is extracted. This is when the second act, telling the story of how the resource is processed at the surface, begins. Many more steps are involved in converting the raw ore into a substance that can be processed into a marketable product.
Creating a virtual universe, in a mine or elsewhere, facilitates sustainable development. The communities in which mining companies work can be taken into account and factored into their operations by assessing safety parameters and finding solutions to make the extraction process less invasive and less destructive. Parallels can be drawn with new techniques used in abdominal surgery. Surgeons used to make an incision, create a wide opening, perform cuts, piece things back together, close and sew up. But these days, they control a robot and endoscope with a joystick, and do not necessarily even need to be in the operating room. This provides a good analogy for mining operations. Digitalization and mathematical algorithms, governed by the rules of geology, curtail the amount of drilling necessary to identify the resource. As such, the mine’s environmental footprint is considerably reduced. Artificial intelligence also can be brought into the mix to interpret data from the visual survey of the rock surface. This avoids use of explosives to blast into the rock, ferrying samples to the lab and waiting several weeks for the geochemical report to come back. Technology is faster and more accurate. Neither does it depend on subjective human judgment, thereby circumventing cognitive bias. It brings together science, nature and people.