The Future of Downstream: Decarbonisation, Collaboration and Digitalisation

Author: Gordon Hyland, Sales Director, Touchstar Technologies  


There are three topics that are being discussed a lot in our industry right now. They are decarbonisation, collaboration and digitalisation.  

Not only are they being discussed a lot, but they are also being debated in conjunction with each other. It is very rare for one of these topics to be mentioned without the other two also being brought up in the conversation, they are indelibly linked.  

They are not just topics of debate within our sector however, they are also important topics within upstream and midstream - and in fact in nearly all industries and in wider society too, in one form or another.  

The focus is being more directly applied to the oil and gas sector, particularly ahead of COP28, which is being held in the United Arab Emirates from 30th November to 12th December this year[1].   Ahead of COP28, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, the president-designate of the conference has urged the oil and gas industry to create a new narrative about itself. He wants the sector to: "take this opportunity to step up, flip the script and show the world once again how this industry is an important part of the solutions we need."[2]   But what does this mean for us, and how can you get involved? Read more to find out.  


Decarbonisation is the key driver for all elements of this discussion. Across all industries and all walks of life, people are looking at ways to decarbonise. Society is demanding that we all change our behaviours and practices, both personally and professionally. That societal demand is being supported by new rules and laws coming from regulators and governments across the world. The oil and gas sector is at the centre of any calls for decarbonisation. In fact, a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has highlighted the need for the oil and gas sector to make immediate changes.[3]  

If the pressure from industry bodies wasn't enough, there is also financial pressure from banks and investors to make changes. More and more investors are under scrutiny to ensure that their investment portfolio is as 'green' as possible, which means that they feel unable to back as many oil and gas companies or projects as they once did. Earlier this year HSCB bank announced that it was no longer providing funding for fossil fuel projects.[4]  

What is decarbonisation?  

Before asking what we can do, we first must understand what it is we're trying to achieve - what decarbonisation actually is.   Quite simply, decarbonisation is the removal or reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. So, any action that reduces the amount of CO2 released can be considered decarbonisation.  

Across the whole oil and gas sector strategies that are used for decarbonisation can involve investing in renewable energy, working out how best to adopt cleaner refining technologies, or developing low-carbon fuels. On top of that technologies that assist in carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) can be used by the sector to mitigate any emissions. However, they are not the only decarbonisation techniques that can be used, especially not for the downstream sector.  

What can you do?  

The first and most important thing is to do something. To start.   Starting means looking at any methods you can adopt to reduce emissions in your business. Digitalisation is one key way that you can help - which we'll look at below.  

Once you have started, then you need to assess where you have got to. Decarbonisation is an ongoing process - constantly looking to reduce emissions. Once you have made reductions, then you can measure those efforts and look at even greater ways to reduce, setting yourself new targets. The process of decarbonisation is about seeking constant improvement.  

The key reason for doing all of this, is that it is the right thing to do. The societal and regulatory pressures, as mentioned above are, other good reasons. However, there are direct financial benefits to taking decarbonisation actions. Increasingly, your customers - and your customers' customers - will start to define businesses by their green efforts as much as their price or level of service. Highlighting decarbonisation efforts throughout the whole supply chain will soon be as important to a business as being able to keep the prices low - in fact, in some instances, it will become more important as some customers will be willing to pay more to support decarbonisation actions.  


Of the three terms, collaboration is possibly the easiest to define, but the hardest to truly understand or embrace. Quite simply, collaboration is about working together. But that simple definition hides lots of complexity.  

First of all, who we should be working together with. Internally it is across groups and departments, working with different P&L divisions and not worrying if the 'P' goes to them or whether the 'L' comes to you. However, it is also about collaborating across companies, working together to create best practice for the industry and even across industries. While on a macro scale, collaboration means working across nations - governments working together to affect true, global change.  

But even if we understand that definition, working towards achieving it can be extremely difficult.   True collaboration will often involve cultural change within organisations. Most organisations, and by extension, most people within organisations, are not natural collaborators. They prefer to keep their ideas, knowledge and expertise to themselves, only revealing or sharing just enough to get the task done.  

True collaborations start from the opposite end of the scale - sharing everything to then determine the best way to get the task done, or even to determine the true nature of the task at hand.   Yet from an outside perspective, collaboration is probably considered the easiest of the three to solve.  

This is particularly true in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic we came together, as a global society, to work together for the greater good. Wider society now expects us to be able to come together again and work in collaboration to help solve the environmental issues that are facing us all.  


Digitalisation is what brings the other two together, in many senses digitalisation, in our modern society, is what makes both decarbonisation and collaboration possible. Digitalisation provides the tools and methodologies.  

Again, for many individuals the pandemic made our lives more digital. When we couldn't leave our homes, we used digital tools to communicate - all those Zoom calls, quizzes and get togethers - because that was the only way we could do it. But as a society we are now for more aware of the digitalisation of life and work.  

Of course, digitalisation is not new to the oil and gas sector. Digital tools and practices, such as customer relationship management (CRM), resource planning and energy trade and risk management (ETRM), are common in the sector. While more recently they have been joined by use of the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).   For the downstream sector the key use of digitalisation has been in helping to plan and optimise deliveries, resulting in efficiencies that not only help to decarbonise, but also save time and money.  

By bringing together data from different sources, such as the tachograph, flow metre and valve control from the driver, along with electronic proof of delivery - that also reduces the need for paperwork - and combining it with back-office systems, and tank telemetry systems, the increased digitalisation of downstream means that jobs and routes can be planned more efficiently. The whole process of the downstream sector can be made more proficient with these digital tools.  

This is not abstract theory. Touchstar clients are already investing heavily in the process of digitalisation. A perfect example is Flogas. Flogas has sought to break down silos and promote collaboration across its supply chain. The company used to rely on fixed delivery cycles or an algorithm that predicted when they were going to need gas, but has now invested millions of pounds into implementing tank telematic systems, which provide a regular reading of their customers' consumption and tank levels. By obtaining this vital information in real-time, Flogas has been able to centralise its orders, meaning it can now draw volume at quieter times and outside of peak periods.  

By investing in a computer-based scheduling system, Flogas is now able to implement seven-day, rolling scheduling periods, guaranteeing further visibility. Additionally, through the use of demand sensing, Flogas will continue to fulfil requests across its forecasting operations, as well as taking a greater look at customer consumption data to extrapolate three months of rolling forecast data. The Fuelstar on-truck computing system, supplied by Touchstar, really ties all this together. Scheduled routes go out to the driver, and when they complete a job, an invoice goes out in real-time. If Flogas doesn't deliver on that day, it goes back to the order pot for rescheduling immediately.  

This level of increased efficiency automatically means decarbonisation - deliveries that are more effective save fuel and resources. While there are big benefits to 'going paperless'. We estimate that our existing client base saves 83 million sheets of paper (the equivalent of 20,000 trees) just by eliminating the hard copy POD and invoicing. However, there are benefits beyond decarbonisation as well, including:

  • Improved cash flow and better oversight of productivity levels
  • Enhanced safety and easier to manage compliance
  • Customisable tools and the reliable transmission of data
  • Increased customer satisfaction

TouchStar can help  

Decarbonisation, through collaboration and digitalisation, will continue to be a key priority for the oil and gas sector - societies and governments will demand it.   At TouchStar, we specialise in the digitalisation aspect of the mix and can support you in your decarbonisation journey - as well as provide numerous other benefits to your organisation. If you are looking further into this, then why not get in touch to talk to our expert team. You can find out how our FuelStar system and technology can help your business.  


[1] Cop28 - [2] Oil Review Middle East - [3] IEA - [4]

About the author - Gordon Hyland  

Gordon (53) has almost thirty years' experience supporting customers with complex, field based, technology solutions.  He has been with Touchstar Group for six years and became head of the Fuels Division in 2019.  

In his spare time he enjoys family life and his main passions are travel and skiing whenever possible.  

Contact Gordon at