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Shell bets on alternative gases

Omar Al Qurashi, Communications Manager at Shell Markets Middle East, talks us through the company’s initiatives in the field of sustainability.

| | Jul 30, 2011 | 4:16 pm
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POWER SECURITY: deploying district cooling and cogeneration

Omar Al Qurashi, Communications Manager at Shell Markets Middle East, talks us through the company’s initiatives in the field of sustainability.

As Al Qurashi explains, the company focuses on three priority areas, as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitment: human capital, road safety and environment.

From an environmental point of view, the company is actively engaged in reducing carbon emissions through the implementation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a brand-new technology aimed at mitigating GHG emissions from large-scale fossil fuel use – particularly for power generation.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), it could account for nearly 19% of the total CO2 reductions needed by 2050, and for more than 50% by 2100.

Shell is working with others to enable the broad deployment of CCS, contributing to the development of large-scale commercial projects.

The company has also established research partnerships with industry and academic institutes. Current activities include the Mongstad test centre in Norway and the world’s largest CCS project, Gorgon, in Australia.

Shell’s main focus is to make CCS cost-effective and speed up the installation of technology, such as monitoring systems.

In addition to developing enhanced oil recovery techniques to bring more oil to the surface, the energy group is also examining a number of environmentally friendlier gas alternatives, which, according to Al Qurashi, could play a major role in meeting the region’s increasing power requirements in a sustainable, cost-effective and secure manner. Al Qurashi believes that the GCC interconnected grid project will be paramount to easing the region’s power needs, optimising costs and increasing energy efficiency.

“Gas is the way forward,” he says. “The Fukushima disaster has shown that nuclear is not a reliable source of energy, as it poses many safety risks. Furthermore, significant investments are required to build nuclear plants. Whereas, gas can be easily transported across the region using existing infrastructure and the GCC − particularly Qatar, Saudi and Abu Dhabi − boast huge natural gas reserves.”

Shell cools natural gas to -162°C, turning it into a clear, colourless, non-toxic liquid that is 600 times smaller in volume than in its gaseous state. This makes it much easier to transport. Then, once at its destination, the LNG is returned to a gaseous state at a re-gasification plant before it is delivered to customer through pipelines.

Although cleaner than conventional fuel, LNG is also more expensive, if compared to the region’s current oil prices.

The company has been carrying out a number of trials in the UAE to test the feasibility of using LNG to fuel cars, buses and other means of transport.

“The pilot study has been successful. We are currently waiting for the government to take a decision on that.”

The company has also invested in the construction of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant, a joint development by Qatar Petroleum and Shell.

GLT, which according to Al Qurashi produces “nearly 0% emissions”, is a refinery process to convert natural gas or other gaseous hydrocarbons into longer-chain hydrocarbons such as gasoline or diesel fuel.

Launched in July 2006, Pearl GTL will process around three billion barrels of oil equivalent over its lifetime from the world’s largest single gas field, the North Field in the Arabian Gulf. The field stretches from Qatar’s coast and contains more than 900 trillion cubic feet of gas, equivalent to 150 billion barrels of oil, or over 10% of worldwide gas resources.

The project consists of two offshore platforms 60km off the Qatar coast, connected by pipeline to the largest Gas to Liquids plant ever built, with a capacity of 260,000 barrels oil equivalent a day, located in Ras Laffan Industrial City.

On 12 October 2009, a Qatar Airways Airbus A340-600 conducted the world’s first commercial passenger flight using a mixture of kerosene and synthetic Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) fuel, produced from natural gas, on its flight from London’s Gatwick Airport to Doha to demonstrate the viability of jet fuel made from a source not subject to rapidly fluctuating oil prices.

“Large-scale GTL deployment requires minimum infrastructure investment, as a vehicle switching to GLT only needs a new storage tank. Furthermore, unlike diesel fuel, maintenance costs in a GLT-powered engine are very low,” Al Qurashi points out.

At the end of March, Shell opened natural gas wells offshore allowing the first sour gas to flow through a subsea pipeline into the GTL plant onshore. Sections of the Pearl GTL plant will be progressively opened over the coming months.

Once fully operational, Pearl will produce 1.6 billion cubic feet of gas per day from the North Field, which will be processed to generate 120,000 barrels per day of condensate and natural gas liquids and 140,000 barrels per day of GTL products, such as gasoil, high specification lubricants base oils, and chemicals feedstock.

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