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Solid benefits

A look at how Shell is making innovative approaches for a responsible energy future

The International Energy Agency has forecast a 50% rise in energy demand over the first 30 years of this century and believes that most of this increase will be met by hydrocarbons. But fulfilling the world?s energy needs through hydrocarbons comes with the environmental costs of increased carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is a truly global challenge ? no part of the globe is insulated from the effects of energy consumption in another part.

Meeting rising energy demands in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable way is one of the greatest challenges being faced by humankind. One of the best ways to confront it is by governments, academia and industry working together.

Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) is tackling this challenge with technology-based strategies for making energy greener. One of these strategies is to ?capture? produced carbon dioxide to reduce emissions into the atmosphere. Pernis Refinery in the Netherlands is capturing part of the carbon dioxide it produces. This carbon dioxide is provided to a third party that then supplies it to greenhouses for horticultural use. In the initial phase of the project, the aim is to cut the refinery?s carbon dioxide emissions by 8% through diverting the carbon dioxide to about 500 greenhouses. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air help to accelerate crop growth, and growers have, until now, sourced the gas from their own heating installations. Obtaining the gas from Pernis Refinery means that the growers will not need to run greenhouse heating systems in summer just to maintain the flow of carbon dioxide.

Improving energy efficiency plays an important role in reducing emissions. Shell Global Solutions? energy-efficiency programme is helping Shell facilities and plants to cut energy consumption and is also being implemented by clients in the manufacturing and processing industries. In 2004, the Deer Park chemical complex in Texas, US, reduced its energy consumption by 2.1% to give annual savings of 80,000 tons of associated carbon dioxide emissions.

Technology to reduce the damaging effects of sulphur compounds in the atmosphere is also being researched. Increasingly, the oil and gas fields currently being developed contain hydrocarbons with high concentrations of sulphur, and this, coupled with tighter regulations for the sulphur content in fuels, has led to a rising global surplus of elemental sulphur as a by-product.

Shell is working on new ways to help absorb this surplus. One of these is sulphur-extended asphalt modifier (SEAM), a process of mixing sulphur pellets with bitumen asphalt to make roads more durable, yet cheaper to build. Trials have been successful, and the first roads to use this product are being built in China in cooperation with Shell Bitumen. Another strategy is to add minute particles of sulphur to fertilisers, which boosts crop production by at least 12%.

Shell has also developed a sulphur concrete. This is more durable than the traditional variety and also more affordable because it uses a cheaper chemical modifier. Unlike normal concrete, the new product has a smooth plastic-like surface that readily accepts pigment, which makes it ideal for use in construction and even for domestic applications such as garden tiles. The new concrete is expected to go on commercial trial in the Netherlands in 2007 before being marketed more widely.

If, as predicted, hydrocarbons continue to dominate global energy use, then technologies that make more of current fossil fuel options will be essential. Gas-to-liquids technology applied to natural gas is a good example. Shell?s particular version of the use of the Fischer?Tropsch process has had a major impact in bringing gas-to-liquids to the forecourt. Gas-to-liquids transport fuel is clear and virtually sulphur and aromatics free and has a high cetane number. Gas-to-liquids fuel can be used either as a pure product or as a blend with conventional diesel. Since it is made from natural gas reserves, it contributes to improving the diversity of supply of transport fuels and reducing dependence on petroleum products. By 2015, gas-to-liquids could account for 2?3% of the world?s road diesel consumption.

Coal gasification provides another positive fossil fuel option. This kind of technology is especially important in countries like China, where there are massive indigenous coal resources, air-quality issues and double-digit economic growth. Coal gasification offers a way of using coal more efficiently and cleanly ? for power, chemical feedstocks, liquid fuel and hydrogen production. The Shell coal gasification process provides a carbon conversion efficiency of more than 99% using a dry feed system with a patented membrane wall gasifier. Power generation using an integrated coal-gasification combined-cycle process emits 10?15% less carbon dioxide than the best conventional coal-fired power-generation technology. Moreover, carbon dioxide is produced as a high-pressure concentrated stream, which could make it more economical for underground storage or selling.

Addressing the world?s energy challenge through technology-based strategies is essential. However, people are needed to drive strategies and develop technology. Science and engineering faculties worldwide are suffering a global shortage of students, and industry has a dearth of graduate recruits. This is why Shell is working hard to generate interest in science and is providing support for students and for people just starting their careers. These scientists, technologists and engineers of tomorrow have a vital role to play in creating a responsible energy future.