Energy transition

Tracking the Energy Transition: The Decarbonization Puzzle, the Power of Wine, and Hydrogen on Track

Major energy companies are tapping into wine residues, used cooking oil, and waste animal fat to produce biofuels. Retooling to meet clean energy goals dominated the first day of the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition. And the US and European Union launched a global methane reduction pact that has climate advocates breathing a sigh of relief just weeks before UN climate summit COP26 kicks off in Glasgow.

Scientist's hand in rubber glove pours yellow liquid into glass test tube in chemical laboratory closeup
Credit: Tsikhan Kuprevich/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Are you trying to stay up to date about developments aimed at energy-transition efforts in our industry? This roundup of news recaps some recent announcements.

A More Realistic Way To Assemble the Decarbonization Puzzle?
An eleventh-hour Global Methane Pledge by the US and the European Union (EU) has been hailed as “the biggest win yet” ahead of the high-stakes 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will begin on 31 October in Glasgow. The pledge, launched on 17 September, targets a voluntary 30% reduction in methane emissions by the end of this decade compared with 2020 levels. It covers not only oil and gas but also coal, agriculture, and waste management. News reports cite the White House as saying that, so far, seven of the world’s top 15 polluters have joined the pact. Those countries—Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Mexico, and the UK—account for approximately 20% of global methane emissions. According to Bloomberg, the US and EU estimate that, if all countries cut methane emissions in line with their pledge over the next decade, warming could be reduced by at least 0.2°C by 2050—a sizeable decrease considering that the planet has already heated up 1.1°C and the goal is to keep long-term warming below 1.5°C. Bloomberg quoted Cat Abreu, founder of a new group called Destination Zero, as saying that the complexity of climate diplomacy makes a “patchwork” of voluntary agreements targeting one sector or one greenhouse gas—compared with a systematic, globally coordinated approach—“will probably be how we piece together the puzzle of decarbonization.”

In related news, Kairos Aerospace, a Mountain View, California-based identifier of oilfield methane leaks and emissions, has raised $26 million in Series C-1 funding from DCVC capital investment firm, OGCI Climate Investments, and Energy Innovation Capital. Kairos combines data from a patented methane spectrometer flown at 3,000 ft with simultaneous optical imagery and GPS data to scan production and midstream equipment for methane leaks.

À Votre Santé
In France, wine is no longer just for toasting and tasting. TotalEnergies is developing a 100% renewable fuel for motorsport competition, which will be introduced next season at the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) World Endurance Championship, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022, and at the European Le Mans Series. The fuel, Excellium Racing 100, will be produced on a bioethanol basis, made from wine residues from the French agricultural industry and from ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE), a biofuel produced at TotalEnergies’ Feyzin refinery near Lyon, France. ETBE provides improvements in air quality when blended into conventional gasoline and also improves its combustion characteristics. Bio-ETBE is used extensively in the EU in conventional vehicles and fuel distribution systems.

Eni and BASF have signed a strategic agreement to develop bio-based propanol from glycerin that they say could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector without competing with food supply chains. Every ton of biodiesel produces approximately 10% glycerin, a vegetable residue that is classified by the European Renewable Energy Directive as an advanced biofeedstock. The agreement between Eni and BASF includes a joint research and development initiative to convert glycerin, which Eni will purchase from European producers, to propanol by applying a high-pressure hydrogenation reaction over a BASF catalyst. The process is designed to ensure that the bio-propanol is produced with a high yield and purity while minimizing byproducts and potentially reducing greenhouse gases by 65–75% compared with fossil fuels.

Shell will build one of Europe’s largest biofuels facilities at its Shell Energy and Chemicals Park on the site of its former Pernis refinery in Rotterdam. The facility is expected to start production in 2024, with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) possibly making up more than half of the 820,000-tons/year capacity and renewable diesel accounting for the rest. The renewable diesel will come from waste in the form of used cooking oil, waste animal fat, and other industrial and agricultural residual products, using advanced technology developed by Shell. A range of certified sustainable vegetable oils such as rapeseed will supplement the waste feedstocks until even more sustainable advanced feedstocks are widely available. The facility will not use virgin palm oil as feedstock. The facility is expected to capture carbon emissions from the manufacturing process and store them in an empty gas field beneath the North Sea through the Port of Rotterdam CO₂ Transport Hub and Offshore Storage (PORTHOS) project, for which final investment decision is expected next year.

That is what Arnaud Breuillac, president of exploration and production at TotalEnergies, says the oil and gas business must do to sustain itself in the coming decades. Breuillac, speaking at the opening plenary session of SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition on 21 September in Dubai, said companies need to create new energy business lines to meet the dual challenge of decarbonizing energy and meeting growing energy demand. He also said that TotalEnergies has a goal of changing its oil and gas production mix from around 50:50 today to around 50% gas, 35% oil and biofuels, and 15% mostly renewable electricity by 2030. Breuillac was joined on the panel by Omar Obaid Al Nasri, CEO of ADNOC Onshore, who discussed a large-scale “blue” ammonia-and-hydrogen facility; Ahmad Al Muhairbi, secretary general of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, who said the industry “needs to sharpen up its mind and technology throughout the supply chain” to meet clean energy goals; and Olivier LePeuch, CEO of Schlumberger, who said, “The future will be at risk if we don’t get the capital, if we don’t get the talent, and if we don’t get the innovation.”

All Aboard the Hydrogen Train
Apennine Railway, which runs through mountainous areas of Italy depopulated by earthquakes, will be converted from diesel to green hydrogen power. Funded by the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, the project aims to replace ageing diesel locomotives with hydrogen-powered ones, which officials say will be significantly less expensive than electrification. The line runs from Sansepolcro in the northern Arezzo Province to Sulmona in the Aquila Province of central Italy, linking Perugia, Terni, Tuscany, and Umbria. Plans also call for a technical evaluation to convert another line, the Two Seas Railway, to run on green hydrogen.

In Bavaria, Siemens Mobility has signed a memorandum of understanding to run a hydrogen-powered train on the 100-km Augsburg-to-Füssen rail line. The agreement with the Bavarian state railway and members of the state government calls for a two-car hydrogen train to run for 30 months beginning in 2023. The trains are based on Siemen’s Mireo Plus H multiple units, which use a combination of fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.

Atlantic Winds Are Blowing
Subsea 7 has agreed to acquire a 59.12% interest in the equity of Nautilus Floating Solutions, a floating wind technology developer based in Bilbao, Spain. Subsea 7 will provide technical expertise and engineering and project management to support the advancement of a Nautilus-developed concept for a floating wind foundation based on a semisubmersible steel structure that supports a centrally placed wind turbine. Nautilus will remain an autonomous company, and Subsea 7 will continue to engage with other technology providers to support client, regional, or supply chain specificities.

The US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is conducting an environmental review of a proposed commercial-scale wind project offshore New York that would build up to 122 wind turbines, which would generate 880 to 1300 MW of renewable energy and power nearly 600,000 homes. The project, a joint venture between Orsted North America and Eversource Investment, is proposed for a lease area in federal waters approximately 31 miles east of Montauk, New York; 19 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; and 17 miles from Block Island, Rhode Island.

Talos Joins Select CCS Group
Talos Energy’s winning bid for a carbon storage site near Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, places it among a select group of US domestic energy companies with physical project sites dedicated to carbon sequestration and storage. Talos and its partner Carbonvert were selected from among 12 submissions. The Texas School Land Board unanimously approved awarding the lease to Talos and Carbonvert, subject to finalization of lease terms. Carbonvert is a carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) -focused project management company founded in late 2020 by renewable and conventional energy industry veterans. The project site encompasses a total land area of over 40,000 gross acres and is located in Texas state waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP Delivers Carbon-Offset LNG
BP has delivered its first carbon-offset liquefied (LNG) cargo in the Asia-Pacific Region to Taiwan’s CPC at the Yung An terminal. The credits that will be retired for this cargo are from BP’s carbon-trading portfolio. This delivery follows the company’s first delivery globally, in July, to Sempra LNG at the Energia Costa Azuil terminal in Mexico. CO2 and methane emissions associated with the LNG cargo, ‎from wellhead to discharge terminal for the specific source and voyage, were ‎estimated using BP’s greenhouse-gas quantification methodology for LNG, which was developed with regard for relevant international standards and incorporating ‎input from third-party experts including the Wood Mackenzie LNG Carbon Emissions ‎Tool.