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.
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.
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.
Ordinary citizens, even shareholders, have little agency when asking for change in energy systems. Oh yes, we can turn down the thermostat, and buy green gas, but we cannot prevent the sales and operation of millions of internal combustion engine vehicles, moving people and goods in a never-ending bonfire of fossil fuels.
Table : A Selection of “Green” Gas Energy Suppliers
ClimateCare “100% carbon offset gas”; purchase of “Emissions Reductions”
To engineer an Energy Change commensurate with Climate Change, the larger players in society and the economy need to ask for it, and they need to know what precisely to ask for. Should they ask for more nuclear power, it were a long, expensive time coming and clearing up from be. Should they seek Carbon Capture and Storage, or even Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage, it were sub-sectoral, slow, inefficient and hard to implement be.
In the realm of advertising, the promotion of electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles has become ubiquitous. For the car-owning, car-proud, car-dependent population, this is a significant shift in the universal private car culture propaganda. Car advertisements are everywhere in car-ful societies, and copious, so this influence should not be dismissed.
However much this affects the desire to make the next car purchase electric or hybrid, it doesn’t change the basic arithmetic : higher demand cannot easily be met, because it involves a fundamental change in investment by the car manufacturers : they cannot run two factories in parallel place of one, so they need to make decisions about whether to go electric/hybrid or stay fossil.
Some car companies have made statements that they are going hyper-electric, meaning that they will become the alternative car makers of choice. This will tip the balance somewhat, but will still permit consumer choice by leaving some companies still making ICE internal combustion engine petrol-gasoline and diesel models.
Hybrid models are a little bit like sitting on the fence.
Yet, as electric vehicle (and hybrid vehicle) demand increases, partly in response to the switch in advertising, car makers will need to respond further, by making new investment.
It will not be DAU – driving as usual.
In the midst of all this change, there might be some car manufacturers who take a different tack. They might ask why they need to buy new factories and new industrial equipment. Why not ask the fuel producers to change their fuels ? I mean, car manufacturers have responded to scientific and regulatory concerns about air quality, by investing, and introducing new kit to combat deleterious exhaust emissions. So for them, petrol-gasoline and diesel can be made clean, burned in their vehicle engines and vented through their emissions control kit, without adding to the burden of air pollution. They’ve paid to clean up after themselves. If it’s net carbon emissions to air that potential consumers are now worried about, why not ask the fuel producers to lower the fossil carbon content of their fuels ?
Carbuyers are increasingly trying to choose better. Carmakers are trying to respond. Why don’t the fuel producers join in with this effort to reduce emissions ? Clean up the last link in the carbon chain.
In addition to asking for alternative/advanced/low carbon fuels from fuel producers, whih would all rely in Renewable Gas, the car manufacturers might get the electric bug for vehicles already in the global fleet and join in with projects to convert ICE vehicles to EV electric drive vehicles. This would be a way of making a business out of used cars as well as new cars; which might be a useful income stream if car sales plummet owing to a weak economy and efforts to reduce car sales.
6. Utility Vehicle Manufacturers
The push from utility vehicle manufacturers on fuel producers, to take the fossil out of their fuels, might be even stronger than for the private automakers. You see, the light goods vehicle and service van market is deeply embedded in and interlinked to the functioning of the peripheral zone of the global economy – small businesses and trades people must use utility vehicles. Whilst individuals may take public transport/transit and relinquish owning a private vehicle, it is not a question of choice for small builder businesses and traders.
Whilst there might be efficiencies of scale in van makers turning over al their fabrication facilities to making electric models, for those that want to continue to offer ICE models, they will need to ask the fuel producers to lower the carbon content of the fuels.
7. Freight Vehicle Manufacturers
Long distance freight in heavy goods vehicles, ships and aeroplanes is not susceptible to carbon reductions in the same way as other sectors.
Large hauliers might be significant enough in size to make an audible ask of the fuel producers to get out of fossil and into renewable.
8. The IMO, Ship Builders & Shipping Companies
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) have been enacting various articles and amendments of the MARPOL since the 1970s – the international Marine Pollution treaty. Recent edicts have impacted on the fuel provision for large cargo and passenger vessels. First there were the Sulfur Emission Control Areas (SECA), and now all ocean-going vessels must comply with the requirement to lower sulfur dioxide emissions. Whilst the recent emphasis has been on reducing the sulfur (sulphur) in marine bunker-fuels, the net result is that there is pressure coming on the fuel producers to substitute fossil fuels for biomass feedstocks in refinery. The reason ? Because the bottom of the barrel of crude petroleum has been used for marine oils, since there has been no other market for this viscous, heavy, long-carbon-chain hydrocarbon mix. And the sulfur from refining crude oil ends up mostly in the bottom of the barrel.
Apart from shale oils, most of the oil grades in the world are becoming heavier in complex hydrocarbons and sulfur. The shale oil “miracle” or “gale” might run out of steam within a decade or so, and the upwards sulfur trajectory across a range of crude oils will be resumed.
Proposals exist to convert shipping vessel drive from MHO/MDO (Marine Heavy Oil/Marine Diesel Oil) to LNG, Liquid Natural Gas, or Methanol in some cases, but this could take some time to invest the replacement equipment. LNG is a good choice, as LNG is transported via shipping ports. Other solutions include using sulfur “scrubbers” onboard.
Of course, another option would be to desulfurise marine oils at source, or replace fossil oils with renewable oils, which would naturally have low sulfur content. As marine fuels are going to remain fossil for some time to come, desulfurisation units must be incorporated into refineries, even for low quality fuel streams, such as marine oils. Refiners will baulk at doing this, because of the added cost of processing to what is consider a cheap, bulk, toxic, waste product.
If they joined the dots, however, they could see that the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly method of desulfurising is using hydrogen, where that hydrogen has been derived in the cheapest way possible from excess renewable electricity and water, produced at times of the day, week, month, season and year when there is a virtually zero-cost supply of renewable power. The best way to ensure low cost hydrogen would be to own your own dedicated renewable power supply.
Will the IMO regulations therefore be instrumental in oil and gas refiners buying wind farms for their own special use – to make the extra hydrogen they need for desulfurisation of marine fuels ?
There are tight and firm relationships between shipping companies and oil refineries. Will the shipping companies be making the ask for Renewable Hydrogen capacity to desulfurise the marine fuels they need ?
And will the shipping companies be asking for a gradual transition from the oil refineries, a way through to seeing more and more LRG – Liquid Renewable Gas (mostly methane) – become available for marine fuel needs ?
Renewable Methanol could be the choice of some short haul shipping services, such as the pleasure boats, smaller holiday cruise ships, passenger and car ferries. They would need to ask their fuel stockists, who would ask their refiners for this fuel.
Table : Petroleum Products and Blends Used as Fuel For Shipping Vessels
9. Other International Agencies, such as IEA Bioenergy and Governments
The International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy stream has been involved in the research and development of a number of biofuel displacements of fossil fuels. Biodiesel is now an accepted (if small) constituent of many fuel blends, for example. Bioethanol is also a globally recognised fuel.
Knowledge in the network is advanced, and work by partners in the tasks will undoubtedly influence directions in governmental policies, for example, the work on biorefining – replacing fossil fuel refineries with biomass-sources molecules.
The ask for Renewable Gas could well be triggered by governments utilising outcomes from IEA Bioenergy Tasks and similar research groups to make demands on their hosted “national” or privatised oil and gas companies.
Countries in north western Europe, including the United Kingdom, may have great cause to see biofuels replacing fossil fuels – as indigenous production of crude petroleum and Natural Gas has slumped significantly in the last decade.
The European Union already has strong policies on Renewable Gas, as part of the ever-evolving Energy Package, backed up by work done by the IEA and the European Commission, such as the Third Energy Package, which contains the Natural Gas Directive, in which Article 2 reads, “In relation to security of supply, energy efficiency/demand-side management and for the fulfilment of environmental goals and goals for energy from renewable sources, as referred to in this paragraph, Member States may introduce the implementation of long-term planning, taking into account the possibility of third parties seeking access to the system”; and Article 5 reads, “5. In order to protect the independence of the regulatory authority, Member States shall in particular ensure that: […] facilitating access to the network for new production capacity, in particular removing barriers that could prevent access for new market entrants and of gas from renewable energy sources […]”
Foundational documents include the Renewable Energy Directive (2018), in which Article 59 reads, “Guarantees of origin which are currently in place for renewable electricity should be extended to cover renewable gas. Extending the guarantees of origin system to energy from non-renewable sources should be an option for
Member States. This would provide a consistent means of proving to final customers the origin of renewable gas such as biomethane and would facilitate greater cross-border trade in such gas. It would also enable the creation of guarantees of origin for other renewable gas such as hydrogen.”; and the Fuel Quality Directive (2011).
Since the anticipiated ratio of biologically-derived biofuels (including gases) and synthetic biofuels (and gases) could be 1:10, there will naturally be a lot of emphasis on how best to produce synthetic, renewable fuels (including gases). Synthesising fuels requires hydrogen, methane and methanol. Under the terms of the legislation, this means that Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane and Renewable Methanol will be required. This means that one large part of the ask for Renewable Gas in the European region could well come from the federal parliament.
10. Industrial High Energy Consumers
Industries like the manufacturers of steel, concrete and glass have centralised and high energy consumption : they may be influential in making a strong ask of the energy supply companies for renewable electricity and Renewable Gas to lower their sectoral carbon dioxide emissions. This would be particularly the case if they were required to purchase more costly carbon credits, or carbon taxation was implemented.
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.
Energy Change, a suite of responses to Climate Change, is happening at different rates in different sectors of society and economy. Amongst private enterprise, some companies and corporations are ideally placed to make bold, headline changes. They can do so because they are mostly energy consumers, rather than energy producers; although some of them are becoming renewable energy producers as a result of their actions. Examples include :-
Although good progress is being made by many companies and international corporations, there is still one sector strongly resilient to change : the producers of crude petroleum oil, Natural Gas and coal, together with fossil fuel pipeline networks and refineries.
Taking just two companies, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, here is a short review of their strategies on the New Chemistry – how chemical engineering will be taking traditional non-renewable inputs, together with newly-sourced renewable inputs, and using both to make low carbon fuels.
BP’s approach is strong on public relations, and neat-looking conceptuals, but weak on numbers as to the proportion of its products that it aims to properly decarbonise.
In fact, the word “decarbonise” is a BP buzzword, perhaps having been coined by BP public relations people in the first place. It means, variously, “to take the carbon emissions out of energy” and “to take the carbon out of energy”, but it is not used in the sense of “to reduce the amount of fossil fuels in energy”, and there is a very clear reason for that.
Of course, as could easily be expected, BP wants to continue to dig up zero cost ancient remains in the form of oil and gas – that’s the bedrock of their business model. Like all good capitalists, they want to capitalise on cheap dirt and make a pretty penny out of it. Unlike some private enterprises, they do not position themselves to capitalise on cheap labour, however their activities have included forging production contracts in unstable oil-rich and gas-rich states, so they do not necessarily have a clean record on human rights.
1.2 Blue Hydrogen
But BP using the concept of decarbonisation allows them to claim that Natural Gas is going to continue to be a viable fuel into the future, because it can have the carbon taken out. They even have the cheek to adopt the use of the term “Blue Hydrogen” for hydrogen sourced from Natural Gas, because they say that in future, the carbon dioxide from this reforming of Natural Gas methane into hydrogen will be captured and buried. Although they don’t say how much in percentage terms the amount of carbon dioxide they really think is possible to bury.
The term “Blue Hydrogen” should, in my view, be reserved for Renewable Hydrogen produced from water. Here are some suggested terms :-
Natural Hydrogen from hydrogen wells. Non-renewable.
Hydrogen produced by solar energy, for example by electrolysis of water. Renewable.
Hydrogen produced by using the heat from nuclear power. Non-renewable.
Hydrogen produced during chemical engineering. Non-renewable if the original chemical feedstocks are non-renewable.
Hydrogen produced from biomass, for example steam gasification of grass or wood. Renewable if the biomass correctly sourced.
Hydrogen produced from water by the use of renewable electricity, for example by wind-powered electrolysis. Renewable.
Hydrogen produced from the steam reforming of Natural Gas. Non-renewable.
Hydrogen produced from the gasification or steam reforming of petroleum oil fractions. Non-renewable.
Hydrogen produced from the gasification of coals and peats. Non-renewable.
CCUS or Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage is another concept buzzword, that tries to put itself in a different bucket to CCS – straight Carbon Capture and Storage.
With CCUS, the intention is to use the carbon dioxide for something before it is buried, or using it for something instead of burying it, and claiming that this reduces net carbon dioxide emissions overall.
CCS or even CCUS would not be necessary if the carbon in energy was not sourced from under the surface of the Earth, and yet BP seem to believe that the complicated process of digging carbon up only to bury it again is a high scorer in climate change action. Actually, it’s an own goal. The real way to keep advancing is to ditch the fossil fuel raw materials.
1.4 Net Zero
Yes, another buzzword that you will hear everywhere, including the UK Government. Again, it is a way of defending the rights of oil and gas companies to continue to dig up carbon for energy and profit. “Net Zero” means “net zero carbon dioxide emissions”, and suggests that there are ways to capture and neutralise carbon dioxide produced from the use of fossil fuels. That it doesn’t really matter if carbon dioxide is formed from ancient sedimentary carbon and blown into the sky – it can be captured again somehow. That it doesn’t really matter if the energy system remains dependent on fossil carbon, and that all fossil carbon as carbon dioxide can be caught and rendered harmless, whether at the point of its creation in combustion or chemical processes, or from the atmosphere when it has been exhausted in flue gas. That so-called “negative emissions” can universally be achieved with the right technology rolled out, and that it can be economically effective.
BP’s published strategy headlines unconventional oil and gas asset acquisitions and new international start-up projects in a range of collaborations : calling this : “Growing advantaged oil and gas”.
Like other oil and gas companies, it has a line for biofuels in its diagrams. It has ambitions to move into the electricity market. It has ambitions for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage. And in addition, in its section on “Advanced Biofuels”, it mentions it is fostering the IH2 technology, developed by the Gas Technology Institute, to produce liquid fuels from hydrogen, heat and catalysts. The hydrogen is Green Hydrogen, sourced from biomass.
This would be properly Renewable Gas and Renewable Fuel, if it works the way it seems to from the description
Like BP, Shell produces biomass-sourced liquid fuels – biofuels – to meet regulations in different countries and regions on the percentage of blended fuels that should be green. More information is given in its Annual Report section,
Shell and BP make strong mentions of advanced biofuels and synthetic gas and liquid fuels manufacture, but aside from minor production projects, they do not appear to have ambition to venture far out of their core business of digging up fossil carbon. Their calculated projections do not give much space to the contributions of green electricity, green gas and green liquids towards the energy of 2030, 2040, 2050 and beyond. Their energy projections are self-determining, self-referential and self-fulfilling : they don’t have a strong ambition to transition, so they don’t project a significant transition.
It is possible to substitute biomass, water, renewable electricity and renewable heat for crude petroleum oil, Natural Gas and coal in the global energy system. It is the only surefire way to remove fossil carbon from the equation and prevent a build-up of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.
So the question is, who will ask them to do this ?
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 ?
In the English-speaking world, much energy in political and social progress is channelled into running quasi-military style “campaigns”. We are urged to rally and take action against the political and social opposition, through the assertion that these real people, and real companies, and real power groups, who are responsible for causing or maintaining these real evils, are motivated by nastiness, or greed, or selfishness.
Endless leaflets and speeches and petitions are produced. And so, for example, we have learned that destitution, malnutrition and poor health in England is being caused by such things as dodgy landlords, greedy estate agents, an unnecessary drive towards a smaller state, with smaller governance budgets, done by a policy of austerity, a hostile environment towards foreign-born citizens, selfish company directors who lobby Members of Parliament, and democratic representatives who have private financial interests. And we are being called to wrestle with evil by struggling against a range of powers, to “take the fight” to the opposition of our cause.
Whilst this pattern and method of focussed Civil Society action has been successful over several centuries, and whilst there are certainly some genuinely evil forces incarnated in those organisations, corporates and government agencies who reinforce poverty and other ills, this style of action cannot work in tackling the dangerous risks of climate change.
It is true that there is a tiny group of names and faces that are, via their roles, killing the chances for a liveable Earth, but to set these people and their groups up as our enemies is not going to break the deadlock, or gain traction on solutions-building. They’re only doing their job, these “enemies of the climate”. The leaders of BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil don’t get up in the morning as say, “Today, by proxy, I am going to spew fossil carbon dioxide and methane into the air and flood Indonesia, desiccate Central Africa, burn Amazonian and Australian forests to the ground, and kill all the remaining koala bears.”
And anyway, the problems of addressing global warming is systemic, and not segmental. This is a universal problem, and so requires united action. Somehow we have to make allies out of opponents.
With Renewable Electricity, Renewable Gas, and the consequent Renewable Fuels, we have a group of technologies that can be used as a toolbox by the “planetkillers” to rescue us all. This would make us all collaborators in decarbonising the global economy, whether as energy producers or energy consumers. The main question is : how can such processing and production chains for such things as Renewable Methane, Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methanol become a main plank in the strategy for the fossil fuel companies ? What will it take for the chemical engineering giants of the planet, including the large corporations mining and refining crude petroleum oil, Natural Gas, coal and other ancient sedimentised remains, to switch out their core feedstocks for renewable solids, liquids and gases ?
The way forward cannot be through “fighting”; and it will take a lot of reasoning. So where is the debate taking place ? Are governments and parliaments asking the oil and gas majors to substitute renewable feedstocks into their input energy streams ? Are shareholders, investment funds and banks setting ambitious targets for taking out fossil carbon from their business activities, and pointing the way to their preferences on renewables ? What are the non-governmental organisations and charities doing to foster engagement, rather than clamour ? And can we all find a way to work together without the lobbyists sucking the air out of the low carbon transition, and stop the public relations people “greenwashing” everything to insignificance ? Co-operation has to lead to meaningful change.
Responsibility needs to be taken, by those parties that need to make change. In a sense, that is all of us. But this is not by sub-sectoral individual actions, such as changing light bulbs, eating less meat, and turning down the thermostat – although those things are useful.
We need to be responsible for deconstructing the “us and them” oppositional diatribe of the past, whilst creating a space for dialogue on how to get a major change of direction implanted and adopted at the heart of large carbon-spewing businesses. Speaking truth to power, without marching with placards and holding shouty rallies.
It is entirely possible for the world’s oil, gas and coal companies to substitute their primary fossil fuel feedstocks with renewable fuel feedstocks. Who is going to ask them to do that ? And how ? It can’t be done by carbon-shaming or carbon-framing. It needs to be done with other argumentation.
If this negotiation cannot be done, then the fossil fuel energy companies will falter and collapse, sooner or later, due to a range of pressures. Other chemical engineering groups, those that do Renewable Chemistry, will rise to take their place, but this period of change will be slow and chaotic, reforming at a pace too slow to prevent dangerous global warming.
We have only one boat on the ocean of environmental change, and we are all in it.
In the field of energy, trade and co-operation is, and always has been, essential. In the time before petroleum products, muddied methane and killer coal ruled the stock markets, people organised together to light, heat and mobilise. And now to combat climate change, increase energy efficiency and spread out access to energy for all, people need to organise again.
Collecting and storing firewood is an activity as old as civilisation, as much part of humanity’s collective memory as drawing fresh water. Arranging the provision of wood, water and light for the night are all part of myths, tales and legends, endlessly retold. Before money was used to trade, strong social and familial obligations made the gathering, storing and sharing of energy and water occupations that formed part of the collective human survival protocol.
Today, despite whatever political, military or social drama is in the throes of being played out, people continue to trade in energy (and increasingly, water), across boundaries and borders, through grids and networks, and fleets of tanks and tankers, on land and sea. When energy trade stops, it because a region or a nation has received the ultimate sanction against their governmental body. People don’t deny people energy (and increasingly, water), unless there is a resident evil that needs to be purged. Arguably, the Third Reich of the National Socialists in Germany was broken through an energy embargo and an airborne campaign against indigenous energy production facilities.
Even as climate change worsens, and efforts mount to combat it, energy (and increasingly, water) sharing through trade must continue, to guarantee humane living conditions, economic development, and the advancement of civilisation through learning and technology. Even where political co-operation and economic treaties are sacrificed for whatever reason, energy trade (and increasingly, water) must continue to keep peace, keep stability, keep progress.
Energy is a sprawling and integral social enterprise, regardless of the ownership and management of the organisations that exist to produce and trade energy (and increasingly, water). Energy creates a brotherhood and sisterhood between private corporations, national agencies, governments and manufacturers. You and I can only address a small personal portion of global warming emissions – the energy system around us, that we are locked into, with its many complex and powerful actors, is responsible for upwards of half of the carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions attributed to us as individuals in global warming accounting. The energy system is the governments who commission energy projects; the energy companies; the vehicle manufacturers; the globalised traders and the entire edifice of the commercial economy, all interdependent. It is this interlocked wheel or whorl of bodies that makes action on climate change so difficult. And yet, it is the fact that these organisations move in lock-step that can make some changes fast and light.
One of the strategies that can break the hold of fossil carbon in the global economy is to use all the levers available to change the contents of the basket of inputs into the energy system. Where we want electricity as an output, substitute renewable electricity for fossil electricity. Where we want heat, move from Natural Gas to Renewable Gas. But what do we do where we want movement, transportation ? What can substitute for crude petroleum oil ? And how do we do this without breaking the global economy – and hence civilisation ?
Any solutions proffered must involve all the players in the tightly-packed and interlocked energy game, and they must address all the problems : climate change, air pollution, energy security, economic depression, energy access, and, increasingly, water security.
This is where chemical engineering of useful low-to-zero carbon fuels, including Renewable Methane, Renewable Hydrogen and base chemicals such as Renewable Methanol, could break the greatest deadlock caused by the dead weight of petroleum.
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.
The major oil and gas companies, along with a range of other organisations and agencies, have ongoing energy modelling projects, building scenarios to paint projections in energy, technology and the wider economy.
Inputs to the world’s energy systems are usually considered immutable – wood is the principal biomass; crude petroleum oil is going to remain the primary feedstock for liquid hydrocarbon fuels; Natural Gas is the majority source of energy gases; and solid fuels are considered to be fossil coal-derived.
The projections into the future are mostly done on a “lasts until” basis, that is there are underlying assumptions that all the fossil fuels that can be economically mined will be, right up to steep depletion, and that nothing can substitute for them as primary energy resources.
Alternative energy resources are considered entirely separately from fossil fuels, and are only projected to form thin slivers of contribution on energy projection graphs. There is an unwritten code that alternative primary energy resources must be forced to compete economically, and that deployments of alternative primary energy will only be commissioned if scarcity is experienced elsewhere. Fossil fuels are thought to prop up the energy system, and be dependable; to remain cost-efficient and cost-competitive under any conditions. We will only build renewable energy production when we need it, being the major thread.
Where admissions are made, for example, where modelling suggests that depletion, economic pressure and policy could affect the levels of fossil fuels mined and brought into the economy, there is a default view generally that this might stimulate alternatives, but from a very low starting point, and with marginal growth.
Emerging technologies and biomass-based feeds into the fossil fuel refining and distribution systems are considered opportunistic, blighted by cost and reliability issues, and are expected to suffer negative economic stimulus, to such an extent that they are not expected to make much more than a sliver of contribution; although in some cases they are trusted to “take up the slack” where fossil fuels fail.
In such projections, where fossil fuels can and will speak for most of the world’s energy demand, without significant economic and political change, the necessary rate of new technology deployment is fractional.
This paradigm is expressed in a number of different ways by different actors, and creates an impression that fossil fuels are failsafe, and naturally dominant. Fossil fuels and alternative energy resources are considered to be chalk and cheese – not of a kind. This belies the opportunities for substitution of fossil fuel feedstocks by biomass-, water- and green electricity-sourced streams.
The major failing in many energy models is that no consideration is given to active transition – that is, how to turn around the downward trendlines of fossil fuel production and sales into upwards shares of alternative fuels production and sales, through molecular and electron substitution from renewable sources.
If alternative technologies and fuels were actively encouraged to displace fossil fuels, according to core strategy within the energy system, this would cause greater levels of deployment, and so accelerate transition. Alternative resources would constitute a larger slice of the overall total, and show what higher decarbonisation potentials exist.
For example, every extra modelling for hydrogen use, for example, the hydrogen increasingly used for in liquid fuels refining and synthesis, written as renewable hydrogen production and use, which will necessitate higher levels of renewable elecricity production/generation and use.
The production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels and chemical feedstocks will be needed for decades to come, but these don’t need to come from crude petroleum oil, Natural Gas and coal. With synthesis, the source of the hydrogen and carbon (and oxygen) landing in the liquid fuel products is not relevant, except it should conform to the requirements of protecting a liveable climate.
With liquid fuel synthesis, we can rest from thinking about complex hydrocarbon primary resources, stop looking at the molecular level of organisation, and start to look at the individual streams of elements : where does the hydrogen flow from ? Where, the carbon ?
With synthesis, the source of the hydrogen and carbon (and oxygen) coming into the energy system is not relevant. What matters is how many of the H, C (and O) are coming from renewable resources. We “3D print” the molecules we need, and we don’t need to dispose of the carbon, oxygen (and sulfur) we don’t use.
The biggest problem is where we get the Young Carbon from : Renewable Carbon needed for liquid fuels needs to come from recently-living biological organisms in order not to tamper with the global long-term carbon cycle.
In systems for Renewable Gas-to-Power-to-Gas, renewable electricity is used to make gas for long-term storage, offsetting electricity generation to times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, and it’s cold. These systems can be centralised, and contained, so the carbon used in the system to lock hydrogen into methane for long-term energy storage, never needs to leave the plant. However, for producing liquid transport fuels, carbon will flow through the supply chain, and so needs to be sourced from renewable, young resources.
With time, it is likely that transport options will mostly become electric, and quite often public, in urban settlements. Freight transportation, and industrial and agricultural machinery fuelling will mostly likely be a combination of light gaseous fuels and electric power. But that time is more than a few decades away, as it will take that long to replace all the vehicles and fuel supply systems. In the meantime, we need renewable liquid fuels.
Energy modelling does not presently include much in the way of molecular and electronic substitution for fossil fuel primary energy resources; is not conscious of the multiplier effect of going beyond the small percentages of substitution by first/second generation biofuels and biomethane.
Since we need to produce liquid fuels for several decades to come – fuels that automatically need to have higher boiling points, and so need to have carbon in them – in order to see the possible speed of the low carbon transition, we need to model every way that fossil carbon and fossil hydrogen can be swapped out for Renewable Carbon and Renewable Hydrogen.
There are a number of difficult problems in the transition to low carbon energy. One of the early barriers to change was denial of the science and evidence of dangerous global warming. And when that stance crumpled, the next hurdle was a denial of the responsibility to act in a short timeframe. Energy enterprises appeared to think that low carbon energy transition would consist of familiar low pace investment and operations lifecycles, simply substituting high carbon investments for low carbon investments at the normal end of plant or equipment life.
And then there was the postulated problem with the economics of new technologies, where companies wanted to attract tax breaks, subsidies and grants in order to underwrite their low carbon transition, rather than spending their own capital. All the while, companies were lobbying for their preferred solutions, such as Carbon Capture and Storage, that would entail less of their own expenditure, change less of their normal business practices, and supply chains, and justify government support.
Thankfully, pragmatism seems to have trumped dogmatism, and there is a lot of movement in the energy sector, witnessed by massive additions in wind power and solar power.
However, there are two really weighty and thorny problems with energy transition that have very long lead times for resolution, and need a strong focus. The first of these is inefficiency in energy conversion, particularly centralised electrical power generation through combustion. The second is the inertia in the transition to low carbon transport and transportation.
1. Combustion is Inefficient
Combustion, or oxidation of fuels, particularly at lower temperatures, where heat is not captured for further use, is very inefficient.
Much electricity production is still through the burning of fuels in centralised power plants, where much of the input energy is lost to unusable heat. Losses are very significant, and form a substantial wedge of energy flows.
Hydro input to power stations 14697 PJ
Nuclear input to power stations 28783 PJ
Solar/tide/wind 5830 PJ
Geothermal 3027 PJ
Biofuels and waste 8391 PJ
Natural gas 52907 PJ
Oil 1703 PJ
Oil products 7733 PJ
Coal to power stations = 145441 – 46051 = 99390 PJ
Calculated Total = 222461 PJ
Reported Total = 222461 PJ
Energy output from Power stations
Electricity 92182 PJ
Heat 14287 PJ
Losses (such as heat that cannot be used) 116060 PJ
Calculated Total = 222529 PJ
Difference between output and input energy = 68 PJ
The losses from electricity generation mean that efficiency is :-
Useful energy output divided by total input energy = 106479 / 222461 = 47.86 %
Although power station fuels such as coal and Natural Gas are dirt cheap at present, this situation might not continue, and within a couple of decades the inefficiencies of present day electricity production could place significant cost burden on the economy.
A major goal would therefore usefully be to ramp up the amount of renewable electricity provided to the system, to drastically reduce energy losses. In addition to the efficiencies drawn from not burning anything, wind power and solar power can offset centralised generation by being used close to where they are produced.
The variability of wind power and solar power needs addressing, but thankfully, Renewable Gas technologies can step into the breach here : using spare renewable power to produce Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methane, which can be stored, and later on, substitute for Natural Gas in backup power generation when the wind calms and the sun sets.
2. Transport Slow To Transition
Transport requires a large segment of the energy in the global economy : according to the IEA World Balance 2017 figures, the energy wasted in power generation is of a similar order of magnitude to the energy value of refined petroleum oil products entering the economy as fuels for transport = 108376 PJ.
Most energy projections suggest that the Global South (or East) countries will continue to increase their use of refined petroleum liquid transport fuels for the next few decades. Even though the Global North (or West) will reduce demand growth, the total liquid fuels required is expected to stay roughly level out to 2040 or even 2050.
Barring a genuine revolution in the systems for vehicle manufacture, sales and recycling, there will continue to be high levels of ICE internal combustion energy drive vehicles on the roads compared to electric vehicles and hybrids, and other alternative drive models. Despite the fact that a significant proportion of car advertisements are now for electric and hybrid vehicles, these form only a few percent of current sales.
Patterns of vehicle turnover – replacement unlikely to be done simply to “go electric” – may change. If the average lifespan of vehicles increases, transition will take even longer.
Transport is proving slow in transition, and there are few genuine disruptions that can be envisaged to speed this up.
This means that liquid transport fuels will continue to be needed for many decades to come. The global economy is locked in to vehicles using liquid fuels, and crude petroleum oil production and refining companies feel secure enough about future demand to cast long term business plans.
But there remains the need to decarbonise this significant sector. And apart from planting trees, there is no practical way to implement Carbon Capture and Storage for transport emissions.
And this means that there is really only one sensible proposal for decarbonising transport, and that is to decarbonise the fuels.
Renewable Fuels development therefore becomes a major goal.
Here again, Renewable Gas comes to the rescue, as many chemical engineering routes to Renewable Fuels can use Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methane.
The development of Renewable Gas requires more and better cooperation and coordination between state and corporate actors than previously seen.
With Renewable Gas, we are not only dealing with operations in an often vertically-integrated energy sector, we are also networking with chemical engineers and the agricultural sector.
The range of potential material inputs for Renewable Gas include electrical power, water, biomass, waste gases and recycled solid waste.
Precise modelling of the contribution that Renewable Gas can and could play in the global economy will be near-nigh impossible, and yet modelling and projections must be done, to scope out scenarios and thereby build strategies.
Some of the organisations listed in this table (see below) have already started to add Renewable Gas in their outlooks, calculations, models and reviews.
We can expect to see more in this field in the very near future.
Table : A Selection of Energy and Chemical Process Modelling Organisations
National Government and International Agencies
International Energy Agency
working with :-
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development
“Global warming ‘unquestionably’ due to humans: France : Global warming exists and is unquestionably due to human activity, France’s Academy of Science said in a report published Thursday and written by 120 scientists from France and abroad. “Several independent indicators show an increase in global warming from 1975 to 2003. This increase is mainly due to the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide,” the academy said in conclusion to the report. “The increase in carbon dioxide, and to a lesser degree other greenhouse gases, is unquestionably due to human activity,” said the report, adopted unanimously by academy members. The report contradicts France’s former education minister Claude Allegre, a geochemist, who published a book called “The Climatic Deception” which claimed that carbon dioxide was not linked to climate change. The report was commissioned in April by Minister for Research Valerie Pecresse in response to hundreds of environmental scientists who complained that Allegre in particular was disparaging their work. Allegre is a member of the Academy of Sciences and also signed off on the report. “He has the right to evolve,” the academy’s president Jean Salencon said. Pecresse said: “The debate is over.”…”
To my Climate Change sceptical readers, you, too have the “right to evolve”.
Come on over from the dark side to the side of light, life and understanding.
Stop the blame game, the game of suspicion, nitpicking, paranoia and irrationality, and reflect on the path of right dealing, factual research, and true and cooperative human endeavour.
Human beings are genetically encoded for pragmatic policies and practical decisionmaking; yet sometimes the fastest route to a solution is the least successful in the longer term.
Digging high calorie substances out of the ground and burning them in very large quantities is having a negative effect on the ability of the Earth to sustain Life. Ponder that for a while.
Eventually virtually all mining activities will be curtailed. As an elderly relative commented to me when discussing recycling – if we recycled all materials then people wouldn’t have to risk their lives going deep underground for new resources – like those poor miners in Chile and China.
The mines are getting deeper and more dangerous – something the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem encountered to its irrecoverable loss earlier this year.
We can live without mining. We can garner energy without mining. We can live having all our wants and needs provided for by the power of sunlight and the winds and waves it drives, and by the gravitational pull of the Moon turning the tides restlessly.
That kind of productivity will keep us in industrial development for as long as we survive as a species, whilst preventing destruction of our habitat, which would finish us off as a species altogether, along with millions of others.
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”.
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).
I don’t know about you, but I’m missing David Miliband from the political fish-eat-fish top table already.
If he were to ask me, which he won’t, but anyway, if he did, I would recommend that he starts reading up about Energy production and supply, over the next 18 months or so before he gets invited, acceptingly, back into the Shadow Cabinet of the UK Government.
If he were to spend his time on the train between South Shields and Westminster looking into energy security matters, into crustal petrogeology, the Middle East oil fields, Wind Power, solar and marine options, he could make a strong comeback into the limelight – as opposed to the “lemon” light he’s been cast into, thrust into, so far.
If he becomes acquainted with the ways and wiles of engineering and fossil fuels over the next few years, the viability of Renewable Energy solutions, the transport explosion phenomenon and how to control it, then he will be able to offer solid assistance to his younger brother Teddy – who appears to be mistakenly sold on the idea of new nuclear power.
And if Ed Miliband were to ask, (again, which he won’t), I’d say – atomic energy cannot save us; carbon capture technology cannot save us; algae biodiesel can only trickle, even Frankenstein GM algae biodiesel; Peak Oil is almost definitely here; efficiency of use alone cannot save us. We have to go right out for a non-combustion, Renewable Energy future.
Everywhere in the world that Renewable Energy subsidies, grants or guaranteed unit price contracts have been set, there has been a gradual, or sometimes even rapid, development of new Renewable Energy assets. Which seems like quite a good reason for the State to partly finance the development of Renewable Energy systems, if you take the long view. (Note : I’m using the word “asset” in its proper, original sense here – something that has value long after it has been created, and long after it has been paid for.)
By the end of the lifetime of German roof-top solar panels, or British wind turbines, the economic signal to assist the deployment of these technologies will have long since vapourised, leaving behind a functioning electricity supply that runs without the use of expensive fuel and doesn’t run the risk of major failures and huge drops in power output – unlike large centralised power stations.
The need to invest in long-term non-fuel widely-distrubuted generation assets plugged into the electricity network is essential for its future stability – the more reliable Renewable resources of all scales the National Grid can call on, the cheaper it will be to guarantee a solid supply for all.
The large energy companies most likely consider investment in small- and medium-scale Renewable Energy by individuals and communities as a threat to their monopoly on electrical generation. And so they should. It is time for big changes in the way energy is supplied and managed in this country.
New, large, centralised power plants that the large energy companies want to build will cost their customers dearly in the form of higher energy prices – and there have been continual battles over the planning for and the financing of large new energy plants.
This is why the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme in the UK is so important to keep – a stimulus to create small-scale Low Carbon power resources that will still have value in 20 or even 30 years time with very low maintenance schedules.
The threshold level of the economic stimulus for small-scale Renewables is comparatively low when compared to other forms of investment. The incentive scheme to install principally solar resources can work with funds much lower than those required to underwrite a new fleet of Nuclear Power stations, for example, and yet create a resource that could rival the new reactors without all that cost of nasty radioactive clean-up at the end of a nuke plant’s life.
But, being Great Britain, the Government have had their heads turned by the large energy companies yet again, it seems, as there are rumours that the FIT will be scrapped :-
“Solar power subsidy under review : By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondents : Published: September 23 2010 : The recent mini-boom in solar power could be in jeopardy, as the government has privately indicated that new feed-in tariffs that have fuelled the industry could be slashed. If such cuts are adopted, renewable energy experts fear that it will scare off investors – with repercussions throughout the industry. “To change the subsidy system just when you can see the success it has had beggars belief,” said one. “Renewable energy investors . . . will lose faith in this government.” Industry insiders also accused the government of hypocrisy. They say that while Chris Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary, was promising the Liberal Democrat conference 250,000 green jobs as part of a “revolutionary” deal to cut emissions, government advisers were holding meetings in back rooms at which they flagged up potential cuts to the feed-in tariffs (FITs)…”
Don’t blame me or anybody in the Green Party or Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or a number of other Non-Governmental Organisations or independents if in 15 years time there is still not a significant Renewable Energy resource in the United Kingdom. We have expended a lot of personal energy calling for sensible levels of sustainable funding for the renewables revolution. We can do without the limitations of a stop-start regime.
If you want new energy systems, you need to pay for them. It’s called investment, and we need to do it because our current energy systems are decrepit and high carbon. The large energy companies are not prepared to put their own capital into small-scale Renewables, so it falls to the taxpayer to fill the gap. Why not pay the least for the most by directly incentivising small-scale Renewable Energy with a long-term Feed In Tariff scheme ?
“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.” …”
Unlike the United Kingdom, where political sensibility can quash the most logical enactment of energy policy, plans for progress voiced so tentatively you can bearly feel a ripple, or hear it over the whispering swoosh of a new wind turbine blade, over in Deutschland, what they say, they intend to happen, and they’re making serious proposals about how that’s going to be done :-
“09/07/2010 : Green Visions : Merkel’s Masterplan for a German Energy Revolution : By Stefan Schultz : Giant windparks, insulated buildings, electric cars and a European supergrid: the German government on Monday unveiled an ambitious but vague blueprint to launch a new era of green energy for Europe’s largest economy. SPIEGEL ONLINE has analyzed the plans…”
It appears to be time to wave bye-bye to German coal, incidentally, even as a strong commitment to renewable, sustainable energy is put on the table.
I wish the British Government could take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror of the future and realise what a bunch of dithering duffers they appear to be.
What we need is a proper Energy Policy, chaps, and since you’re in the hot seat you better come up with it. Elected or not, our ministers and officials need to get up out of their deep leather chairs, extinguish their pipes, don their working breeches and get digging for Britain, and I don’t mean Shale Gas or Old Coal.
“09/01/2010 : ‘Peak Oil’ and the German Government : Military Study Warns of a Potentially Drastic Oil Crisis : By Stefan Schultz…”
My view on Peak Oil is that it is the tip of the iceberg – and I know that’s a totally inappropriate metaphor.
The art of petrogeology dictates that right on the heels of Peak Oil is Peak Natural Gas, and there is strong evidence for Peak Coal. In the US for example, I understand there is very little good hard anthracite left.
My position is that – since the “conventional” Fossil Fuels are depleting, there are strong moves towards the “unconventionals”, the shale gas, the deepwater oil, the smoky “half peat”, the Lake Baikal hydrates, the frozen subsea wastes of the Arctic [don’t forget the Tar Sands !] and so on. People argue for “stop-gap” energy resources, but they carry with them huge risks not only to the Climate, but also the the Economy with the step-change in EROI/EROEI [Energy Return on Energy Invested – that is – how much energy do you need as input to get energy as output] and the “clean-up” costs.
My take on this is that pretending that Peak Conventionals doesn’t exist leaves a veil in front of most peoples’ minds – they believe in the Power of Technology to supply all their Fossil Fuel needs, now and into the future – it’s just that the actual location and form and dirtiness of these new resources will be different than in the past.
And here’s the rub – we need to encourage people to think about the “alternatives”, or rather, the “solutions”.
The only way forward is Renewable, Sustainable Energy resources, because of Peak Oil, Peak Natural Gas and so on, and if people do not learn about that, they will not understand the privation for most people that will surely come with Peak Conventionals.
“We need to talk about wind farms…” : By James Delingpole : July 28th, 2010
I know the cure for his error-riddled beliefs ! Send some real live energy engineers to his office to talk to him about their industry.
I’m sure the thought of several serious and strangely bearded, slightly obsessive individuals coming to actually talk to him about wind power might be a cue for him to actually start doing some research.
“Aleklett: Australia highly vulnerable to oil shortages : June 11, 2009 : ASPO International president, Professor Kjell Aleklett of the Global Energy Systems group at Uppsala University has been in Australia over the past week, presenting lectures in Adelaide and Sydney on peak oil…warned that Australia will be one of the first countries hit hard by oil shortages as oil production peaks within the next three years. Kjell Aleklett, a physicist from Uppsala University in Sweden, says Australia’s relatively underdeveloped public transport system leaves the country more vulnerable to a downturn in energy production. “Australia is very sensitive to such developments,” Professor Aleklett told the Herald. “Much of your industry and transit is dependent on oil, and supplies will decline.” Professor Aleklett addressed the NSW [New South Wales] electric car task force and the Federal Government’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics yesterday…”
A number of indignant inaccuracies and strident claims I will pass over, but here are a few I think I shall contest. Just to show that I do bother to read his work (even if I smirk about it most of the time).