Tag: Energy transition

SGRI 2016 Conference: My reflections on natural gas innovation and sustainability in Brazil

Dr Julia Sachs, a Research Associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute shares some insights from this year’s Sustainable Gas Research and Innovation 2016 conference.Conference logo

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the first annual conference in natural gas sustainability and innovation, which took place in São Paulo, Brazil. One of the main aims of the conference, co-organised by the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI) and Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI), was to bring together international stakeholders from academia and industry, and to explore the role of natural gas in the global energy landscape and a low carbon world.

Deep offshore wave generator tank

São Paulo was an excellent location for the conference as it’s a key industrial hub in Brazil, and also responsible for 10.7% of Brazilian GDP.

Before the conference, we had the opportunity to tour around the University of São Paulo (USP) campus (where RCGI is based) and find out more about the research taking place at our sister institute, in the Laboratories of the Mechanical Engineering and Chemical Engineering departments.

It was really impressive to see the numerous experimental setups and how theoretical research was directly brought into practice. The highlight for me was the virtual reality simulator used for guiding boats into ports and also the deep offshore wave generator tank which serves as model for testing the durability of design for ships, renewable energy devices and offshore structures.

For the Olympics, the tank had even been programmed to generate an image of the Brazilian flag. You can see the video in this tweet.

The two day conference started with the directors from the co-hosting organisations, Prof  Nigel Brandon (SGI) and Prof Julio Meneghini (RCGI) introducing the keynote speakers, Dr Rob Littel (General Manager Gas Separation from Royal Dutch Shell) and Prof. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz (Scientific Director from FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation).

RCGI / Conference 2016 - São Paulo - Sustainable Gas Research & Inovation Conference 2016, no Hotel Mercure. Rob Littel,General Manager Gas Separation, Shell Foto:Luiz Prado / LUZ
Dr Rob littel from Royal Dutch Shell

Dr Rob Littel emphasised the current challenges faced by the industry; CO2 regulations, a lower oil price, and rising energy demand which will require a diverse energy landscape and a combination of fossil fuels and renewables as well as new innovations. Dr Littel described two promising separation technologies; the next-generation post combustion capture of CO2 potentially using solid sorbents and carbon molecular sieve membranes for natural gas separation to achieve a reduction of the amount of space required and up to 60% cost savings.

He also emphasised the need for a strong collaboration between universities and industry to successfully face these challenges, and that the role universities such as Imperial College and University of  São Paulo (USP) will play in identifying the most promising technology pathways.

RCGI / Conference 2016 - São Paulo - Sustainable Gas Research & Inovation Conference 2016, no Hotel Mercure. Carlos Brito, FAPESP. Foto:Luiz Prado / LUZ
Prof Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz from FAPESP

The second keynote was Prof. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, who emphasised the role of Brazil in meeting these challenges, in particular São Paulo as an unique city/state with significant economic, research and academic importance.

In Brazil, nearly half (47%) of power is from renewables such as biofuels. He also mentioned how Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of ethanol fuel which uses an exclusive blend of ethanol and gasoline to run light vehicles. The question is how to integrate renewables with natural gas.

While travelling around São Paulo, we were aware of one of the major problems facing the city. Huge traffic jam build ups to 100km long are common. Prof. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz mentioned this congestion issue, and the resulting high CO2 emissions which requires technological innovations.

The core of the conference consisted of a series of talks about ongoing projects of the RCGI and SGI covering a wide range of topics in areas such as engineering, physics, chemistry, modelling, economics, policy, and energy efficiency all under the linked to drive the wider research field of sustainable gas innovations.

In total, RCGI has 29 projects in different phases of a technology’s life cycle.

As a member of the Energy System Modelling team, it was of particular interest to me to identify how energy models that could be applied to the different projects.

In particular, Energy Systems Models such as those being developed at SGI (MUSE) will play an increasingly influential role to identify trends in the energy market, the effects of policy regulations and the requirements needed and necessary actions to meet different environmental and economic objectives.

A diagram of the MUSE model

MUSE is designed to generate plausible transitions of energy systems towards a low carbon economy with a specific focus on the role of gas in delivering a more sustainable future.

One of the highlights of the conference was the panel discussion “An international perspective: Innovation in natural gas”. The list of speakers included global experts from academia, government and industry to discuss the opportunities and challenges with natural gas as well as to give a perspective about the innovation technologies that might be required.

RCGI / Conference 2016 - São Paulo - Sustainable Gas Research & Inovation Conference 2016, no Hotel Mercure. Prof. Jim Watson. Foto:Luiz Prado / LUZ
Dr Jim Watson and the panel

Some key points were highlighted during the discussion:

  • Natural gas needs to be considered as an isolated solution but as part of the global energy mix.
  • New technologies (e.g. CCS) are needed to enable an efficient use of natural gas to meet the agreements of the COP-21
Credit: The Economist

Although, there exists some common points about the future of natural gas across the world, the problems individual countries face and the role of natural gas is surprisingly different. For example, in the UK, the national gas consumption is already declining. While, in contrast, natural gas presents a promising solution to limit emissions in coal dominated markets such as China.

Research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) generally shows that natural gas is likely to play a crucial role in two main areas: in the transport and the power sectors. In particular, there is a trend for the use to substitute coal in the OECD counties and as an addition to the energy mix in non-OECD regions to meet the rising energy demand while simultaneously limit emissions. The US has a large amount of natural gas as ethane resources which raises the problem of how to cost efficiently export natural gas and also how best to use the ethane.

One of the take home messages for me was that there are different drivers in different parts of the world based on the availability of gas, the accessibility, the price and in particular the existing energy mix but all aim to limit emission and require innovations to reach these goals.

Julia is a Research Associate working on the MUSE energy systems model at the Sustainable Gas Institute.

The next Sustainable Gas Research Innovation conference will take place on September 17th and 18th in 2017. Please email SGI@imperial.ac.uk for further information. 


4 things you should know about World’s Energy Outlook Post COP21

A blog from an event organised by the Grantham Institute and Energy Futures Lab– Imperial College London.

On Friday 26th February 2016, Kamel Ben Naceur, Director for Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks at the International Energy Agency (IEA), came to Imperial College London and presented the main findings of the latest edition of the IEA’s flagship publication, the World Energy Outlook 2015.

1.The world’s energy scene is changing.

1 IEA2015 has seen a reduction of price for all fossil fuels and further reduction of investment in upstream oil and gas (24% reduction).
In the balance between supply and demand of oil worldwide, the demand is currently lower than the supply however they should meet again in late 2017. Oil production is expected to grow up to 14 million barrels a day by 2040, with a heavier international reliance on Iraq and the Middle East. In the US power generation sector, coal share has moved from 48.2% (2008) to 33.33% (2016) and its price is expected to remain stable up to 2020. Gas share has instead increased (from 21.4% in 2008 to 32.3% in 2016). At the same time, renewable sources have seen the highest annual addition in 2014 (about 130 GW) and their power capacity is expected to rise by 40% in the timeframe 2014-2020. One of the consequence of all these changes is that global emissions did not rise in 2014.

  2. The green transition is already happening2 IEA

Along with all the changes taking place in the energy market in the past few years, the Paris agreement signed last December represents a milestone towards the decarbonisation of the energy sector. The price of green technologies (land-based wind, distributed PV, utility-scale PV, batteries and LEDs) is decreasing and this trend will continue up to 2040, especially for efficient lighting and solar PV.

3 IEA3. The IEA’s Bridge Scenario can help reduce carbon emissions, and international cooperation is the key

The policy pillars of the IEA Bridge Scenario include increased energy efficiency, reduced least-efficient coal power, raised renewable investments, reformed fossil-fuel subsidies and reduced upstream methane emissions. Implementing these five actions internationally can help meet the Paris agreement targets.

4. The “well below 2⁰C“ target suggested during COP-21 represents a major challenge

The Paris agreement suggests an ambitious target of “well below 2⁰C”. This target is therefore more stringent tha5 IEAn what was previously suggested in the 2D scenario of IEA. However moving the climate change target from 2⁰C to 1.5⁰C represents a major challenge for the global energy system. This new more stringent target is asking us to take actions in the next 6 to 17 years in order to be met.

For more details on the latest IEA World Energy Outlook, you can take a look at the executive summary.

The slides have been kindly provided by the Grantham Institute – Imperial College London.