Fossil Fuels - An Energy
Source for the Future
As an energy business, our success depends on providing the types of fuels that society demands ? now and in the future. Consumers are gradually moving away from conventional fuels such as coal, to those containing lower levels of carbon such as natural gas. We expect this trend to continue, as governments, industry and society take on the challenge of sustaining economic growth, preserving the quality of the environment and maintaining international security of energy supplies. Shell remains committed to being a key player in new energies. This article highlights the contribution of future fuels, innovation in the energy industry and why it is best placed to deliver the solution to the carbon challenge.
Greg Lewin, President, Shell Global Solutions
Almost every global scenario indicates that fossil fuels will dominate world energy supplies for several more decades before hydrogen, renewable or other sustainable fuels begin to make a major impact. Heavily populated and fast-developing countries such as China and India will be big players in driving demand upwards. By 2050, we are likely to be using twice as much oil as we use today.
Keeping pace with increasing energy demand while mitigating the effects of energy production on the environment will require clear thinking and a deep commitment to technological innovation. Fortunately, these are established features within the oil industry, which I see as providing genuine leadership in the years to come.
There is already much to be positive about, particularly in the transport sector. The advent of clean fuels, some now virtually free of sulphur, has had an enormous impact on the pollution problems of our cities. The efficiency of the internal combustion engine has been improved considerably and hybrid electric vehicles have appeared on the market. Diesel technology, once limited to commercial and industrial vehicles, has advanced a long way.
|We must use fuel more efficiently and find new ways of reducing and containing carbon dioxide and other emissions|
Technology already exists to extract hydrogen from fossil fuels. However, there is some way to go before hydrogen becomes a commercial reality, including some major technical and economic hurdles to overcome associated with its widespread storage and distribution. And, ultimately, you would want to produce hydrogen via a renewable source and not from fossil fuels. Solar electrolysis of water is often cited, but the economics of this process are currently unattractive.
The use of biofuels in transportation is increasing as a result of governmental pressure. For example, the European Union directive on biofuels asks the 25 member states to achieve 2% biofuel in gasoline and diesel by December 2005 and 5.75% by December 2010. It is sensible to introduce biofuels through blending with fossil fuels rather than trying to use neat biofuels in transport fuel. This will enable seamless introduction, with only minor changes required in the distribution chain and handling procedures. Biofuel components are already on the market.
There is worldwide recognition that gas will play a key role in meeting our future energy needs ? sometimes referred to as the ?dash for gas?. Over the past 20 years, worldwide gas demand has increased by 75%. In the coming decades, a growth of around 3% a year is expected, which will result in a doubling of demand within 25 years. Gas is a clean and cheap fuel that is easily accessible once the infrastructure is in place. Another key advantage of gas is its availability.
There are significant known reserves, but there is also a large potential for further discoveries, as the emphasis moves to exploration for gas rather than for oil. All these developments will demand transportation of gas over longer distances by pipeline and, where more economic, as liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Natural gas with its low carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy, clean nature and high efficiency in power generation will continue to play a major role in meeting the fastgrowing energy requirements of Asia and the Middle East. As the scale of LNG operations continues to grow, economies of scale and technology refinements will reduce costs.
As well as rapid growth in LNG, this decade will witness the development of large-scale conversion of remote natural gas into gas to liquid (GTL) fuels. Shell has a multi billion-dollar investment to develop a world-scale GTL plant, in Qatar.
Studies show that the entire GTL system has a significantly lower impact on air acidification and smog formation, fewer particulate emissions, less hazardous waste production and no greater impact on global warming when compared with the crude oil refinery system. However, the GTL process is at a comparatively early stage in its development.
With time, Shell expects to reduce GTL process emissions further, and the products will bring efficiency gains of 5 to 10% when engines are better tuned to the properties of GTL fuel. To make this happen, Shell is cooperating closely with original equipment and vehicle manufacturers.
Shell is developing carbon dioxide capture and enhanced recovery techniques/geological storage to offer a new set of options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Shell is also a member of ?The CO2 Capture Project?, an international effort funded by eight of the world?s leading energy companies to find ways of reducing emissions that will contribute to an environmentally acceptable and competitively priced continuous energy supply for the world. It seeks to develop new technologies to reduce the cost of capturing carbon dioxide from combustion sources and to safely store it underground.
There are several options for carbon dioxide sequestration in geological formations, all with different ratings for relative capacity, cost, storage integrity and technical feasibility. The options include storage in active or depleted oil/gas wells, coal beds, deep aquifers and mined caverns/salt domes. In the upstream oil industry, subsurface carbon dioxide sequestration, for instance, in deep saline aquifers, is being actively pursued.
Economic growth and prosperity will drive global energy demand in the coming years; this will be particularly marked in heavily populated and fastdeveloping countries such as China and India. The fossil-based energy sources, gas, oil and coal, offer the only way of meeting this demand and will continue to dominate the energy market for many decades. Fortunately, we have the hydrocarbon resources to meet the predicted growth in demand until at least 2050, but it is important that we use these precious reserves and the intervening time wisely. We must use fuel more efficiently and find new ways of reducing and containing carbon dioxide and other emissions while developing sustainable energy chains based on hydrogen and renewables.
Technology is the source of the solution; scientists and engineers will play a crucial part in developing new ideas to help protect our people and our planet.