By Dave Casey on Oct 5, 2020
Over the past year, I’ve led an internal project at Shell Catalysts & Technologies to look at our role in the energy transition, a pathway towards transformation of the global energy sector from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century.
The objective of this project is to help Shell Catalysts & Technologies connect to what the energy transition is, how we should be thinking about our existing portfolio and how we can build a strategy to position ourselves in a lower-carbon energy future that will require a wide range of solutions.
Positioning catalysts and technologies within Shell’s global ambitions
Shell’s Net Carbon Footprint ambition outlines a plan to reduce the net carbon footprint of the energy products it sells, in step with society’s progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement goals to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius. The Shell Group aims to reduce the net carbon footprint of its energy products by around 65% by 2050, and as an interim measure, by 30% by 2035. Shell aims to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner.
This ambition provides an opportunity for Shell Catalysts & Technologies to establish a distinct identity within energy transition initiatives. While Shell is an energy provider, Shell Catalysts & Technologies aims to provide technology and services that enable the industrial processing and energy sectors to meet their respective energy transition objectives.
We mapped Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ portfolio to Shell’s decarbonisation plan by building out strategies within four pathways.
Pathway 1: Increase energy efficiency
Shell, as an operating company, has broad experience in meeting carbon and energy challenges and has developed a set of industry-leading tools and techniques. Customers in the energy sector can tap into this know-how through Shell Catalysts & Technologies by integrating smart energy utilities in their operations or consulting with Shell specialists for on-site energy assessment. Our methodologies, modeling and tools typically uncover opportunities to improve energy efficiency by 5–10%.
By leveraging Shell’s experience, Shell Catalysts & Technologies can help third-party customers in the industrial processing and energy sectors develop a pathway to decarbonisation. Even when the primary focus of many of our solutions is elsewhere, our products also provide a carbon dioxide (CO2) benefit.
- Catalysts – We continually try to increase the activity of the catalyst through research and development. This means refiners can run their assets at lower temperature for longer and use less energy in addition to getting more valued products.
- Refining – The combination of various design factors, such as fractionation improvements, low gas circulation in the high pressure loop and improved heat integration, helps to reduce CO2 emissions by 5–20% compared to standard designs.
- Gas treating – Our tail-gas treating process features a low-temperature catalyst, which helps to reduce steam consumption and solvent circulation rates, which reduces power requirements.
- Gas liquefaction – Shell’s dual mixed refrigerant (DMR) LNG liquefaction technology improves LNG production in challenging, ambient conditions. It optimises safety, efficiency, heat integration, plot space and operability while reducing CO2 emissions.
Pathway 2: Make lower-carbon energy products
Because some 85% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an energy product come from the product’s end use (by consumers driving their cars, for example), low-carbon products such as biofuels will have increasing importance for the energy sector.
Shell is one of the world’s largest blenders and distributors of biofuels, and Shell Catalysts & Technologies is active in the development of a number of advanced biofuel technologies.
- Renewable Refining Processes – This hydroprocessing technology is used to produce renewable fuels from a wide range of vegetable oils, fats or greases. These include tallow, used cooking oil, soy, distillers’ corn oil and canola/rapeseed oil.
- Cellulosic Biomass to Bioethanol – Shell’s bolt-on technology enables first-generation (1G) ethanol producers to generate higher-value products, including second-generation (2G) ethanol, from corn.
Pathway 3: Store remaining emissions
Reducing emissions involves a combination of energy efficiency programs, lower-carbon energy products and capturing and storing the emission itself. That is why serious ambitions to reduce a facility’s carbon intensity are likely to require carbon capture and storage (CCS). Shell believes this is a key technology for reducing CO2 emissions in the energy sector and for other carbon-intensive industrial processes, such as cement and steel making.
Shell is helping to develop large-scale commercial CCS projects and is an owner-operator of a global refinery network, while Shell Catalysts & Technologies has developed two leading carbon-capture technologies.
- LP CO2 Capture system – This technology is designed to capture CO2 from low-pressure (LP) streams, including flue gas. At a power station in Canada, this technology is capturing one metric tonne per year of CO2 that is compressed, transported through pipelines and used for enhanced oil recovery in nearby oilfields.
- HP Capture Systems – This technology is designed to capture CO2 from high-pressure (HP) process streams. At a project in Canada, Shell’s ADIP ULTRA technology is capturing CO2 from hydrogen manufacturing units, which is then injected into a layer of rock more than two kilometre underground.
Pathway 4: Adapt to the energy transition
One consequence of the energy transition is that we are starting to see battery electric vehicles gaining consumer acceptance. This could have a major impact on the energy sector and refiners as, worldwide, about 50% of refinery output is directed towards road transportation fuels, so any substantial moves toward electrification have significant potential to reduce demand for diesel and gasoline.
Meanwhile, refiners face other challenges including pressure on margins and utilisation, responding to tightening environmental regulations and finding ways to minimise the amount of bottoms sent to the bunker fuel pool.
Shell, which plans to reshape its portfolio over the next decade with both divestments and investments, has key insights here and Shell Catalysts & Technologies can help the energy sector in the following areas:
- Demand shift from fuels to petrochemical feed – We work with refiners to help ensure that they are directing hydrocarbons to the highest-value application by providing differentiated catalysts and technologies in innovative configurations to open customers’ operating windows and provide additional flexibility.
- Transform refinery bottom ends – Declining fuel oil demand and highly complex assets coming onstream mean there is a clear need to invest in residue conversion projects. These can be highly capital intensive, but we have developed key insights for achieving higher rates of return through revamping existing process units.
- Shift to higher margin products – In some regions, lubricant base oil feed can command a higher margin than middle distillates. In recent years, Shell Catalysts & Technologies has supported several refiners by reconfiguring their hydrocrackers to generate a high-quality feed for a new base oils plant.
Diverse solutions for the energy transition
At Shell Catalysts & Technologies we continue to develop a wide range of cutting-edge, differentiated solutions that address operators’ particular asset issues while offering attractive decarbonisation opportunities. This is important because we know that a mosaic of solutions will be required to transform the industrial processing and energy sectors.
Moreover, customers will require varied solutions: specific countries have different needs depending on local circumstances such as their development priorities, domestic energy resources and national energy policies. As a result, transformation of the energy sector will move at different paces and produce different energy mixes in countries around the world.
A broad range of expertise is required to manage the energy transition from policy makers, regulators, industry experts, consumer groups and technical specialists, among others. Shell has a strong base of technical and operating expertise and we are closely involved with industrial and non-industry stakeholders. Close cooperation between all these parties will be needed to achieve decarbonisation and energy transition goals.