Carmageddon 3

Europe’s cars are getting older. Older on average, that is. Lasting longer. Perhaps being used a little less wearingly, so aging sparingly.

Yet, the numbers of cars produced and registered each year continues to climb inexorably.

Despite there being wall-to-wall advertising for electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, the actual numbers of sales remains minuscule.

Let’s just take the figures for one country, the United Kingdom, still, until 11pm GMT this evening, a member of the European Union.

ACEA Vehicles in Use – Europe 2019 : United Kingdom : %share : 2018

Natural gas
Other +
Passenger Cars58.5%39.7%1.4%0.2%0.2%0.0%0.0%
Electric (Battery electric + Plug-in hybrid)
Light Commercial Vehicles (vans)3.6%96.2%0.0%0.1%0.1%0.0%
Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles (trucks/lorries)0.6%99.3%0.0%0.0%0.4%0.2%

Clearly, liquid vehicle fuels will be with us for some time yet to come. The imperative then becomes, how to reduce their net carbon dioxide emissions ? Planting trees will probably not measure up to the task.


BP : Boiling Point

I wonder just what was said at this meeting.

“Oil CEOs at Davos debate tougher CO2 cuts as pressure mounts […] Jan. 22, 2020 […] The bosses of some of the world’s biggest oil companies discussed adopting much more ambitious carbon targets at a closed-door meeting in Davos, a sign of how much pressure they’re under from activists and investors to address climate change. The meeting, part of a World Economic Forum dominated by climate issues, included a debate on widening the industry’s target to include reductions in emissions from the fuels they sell, not just the greenhouse gases produced by their own operations, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. The talks between the chief executive officers of companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp., Total SA, Saudi Aramco, Equinor ASA and BP Plc showed broad agreement on the need to move toward this broader definition, known as Scope 3, the people said, asking not to be named because the session was closed to the press. The executives didn’t take any final decisions. […]”

So what are Scope 3 emissions ? For the full outline of what this means, it is necessary to refer to the GHG Protocol behind the term.

For many years, companies like BP and Shell have resisted taking responsibility for the environmental and social disbenefits of their products. From despoilation of the natural world, to oppression of peoples, to the links to military conflicts, to climate change caused by the global warming emissions of their fuels, they have failed to respond to criticism, even when fined or reported upon.

Climate change in particular, has been treated as SEP – somebody else’s problem. Governments and blocs should insititute and enforce carbon pricing, according to economists at BP and Shell. If the world wants to control carbon dioxide emissions, argue the oil and gas companies, taxes should subsidise the application of Carbon Capture and Storage – locking CO2 back in the ground.

The most annoying argument is that energy consumers are responsible for climate change, by continuing to buy climate-busting fuels; it’s not the fault of the oil and gas companies, is it ? “Guns don’t kill people, people do” is the same argument used in the rabid American gun lobby context : offloading blame for access to military grade weaponry by the general population, and not admitting it is a problem that it is for sale in out-of-town hypermarkets. If inappropriate transport fuels were not for sale, people wouldn’t buy them.

Of the two, (BP and Shell), Shell, at least, is breaking somewhat with the mantra, and has clear ambitions to lower the net carbon dioxide emissions of its products – although the global initiative to curb methane emissions they are a part of is not so hot on performance.

It will interesting to see just what BP thinks will amount to taking control of their energy product emissions. With a new CEO, there are already rumours of a bit of shake up, and although I’m a bit “watch this space” blasé/blah about it, I am genuinely interested to see what emerges.

So often in the past, announcements from BP have resulted in meh moments; no cause for optimism or congratulations. I would genuinely like to be in a position to applaud what BP decides to do. After all, we can’t keep harping on about historical crimes and blame : we do need to make inroads into a sustainable future.

Too often, in the past, BP has said they’re so over petroleum, and then spent a few pennies (relatively) on a bit of alternative energy, renewable electricity or advanced biofuels, and then backed out, greenwashing their public relations over as they do so.

Let’s hope this new renewable energy enthusiasm extends beyond a paint job.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part N

11. The Fossil Oil and Gas Producers (Continued)

So what would the implementation of Renewable Gas look like for a company like BP ?

It would be a transition happening on a number of fronts, as a result of a range of stressors.

Three trends are likely to continue in the chemistry of crude petroleum oil : where oils and their associated Natural Gas Liquids are being sourced from unconventional tight or shale formations, or from good quality newly-discovered conventional petroleum systems, the chemistry will be light, with valuable shorter-carbon-chain hydrocarbons – although there may be a high level of gaseous sulfur compounds incorporated in what’s extracted at the pumps in the field. The second trend will be where unconventional heavy oils, and older, depleting conventional heavy oils will continue to be produced, despite overly-heavy longer-carbon-chain hydrocarbons being the majority of the crude material, and there being a great burden from sulfur compounds – some very complex – and therefore in a liquid, rather than a gas, state. The third trend will be the increasing amount of sulfur compounds in some of the lighter oil stream and most of the heavy oil flow.

The two general streams of oils will need to be treated in different ways in refinery, and their eventual target products will also be different : lighter oils and gases will be used for blending into petrol-gasoline and for supplying the gas industry – where lighter hydrocarbons are either incorporated into Natural Gas supplies, such as the LNG supply chain; or bottled into cannisters for various applications, such as LPG fuel, propane fuel and so on. The heavy stream will be used for making diesel, air fuel and other distillates, gas oils and bunker fuels.

As the light oils get lighter, there will be more light hydrocarbons to deal with. This group includes methane and ethane. Most of the methane can easily be transposed into applications that would use Natural Gas, and some of the ethane, too; but what to do with the rest. There is a global industry developing around new supplies of ethane, for example, the fabrication of polymers – all the plastics we use.

What’s wrong with this picture ? Well, to start with, methane and ethane are gases. That means they are not liquids, which means they cannot easily be used to produce liquid vehicle fuels, without re-forming or reforming the gases to make synthetic molecules with higher boiling points, so liquid. To synthesise liquid hydrocarbon fuels from hydrocarbon gases requires the additional use of energy, water and oxygen, which can be extracted from the air. Because an increasing fraction of the lighter oils is going to be gas, there will be a gas glut. The price of a range of hydrocarbon gases will stay low, and may even decrease. There will arise the question of how to increase the value of this surfeit of gases, and the answer will be twofold : make synthetic liquid fuels, and make hydrogen.

Ah, hydrogen. Why will hydrogen have so much value ? Because it can be used in a range of petrorefinery processing of the heavier oils.

As heavier oils get heavier, they will require increasing amounts of processing to make market-ready liquid fuels. One of the issues is the rising levels of sulfur compounds in the crude oil. As environmental standards in refinery have improved, increasingly, hydrogen has become the cure to a number of problems in purifying and reforming heavy hydrocarbon molecules. But hydrogen can be sourced from Natural Gas and the range of lighter, gaseous hydrocarbons coming from oil production.

Again, it looks like it all adds up, but there are a fistful of catches. You may have noticed that there is now a competition : those that process lighter oils will want to use the gaseous byproducts for synthesising liquid fuels, in order to maximise their value. Whilst those wanting to process heavier oils will want that same “refinery gas” to make hydrogen for all their hydrotreating, hydroprocessing, hydrodesulfurisation and so on.

Added to which, the supply of lighter oils might suddenly cease from a particular field or region, owing to economic imbalance, or rapid depletion after a wind-down in new drilling.

With the international regulations on sulfur adding a vice-like grip on the quality of heavier oil products, the petrorefiners could find themselves in a tight corner. They need hydrogen, but they don’t have any. Where can they get some ? Using wind, sun and water.

The sulfur in all the oils of the next several decades is going to become a slag heap of embarrassment. The yellow mountains of crystallised sulfur will just sit there, gradually oxidising and continuing to poison the atmosphere. Or burning, perhaps through military action, and creating toxic clouds and fallout everywhere remotely within range of the weather systems.

So I think the first signs that BP are taking Renewable Gas baby steps will be twofold : first of all, they will start buying or deploying renewable electricity assets. Why ? To have their own source of power for electrolysis of water, to make hydrogen for their refineries. The second step I think you’ll find will be that BP, like Shell, start to synthesise fuels.

One day, no liquid hydrocarbons will be mined from the ground : they will all be synthesised from renewable electricity, water, air and biomass.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part L

11.   The Fossil Oil and Gas Producers (Continued)

In the European Union, the Renewable Energy Directive II (RED II) sets an EU-wide target of 14% in renewable energy for road and rail transport by 2030, whilst capping the amount of crop-based biofuels at 7%, as concerns have been raised over sustainability. In addition, the amount of palm oil used for biodiesel is to be phased out by 2030. Individual countries in the European Union have their own different mandates, and must set out their strategy in National Renewable Energy Action Plans :-

RED I : “Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC”

RED II : “Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources” : “Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council […] recast in the interests of clarity.”

The Fuel Quality Directive sets out that oil companies must reduce the carbon intensity of their transport fuels by 6% by 2020, compared with 2010. As an article from 17 September 2019 suggests, this poses some problems.

The Fuel Quality Directive ( 2009/30/EC, amended from the 98/70/EC original) sets out in Annex I and Annex II the limits of what could be blended with petrol-gasoline and diesel, to meet the requirements of Article 3 and Article 4.

Annex I : “Environmental Specifications for Market Fuels to be Used for Vehicles Equipped With Positive-Ignition Engines : Type : Petrol” (Petrol or Gasoline) : Oxygenates (% volume for volume)

Note : “Other oxygenates” refers to, “Other mono-alcohols and ethers with a final boiling point no higher than that stated in EN 228:2004”

Ethanol (with any necessary stabilising agents)10%E10
Iso-propyl alcohol (IPA, isoPropanol)12%
Tert-butyl alcohol (tert-Butanol)15%
Iso-butyl alcohol (isoButanol)15%
Ethers containing five or more carbon atoms per molecule (for example Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ether 3, OME-3, PODE-3, OMDME-3)22%
Other oxygenates (See note)15%

Annex II : Environmental Specifications for Market Fuels to be Used for Vehicles Equipped With Compression Ignition Engines : Type : Diesel

FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) content : EN 14078 (complying with EN 14214)7%B7

Each country has their own fuel standards. For example, the UK, although barring some administrative nightmare, negotiation complexity or legal challenge, is scheduled to depart the European Union in the near future, will still, hopefully, retain E5 and B7 blended fuels as well as the overall 6% biofuel use target of the RTFO Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation.

But can the fuel sellers create high enough biofuels demand across the European region (of which the United Kingdom geographically and market-wise remains a part, regardless of the exiting from Treaties) ? And can the fuel producers get higher renewable percentage blends through engineering standards committees ? This has been called the “blend wall” limitation, and has been experienced in the United States as well.

Given the higher percentage of OME and other high carbon oxygenate ethers permitted for blending with petrol-gasoline, will the fuel refiners plump for these, or the alcohols ?

And given that research into using longer chain OMEs for blending with or largely replacing diesel is advancing rapidly, will the fuel producers be taking this route ?

Since OMEs can be synthesised from renewable feedstocks, via Renewable Hydrogen, by a variety of processing routes, the race is on to find optimised methods of producing them.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part G

I asked a proper chemist about my table of synthetic fuels (synfuels). They said something to the effect that they were in two minds about the use of carbon in fuels, and that they thought it was a shame to put so much effort into synthesising molecules, only to burn them. On the other hand, they were perfectly happy with synthesised molecules being used as raw materials for chemical engineering.

I have encountered the expression of similar ideas before, and I think it partly results from a well-established paradigm that considers chemical engineering somewhat apart from energy engineering. The fact of the matter is that molecules are being restructured all the time, everywhere in the vast and sprawling petroleum- and Natural Gas-based energy system, as well as in Big Chemistry.

These days, there are very few things that happen at oil refineries that don’t involve altering molecules; including the use of combustion and gasification to deal with waste disposal, and provide on-site energy. Synthesis is part of the bedrock and fabric of fuel production – it’s not a step too alien.

My reply was basically to say that I understood the chemist’s reticence about maintaining the use of carbon in the new fuels of the Energy Transition. It would make a lot of sense to jump straight to a Hydrogen-and-Renewable-Power Economy. But, I said, as there are a billion Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) on the road around the world, and this is going to be that case for at least the next couple of decades, we need to continue to provide liquid fuels, and that this can be most easily done using carbon-based molecules, as they naturally have higher boiling points.

As for the implication that there is a high cost and high inefficiency in synthesising molecules for use as road/rail/ship/plane fuel, that ain’t necessarily so. Like all things, it will depend on concentrating effort in improving processes and equipment. Task forces. Investment. Focus.

Basically, as we are stuck with needing to provide liquid carbon-based drive for the global fleet for decades to come, and yet we need to undergo an Energy Transition to much lower net emissions fuels, we have two main choices for an approach :-

1.   Decomposition

Decomposition of biomass can be done in a range of biological and thermochemical ways, some of which result in complex hydrocarbon/carbohydrate molecules; and others of which produce simple compounds (usually gases) that would need synthesis to make them into appropriate liquid fuels.

Where biomass can be decomposed directly to liquid fuels, there are often problems arising from contaminants and unwanted by-products. This sometimes gives a poor “atom economy”, and will lead to continuing criticism about waste disposal – essentially rejecting molecules and atoms – which is innately inefficient.

The current petroleum production and refining system has high levels of rejected molecules, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur. Managing this carries a high burden. Do we really want to reproduce that ? Where’s the optimisation ?

2.   Synthesis

By taking biomass and water and industrial waste gases and using thermochemistry to break them all down into basic, foundational molecules, and then using renewable electricity to synthesise them into usuable fuels, stands a chance of being highly efficient in the use of molecules. Starting chemistry with smaller and neater molecules, and choosing which ones we use, means a higher possible eventual atom economy.

Sure, it would require a certain amount of solar power and wind power, but this wouldn’t be inefficiency in the traditional sense. There are plenty more sunshine where the last rays came from, and no waste is created by using their energy with less than 100% efficiency. And the wind keeps on blowing, even though we might use up a lot of wind power for chemistry, without creating slag heaps, or needing to bury carbon dioxide.

With synthesis, energy is chemistry, and chemistry is energy. But then, that’s the way it’s becoming anyway. Virtually every atom that goes into a petroleum refinery has to be processed before it’s fit for purpose. We are getting to the point where crude petroleum is no longer the best option for input feedstocks for liquid fuels.

In addition, synthesis allows us to put carbon dioxide to good use. At the moment, this would be unavoidable carbon dioxide created by industrial processes, and gathered for use in synthetic fuels.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part D

The extent to which Energy Change will take place in response to Climate Change depends on the set of technologies being pursued, and also on the influential voices and actors in energy and chemistry that call for those technologies to be deployed.

As gas fuels and gas chemicals are so flexible in their use, they can assist with Energy Change as well as securing industrial chemistry in a climate-constrained future, where petroleum-derived compounds – the leftovers from petroleum refining for fuels – may no longer enter the supply chain.

As petroleum-derived fuels fall from favour, the relative volumes of petroleum-derived chemical feedstocks available will inevitably change, as petroleum refineries have to adjust their processes.

As just one example, the availability of ethane, propane and butane, and the compounds made from ethane, propane and butane, will change as the resources of petroleum exploited change, and as demand for petroleum-based fuels will change.

The “balance of plant” in the petroleum refinery will see shifts both in input compounds and output compounds. As of now, the plastics industry is replete with ethane, as shale gas and shale oil exploitation affords extra supplies; but as the shale industry wanes, the Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) – a mixture of compounds part-liquid and part-gas – from shale hydraulic fracturing will no longer be on the supply side slate.

There is likely to be increasing demand for synthesised base chemicals, to guarantee the plastics and associated chemical industries.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part A

The Energy Change for the major oil and gas (and coal) companies will not come about because of protestors barricading themselves outside corporate headquarters and gluing themselves to things. It won’t come about because a wildlife or environmental charity organises a postcard campaign. It won’t even come about because the United Nations meets once a year to discuss Climate Change.

The transition out of fossil fuels and into renewable fuel sources as the primary input to the world’s chemical engineering plants and refineries is going to come about because of a range of asks from a number of different actors.

Here is the start of a few ideas about which players could kickstart deep carbon-busting Energy Change :-

1. The World of Chemical Engineering

Oil, gas and coal companies cannot dig up their raw product and take it straight to market. They have to process the raw materials before they can be used for chemical and energy purposes. Any energy system that is not centred on electricity is essentially a giant chemistry set, and companies that make products in their own plants purchase chemical engineering machinery and skill from other chemical engineering companies. That coker that sits at your refinery ? That came from a third party chemical engineering manufacturer. That gasification reactor ? Ditto. That gas sweetening unit ? Same again. Whilst it’s true that some oil and gas refiners have patented their own chemical engineering processes, they still use metal casings, pipework and reactors made by others.

Within the network of chemical engineering companies, all mutually interdependent, there are stirrings of concern about climate change, and it can be envisaged that some companies will turn green, and negotiate new relationships with refineries and petrochemical plants. They will offer greener, cleaner chemical processes. They will sell greener, cleaner feedstocks as input raw materials. Already, we have seen environmental regulation and attention to health and safety change not only operational practices, but also cause a switch in chemical engineering processes – such as, in some process chains, the use of hydrogen in processing hydrocarbons, instead of dangerous acids.

The focus on hydrogen is continuing to mount, as hydrogen can be used for a number of essential chemical engineering needs. With general concern about global warming rising up engineering boss agendas, it is therefore to be anticipated that third parties will increasingly offer Renewable Hydrogen-based processing units and workflow options to refineries and chemoplastics businesses.

The methane in Natural Gas is a vital fuel and input to chemical engineering, and so for parties urging efficiency with the use of Natural Gas, it can be seen that more supply and demand of Renewable Methane into petroleum refinery and petrochemical plants will likely arise.

There is a range of chemistry that can be done to modify hydrocarbon molecules to meet desired criteria, and the ask for Renewable Gas will not require revolutionary, untrialled change in chemical engineering. This basic fact will enable seamless adoption. When the chemistry in an industry uses any kind of synthesis, whether of and from gas fuels, liquid fuels, gas chemicals or liquid chemicals, Renewable Gas can be part of that. Some of the essential Renewable Gas and Renewable Gas-derived molecules are : Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane and Renewable Methanol. With these three, most of today’s and tomorrow’s chemical engineering can be done.

2. The World of Renewable Electricity Engineering

Companies that are involved in the deployment of renewable electricity, in the form of wind power and solar power, continue to find themselves on the cusp of massive expansion in energy production. Ramping up renewable electricity supply is not without hurdles, and there are gluts and gaps that need smoothing over. Power grids are investing in network batteries for hour-to-hour, day-to-day coverage as backup, but there will remain a need for week-to-week, month-to-month and season-to-season storage of the energy provided by renewable electricity.

This is where synthesised, synthetic gases come in. When power grid transmission operators and electricity distribution companies start to ask for green long-term storage, they will ask for Renewable Gas of one kind or another.

As synthetic gas storage becomes widespread, the fossil fuel companies, who will be facing continuing calls to “green up”, will all decide to get into renewable electricity and Renewable Gas, because adding clean, green power and clean, green energy storage to their asset portfolios will be an easy way to downgrade their emissions, and tick climate change action boxes for their investors.

3. Smaller Oil and Gas Companies

Already, we see smaller energy companies publishing their strategies to act on climate change by undergoing Energy Change. Some are more ambitious than others. Their actions on energy transition will doubtless eventually impact the actions of the much larger oil and gas majors.

Vattenfall (with Preem)–press-releases/pressreleases/2019/preem-and-vattenfall-deepen-partnership-for-the-production-of-fossil-free-fuel-on-a-large-scale
Equinor (formerly Statoil and StatoilHydro)
Total (with Saft)

Renewable Gas : Where The Ask Is

Today, I’m trying to think through where the conversations about renewable chemical feedstocks must be taking place. Where high level strategists, government departments or agencies, company directors and shareholder action groups must be discussing how to displace crude petroleum oil, Natural Gas and coal as inputs to the global energy and chemicals machine.

Naturally, the conflicting demands of pumping fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions have reached the boardroom of the major oil and gas company.

Their strategy is ideally for them one that highlights their operations and ignores their product; celebrates their alternative and renewable energy work, yet obscures its minuscule contribution to their total business model.

They need to be asked to focus their attention on synthesised low carbon gas and fuels, to re-centre their businesses on gas, and eventually synthetic gas and synthetic fuels.

So, just where is the ask ? Can the ask come from shareholders, based on annual company reports ?


All Roads Lead to Renewable Gas

Renewable Gas will be a solution of choice in the low carbon transition for many energy applications. It stands to reason that because it can be useful in a number of ways, addressing a range of problems, it will become increasingly important and developed.

Gas Is A Good Partner To Renewable Electricity

The deployment of renewable electricity, principally wind power and solar power, is accelerating, but in order to navigate the transition to a much greener electricity mix, support will be needed from infrastructure put in place by power network operators, in such areas as grid capacity upgrades and backup power generation, as renewable electricity will always remain variable in supply.

Any storable fuel is useful from an operational point of view; but gas fuels can be combusted through oxidation for power generation more efficiently and cleanly than liquid or solid fuels, because the oxygen can be well-mixed with the gas. Although it is somewhat more complicated to store gas than liquid or solid fuels, because of issues of fugitive emissions, with good design and monitoring, gas can be safely and securely stored, season to season.

Different kinds of gas are useful as fuels, and they can be used by different power technologies. Not only can combustible gases be used in engines, for example, methane; pressurised gas can be used to run power generating equipment, for example, non-burning carbon dioxide, and ordinary air. Carbon dioxide and methane are both global warming gases, and so their containment is a priority, and where possible, the aim should be to not emit them as a byproduct or through leaks.

Gas heating systems have become widespread in many regions of the developed world, as has gas-powered chilling. Owing to its relative cleanliness and efficiency, gas combustion is becoming recognised as the preferred option, not only for power generation and building temperature control, but also for vehicle fuelling.

Rebalancing Regional Heterogeneity Of Fossil Fuel Resources

Although coals of varying quality and quantity can be found almost everywhere, the uneven global distribution and local concentration of petroleum oil and Natural Gas deposits could reasonably be implicated in the augmentation of regional resource conflict and the promotion of economic imbalance, owing to the tendency for corporocratic influences, as governments and fossil fuel markets form mutual dependencies.

Resource concentration geographies, modelled on the history of fossil fuel machinations, could be seen arising afresh in the need for increasing supplies of rare earth elements, used in electrolytes and catalysts for new energy technologies. These “resource curses” could cause delicate and bruised situations to degenerate further, as localised deposits of fossil fuels and other geographically-constrained mined materials experience significant depletion.

Renewable Gas can be made in a wide number of locations, using a variety of technologies and feedstocks, and so would prevent and preclude the systemic pressure points of fossil fuel resource exploitation. Additionally, it could ameliorate the situation if there are any flare-ups in the process of the decline of petroleum and Natural Gas resource provision : Renewable Gas could salve and soothe the aching voids left by empty wells.

Just as highly decentralised projects in wind power and solar power are providing energy access to the energy-deprived, and economic stimulus, local Renewable Gas facilities will both complement and expand the range and coverage of low carbon and low air pollution energy supply at the same geocodes. This will reduce fossil fuel import dependencies, and could help unpick systems of energy colonialism, whilst also rolling back situational triggers for conflict. No more will the passage of oil or other resource tankers through the Straits of Hormuz be a potential flashpoint, one could hope.

Even in energy-rich regions, with strongly-developed power and gas grid and pipeline networks, boosting the production and supply of local Renewable Gas will promote economic stability and regeneration. It will also offset regional and state centralised supplies, and can be carried by the same networks.

Enabling The Low Carbon Transport Transition

The sheer scale of private, corporate and state fleets of fossil-fuelled vehicles, and the manufacture and sale of new units, means that liquid vehicle fuels are necessitated for a number of decades to come. Sales and use of alternative drive vehicles is accelerating, but starting from such a low base, it seems likely that it will take many years to create an impact on this market dominance. This pragmatic truth has been used by the projectioners of the oil and gas companies to claim that their products, and hence their business models, are secure for investment.

Oil and gas majors, when offering to act on climate change, proffer such things as their increasing engineering efficiency and operations streamlining as evidence that they are constraining emissions. They are working together in a global pact to curb Natural Gas venting and flaring. They are using the most environmentally-sound chemical engineering. However, the oil and gas companies, just as the rest of society, need to address the net end-use carbon dioxide and methane emissions of their products, as well as their mining and refining operations.

As the numerical size of the global fossil fuel fleets is so large, it is not feasible to wait for electric drive cars, hydrogen buses and compressed biomethane trucks to form the major segment of the market before seeing an important transition. That would be waiting too late to make a dent in net global warming emissions. Measures that could help would include mandating the reduction in the size of private road vehicles, launching schemes to perform diesel-to-electric conversions, and promoting public transport and vehicle sharing; but these measures will be small in scale compared to the total fleets in use, at least to begin with. As the liquid fuel engines will continue to roll, the best inroad to addressing the emissions of fuels is to transition the feedstocks and processes used to produce the fuels themselves.

Increasing manufacture and sales of alternative drive vehicles, and transitioning fossil fuels to alternative liquid fuels could be viewed as an essential two-pronged attack on the scourge of global warming emissions from transport and freight, predicated by the intractable nature of this sector’s emissions, embedded deeply in the economy, with its tentacle hold on governance.

There have been several coordinated or independent attempts at introducing alternative liquid fuels over the last century, and regional fuel standards sometimes require or permit a selection of chemical substitutes or additives for diesel or petrol-gasoline fuels. Yet, these regulatory transitions are overall insignificant compared to the quantities of fossil fuels that are still sold, and will continue to be sold, unless impactful and consequential change is imposed or agreed.

The chemical engineering needed to create low net carbon liquid vehicle fuels has existed since the development of industrial scale catalysis; for example, the widespread production of methanol from syngas – a mixture of primarily hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, that results from high temperature oxygen-constrained gasification of a range of substrates (feedstocks, base materials).

Although movement towards alternative liquid fuels is making progress, it will probably need global private and public investment projects to push forward towards meaningful gains and hold significant ground. Disparate and uncoordinated, uncentralised measures might not cross thresholds of cost and efficiency fast enough for enterprises to succeed.

Unlike many Renewable Gas projects, alternative liquid fuels plants will need to be centralised, at least to kickstart production capability, and provide learning; engaging the economies of scale until cost reductions are enabled. This is where the inclusion and leadership of the fossil fuel companies will be essential; they are some of the most appropriate industrial bases with the requisite chemical engineering capabilities to markedly develop alternative fuel production. If the oil and gas companies make alternative fuel production one of their central strategies, it will enable these entities to weather and survive. If they let other engineering corporates take up the mantle of Renewable Fuel production, the oil and gas companies face the possibility of annihilation and insignificance.

The production of liquid Renewable Fuels requires the making of low carbon Renewable Gas, which once again points the solutions compass arrow in that direction.

The production of Renewable Gas will also help cushion the potential carbon emissions impact from the rise of electric vehicles – which will all need charging and will sap the grids of power : where demand has been stable for many years, it will suddenly rise. To provide a much firmer supply base in renewable power will require a much stronger acceleration in the deployment of wind turbines and solar panels. This growth might be stymied by a number of factors. Not only that, but demand patterns may have noticeably different daily profiles, leading to problems arising from incorrect power provision planning. Having recourse to Renewable Gas will buffer supply and demand in low carbon electricity. When there is a plentiful supply of renewable power, Renewable Gas will be made; when there are scarcities arising from the contrary patterns of renewable power supply and demand, Renewable Gas can step in for electricity generation.

Just as we will balance renewable electricity with Renewable Gas for ordinary domestic, commercial and industrial power demand, we will also balance vehicular power demand with Renewable Gas, during the new charging times profile.

Contributing To Better Urban Air Quality

In order to reduce urban air pollution from transport, it is necessary to use lighter, less complex fuels, and also to make them as hydrogen-rich as possible – as unburned carbon atoms and carbon-based molecules have the potential to be the site of nucleation of pollution particles – particulate matter, which is often small enough to compromise lungs.

Methane in this regard makes an almost perfect fuel : a lot of hydrogen which will burn cleanly, and one carbon atom to keep energy density high. Methane also has superior operational parameters for a range of applications, such as a much more reasonable liquefaction temperature than hydrogen – useful for long distance transportation.

Even though Renewable Gas, whether Renewable Methane or Renewable Hydrogen, will contribute to a lowering of air pollution, any kind of combustion in a vehicle engine that uses ordinary air will still produce nitrogen oxides air pollution. The only way to avoid this would be to have gas drive vehicles of the future designed around using pure oxygen as the combustion oxidant – which would entail parallel tanks, and much higher safety features; or designing fuel cells that do not permit nitrogen combustion.

Displacing Fossil Fuels For Heating And Cooling

It takes some time to rip out gas networks. Much of the gas distributed is used for heating. To make giant strides in the near term, substituting Natural Gas for Renewable Gas in existing gas grids is a logical development.

Replacing Industrial Chemical Feedstocks

To start the low carbon transition of chemical engineering requires the insertion of key renewable feedstocks, as well as the use of renewable electricity. Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methanol and Renewable Methane will all be useful target molecules.

Natural Gas Is Not A Destination

The fact that gas is a good choice for a range of energy applications should not become an excuse for the oil and gas companies to keep pushing Natural Gas. Natural Gas cannot be the endpoint of change, so oil and gas companies should not pin themselves into this niche : instead, they should be following a strategy of diversification into electricity and energy services, and in the production of Renewable Gas, which will become increasingly mandated by global warming limitation legislation and shareholder climate change action.

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BP : Politely Requesting an Interview


From: jo abbess


Thank you for your time on the phone earlier this week.

Last year in February, I was part of a small group of students that were grateful to have the benefit of an interview with XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX at BP, then XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

I am taking my research into the energy sector further for my MSc dissertation, and I would be grateful if I could have an interview with somebody in an engineering department who has an overview of the energy sector.

It doesn’t need to be a face to face interview, as I am quite willing to telephone people. It only needs to be 20 minutes in duration.

I have prepared a short list of open questions that I am considering would be suitable for my enquiry into the future of energy resources and technologies (see below).

I hope that you can point me in the direction of somebody within BP who would like to offer their thoughts.

Thank you.

Questions with a UK focus

1. What do you think have been the best developments in the energy sector in the last 20 years ?

(What do you think are the most significant developments in the energy sector in the last 20 years ?)

2. What positive or negative changes in energy production and supply will take place over the next 2 decades ?

(What do you think will be the most important developments in the energy sector in the next 20 years ?)

3. Which energy resources and technologies look the most troubled ?

4. Which energy resources and technologies look the most promising ?

5. Does the UK face an energy supply gap ? Can we keep the lights on ?

From: jo abbess


Thank you for your helpful reply.

What I am trying to achieve is a real conversation with somebody within BP who has a general overview of the energy industry – sadly, the annual Statistical Review and company report do not answer the scoping questions I have.

I am offering an opportunity for BP to voice a vision, on record, of how the company intend to navigate future change, using parameters that are not generally the basis of shareholder reports.

I am sure that somebody in the organisation has a view on the onset of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas – from conventional resources, and that there must be aims and objectives for BP to manage this issue.

I am convinced that BP has planned for a range of policy scenarios concerning climate change – both mitigation and adaptation measures.

I am also sure that somebody in BP has a plan for navigating political problems, such as the probability of continued unrest in the Middle East, with the accompanying likelihood of compromised oil and gas production.

In addition, I am sure that somebody from BP can speak on the company’s behalf about how it will deal with the threats of economic turbulence and still be able to meet the needs of shareholders.

Some sample questions that could take in part of this landscape :-

1. Do you think that we are heading for a period of global energy insecurity ? What are the factors that could cause this ? What are the timelines ? Who are the key players ?

2. What is aiding or blocking the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy ? What technologies look promising ? What technologies are stuck in the lab ?

3.. How do you think we will manage the transition to clean energy ? How will the economic actors be able to diversify out of fossil fuels and still retain balance in the world markets – and not disappoint their investors ?

4. Do you think that people generally are aware of the issues of energy security ?

It would be excellent if you could find somebody to speak to these or similar questions in a short interview with me. I can do interviews by telephone at very low cost, and I would e-mail the transcript for verification before using in my research report.

My central question is “are we ready for energy change ?” – major transition in the resourcing and use of energy – and I am seeking a full range of opinion on that question.

If you could point me towards somebody who is willing and able to speak for 20 minutes on the phone on energy security issues, I would be highly grateful.

Thank you.

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Wind Power : Material Fatigues

Image Credit : Cape Cod Living

James Delingpole follows in a long line of commentators with zero engineering experience in pouring scorn on a technology that could quite possibly save our skins :-

I don’t know what he harbours in his heart against wonderful wind turbines, but he seems to be part of a movement who delight in their failure. Just ask the Internet to show you “exploding wind turbines”.

For example :-

Clearly, you need to be in full protective fatigues when battling this kind of bad press…in fact “fatigue” is exactly the right word to come back at Mr Delingpole’s cracked warning (of cracks in wind turbine bases).

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Go Beyond Oil

“Protesters condemn ‘dirty oil’ at World Energy Congress : (AFP) : 14 September 2010 : MONTREAL — Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in the streets of Montreal Sunday, calling for an end to “dirty, risky” oil exploration, ahead of a global gathering of energy experts. A dozen protesters covered in molasses staged a “Black Tide Beach Party,” while dozens of others carried banners that read “Too dirty, too risky, go beyond oil.” A blond baby boy smeared in brown sticky molasses wailed in his activist father’s arms, while protesters used megaphones to slam the provincial Quebec government of Jean Charest for inviting oil companies to the five-day World Energy Congress at the sprawling Palais de Congres. Some 5,000 participants from industry, government and academia, were expected to attend the conference, slated to officially open Sunday evening. The event is expected to tackle global energy issues, such as improving access to energy in the world’s poorer regions and the role of new technologies in ensuring a sustainable energy future. Many protesters directed their anger at BP over a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. But Julien Vincent, a campaigner for Greenpeace International, said BP was only part of the problem. “British Petroleum is one part of a big industry that’s got an abysmal safety record and an abysmal record in terms of its obligations toward protecting communities,” he told AFP. “You also have oil from Shell dripping out over Nigeria right now. You have oil spills that have taken place in China that have flooded ports,” he added. “The entire industry needs to be told to sit back and listen up.” …”

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Spoilt for Choice

September 2010 is turning out to be a veritable over-stuffed cornucopia of Climate Change- and Energy-related events.

This week, 15th September 2010 breaks the record for the number of useful things I could be doing. I am effectively quintuple-booked, and something’s got to go (well, nearly all of them, actually).

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Stern Remarks #3 : The Law of Diminishing Energy Returns

Nicholas Stern, and other more bog standard Economists, all seem to believe in the magical power of Innovation. He writes about it in a reverential way in his book “A Blueprint for a Safer Planet”.

Innovation : gleaming, sparkling, wondrous dexterity : if there’s a buck to be made from shaving a saving, or fishing for an efficiency, it is assumed the holy Market Economy will be in there, innovating away.

Or that’s what Economists believe anyway, wholeheartedly, generally, generously, neo-liberally.