HSE & Sustainability

Cost Comparison Between Carbon-Neutral Fuel and Alternative Low-Carbon Energy Options

This paper examines potential new options for the petroleum sector to contribute to emission reductions and the climate debate.

Credit: Seebest/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

The global climate-change discussion continues to search for ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from their three main sources: the thermal generation of electric power, transportation by internal-combustion vehicles, and industries (petrochemical and others) that use coal-fired boilers or hydrocarbons as feedstock. This paper examines potential new options for the petroleum sector to contribute to emission reductions and the climate debate. One area could be the bringing to market of a carbon-free transportation fuel at affordable prices. A second could be the reduction of the carbon footprint of the power sector.

As other innovations have led to the use of natural gas instead of coal in power generation, and as consumers may increasingly switch to electrified motor vehicles, climate policy will increasingly require that electricity be decarbonized. This opens up a significant potential for the petroleum sector to use its existing skills to deploy carbon capture and storage techniques to the combustion of natural gas, thus delivering carbon-free fuel to the electric power sector.

A further use for natural gas is hydrogen generation, again with carbon capture and storage. This, in turn, could lead to the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells for future power generation and for transportation. This paper examines a wide range of studies from prominent institutions and researchers to show in quantified terms what may be the costs and feasibility of such a set of strategies.

The paper begins by presenting the nature of most greenhouse-gas emissions from the petroleum industry and contrasting their magnitudes and origins. The petroleum engineering skill set easily spans the technical challenges of geologic storage, and pore space requirements are estimated to compensate for combustion CO2 depending on whether the emissions come from coal, oil, or natural gas. The paper then briefly reviews the current technical information and technology readiness of carbon capture and storage.

Because transportation represents the largest fractions of the crude oil emissions, the paper considers the cost of capturing and storing an amount of CO2 equivalent to what will be emitted through exhaust pipes. Also noted is that hydrogen generated from natural gas represents an alternative carbon-neutral fuel.

Electrifying transportation offers a promising alternative to carbon-neutral fuels, provided the available electricity is decarbonized. The needs of ocean and air transportation cannot be fully addressed without onboard fuel, and, interestingly, biogenic products might provide this supply and substitute current hydrocarbon products.

A final discussion compares energy efficiency and life cycle analysis for internal-combustion vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and fuel-cell electric vehicles. Conclusions offer many potential leadership opportunities for the petroleum industry.

Download the complete paper from SPE’s Health, Safety, Environment, and Sustainability Technical Discipline page for free until 25 August.

Find paper SPE 201613 on OnePetro here.