Taking a long-term view - developing fuels for the future
A Shell case study

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Page 4: Developing 'future fuels'

Contemporary transport systems depend on the internal combustion engine and liquid petroleum fuels. Liquid fuels are highly efficient for motor transport because they:

  • provide a lot of energy in relation to their volume
  • can be stored on vehicles in lightweight fuel tanks
  • typically carry vehicles for long distances on a single tankful.

The technology to extract and refine crude oil is highly efficient and cost effective.

However, with oil and gas reserves in limited supply and given the dangers of global warming, it is essential to:

  • make existing forms of fuel more eco-efficient
  • establish new forms of eco-efficient fuels. A key benefit from 'future fuels' is that, compared with hydrocarbons, they will reduce the creation of greenhouse gases.

Petrol and diesel are expected to continue to be the major road transport fuels until at least 2030. One challenge is to use R&D to reduce risks associated with these fuels.

In the developed world, petrol has become lead-free. Lead is currently being phased out in the developing world. Likewise, the sulphur content, a natural constituent of crude oil, has been progressively reduced in petrol to increase the longevity and performance of engine catalysts.

The future challenge is to introduce even more fuel-efficient spark ignition technologies, while preserving their lower local emissions. This will require catalyst-friendly fuels. Low sulphur levels in petrol grades, which could reach 10ppm, will constitute a key enabling property for the introduction of new engine technologies such as direct fuel injection.

Diesel engine technology is already very fuel efficient. Shell has been developing new diesels with much lower Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and sulphur content. Shell has invested more than $1 billion in its refineries to produce fuels that meet tougher sulphur limits.

In over 50 countries, under the Optimax, Pura, V-Power and Defenda brands, Shell offers premium quality transport fuels that can improve engine performance and reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

Shell has pioneered the development of several new fuels e.g. hydrogen filling stations in Iceland, USA and the Netherlands. These fuel sources use water and renewable electricity to provide hydrogen to power cars. This hydrogen is free from carbon. Fuel cell engines running on hydrogen could make vehicle transport genuinely sustainable. Hydrogen can be made locally and water is the only direct emission. Carbon emissions can be zero if the hydrogen is produced by using renewable power to electrolyse water. Shell Hydrogen is building a commercial business to begin tapping this potential.

Shell has also created transport fuels from natural gas. Converting natural gas into zero-sulphur Shell 'Gas to Liquids' (GtL) Transport Fuel is another way to reduce local pollution. Last year in London, Shell co-sponsored the 'Driving Tomorrow's Clean Technology' trial. Four charities were given a car equipped with emission reduction technology and filled with GtL. Over three months the charities drove the cars around London, using them in their day-to-day work.

In Bangkok (Thailand), Shell sells Pura, a fuel that reduces engine black smoke from older vehicles by up to 25%. In Malaysia, Shell runs the only commercial GtL plant of its type, producing ultra-clean products. In Qatar, Shell plans a multi-billion dollar investment to build a plant on a world scale.

Derived from renewable sources, biofuels can result in lower overall carbon dioxide emissions. When burned, plants release the carbon they absorbed as they grew and this energy is used to fuel vehicles. Bio-fuels can be used either 'pure' or as a blend with standard automotive fuels.

Shell is the biggest blender of transport biofuels, but these are currently expensive to produce.

However, Shell is contributing funds for the construction of a plant to test the new technology and to make the fuel cheaper using waste wood and straw, with carbon emissions 90% lower than for conventional fuels.

Shell | Taking a long-term view - developing fuels for the future