Just in passing, during a general internet browse, I find that Bosch take synthetic fuels seriously. People like me.
“Synthetic fuels are made solely with the help of renewable energy. In a first stage, hydrogen is produced from water. Carbon is added to this to produce a liquid fuel. This carbon can be recycled from industrial processes or even captured from the air using filters. Combining CO2 and H2 then results in the synthetic fuel, which can be gasoline, diesel, gas, or even kerosene.” This is not new gizmodery, however. Synfuels have a long history : see here, here, here and here.
And they mention that the Germany Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has been working in this area. Another search term in the internet browser later, I find companies doing work on turning wood into fuel, and capturing carbon dioxide to make methanol. But I know there’s more. So, after a little more digging, I find the bmwi 2019 Federal Government Report on Energy Research.
And what’s this ? Carbon2Chem – “CO2 reduction via cross-industrial cooperation between the steel, chemical and energy sectors”. And the section on projects and companies involved, for L6, “Oxymethyl ether: BASF SE, Volkswagen AG, Linde AG, FhG-UMSICHT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) – Institute of Catalysis Research and Technology, thyssen-krupp AG”.
Volkswagen ? I mean, I can understand BASF and Linde being heavily involved at this stage, being chemical engineering majors, but Volkswagen ? A motor vehicle manufacturer ? Already ? I would have thought the carmakers would come along to the party a bit later. Although, actually, thinking about it, I have heard of some other automobile companies doing things in the gas sphere.
And KIT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Here’s their general piece about the bioliq plant.
“Modern combustion engines become increasingly economical and clean. Engine developers, however, are now facing the technical conflict of whether fuel consumption or exhaust gas emission is to be further reduced. This Gordian knot might be cut by chemists’ and engineers’ further development of sophisticated fuels that help optimize combustion in the engine. […] A promising concept for diesel fuels is the use of oxymethylene ethers […]”
It goes on, “[…] Oxymethylene ethers (OME) are synthetic compounds of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen (CH3O(CH2O)nCH3). Due to their high oxygen concentration, pollutant formation is suppressed in the combustion stage already. As diesel fuels, they reduce the emission of carbon black [BC] and nitrogen oxides [NOx]”. This sounds like a very optimistic route for development.
However, there’s still the usual catch of new tech : the economics. “[…] Still, economically efficient production of OME on the technical scale represents a challenge. The OME project will therefore focus on new and efficient processes for the production of the chemical product OME.”
And clearly, they will need to be produced from renewable resources, “[…] OME might be produced from renewable resources, as is shown by the bioliq project of KIT. In this way, these substances would not only contribute to reducing pollutants, but also to decreasing carbon dioxide emission of traffic. The carbon/oxygen/hydrogen ratio of OME is very similar to that of biomass. Production with a high energy and atom efficiency is possible.”
As of now, “[…] Little is known about the effects of OME during engine combustion and other aspects of the use in vehicles. Comprehensive studies of engine tests will focus on these aspects of application and contribute to revealing the potentials of enhancing efficiency of OME use. These studies are to provide detailed insight into the relationships between the chemical OME structure and combustion properties. The objective is to demonstrate a highly simplified exhaust gas treatment process without particulate filters and catalytic treatment. […]”
And this is a very important point : the way forward for diesel engines in road vehicles implies the use of several different kinds of filtration, additives, catalytic conversion and other gas exhaust treatment – including recycling. Yet even with all this extra kit in a diesel vehicle, there will be RWDC – real world driving conditions that defeat all this added expense and weight.
We have to face the facts : dino diesel is dangerous dirt, and cleaning up after its combustion requires complex chemistry. Any alternatives could be very useful in reducing the weight and cost of vehicles, including removing the need for rare earth elements in catalysts.
Calum Watson at BBC Scotland rightly asks “Why are we building gas-powered ships ?
Two “problem-hit” “green” ferries are three years late, designed to be fuelled by LNG – Liquefied Natural Gas.
Of course, Natural Gas has a shelf life, a sell-by date, a leave-it-in-the-ground date. Because it’s a fossil fuel, and at some point, even though we might use Natural Gas as a “bridge fuel” to the fully renewable future, as some point we will need to stop pumping it up and burning it. The climate demands it.
So, why are we building gas-fuelled ships, then ? Well, that’s because Renewable Gas is a-coming in. For now, Natural Gas combustion produces around half the carbon dioxide per unit of useful end energy than coal or the thickest petroleum-sourced “bunker fuel” marine oils.
And in addition, as Calum Watson at BBC Scotland points out, burning Natural Gas produces far less air pollution than burning the treacle tar that comes out of the bottom of the barrel and the bottom of the petrorefinery fractional distillation columns – almost too heavy to vaporise.
The model of shipping gas halfway round the globe, compressed and chilled as LNG, in a network of efficient trading routes, is something that can put cheap associated Natural Gas to good use in energy markets – associated with petroleum oil, that is – co-produced, or by-produced when the oils and the condensates are pumped up.
The same system can in the future be used to trade Renewable Gas – Renewable Methane, synthesised from Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Carbon.
There’s no need to abandon gas-fuelled ships on climate change action grounds, when Renewable Gas is going to displace Natural Gas.
Calum Watson at BBC Scotland asks if hydrogen could be the shipping fuel of the future, but he rightly points out that if hydrogen were to be shipped in the same way as Natural Gas is now in the form of a liquid, the cryogenic demands on liquefying hydrogen would be extreme.
He discusses electric drive ships, and that’s going to be great for short hops – but for the long haul, shipping will still need energy denser material fuels. The question in my mind is if Renewable Methane as LRG – Liquefied Renewable Gas is the best option – as it is possible to synthesise fuels that are liquid at room temperature, starting with biomass and Renewable Hydrogen.
Combusting liquid Renewable Fuels made through synthesis might be shown to have the same kinds of air pollution implications as fossil marine fuels : perhaps Renewable Gas will work out to be the best choice for new ocean-going vessels. It won’t be the ammonia-made-from-hydrogen mentioned in the article – there are too many issues with using this in bulk. Renewable Gas, however, where it is Renewable Methane, will be almost identical to Natural Gas, which has a very high methane content.
Calum Watson at BBC Scotland ponders that, “it looks like shipyards will be building a lot more gas-powered ships – whether that will satisfy climate change concerns is another matter.” This is a valid issue when considering hydrogen made from Natural Gas – which is another dead end. But if we use, as he says, “The cleanest way of obtaining the gas is by splitting water molecules using electrolysis, a process which requires electricity”, and take Renewable Electricity as our power for this, then the product will automatically be climate sound.
Combustion of fossil fuels mostly gives byproducts of carbon dioxide and water vapour. However there are also some other compounds created along with the marriage of carbon with oxygen, and some of these are highly dangerous, either to personal or planetary health.
Bringing alternative vehicle fuels to the markets, oil and gas companies who are transition ing away from petroleum to renewable fuels will need to make sure these new products do not aggravate air pollution by adding to it, at the very least; and at best, prevent air pollution.
There are some bolt-on technologies that can be applied for diesel vehicles in particular, but if alternative fuels remove the problem exhausts from burning diesel fuels, then the problems will be solved without perhaps costly car modifications.
To begin outlining some of the research, I must outline the worst offenders in terms of air pollution – both from burning diesel fuels and petrol-gasoline.
Air Pollution from Vehicle Fuel Combustion
|Pollutant||Formula||Cause||Global Warming Potential (over 100 years)|
|Carbon dioxide||CO2||Combustion leading to oxidation of the fuel’s carbon by air||1|
|Carbon monoxide||CO||Incomplete combustion of the fuel’s carbon by insufficient air|
|Nitrogen oxides, or NOx||NO, NO2||Combustion of fossil fuels in normal air|
|Nitrous oxide||N2O||Combustion of fossil fuels in normal air||265|
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
including unburned hydrocarbons, such as methane
|Combustion of fossil fuels||Methane : between 62 and 96|
|PAHs (Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons)||Combustion of fossil fuels|
PM (Particulate Matter)
< 10 microns, < 2.5 microns, < 1 micron
|A core of carbon (C)||Combustion of Fossil Fuels|
|Black Carbon (a fraction of Particulate Matter)||C|
|Sulfur Dioxide||SO2||Combustion of Fossil Fuels|
|Trace metals and their ions||including possibly V, Ni, Fe, Zn, Mo, Pb, Al, Cr, Cu, P, Si, Ca, depending on original crude oil||Combustion of Fossil Fuels|
I’m scrolling through Twitter, and a Promoted advertisement pops up in my timeline.
“Don’t be misled by news reports”, it reads, “WATCH to learn the real story behind #ExxonKnew”.
I double-checked. The account was @exxonmobil, and there was a big blue tick there, so it had to be valid. ExxonMobil was running an exposé.
I clicked the link, fascinated to learn what ExxonMobil had to say regarding the allegations made against them, that they had allegedly known about climate change decades ago, and yet had allegedly carried on with fossil fuel exploitation regardless, whilst allegedly keeping the facts from everyone.
I watched the little video, complete with clinky xylophone and tinkly pizzicato violin music, and it said,
‘GET THE FACTS about the manufactured allegations behind #ExxonKnew’
‘#ExxonKnew is a political campaign that aims to advance the special interests of environmental activists, plaintiff’s attorneys and politicians.’
‘The campaign is backed by wealthy funders and plaintiff’s attorneys who have…’
‘Placed inaccurate, “pay-for-play” news stories…’
‘Coordinated with sympathetic politicians to launch baseless investigations into ExxonMobil…’
‘And manufactured academic reports with deeply flawed methodology…’
It was at this point that I smelled a highly-whiskered public relations rodent.
For starters, there’s no good being scornful about their accusers being involved in politics. After all, ExxonMobil themselves seem to play quite a lot of politics. Their annual lobbying budget, as of 2019, was apparently $41 million.
As for the “special interests”, well, that stands to reason. Quite a lot of people have a special interest in curbing climate change these days, some of them even have businesses in the sector. ExxonMobil is being a little hypocritical, perhaps, as they seem to be one big “special interest” themselves.
As for the #ExxonKnew campaign having “wealthy funders”, ExxonMobil’s campaign against #ExxonKnew is probably being backed by the enormous capital of ExxonMobil.
And as for the accusation of “deeply flawed methodology”, well, that’s surely just opinion from a major oil and gas company ?
The video carried on :-
“To date the campaign has failed to achieve any substantive results or advance constructive dialogue on climate change.”
“ExxonMobil on Climate : THE FACTS”
“ExxonMobil is committed to reducing the risks posed by climate change.”
“We support the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.”
“Through our membership in the Climate Leader Council, we are working with the top business, environmental and economic minds to advocate for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.”
“ExxonMobil has supported such a tax for over a decade.”
“We have partnered with 13 of the world’s largest oil and gas producers as part of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative to pursue lower-emission technologies.”
“Since 2000, we have invested more than $9 billion to develop lower-emissions energy solutions, including carbon capture and storage, cogeneration, methane emissions reduction and algae-based biofuels.”
“And in agreement with the U.S. National Labs we are investing up to $100 million to research and advance lower-emissions technologies.”
Whoa there ! Such a lot of money ! But wait, how does this compare to annual investment in other things ? And how does ExxonMobil compare to other oil and gas companies ?
The video captions continue :-
“We have forged partnerships with more than 80 universities to promote and share emerging scientific research.”
Hang on a minute ! Partnerships with universities ? Producing academic research ? Doesn’t that stand the risk of results being just a little bit biased ?
“And support cost-effective federal regulations of methane emissions along with setting voluntary reduction efforts.”
“For more information visit : www.exxonmobil.com/getthefacts”
It seems ExxonMobil had the facts about global warming and the contribution from fossil fuel combustion around about 50 years ago. If so, they should have acted sooner to effect a low carbon transition, and they should now be investing much, much more in the solutions.
Towards the end of 2018, in their report, “Beyond the Cycle : Which oil and gas companies are ready for the low-carbon transition”, the Carbon Disclosure Project found that, as reported by Environmental Leader’s Alyssa Danigelis, “This year the global oil and gas industry is only investing 1.3% of total capital expenditure in low carbon assets […] European oil and gas majors were slightly ahead at 7%, but overall this represents a drop in the bucket compared to the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
It seems ExxonMobil are not spending nearly enough of their capital on low emissions technologies.
Their approach, to push for a carbon tax, risks shoving the issue of climate action into the political long grass, where change will take decades to coalesce. This is almost certainly a delaying tactic on their part. If they were serious, surely they would be taking corporate action right now, instead of making climate action somebody else’s fiscal or financial responsibility ?
ExxonMobil’s investment in carbon capture is minuscule compared to their annual capital expenditure on oil and gas production. And their carbon capture and storage uses carbon dioxide to help pump more petroleum oil. How do they dare to proudly show it off ?
Their involvement with universities clearly advances their own special interests; their paid-for research is not solely concerned with low emissions technologies.
Their contribution to all the international and national energy fora and colloquia could be said to be all about them, and lobbying for their own corporate survival.
What they say just doesn’t wash, in my opinion.
ExxonMobil’s rebuttal, to use their own accusation, could be said to be one giant “deeply flawed methodology”.
Hydrogen is once again in the news, but it’s not renewable. And in addition, its uses are not green, either.
Air Liquide, operating as ALAR – Air Liquide Arabia – has announced the start of commercial supplies of hydrogen, produced at YASREF, via a pipeline network within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
A Reuters article, clearly based on an Air Liquide press release, reads, “Pressure has mounted on the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers to reduce their carbon emissions as concern mounts among policy-makers, investors and the general public about their impact on global warming. Many in industry are turning to hydrogen gas, which can be used to fuel vehicles and as a means to store green energy, as part of the solution.”
This all sounds great, but there are several things wrong with this picture.
The first catch is that the hydrogen in this case is not going to be used to fuel vehicles, or store green energy. As it says in the article, “Air Liquide Arabia (ALAR) on Tuesday began pumping hydrogen […] and will supply a Saudi Aramco refinery as the kingdom seeks to shift towards cleaner fuel. […] The Saudi Aramco Mobil Refinery (SAMREF), a joint venture between oil giant Saudi Aramco and a subsidiary of U.S. oil major ExxonMobil, will be the first company to use the Yanbu hydrogen grid […]”
So, the hydrogen here is going to be used to assist in the processing and refining of crude petroleum oil : such processes as hydrodesulfurisation, hydrotreating, hydrocracking.
The second nick is that the hydrogen is being made from Natural Gas, not renewable electricity with water. The Yanbu plant is a giant Steam Methane Reforming operation : “Large-scale hydrogen production unit in Yanbu : One of our many achievements in the region is the successful commissioning of a large-scale Steam Methane Reformer unit for the YASREF refinery (in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia), with a total hydrogen production capacity of 340,000 Nm3/hour. This is the first time in the Middle East that the hydrogen production for such a large refinery has been outsourced to a third party.”
Large gas projects, where the economics make sense, are normally gargantuan, leviathan, plants, covering large areas of land, and requiring high volumes of materials. This means that even plant that produce 100 times less than the Air Liquide operation at YASREF are highly centralised and capital-intensive.
Hydrogen plants are therefore a major capital commitment, and building these gigantic SMRs means that there is a strong lock-in to Natural Gas, a fossil fuel.
Air Liquide does say that they have a commitment to going green, however :-
“In practical terms, Air Liquide has made a commitment to produce at least 50% of the hydrogen necessary for these applications through carbon-free processes by 2020 by combining :
* Biogas reforming
* The use of renewable energies, through water electrolysis
* The use of technologies for the capture and upgrading of carbon emitted during the process of producing hydrogen from natural gas”
2020. That’s now. I wonder how Air Liquide are doing with their capture and “upgrading” of carbon.
I haven’t seen any actual numbers yet, and there doesn’t appear to be a line in their annual accounts about this budget line, but warm words are being reported about cost reduction. Here’s the Hydrogen Council report “Path to hydrogen competitiveness : A cost perspective : 20 January 2020”.
Renewable Hydrogen will get ridiculously cheap, especially as renewable electricity becomes outrageously over-supplied.
I hope Air Liquide won’t come to rue the day they agreed to build the Yanbu project.
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
|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.
One of the ways to improve the combustion of fuels, to make them cleaner-burning, is to put oxygen at the heart of the engine – in the molecules of the fuels. Oxygenates, principally alcohols, are either already being used, or are proposed for wider fuel inclusion.
None of this is particularly novel, as for example, ethyl alcohol (commonly known as ethanol), has been in use as a fuel or fuel additive since the first cars were built. Methanol has been in common use for competition vehicles, and BP has investigated butanol in a product known as Butamax.
Although simplest is often the best, in this case, other kinds of molecules might be better as substitution for petrol-gasoline and diesel : synthesised ethers and esters are being researched widely.
Coming at air pollution from another angle is the development of biodiesel – made from the long chain hydrocarbons in plant biomass. Again, not a new class of fuels, as plant oils were in at the start of the development of diesel engines, for example.
The most important thing about replacement fuels is that they need to perform well under a range of conditions, and research needs to include the trade-offs between different kinds of pollutants.
Cars Make Cities Impossible
A simple consideration of the total number and type of car sales each year, compared to the total number of vehicles on the road, indicates that the average age of a car is high, and that there are vastly more internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles than electric models, and that therefore there will continue to be a need for liquid vehicle fuels for several decades to come. Turnover in the global fleet is not high, and anticipated conversions of vehicles to electric drive are not expected to be significant, or at least, not early on, so the high volume production of diesel-like and gasoline-petrol-like fuels remains a necessity.
There is the question of whether fuel refining can be sustained over this period, which is likely to be a time of upheaval in terms of technology. But the key question is whether the continued use of ICE vehicles will make life in cities progressively impossible. Will the continued use of internal combustion engines render cities unliveable, owing to issues of climate change and air pollution ?
Whilst it might be possible to reduce the amount of net carbon dioxide being emitted from motorised vehicles by substituting increasing levels of biomass-derived feedstock, whether in final blending, or as drop-in to various refinery processes, will this still contribute to falling exhaust toxins mandated by increasingly stringent air quality regulations ?
It is perhaps instructive to consider what has happened in the area of marine fuels. As recently reported to the IMO International Maritime Organization, VLSFO, Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, or other low-sulfur grades, developed to replace higher sulfur fuel oils for marine vessels, may be responsible for an increase in air pollution emissions of Black Carbon. The reason for this is that the processes of reformulating and blending that reduce sulfur from the final products potentially include a higher level of aromatic hydrocarbon compounds. It has been known for some time that this has the potential to lead to higher carbon particulate emissions (see here, for example).
Marine fuel oil is largely composed of gunk from the bottom of the barrel of crude petroleum oil – residues and the heaviest distillates. This fraction of the oils is where the most complex hydrocarbons generally lurk. The aim of the refiner is to reduce waste by blending otherwise unusable fractions of oils into final fuel products. As the higher sulfur streams have been barred, highly aromatised substitute streams have been brought in. This is one step forward, two steps back.
If refiners were to try to displace some of their fossil fuel feedstocks with biomass-derived feedstocks, this may introduce certain combustion inefficiencies, and lead to a rebalancing of problem exhaust species, but not reduce them.
Adding biomass-derived feedstocks at various drop-in points in refinery can lead to additional processing requirements, such as isomerisation and alkylation, to reestablish the regulated specification of the final fuels, leading to inherent inefficiency, and also to the presence of esoteric hydrocarbons (unnatural to nature, or unknown in such high quantities) in both fuel and exhaust.
Whilst biodiesel may contribute towards lubricating vehicles, obviating the need for engine improver detergents, does it lead to higher unwanted exhaust emissions ?
Also, although fuels are regulated at refinery dispatch, many companies are advising customers to add their own fuel improvers – sold as engine protection. How does this alter the profile of emissions ? And how many metals are present – which will inevitably end up in the lungs of citizens ? And how much sulfur in the form of sulfonates, which will end up as sulfur dioxide in the air ?
Oxygenates added to fuels certainly improve the efficiency of combustion, but do they lead to higher unwanted emissions – or do they rebalance exhausts to be more dangerous ?
As you walk into BP World, be prepared to have an ideological transplant. Be prepared to have hopes dashed and disappointments bittered. Be prepared, above all, to have unrecognisable narratives thrust upon you, with all the reinforcements that money can lobby for.
This is my initial reaction upon reading the words of Bob Dudley, outgoing Chief Executive Officer of BP, reported yesterday by Bloomberg, and carried on the wires elsewhere, for example :-
In the article, headlined, “Outgoing BP CEO Warns of Moving Too Fast on Climate Change”, Bob Dudley “warned Big Oil of moving too fast on investing in new technologies to counter climate change, because their failure could lead to financial ruin. ‘If you go too fast and you don’t get it right you can drive yourself out of business,’ Dudley said in a Columbia Energy Exchange podcast with Professor Jason Bordoff.”
I suppose that sentiment would be valid if the “new” technologies he is probably referring to were genuinely radical. The thing is, wind power and solar power, the two key technologies that have been causing an explosion in renewable energy, are tried and tested, so they are definitely not “new”; and also, there’s no significant failure that could reasonably be anticipated now.
What is it with BP and Renewable Energy ? Why the long faces ? It probably has to do with the BP Solar venture, that was properly amazing at the time, although it transpired that BP was making it all work with subsidies, which obviously is not sustainable, and there was strong competition from Chinese manufacture, so it was all closed down.
The real issue here could be said to have been market manipulation; but when the markets started functioning properly, over-subsidised, cost-inefficient technologies could no longer compete.
Market rigging doesn’t really work, except to kickstart technology adoption, and so it’s a bit of a mystery why BP still clings to carbon pricing as their preferred ask, “‘I cannot imagine how we’re going to get there without a price on carbon.'”
Now that wind power and solar power are within reach at increasingly reasonable capital expenditure levels, and many power companies increasingly depend on the cheap wind and solar electrons, why does Bob Dudley still maintain renewable energy technologies cannot be assets instead of liabilities, where for example, he said, “It does have a lower return profile, there’s no question about it.” ?
And further, he says he has been taunting shareholders with what he believes – that there is a lack of financial returns from renewables, “[…] they say ‘we would like you to move really quickly into renewables.’ I say, ‘we can do that, would you like us to cut the dividend?’ They go, ‘no, no, don’t do that.’
Bob Dudley seems to be making reference to an alternative reality, because this is not how things work in this current universe. Wind power and solar power are making real money, these days.
Also, Mr Dudley still seems unconvinced that renewable electricity technology is already viable, “‘Technology has not yet been cracked that will make the big movement on climate change. Renewables are fantastic. They’re one way to do it, but we’re going to come through with some solution.'”; and “‘Oil companies must […] invest when game-changing technologies are developed.'”
There’s no need to look to the future, though. All the technologies we need, we already have.
Bob Dudley seems to suffer from a lack of insight into what could be possible within BP’s current core business. “‘Oil companies must retain a strong financial footing to be able to invest when game-changing technologies are developed’, he said.” He is implying that BP must keep their social licence to pump crude petroleum oil and Natural Gas, in order to keep their balance sheet healthy enough to invest; yet the technologies he is thinking of have nothing to do with BP’s mining and refining activities. He mentions “some sort of nuclear capability that’s much safer”, by way of an example.
He’s also leaving this shift to the future – to things not yet known or done – leaving BP drilling fossil carbon for decades.
He neglects to address what could be possible in BP’s own house, with green chemistry, to bring about a massive reduction in net carbon dioxide emissions to air.
And about this social licence to drill : “‘If we understand where the technologies are going and we invest, the best thing we can do strategically is have a strong balance sheet. When it becomes really clear certain technologies are going to move very quickly and be profitable, then we’ll be able to make that shift.'” But, but, we can’t wait for BP to jump, when they think the market’s right to act on climate change. They do need to be acting right now.
So, not really inspiring, and rather disparaging.
But here’s where I agree with Bob, “‘We should not shut down what we’re doing or sell our assets to somebody else and go all into renewables'”, he is quoted as saying, and I totally agree. Why should BP try to do anything apart from what they’re really good at – chemical engineering ?
“‘We want to be leaders in this and we do enormous amount as companies’, such as in developing technology and reducing emissions from their own operations. But ‘we’re not the epicenter of these issues.'” Again, too right. BP is not the epicentre of solar power and wind power development, it’s not really their thing. Even so, they should be very central in the global response to climate change. Nobody should shrug.
And again, I agree with Bob when he says, “‘I don’t know how the world can get to the goals of [the] Paris [Treaty, agreed by UNFCCC] without a very major role for natural gas.'” No, indeed. Methane, the main constituent of Natural Gas, is a fine energy vector, and high flexible. It’s just that I think BP should be focussing on Renewable Methane, instead of Natural Gas, in future, and need a strategy to make that transition out of Natural Gas happen.
Bob Dudley thinks we should be resigned about the reign of King Oil, “‘If we were all driven out of business that oil would still be produced’ by national oil companies and other countries.”, which is a major abdication of responsiblity. Where is the compact between companies and countries to take up green chemistry, and elect to cease and desist from digging up fossil fuels ?
I think there is room for a breaking of paradigms. It might be too much to hope for a non-white person, or a woman, or even a person not wearing a suit and tie to be the new head of BP, but I have a vague idea there’s some traction in arguing for BP to return to their 1970s glory days of fuel synthesis.
In the continuing inquiry into which bodies and actors are likely to call for Renewable Gas, and why, I am going back to add extra comments to sectors I already discussed.
14. Power Grid Operators (Continued)
An Embarrassment of Electrons
Stories regularly bubble away, and rise to the surface from time to time, about how renewable power is being wasted, as grids don’t need it or can’t handle it.
There appears to be a whole phalanx of media commentators, who might identify as right-wing, and therefore be fans of shareholding and markets, who complain about wind turbines being “shut down” (or more accurately “shut out”) because it’s too windy. Funny, though, increasingly more wind turbines are being planted, almost as if there’s a strong return on capital investment in these zero carbon assets. Plus, these opinion-formers don’t seem to change their story from year to year, which is a tad strange :-
It’s a losing argument, lads. Actually, no, it’s lost. The National Grid knew what it was doing when it agreed to adopt renewable electricity sources. There’s the whole Balancing Mechanism, and soon, there will be heaps of extra electricity storage, and the storage of the power of electrons in other forms of energy.
As time goes by, and reams of solar panels and crowds of wind turbines are added to the standing army of power grids in the developed and developing countries, because neighbouring countries will all be producing too much electricity at the same time – for example in a strong storm system or a very sunny day – it will not be possible to export electrons along interconnectors.
Oops, an embarrassment of electrons. The infrastructure and grid distribution people will be looking for anything that can act as a load sink. Sure, for an anticipated storage time of a few hours, using grid-integrated solid state batteries are going to be a boon. Except the scale of the energy storage required might far outweigh original scoping.
Will the power companies turn to flow batteries and other kinds of chemical looping systems for energy storage on windy Wednesdays and sunny Sundays ? It all depends on how stable these turn out to be – how many cycles of a unit can be done before maintenance or chemical refilling is required. Also, the containment of chemical batteries is a fairly major construction cost, and for safety reasons, it might be better if they were built into the ground – also saving on build materials. If the power companies need to go to the extent of digging for battery provision, why not produce synthetic gas from excess renewable power, and store that underground instead ? It would require much less in terms of containment and build. Nature has provided a fine example of how gases can be stored safely for millions of years underground – why, we could even use the now-emptied Natural Gas caverns to store synthesised methane.
It is at this point in the logic that a wise reviewer of energy will reflect on how there is now a bit of a competition for the provision of sub-surface storage of gases. Large, traditionally leading oil and gas companies are selling the idea of CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, where all vagrant carbon dioxide should be plucked from whichever process, or even from the air itself, to be compressed and pumped underground for eternity – but actually a good deal shorter, because of tectonics and the natural long period natural Carbon Cycle. Modern, more conscious energy companies want to use the sub-surface to store carbon-free hydrogen, despite the fact that hydrogen molecules are incredibly small and incorrigibly mobile, seeping through even metals.
Whilst it is true that the world needs Renewable Hydrogen – hydrogen liberated from water and biomass by the action of renewable power – the best gas for energy storage is definitely Renewable Methane – made from Renewable Hydrogen. There is a strong parallel with natural processes : Natural Gas, which has been resident in the sub-surface for millions of years, is primarily methane in content.
Fine. Capture and lock away a bit of carbon dioxide underground. Bury CO2. But there is no gain in locking away a source of carbon that has no intrinsic fuel value. What’s more important is energy storage – so temporarily burying hydrogen and methane – which are ideal fuels. Although, as previously noted, methane is more stable and containable, theoretically. Methane gas emissions from oil and gas industry operations have been bad in some places and at some times : due to liberating methane from its millions-years sub-surface storage : this failing will need to be deal with when applications of Renewable Methane expand.
10. Industrial High Energy Consumers (Continued)
Developed and developing economies will continue to have industries with high levels of energy demand, causing high levels of carbon dioxide emissions : for products such as steel, glass, fuels, petrochemicals and cement. Processes in this sector are highly concentrated in terms of location, owing to the energy efficiency of highly centralised operation, and this would facilitate high volume carbon dioxide capture, and therefore lower-cost CCS – the underground, permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide.
However, in terms of capital expenditure barriers to new technologies, it would be less of a hurdle to implement low carbon synthetic gas production to meet energy demand; and in addition, provide energy-dense synthesised gases for storage which would have a future earnings potential. If syngas in high energy demand industries were to be made from renewable resources, so Renewable Gas, so Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane and Renewable Carbon Monoxide, this would advance low carbon industry significantly.
Another question is that of speed-to-implementation : Renewable Gas for low carbon energy in energy-intensive industries is likely to be much faster to get going than industry-wide Carbon Capture and Storage.
In order for Renewable Gas to be called for in this sector, however, there would need to be a strong confidence that renewable electricity supplies were growing virtually exponentially, as cheap power will be essential. Renewable Gas will not only be a serious soak of excess renewable power load, it will also provide a way to capture and recycle process heat in energy-intensive industries – a matter of energy efficiency, which is highly important to make advances in.
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.
Brexit is, to put it mildly, unhelpful. Being less generous, it is entirely possible that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from marketplace and social union with the rest of Europe could lead to an outpouring of disasters.
That’s not “doomer talk”, that’s the esteemed analysis of a range of professional bodies, banks, manufacturers, charities and almost anybody who has drawn up some reasonable figures on the matter.
That the government of a country would carry on regardless, and choose to walk away from a package of working, yes you read that right, working, carefully-crafted socioeconomic treaties and a special relationship with their closest trading partner bloc, on the basis of a poorly-conducted advisory referendum, subject to allegedly illegal foreign campaign funding, where votes were apparently garnered through the deployment of fake narratives, and voters were reported as unaware of what they were voting for, and populism and xenophobia have been rife, is tantamount to a mistake of historical proportions.
The bonfire of citizen rights, in itself, is a monumental and destructive mis-step; and could well lead to incredible social instability.
And so the UK Government renders itself inconsequential on the global stage, and all its players in the (let’s mix up these animal metaphors) braying, snorting Parliamentary majority mere silly, strutting peacocks (and hens).
Added to which, this meaningless spasm of some-might-say deliberate chaos could lead to the break-up of the 300 year old British union. Top marks to the “one nation” Conservatives, heading up this nightmare carnival of ridicule.
Brexit is not a thing. It is non-governance. It is a distraction from real politics. The proper function of government is to home the homeless, feed the hungry and to lift the humble high. Parliamentary time shouldn’t be wasted on ideological vanity projects.
Brexit isn’t a policy, it’s a shakedown. And we all get to suffer. It’s not going to lead to the cutting of red tape, that holy grail of small state neoliberal conservatism. It’s not going to shrink any budgets. It’s not going to lead to increased sovereignty, or taking back of any kind of control, just take us all back to the highly convoluted public sector administration and private sector corruption of the 1970s, or worse. Brexit has already eaten up 95% of all political bandwidth of the last 3 years, with no tangible benefits, either now, or in the future.
Brexit is backwards.
Something that doesn’t feature much in the scandal-and-outrage media is that of discussion about what could happen to energy supply as a result of this (let’s be very plain) self-destructive constitutional manoeuvre. There is scope for a plethora of knock-on impacts from Brexit that dwarf worries about the survival of financial services in London, and car manufacturing everywhere else in the UK.
The European Union is on the threshold of a major step in Energy Change, and barring an incredibly co-operative and significant level of negotiation, the exiting United Kingdom is going to lose out : lose out on technology investment, lose out on energy market access, and lose out on economic stimulus.
The renewable electricity phenomemon has clambered far higher than expectations, and now the Energy Union of the EU is going to experience a second and third wave of renewable energies : these being in gas and liquid transport fuels.
If the so-called “leadership” of the UK Government has any sense, or in fact, capacity to lead, left in its lightweight core, it would have access to the EU energy markets as one of its top, top negotiating points.
Because, whatever else happens, for the business of energy, the UK must remain physically attached to the EU, and hence be obliged to play in the Energy Union game. Our exports and imports of energy will need to continue to conform to the standards and climate change regulations of the European Union, even if exports and imports of cheeses, wines and sausages suffer from divergence.
The UK is highly dependent on the energy interconnections and port trades with the EU. We simply cannot afford to sever cables, cap pipelines, turn away cargo. This means we have to meet in the middle on energy standards, or rather, meet at the EU end on regulation and legislation as to what comes next.
There will be Renewable Gas, and Renewable Fuels, and the climate change demands on transition in energy will be inescapable. The UK will have to play ball on climate change and Energy Change, as an indelible part of the Energy Union fabric. There’s no point-scoring possible on claiming otherwise. By rescinding influence at the level of membership of the EU, the UK will need to take the instructions it is given on energy.
And so Brexit subjugates the UK, to become slave, vassal to the EU’s Energy Package. No sovereignty gained, there. No representation in the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council equates to no influence, no power of intervention in the debates on legislation, no participation in the drafting of policy. The UK becomes irrelevant. Is that what the people really willed ?
We are already being wiped from the energy maps in EU energy consultancy reports, but the UK must continue to join in if it is to trade in energy.
The Energy Union must go on !
16. Gas Network Operators
Water, gas and power are considered essentials in developed society, and the responsibility for providing a constant supply rests with a range of public utilities and private concerns. What might not be visible at a first glance is the necessity for there to be overarching distribution organisations. Most consumers of water, gas and power only see the bills from their supply companies, they don’t see the grids and pipeline networks that act as infrastructure to communicate their supplies to their doors; nor envisage how coordinated and managed these need to be in order to keep the whole system functioning.
And thus it is that there are giant companies and government agencies that are forever working behind the market scenes, installing, repairing, connecting, transforming, regulating, pumping, pressurising, smoothing and balancing the supplies of water, gas and power.
It is these powerful and very well connected groups that may be a powerful voice for the introduction of Renewable Gas, as they have several good reasons to call for it.
First of all, because of potential vagaries and vaguenesses, and perhaps even international vandalism, the supply of Natural Gas, for example to the European region, which is heavily dependent on imports, might be at risk under some possible future conditions – temporal or temporary. This naturally mandates healthy grid-connected gas storage facilities. It is important to note that the storage of energy fuel gases is of an importance a magnitude higher than the storage of waste non-fuel carbon dioxide to these actors in the energy sector. We all know that climate change is a scourge that needs addressing, but if Vladimir Putin’s generals or buddies turn the taps off, the resulting energy emergency in Europe can only be answered by planning ahead of time to have stores of energy-dense gas on hand. Yes, we need to deal with climate change, but first, we need underground gas storage. Then we can decarbonise the gas.
Second, but no less important, is making sure that gas fuels can adequately and at all times compensate for the natural variability in renewable electricity supply – because, you know, the sun sets, and the wind dies down from time to time. Natural Gas is turning into a very good friend for filling in the gaps in generation, and so builds the case for gas storage. The electricity grid people want the smoothing done by gas, partly because it produces so much less in carbon dioxide emissions that coal, so there has to be a strong cooperation between the gas and power authorities and management. Yes, this is not Renewable Gas going into these stores, but see what happens in point three.
Thirdly, as the growth in renewable electricity “rockets”, and other shock terms to indicate exponential change, there will be times when the combination of the sun and wind power is just too copious – hours of excess energy just streaming into the wires. There is no way that every country in Europe can export all their excess electricity – the wires are full of whizzing wind (or solar) electrons from County Kerry to Pchery in the Czech Republic. What to do with all this excess electricity ? Why, make Renewable Gas of course, to store for future hungry gaps. All the more reason to build gas storage.
And so now you see where this is heading : the administration of the gas infrastructure deeply need gas storage, and the power companies can provide lots of perhaps close to zero cost electrons to make gas from water.
The call for “power-to-gas” or P2G is getting louder – making Renewable Hydrogen – but for a range of reasons, the best gas to store is probably Renewable Methane, so it will pay to watch closely for the details of progress.
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.
Simple molecules, such as hydrogen, methane and methanol, are highly important in industrial chemistry and petroleum refinery. These molecules in particular are appropriate targets for synthesis from renewable resources. With Renewable Gas, the synthesis of clean, and clean-burning alternative and advanced Renewable Fuels can displace fossil fuels.
The technologies for Renewable Gas are known and viable; the question is, who will ask for Renewable Gas ? We know who could make it, but how would its production come to be volumised ?
Elements of a production chain already have examplars, for example, the Shell Pearl GTL project, that makes liquid hydrocarbons from what is essentially methane gas. They are using Natural Gas as the feedstock, but they could just as easily use Renewable Methane.
The Pearl project is massive, and by comparison, the Standard Gas operation is small. Their work revolves around diverting end-of-use materials at waste disposal plants into what could be termed “targas”, a gas synthesised from the volatile components of the waste, via pyrolysis, heating the waste in the absence of air. As the syngas produced is not as free of tars and other residuals as syngas produced from very high temperature gasification, it cannot easily be used to feed the gas grid, so it is instead used fuel for power generation equipment, and the char that’s left over from the pyrolysis gets used in building materials. Whilst the use of waste to create energy is innovative and important, and replaces the use of fossil fuels, the gas and char would only be renewable if the input waste were originally from renewable resources.
11. The Fossil Oil and Gas Producers (Continued)
There has been a strong emphasis on Natural Gas from large fossil fuels companies such as BP. According to their annual accounts for 2018, their production of Natural Gas in 2018 was 7374 million cubic feet per day, compared to 6436 mcfd in 2017 and 5796 mcfd in 2016. They have made important new Natural Gas resources acquisitions, amongst other investments.
If they were to centre their business around Natural Gas, for example, shale gas from the United States, could they become vulnerable to an early peak of some reserves ? For example, compared to oil reserves, where pumping a field can continue for decades, even after depletion sets in, drilling for gas is not like that.
As they and other companies reorient themselves towards gas, because gas is popular, and produces less carbon dixoide emissions on combustion, so is used to replace coal in power stations, will they come to the realisation that Natural Gas resources have significant limitations ? For example, will the amount of sulfur they need to reject to process Natural Gas could rise incredible. If so, they could end up seeing the need to go for Renewable Gas.
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.
Reviewing the range of actors or agencies that will possibly or probably demanding Renewable Gas, it seems that money could make the world of Energy Transition turn around.
12. The Investment Community (Continued)
Divestment, the process of taking investments away from certain classes of stocks and shares based on a range of criteria, is something that has been happening for decades or longer. Ethical investors have been pulling out of guns, weapons, tobacco, slavery, South Africa and other questionable holdings.
Of late, with the firming up of ambition for action on climate change, a range of shareholders are increasingly keen to make sure their capital is not supporting net carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Especially significant are aggregated investors from financial organisations, such as banks; and social organisations, such as churches, universities and local authorities.
Some may question the actionability of calls for change, but the words have been spoken, and influence will be felt, particularly as data is accumulated over time.
There has been a major exit from coal, and there will likely be an exit from firms dealing with other firms that do coal.
As it becomes clear to investors that major energy companies are speaking with green lips, but have carbon-spewing hearts, or are not making their transitions to low carbon resources in a decent timescale, assets are being withdrawn and placed with clean technology operators.
As the volume of divestment increases, a major problem with emerge : since almost everybody holds energy stock, it will be impossible for every investor group to divest away from the petroleum, Natural Gas and coal in their portfolios.
Demand for cleaner energy investing will definitely outstrip supply. There is a risk that funds will be removed from the real assets of energy, and placed in virtual or service-based commodities elsewhere; thereby placing stock markets at high risk of implosion, should there be an economic or financial crisis.
Investors want solid securities : bricks and mortar, mining, infrastructure, energy, food, water – these are the bedrock of the economy. Any clean energy stocks that open up will be flooded.
It is clear that a real possibility exists that divestment will trigger oil and gas companies to get serious about Renewable Gas. Renewable Gas technologies are within the skill set, and even the back catalogue of patents, of oil and gas companies. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, oil and gas companies matured a number of relevant synthetic gas processes. Back in the 1930s, synthetic gases and oils were already developed on a grand scale.
It will be necessary, however, to make sure that coal doesn’t sneak back in under the cover of synthetic gas. Renewable Gas needs to be resourced from biomass, renewable electricity, water, air and recycled carbon dioxide. Gas that is synthesised from coal, oil or Natural Gas is just not renewable.
For investors to ask for Renewable Gas of the oil and gas majors is not an ask too remote or too difficult.
The tenth part in a series looking at the actors and forces behind the adoption of Renewable Gas.
15. Sub-Sector Civil Society Action Takers (Continued)
Within history, even within living memory, gas supplied to consumers was made by gasifying coal or heavy oil. Known as “town gas”, it was mostly hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and hence poisonous. Gas was provided to townsfolk by city-scale gas plants, which were under municipal management. This model could perhaps be readopted, if cities are determined to regulate the embedded carbon emissions of gas supplies within their geographical jurisdiction.
This level of intervention is already being implemented in connection with transport. For example, civic events such as “Car Free Sundays” could become normalised, and could lead to redesigning urban spaces to be permanently carfree
Cities are already involved in measures to curb the numbers of certain kinds of car being driven in urban centres, such as Oxford, Hamburg, London and Paris; and it would be a logical extension of this level of local authority to request that all gas supplies and gas use within the city limits met climate change and air pollution criteria.
It’s a short leap to go from controlling vehicles to making requirements on fuelling by geography, for example, making sure that electric vehicle charging, and hydrogen and compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuelling stations are provided.
Where cities are ramping up action on climate change, after addressing the energy used by public buildings, the next level would be to exact controls on the carbon dioxide emissions of private dwellings and corporately-owned business properties. Whilst a tax could be seen as a high level of punitive interference, demands that energy companies supply green gas to consumers within the city boundaries could come to be seen as a reasonable and appropriate ask.
At the moment, action would be in terms of the provision of infrastructre; later on, it would become mandated. For example, cities such as Leeds are directly involved in projects to decarbonise the gas fuels used in the locality.
I am continuing to consider who will build the ask for Renewable Gas and why.
14. Power Grid Operators
For now, those who manage electricity distribution are most concerned about how to manage the increasing amounts of sometimes zero cost, but variable, renewable power.
They are working to strengthen grid hardiness, to compensate for uncontrollable, but calculable, changes in supply and demand, as weather conditions alter what is available from wind and sun.
As the amount of renewable power soars, grid operators will increasingly need to turn their attention to energy buffering and energy storage – how to offset demand in one sector of the grid with supply in another; and how to offset excess supply, by offloading power to storage, in order to compensate for scarcity in supply in a later time period.
After pumping water to set up hydroelectricity storage for future use, perhaps the most obvious solution to this question is the use of solid state power batteries – although some are looking at flow batteries and other chemical flow solutions – even including pressurised gas systems and gravity batteries.
The question of which technology is appropriate and cost-efficient for which scenario will depend on ramp times and scale. Where large volumes of energy storage are required, particularly for long periods, many are proposing the making of gas with excess power.
If the power grid operators want to have oversight of much or all of the energy storage they depend on, they might choose to go for some kind of power-to-gas solution, as it will match the kind of scale they need.
15. Sub-Sector Civil Society Action Takers
Whilst economic actors such as power grid operators as a group will seek solutions that include Renewable Gas, there will be sub-sector groups that might also choose to go down this route. They will need to have a certain scale in order for it to make economic sense, however.
International processes and colloquia, such as C40 Cities, include some bold action takers. Will cities not only ban certain types of cars travelling in their centres, but also require all gas that flows into urban areas be low carbon ?
Who is going to ask for Energy Change ? And why ? Does anything speak more clearly than the flow of money – whether as investment or tax-and-revenue spend ?
Policymakers, academics and “campaigning” non-governmental groups might form a cluster around a call for decarbonising the gas side of the energy system, but this call will not be anywhere near as potent as demands coming from other parts of the economy and society.
12. The Investment Community
Electricity is great, but converting everything to power is likely to be an uphill struggle, and take a very long time; and so it might be better policy just to accept that gas and liquid energy fuels are useful, and coalesce around a strategy that builds out the low carbon transition on the back of fast-growing Renewable Gas.
Deploying Renewable Gas and synthetic renewable fuels produced from Renewable Gas could grow several magnitudes faster than electrification; primarily because they would substitute directly for gases and fuels already in play. No need to change the equipment, vehicles or industrial plant very much – just roll with the low carbon fuel replacements.
To grow Renewable Gas requires a parallel growth in renewable electricity, as much Renewable Gas will be made as something-to-gas by the power of moving electrons, but Renewable Gas could be a significant multiplier of impact from renewable power on its own.
The second reason why Renewable Gas might accumulate energy market share quickly is that Renewable Gas can serve the chemicals industry as well as the energy sector.
Thirdly, Renewable Gas might attract investment significantly more rapidly than wind power and solar power because its production chain would follow the currently established model of chemistry and industry, where there is centralised and large scale output.
Fourth, Renewable Gas is likely to be “investable” and “bankable” because large industrial projects are an appropriate size for significant financing and investment. And in fact, for investment funds and pension funds, where fiduciary responsility is pushing fund managers to scout out safe hands with a view to building climate-friendly portfolios, business-to-business level holdings are very important, as they offer the prospect of being secure and good value.
Small private investors are likely to be interested in small green gas ventures; but when large private investors are looking to do something climatey, they will want to put their capital into the hands of large well-established industrial partners. Although the “green” investment by large chemicals and energy companies until now has been in terms of very small percentages, and this has rightly been accused of “greenwashing”, that does not need to remain the case if there is focus on growing syngas and synfuels with very low embedded and final product net carbon dioxide emissions.
The calls that will be significant could come from co-ordinated and highly public shareholder action – shareholder groups leading the vanguard for change as they learn the possibilities for the collective industrial-energy chemistry set.
Large institutional, national and aggregated funds may call for 100% carbon transition plans from the giant energy and chemical engineering firms. It isn’t enough for major oil and gas companies to buy a few wind farms or sell renewable electricity – they need to start transforming their core businesses to remove fossil carbon from their products.
It will be up to the financial markets to vote on individual company decarbonisation strategies. As knowledge about Renewable Chemistry improves, a big tick will go to holdings that adopt it.
Many investors hold property, as it is “safe as houses”. And yet, there is a large carbon risk attached to bricks and mortar, as it is very costly to properly insulate extant buildings that were erected without proper energy control features. It is in the interests of landlords, who are under pressure to go green, to ask the energy companies to go greener : green in, green out in terms of energy into homes.
Governments and their pet economists are always looking for something they can claim as a new economic stimulus. A “Green New Deal” where part public-part private capital investment in new energies and new technologies, and the concomitant new employment, might just provide this : and a large part of this could be Renewable Gas. Creating long-lasting Renewable Gas assets might appear to be a single round of investment with no repeaters for economic development, but creating sustainable assets will permit piggybacking for other economic movement, such as creating energy access for all around the world.
Yes, there will be a need to expend capital. But the returns for the global economy could pay back many times.
As for investment security, well, Renewable Gas, with its feed-in of renewable electricity, will eat up risks; not just the climate risks, but also threats to the survival of trading entities from poor economic conditions brought about by adherence to fossil fuels causing dangerous climate change.
Synthetic and renewable fuels are likely to be able to answer both climate change and air pollution concerns, to a greater or lesser extent.
Which gases are best to use for which purpose ? Gases good for combustion release a lot of heat when oxidised. Gases good for trade by liquefaction have boiling points closer to 0° C than further away from it. Simple covalently-bound molecules are most appropriate for reactor chemistry – where transformational reactions are fostered.
Which liquids are best for which application ? Liquids for cleaner combustion are likely to be oxygenate – have oxygen in their formula; and when their thermochemical properties suit the engines they are to be burned in.
Here is a first pass at summarising some of the molecules being investigated – molecules that can be synthesised from basic input chemical feedstocks.
Table : A Selection of Compounds in Industrial Gas and Fuels Chemistry
Note : STP = Standard Temperature and Pressure (20° C to 25° C, at 1 atmosphere of pressure).
Note : DME is here used for Dimethyl ether, and not Dimethoxyethane.
Note : Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ethers are also known as PODE, Polyoxymethylene dimethyl ethers; POMDME or OMDME.
|Carbon monoxide||CO||-191.5||Gas||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Carbon dioxide||CO2||-57||Gas||Exhaust, Feedstock|
|Nitric oxide, nitrogen monoxide||NO||-152||Gas||Exhaust|
|Ethane||C2H6; H3C-CH3||-88.5||Gas||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Propane||C3H8; H3C-CH2-CH3||-42||Gas||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Butane, n-Butane||C4H10; H3C-CH2-CH2-CH3||-0.5||Gas||Fuel, Feedstock|
|isoButane, 2-Methylpropane||C4H10; H3C-CH(-CH3)-CH3||-11.7||Gas||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Ethene, Ethylene||C2H4; H2C=CH2||-103.7||Gas||Feedstock|
|Propene, Propylene, Methyl ethylene||C3H6; H2C=CH(-CH3)||-185.2||Gas||Feedstock|
|Butene, Butylene, as alpha-Butylene||C4H8; H2C=CH(-CH2CH3)||-6.3||Gas||Feedstock|
|Butene, Butylene, as cis-beta-Butylene||C4H8; H3C-CH=(CH(-CH3))||+2.25, +3.72…||Gas||Feedstock|
|Butene, Butylene, as trans-beta-Butylene||C4H8; H3C-CH=(CH(-CH3))||+2.25, +3.73…||Gas||Feedstock|
|Butene, Butylene, as isoButylene||C4H8; H2C=C(-CH3)CH3||-6.9||Gas||Feedstock|
|Methanol, MeOH||CH3OH; H3C-OH||+64.7||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Ethanol, EtOH||C2H6O; H3C-CH2-OH||+78.24||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Propanol, 1-Propanol||C3H8O; H3C-CH2-CH2-OH||+97 to +98||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|isoPropanol, isoPropyl Alcohol, IPA, 2-Propanol||C3H8O; H3C-CH(-OH)-CH3||82.6||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Butanol, n-Butanol, 1-Butanol, butan-1-ol||C4H9OH; H3C-CH2-CH2-CH2-OH||+117.6||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|sec-Butanol, 2-Butanol, butan-2-ol||C4H9OH; H3C-CH2-CH(-OH)-CH3||+98 to +100||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|isoButanol, 2-methylpropan-1-ol||C4H9OH; H3C-CH(-CH3)-CH2-OH||+107.89||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|tert-Butanol, 2-methylpropan-2-ol||C4H10O; H3C-CH3(-CH3)-OH||+82.3||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Methanal, Formaldehyde||CH2O; H2C=O||+64.7||Liquid||Feedstock|
|Dimethyl ether, Methoxymethane, DME, PODE-0, OMDME-0||C2H6O; H3C-O-CH3||-24||Gas||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ether 1, OME-1, Methylal, Dimethoxymethane,|
PODE-1, OMDME-1, DMM
|C3H8O2; H3C-O-CH2-O-CH3||+42, +45.2||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ether 2, OME-2, PODE-2, OMDME-2||C4H10O3; H3C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH3||+105||Liquid||Fuel|
|Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ether 3, OME-3, PODE-3, OMDME-3||C5H12O4; H3C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH3||+156||Liquid||Fuel|
|Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ether 4, OME-4, PODE-4, OMDME-4||C6H14O5; H3C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH3||+202||Liquid||Fuel|
|Oxymethylene Dimethyl Ether 5, OME-5, PODE-5, OMDME-5||C7H16O6; H3C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH3||+242||Liquid||Fuel|
|Diethyl ether, Ether, Ethoxyethane, DEE, OMDEE-0||C4H10O; H3C-H2C-O-CH2-CH3||+35||Liquid||Fuel|
|Oxymethylene Diethyl Ether 1, Diethoxymethane,|
Ethylal, DEM, OMDEE-1
|C5H12O2; H3C-H2C-O-CH2-O-CH2-CH3||+88||Liquid||Fuel, Feedstock|
|Oxymethylene Diethyl Ether 2, OMDEE-2||C6H14O3; H3C-H2C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-CH3||+140||Liquid||Fuel|
|Oxymethylene Diethyl Ether 3, OMDEE-3||C7H16O4; H3C-H2C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-CH3||+185||Liquid||Fuel|
|Oxymethylene Diethyl Ether 4, OMDEE-4||C8H18O5; H3C-H2C-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-O-CH2-CH3||+225||Liquid||Fuel|
|Dibutyl ether, DBE||C8H18O; H3C-H2C-H2C-H2C-O-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH3||+140.8||Liquid||Fuel|
Previously, I have been considering what groups of economic actors in what sectors could be influential in calling for the development of Renewable Gas – low net carbon emissions gases, used as energy fuels and chemical feedstocks, thermochemically or biologically synthesised from renewable electricity, water and biomass :-
I need to go back a little bit to add some extra thoughts, so these will be paragraphs marked with “Continued”.
1. The World of Chemical Engineering (Continued)
One key sector in the universe of molecule management is plastics, which are now so essential in trade, commerce and manufacturing. That there is so much ethane coming on-stream from the United States hydraulic fracturing oil rush in the form of high levels of NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) is good news for petrochemical firms big in polymers. Yet, this bounty is unlikely to continue, so what should happen when fracking uncertainties start to mount ?
Will Big Chemistry start to ask for Renewable Gas ? And will they ask for Renewable Gas from themselves ? This would make sense, as the petrochemical industry will have need of a range of light organic and inorganic molecules, even if these are not being supplied as by-products from the mining and refining of fossil fuels.
Petrochemical plants need to to be able to ride changes in the composition of a barrel of oil, and the “balance of plant” in oil refineries. Here, there would be a huge sink for any Renewable Hydrogen that could be made by any sector. Hydrogen is necessary to synthesise a range of chemistry, for example the production of agricultural chemicals, such as ammonia. If the source of much of the world’s hydrogen continues to be fossil fuels, for example, through the gasification of coals and the steam reforming of the methane from Natural Gas, then Big Chemistry will live with increasing uncertainties about the guarantees of supply.
The agricultural sector could step in themselves and ask for Renewable Gas to underpin their supplies of fertiliser, pesticides and other chemicals feeding the world.
5. Car Manufacturers (Continued)
6. Utility Vehicle Manufacturers (Continued)
7. Freight Vehicle Manufacturers (Continued)
It is anticipated to take a considerable amount of time to replace the current global fleet of internal combustion engine drive (ICE) vehicles, whether car (automobile), light duty vans or heavy duty, heavy goods vehicle trucks/lorries.
Vehicle manufacturing companies have divergent strategies. Many of them have launched electric-only ranges. Some of those serving the freight/haulage markets have brought out gas drive options, intended to be run on CNG, Compressed Natural Gas; in advance of electric models, perhaps because of concerns about power-to-weight ratios, or levels of confidence in batteries. Some automakers have brought out hydrogen fuel cells models, but this only makes sense where there is hydrogen distribution network for fuelling stations. By contrast, power and Natural Gas are distributed widely.
There is a lot of advertising for electric or electric-hybrid vehicles, but this will only impact on the sales of new vehicles – a vast majority of the global “fleet” will remain fuelled by liquids. Whilst sales of electric models pick up, companies will still be selling new ICE cars, vans and so on. As demand for electric models rises, there will likely be situations where production and supply cannot keep up. These imbalances will lead to stress in highly competitive markets.
This dynamic could make the car companies seek to create a levelising factor, to gain back control of sales densities by appealing to oil refiners to bring the net carbon in fuels down. Then customers could have the option to buy combustion engine models, but use “alternative”, “advanced” fuels, which have far lower net carbon emissions.
From the point of view of the economists, this would be preferable : vehicles running on new low carbon fuels would be tested in the market, competing against models driven on electric drive (and hybridised). And in addition, hybrids could use the new fuels too, and become 100% low carbon.
Running two streams of low-to-zero carbon energy to vehicles will also help to document the relative efficiency of power versus low carbon liquid fuels in the whole system.
The theoretical well-to-wheels energy efficiency of electric drive vehicles is significantly better than liquid fuels combustion drive vehicles; however, there is a need to buffer the electricity – running power to filling stations is not optimal. The energy from the electricity should be stored first, awaiting filling demand.
Synthesised gas could act as the buffer to power. This low carbon gas would be stored centrally, and as required, run to the filling stations by pipeline network. Because the gas is packed in the line, it will not be wasted. Fuel cells at the filling stations would convert the gas back to power, as and when needed.
Whilst low mileage/kilometrage electric vehicles might be the right answer for urban environments, particularly from the point of view of air quality, the question of freight – the haulage of food, resources and goods – is one that may be answered by gas drive vehicles rather than electric vehicles. Having a tankable fuel eliminates range anxiety, and means that heavy batteries do not need to be carried along with the merchandise. Any light duty vehicle too that needs to run long distances might be better propelled by liquid or gas fuels – another possible market for Renewable Gas and the liquid fuels that can be synthesised from it.
Besides the carmakers, and the light and heavy goods vehicle manufacturers, the road hauliers as trade bodies might put up the ask for Renewable Gas in the form of Renewable Fuels; traditionally there have been strong trade associations between fuel refiners, fuel distributors, filling station networks and those who run haulage.
11. The Fossil Oil and Gas Producers
Strange as it may sound, the companies that produce crude petroleum oil and Natural Gas might themselves start to call for Renewable Gas. This would partly be because they are strongly vertically integrated enterprises, with refineries and they also often do distribution of fuels for sale.
Key oil majors have for some time been strategising about becoming gas majors – focussing their business plans on gas instead of oil. If it is true, that Peak Demand for Oil has been reached, oil majors, now gas majors, might begin to consider what would happen when there is a Peak in Demand for Gas, too; if consumers started to desert fossil hydrocarbons and head towards Renewable Electricity for their energy.
The ex-oil, now-gas majors would therefore need to have a plan to keep up their levels of income, and keep their shareholders happy. A good way to do that would be to enter into the field of providing energy services, and making and providing low carbon electricity – some companies such as Shell have been very overt about doing this.
If these companies go the next logical step and also get into energy storage, the wheel will have come full circle, as power storage is perhaps best as synthetic gas production and storage.
And so, Renewable Gas would be a strategy for ex-oil, now-gas majors to keep from contracting, to keep up sales of energy, whilst dropping the carbon from it.
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.