Members’ Corner – Decarbonizing Industrial Processes through AI: A Targeted and Step-by-Step Approach

SERCE represents companies in the energy and digital transition sectors. With 135,000 employees, these companies generate a revenue of over €23 billion in France, two-thirds of which come from decarbonization and energy efficiency operations in tertiary buildings and industry. Jean de Vauxclairs, the newly elected President of SERCE, is also the President of the CEME Group, a company specializing in electrical, climate engineering, and maintenance (950 employees, €180M in annual revenue).

To combat climate change, public policies often focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While this approach enables rapid action within our territory, it can tend to overlook our full carbon footprint, more than half of which comes from imports, whether for direct consumption or to keep our industries running.

The energy transition not only allows the substitution of fossil fuels with decarbonized and local energy but also helps reindustrialize our country by manufacturing the key technologies of tomorrow. We can create the conditions for a virtuous circle for our economy: decarbonizing energy, improving energy efficiency, increasing industrial competitiveness, creating local jobs, and integrating new technologies manufactured in Europe into more efficient new infrastructures, thereby further enhancing our competitiveness.

This ambitious goal is shared at the European level, notably by the Franco-German partnership to defend a “growth agenda for Europe” based on the “climate-neutral renewal of our industrial base”. To achieve this, three pillars are essential: energy efficiency, flexibility, and a reliable investment framework. Energy efficiency is thus at the heart of the country’s reindustrialization challenges.

Using Artificial Intelligence to enhance this efficiency is a new step in optimizing industrial processes through digital technology, stemming from the many industries that call on our companies, specialists in energy efficiency, to reduce their consumption, optimize production times, and improve process availability ratios.

A first example is a factory that needs to start its paint booth at a fixed time before production begins. One of our members developed an AI model capable of predicting the exact start time of the paint booth in real time based on process information and environmental conditions (ambient conditions, production schedule, etc.). The start-up time of the process can be reduced by up to 80%, allowing the manufacturer to save 2.5 GWh and 500 tons of CO2 annually, with a return on investment of a few months.

Second example: a bitumen manufacturing plant requires high temperatures. By analyzing the production line data, our member developed an AI solution capable of proposing an optimal heating curve scenario to the operator in real time based on the expected bitumen properties. The line operator can then choose the trajectory to follow. Here, AI is used as cognitive assistance.

AI in industrial environments is not a revolution but an incremental evolution that can bring significant benefits to those who gradually incorporate it into their activities. Two prerequisites are necessary: installing the right technologies and mobilizing the right skills.

Form a technology perspective, AI makes sense if two essential steps have been previously completed: setting up instrumentation to collect a multitude of data and maximizing human capacities to analyze and exploit them. Only after these two steps can an AI model provide added value by processing an exponential volume of data in a short time to offer a more relevant solution to an identified section of the process.

From a human perspective, AI requires the cooperation of three profiles to determine the most appropriate use cases: the data scientist, the technician, and the industry specialist. We must ensure that they are trained in sufficient numbers to support the country’s reindustrialization. Just as robotics did not cause mass unemployment, AI will create more jobs in the industrial sector than it will eliminate.

The reasoned deployment of AI in industrial environments allows for concrete and rapid savings, which, when combined, improve the competitiveness of our industrial apparatus. This position, which SERCE companies have developed for years, was presented at our annual conference on June 20th. By combining these three key skills, our companies position themselves as partners to their industrial clients to design and implement concrete solutions. We, therefore, wish to fully participate in the emergence of a green industry, supported by AI, which should help meet the challenge of reindustrializing France and Europe.