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No ‘magic bullet’ solution to global energy challenge: Shell

HAMBURG, Germany -- By 2050, there will be two billion vehicles in the world - 1.2 billion more than today - doubling energy demand from 2000 levels, and most of them will still be powered by conventional liquid fuels. Meanwhile, every single...

HAMBURG, Germany — By 2050, there will be two billion vehicles in the world – 1.2 billion more than today – doubling energy demand from 2000 levels, and most of them will still be powered by conventional liquid fuels. Meanwhile, every single litre of diesel that’s burned results in 2.6 kgs of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Richard Tucker, general manager, technology, commercial fuels and lubricants with Shell, said during a global technology event here that there is no single solution that will wean the world off traditional fuels. Tucker said that to avoid serious climate change, emissions must be reduced in half from 2000 levels by 2050, all while accommodating some 1.2 billion additional vehicles. There will be nine billion people on the earth by then, and 75% of them will live in cities.

By 2050, Tucker said, two-thirds of vehicles will still use “current engine technologies and conventional liquid fuels.”

“There are no magic answers, no single solutions to these challenges,” Tucker said.

Shell has been developing alternative fuels and lubricants to work with such fuels around the world, but the effectiveness of these fuels is largely dependent on the region. For example, Shell is investing significant resources towards building a liquefied natural gas corridor in Alberta, whereas bio-fuels are a more effective alternative fuel in Brazil.

Shell is looking to address the global energy challenge through its Smarter Mobility strategy. It’s based on three pillars: smarter product; smarter infrastructure; and smarter use.

The company has established a Discovery Hub; a team of people looking for radical lubricant solutions that can be developed five years down the road. For example, Shell already is looking at ultra-low-viscosity engine oils, such as 0W-20 formulations, even though current engine designs won’t support such a thin oil.

“Today’s spec’s won’t allow it, but we know we can make it work,” Tucker said, noting further collaboration is required with vehicle manufacturers so that future engines can accommodate fuel-saving lower viscosity engine oils.

“We’re trying to not just follow the specifications, but to take a more radical approach,” said Tucker. “What can we do to change the game in the world of lubrication? We are putting a lot of effort into working with the vehicle manufacturers and the engine manufacturers to understand what the requirements of their engines are now, and also in the future. We’re trying to work with them collaboratively to see how we can optimize the system (engine and lubricant) as one piece.”

Shell’s Frank Machatschek gave some examples of how Shell is working with truck and engine OEMs more closely than ever before to develop product and solve problems in the field. In one such example, a Daimler customer in a Peruvian mining application was experiencing turbo failures due to oil contamination. Shell worked with the customer and Daimler to recommend a more effective lubricant for that specific application, and completely eliminated the customer’s turbo-related problems, while also doubling their drain intervals.

“Our ambition is to be the technical partner of choice for truck manufacturers,” Machatschek said, noting Shell spends more than $1 billion each year in research and development, which he claimed is unmatched in the oil industry.

Some of that R&D spending has resulted in the creation of new or improved fuels for heavy truck transport. Shell FuelSave diesel, not yet offered in North America, can save customers up to 3% of their fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicle, Tucker said. It also reduces corrosion and foaming, while lowering CO2 and smoke output.

The company also produces GTL (gas to liquid) fuel in the Netherlands and Germany. Tucker said the fuel is easier to store, transport and use than other gas-based fuels. It’s a cleaner-burning fuel than today’s diesel, reduces engine noise and is easy to implement in existing infrastructure. There are still some challenges with GTL which must first be worked out before the fuel is rolled out commercially in other parts of the world, Tucker admitted.

Shell will continue to develop alternative fuels with an eye towards reducing emissions, by identifying the best fuel for each region, he added.

“There is no single alternative to oil-based road transport,” Tucker said. “All fuel options will be needed. We don’t believe there is any single solution, there’s no silver bullet that’s going to solve the energy challenges we have.”

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