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Pioneering scientists turn fresh air into petrol in massive boost in fight against energy crisis

by Steve Connor

A small British company has produced the first “petrol from air” using a revolutionary technology that promises to solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five litres of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapour.

The company hopes that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral.

Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: “It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I’ve been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It’s a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work.”

Although the process is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages.

“We’ve taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol,” said Peter Harrison, the company’s chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

“There’s nobody else doing it in this country or indeed overseas as far as we know. It looks and smells like petrol but it’s a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil,” Mr Harrison told The Independent.

“We don’t have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines,” he said.

“It means that people could go on to a garage forecourt and put our product into their car without having to install batteries or adapt the vehicle for fuel cells or having hydrogen tanks fitted. It means that the existing infrastructure for transport can be used,” Mr Harrison said.

Being able to capture carbon dioxide from the air, and effectively remove the principal industrial greenhouse gas resulting from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, has been the holy grail of the emerging green economy.

Using the extracted carbon dioxide to make petrol that can be stored, transported and used as fuel for existing engines takes the idea one step further. It could transform the environmental and economic landscape of Britain, Mr Harrison explained.

“We are converting renewable electricity into a more versatile, useable and storable form of energy, namely liquid transport fuels. We think that by the end of 2014, provided we can get the funding going, we can be producing petrol using renewable energy and doing it on a commercial basis,” he said.

“We ought to be aiming for a refinery-scale operation within the next 15 years. The issue is making sure the UK is in a good place to be able to set up and establish all the manufacturing processes that this technology requires. You have the potential to change the economics of a country if you can make your own fuel,” he said.

The initial plan is to produce petrol that can be blended with conventional fuel, which would suit the high-performance fuels needed in motor sports. The technology is also ideal for remote communities that have abundant sources of renewable electricity, such solar energy, wind turbines or wave energy, but little in the way of storing it, Mr Harrison said.

“We’re talking to a number of island communities around the world and other niche markets to help solve their energy problems.

“You’re in a market place where the only way is up for the price of fossil oil and at some point there will be a crossover where our fuel becomes cheaper,” he said.

Although the prototype system is designed to extract carbon dioxide from the air, this part of the process is still too inefficient to allow a commercial-scale operation.

The company can and has used carbon dioxide extracted from air to make petrol, but it is also using industrial sources of carbon dioxide until it is able to improve the performance of “carbon capture”.

Other companies are working on ways of improving the technology of carbon capture, which is considered far too costly to be commercially viable as it costs up to £400 for capturing one ton of carbon dioxide.

However, Professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University in New York said that the high costs of any new technology always fall dramatically.

“I bought my first CD in the 1980s and it cost $20 but now you can make one for less than 10 cents. The cost of a light bulb has fallen 7,000-fold during the past century,” Professor Lackner said.

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BP targets availability of two new biofuels by 2014

by Bloomberg

BP Plc (BP/) is testing two advanced biofuels that could be commercially available by 2014, said Philip New, chief executive officer of the U.K. petroleum company’s biofuels unit.

The company is planting energy grasses to feed a 36 million gallon-a-year cellulosic ethanol plant planned in Florida, he said in an interview in London today. A demonstration biobutanol plant in Hull, England, is operating, New said. A bioethanol plant in the same location should be producing by the end of this year, he said.

Biofuels could account for 9 percent of global transport fuels used by 2030, up from 3 percent now, according to BP. Drivers include climate-change targets in the U.S. and Europe, energy security concerns and the possibility the fuels may be a lucrative crop for ailing rural communities, New said.

“If you believe that demand for transport fuels is going to grow significantly, if you believe that for the foreseeable future we’re going to carry on using internal combustion engines and liquid fuels, then biofuels are going to be the only complement to crude oil that’s out there,” he said.

Cellulosic ethanol uses micro-organisms to break down fibrous plants, making it possible to produce fuel from energy grasses. Unlike sugar cane, which flourishes around the equator, the grasses can be grown anywhere.

Biobutanol is produced by fermenting plant sugars and can be blended with gasoline at higher concentrations. Existing bioethanol can be retrofitted to produce biobutanol, New said. Biobutanol is a type of alcohol that’s used as a fuel.

BP is looking at sites in Texas, Florida and Louisiana where it could farm energy grasses and build new plants, he said. The company is targeting a cost of $60 to $80 a barrel by 2024 from $140 to $150 a barrel today, New said.
The two fuels and a new sugar-to-diesel product will be trialled in 100 vehicles during the London Olympic Games.

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Norway: Aker Solutions Secures Draupne FEED Contract

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Aker Solutions has won a contract from Det norske oljeselskap to conduct a front-end, engineering and design (FEED) study for the Draupne field on the Norwegian continental shelf.

The study will be carried out by Aker Solutions’ newly established engineering office in London, and delivered to the license partners in Q4 2012. The contract value is undisclosed.

“I am very pleased that Det norske has decided to follow on the pre-FEED contract with the award of the topsides FEED contract for the Draupne development. The Draupne pre-FEED was the first contract awarded to the re-established Aker Solutions engineering entity in London. The new award confirms the successful build-up of our London office,” says Valborg Lundegaard, executive vice president and head of engineering in Aker Solutions.

London

Aker Solutions in 2011 decided to re-enter the London engineering market. Only a few months after opening the new office in Chiswick Park, the company is once again becoming a significant player in the London market. The engineering office now counts 90 employees, and Aker Solutions expects to be around 200 people by the end of 2012.

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Draupne

The Draupne field is located to the west of Stavanger in the North Sea. The partners in the Draupne field have agreed with the partners in the Luno field on a coordinated development solution for the area. Draupne will be developed using a fixed platform with pre-processing, and the well stream will be transported from the Draupne platform to Luno for final processing and export to the markets.

Det norske is the operator and owner of 35 per cent of the Draupne license, together with Statoil (50 per cent) and Bayerngas Norge (15 per cent).

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Trinidad to Offer Six Blocks in Deep Water Bid Round

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Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs (MEEA) has announced that the 2012 Deep Water Competitive Bid Round is tentatively set to open on the 29th of March.

Leading up to the opening of the round, the MEEA will participate in road shows 21st – 24th of February at NAPE 2012 in Houston, 28th – 29th of February at Trinidad and Tobago Energy Trade Mission in the JW Marriot Houston, and the 8th of March at the MEEA delegation to the High Commission for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in London where the six selected deep water blocks nominated will be announced.

The six offshore blocks that are to be nominated and offered will come from locations in the East Coast Marine Area and Trinidad and Tobago Deep Atlantic Area (See Concession Map). This acreage offers a mix of water depths, hydrocarbon play-types and production potential.

Available Data

PGS, in conjunction with the MEEA, has acquired 6,766 km of marine MultiClient 2D data over approximately 43,000 sq. km of the Trinidad and Tobago offshore area.

PGS TOBAGO TROUGH MC2D 2008: 2,448 km of ultra-long offset, dual-sensor GeoStreamer 2D data located across 9 blocks in the West Tobago Sub-basin and Tobago Platform.

PGS DEEPWATER ECMA MC2D 2008: 1,966 km of ultra-long offset, dual-sensor GeoStreamer 2D data located across 26 blocks in the Barbados Accretionary Complex on the Trinidad and Tobago Deep Atlantic Area.

PGS NCMA-4&5 MC2D 2008: 2,352 km of high resolution 2D located across the Patao High across 2 blocks in the West Tobago Sub-basin and Southeast Tobago Sub-basin between the Tobago Platform and the Araya-Tobago metamorphic basement.

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Iran Sanctions Tighten as OSG to Frontline Halt Crude Cargo

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Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) — Sanctions on Iran are tightening after Overseas Shipholding Group Inc., Frontline Ltd. and owners controlling more than 100 supertankers said they would stop loading cargoes from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries‘ second-largest producer.

OSG, based in New York, said Feb. 10 that the pool of 45 supertankers from seven owners in which its carriers trade will no longer go to Iran. Four OSG-owned ships, managed by Tankers International LLC, called at the country’s biggest crude-export terminal in the past year, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. Nova Tankers A/S and Frontline, with a combined 93 vessels, said Feb. 9 and 11 they wouldn’t ship Iranian crude.

Previous efforts to curb Iran’s oil income and stop it from developing nuclear weapons failed because the structure of the shipping industry means vessels are often managed by companies outside the U.S. or European Union. An EU embargo on Iranian oil agreed to Jan. 23 extended the ban to ship insurance. With about 95 percent of the tanker fleet insured under rules governed by European law, there are fewer vessels able to load in Iran.

“It’s the insurance that’s completed the ban on trading with Iran,” said Per Mansson, a shipbroker for 31 years and managing director of Norocean Stockholm AB, which handles tanker charters. “Last summer, many countries started to be a little bit tougher, but the insurance is the real trigger.”

Kharg Island

OSG’s Overseas Rosalyn, which can carry about 2 million barrels, arrived at Kharg Island on Jan. 27 and departed the next day, tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. It left about 16 feet deeper in the water, an indication it loaded cargo. The vessel is managed by Tankers International, which has its head office in Cyprus. OSG complies with all U.S. and European laws and its headquarters in New York doesn’t manage charters, OSG Chief Executive Officer Morten Arntzen said in an e-mail Jan. 30.

Tankers International told owners the pool’s vessels will no longer sail to Iran after changes to EU regulations, Arntzen said in a Feb. 10 e-mail. Insurers are no longer able to cover vessels trading in the Persian Gulf nation, he wrote.

Ship owners sometimes group their vessels to coordinate charters and improve earnings. The Tankers International pool operates 45 very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, from OSG and six other companies, including Antwerp-based Euronav NV and St. Helier, Channel Islands-based DHT Holdings Inc.

Nova Tankers

“All the owners in the pool have stated that they will not trade Iran because of the consequences,” DHT CEO Svein Moxnes Harfjeld said by phone Feb. 10. “DHT is complying with all relevant regulations and sanctions, and following recent developments our vessels have been instructed not to trade Iran.”

Frontline companies including Hamilton, Bermuda-based Frontline Ltd. and Frontline 2012 won’t ship Iranian crude, Jens Martin Jensen, chief executive officer of Frontline Management AS, said by e-mail and phone on Feb. 11 and 12. Frontline operates 43 VLCCs, according to its website.

Nova Tankers, the Copenhagen-based operator of a pool of ships including vessels owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., won’t load Iranian crude because of European sanctions, Managing Director Morten Pilnov said by phone from Singapore on Feb. 9. The pool will have about 50 vessels by the end of this year, according to data on its website.

Nippon Yusen K.K., the second-largest owner of VLCCs, won’t carry Iranian oil if it means ships aren’t insured, Yuji Isoda, an investor relations manager for the Tokyo-based company, said Feb. 9. The company doesn’t yet know how its insurers will handle the EU sanctions, he said by phone.

Tighter Restrictions

U.S. and EU leaders are trying to tighten restrictions on business with Iran, which produced 3.55 million barrels of crude a day in January, 11 percent of OPEC’s total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Oil sales earned Iran $73 billion in 2010, accounting for about 50 percent of government revenue and 80 percent of exports, the U.S. Energy Department estimates.

The United Nations has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran, and the International Atomic Energy Agency said in November the country had studied making an atomic bomb. The government in Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and that documents held by the IAEA purporting to show designs and tests of weapon components are fakes.

Iran has threatened to block shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which about 20 percent of the world’s globally traded oil passes. Crude futures in New York advanced 32 percent to $100.19 a barrel since Oct. 4.

Senate Bill

More trade with Iran may be blocked if a bill approved Feb. 2 by the U.S. Senate Banking Committee becomes law, making U.S. companies responsible for the actions of their foreign units when dealing with Iran. A spokesman for committee chairman Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, declined to comment.

While the Japanese government said last month it would curb imports from Iran, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said Jan. 17 his country wouldn’t. China, the Persian Gulf country’s largest customer, needs the oil for development, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun told reporters Jan. 11.

Founded in 1948, OSG has 111 vessels and 3,500 employees, according to its website. Its biggest shareholders include the family of board members Oudi and Ariel Recanati, who control about 10 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Oudi Recanati is an Israeli citizen and Ariel Recanati is a U.S. citizen, according to a Sept. 6 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Charles A. Fribourg sits on the board of OSG and Continental Grain Co., the data show.

Marshall Islands

Shares of OSG, which has 14 supertankers, fell 71 percent in the past year as a glut of vessels drove down transport rates. The company will report a loss of $178.6 million for this year, down from $204.4 million for 2011, according to the median of five analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Three other OSG vessels from the Tankers International pool called at Kharg Island in the past year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. They fly the Marshall Islands flag, which means they are registered there for regulatory purposes, according to data on the website of International Registries Inc. Almost 9 percent of the tanker fleet is flagged in the Marshall Islands, behind Panama and Liberia, according to data compiled by London- based Clarkson Plc, the world’s biggest shipbroker.

“Ship owners and brokers are now seeing a tightening of sanctions,” said Bob Knight, managing director of tankers at Clarkson in London. “This is a sign that sanctions are starting to bite.”

–With assistance from Michelle Wiese Bockmann and Rob Sheridan in London. Editors: Dan Weeks, Sharon Lindores.

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