By Roald Brouwer, Licensing Sales Manager Energy Transition Technologies on Aug 2, 2021
Roald Brouwer is Licensing Sales Manager Energy Transition Technologies. Currently based in Amsterdam, Roald received his PhD in petroleum engineering from Delft University of Technology. He has worked in the energy industry since 1995 when he was an intern at Shell and has relocated around the world for R&D, operations and upstream business development roles.
In this 5-question interview on “How I Make Every Molecule Matter”, Roald shares his experience in the development of the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process, his perspective on a future hydrogen economy and how he transitioned into new energies via his personal foray building solar panels.
1. Could you share insights into your role in blue hydrogen technology licensing?
The blue hydrogen project demonstrates how Shell applies traditional technologies to find solutions for the energy transition. Since the 1950s, Shell developed valuable gasification technology with the Shell Gasification Process (SGP) to produce syngas using feedstocks such as refinery residue oil and coal.
We had discussions with the engineers who had been working on this world-class technology for two to three decades on the possibility of repurposing it for an energy transition application.
With a small team, we identified the potential of Shell gasification technology for blue hydrogen production. About a year after we started, we created the first commercial blue hydrogen option for the Shell hydrogen business. Given the importance of the future hydrogen economy, this was a valuable finding and was based on repurposing and rebranding proven technology to give it new life.
My role was primarily to connect the dots and understand the world’s developing need for hydrogen, and in particular, blue hydrogen technology. The technical team did the evaluation and the work to bolt everything together to ensure that the technology would perform as expected in a new setting.
My role now is to create new business opportunities for Shell by introducing the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process and other licensed technologies to potential customers. In the future, I would like to use this experience to replicate these technologies’ applications at scale.
2. How can learnings be scaled to support a future hydrogen economy?
Speaking from my previous experience at Shell, we supported the deployment and the replication of about 200 to 250 different technologies. I am by no means an expert in any of those, but having exposure to such a large number of technologies and deploying a few hundred technologies per year as a team – you get a feel of which technology has the X-factor and which ones do not.
In other words, successful technologies tend to have things in common. The great ones have the X-factor, which is the ability to scale because of its relevance to the world. Fundamentally, there is a difference in the ultimate potential in one technology versus another.
Technologies with the X-factor are fit for the future and a worthwhile investment for customers and for Shell because we can get the materials and replicate the technology multiple times. We benefit from replicating technologies by working through a learning curve and making continuous improvements.
I believe the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process has the X-factor, as it supports the future hydrogen economy and has the potential to scale into the next line of business. Hydrogen is expected to be a key energy carrier in our future energy system and there are a variety of methods to produce low-carbon hydrogen.
Shell Catalysts & Technologies has found an opportunity to become involved in this space by, for example, providing decarbonisation opportunities for refineries’ steam-methane reforming hydrogen units.
3. How do you work with customers interested in solutions that support a future hydrogen economy?
Our traditional approach was to provide technologies as a single-point solution. Meaning, we tended to propose a single solution for a single problem. That is increasingly becoming more difficult in the context of energy transition solutions, which tend to require the transformation of a wider spectrum of plant assets.
The energy transition is about pulling everything together to provide more integrated energy solutions to our customers. Shell can offer this due to our organisational capabilities, technologies and geographic reach. We can connect with customer bases across the world and synergise and distil tailored solutions, such as those related to the future hydrogen economy.
I think it’s mentally rewarding and challenging to consider solutions at this kind of scale. I think this consultative approach is where greater value will be for our customers and where Shell energy transition offerings can be most distinctive, rather than only considering commodity products as single-point solutions.
4. Could you share insights into your previous work in oil and gas?
At the start of my career, I’d had a rough idea that I wanted to work in the oil industry and at Shell. But 20 years ago, I did not foresee being involved in blue hydrogen sales; it is somewhat of a surprise, and I think the world is changing faster than any of us had anticipated then.
I had worked as a reservoir specialist and team lead in Shell Canada for eight years, which included tar sands development and upstream development for a heavy oil project.
I also did full portfolio reviews of all oil and gas assets in Oman and Egypt. With a small, integrated team of five people, we analysed hundreds of oil and gas fields and identified many hundreds of millions of barrels of production opportunities, several of which have subsequently been developed or leveraged in asset divestment scenarios.
Working for a big company that is as diverse as ours makes it easy to change direction within the company, not only in terms of where the world is moving, but also with the type of work you are doing. Energy transition solutions materialise in unexpected places and manifest in unexpected forms – such as those that support a future hydrogen economy – because they are new. No one knows quite where the world is heading.
5. It’s interesting how your experience includes both heavy oil and blue hydrogen applications. What helped you make the jump?
I was interested in gaining experience in new energies. I had been working in the Canadian tar sands and the sun was quickly setting on that part of the industry, at least in Shell. I wanted to move into a direction that has more of a future.
In my leisure time, I started to develop solar projects. There were opportunities to become involved in a cooperative form in the region where I live. I participated in volunteer events where we developed small-scale solar projects. This experience helped me to leapfrog into the new energies division of Shell Catalysts & Technologies.