"PAVING THE WAY TO GREENER ENERGY – THE FUTURE OF FUELS."- CARSTEN REINCKE-COLLON, DIRECTOR OF FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES, AGGREKO
Significant efforts are underway across the globe to decarbonise power generation to cut carbon emissions. With roughly 790 million people worldwide without access to electricity and producing dangerous emissions from cooking and heating with open fires, and an expected rise in electricity demand of 57% by 2050 according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the decarbonisation of electricity production is becoming even more critical.
Renewables play a key role in achieving decarbonisation, already accounting for 28% of global electricity generation. Their intermittent nature, however, means that they are not a viable option as a sole source of power, even with battery storage. Considering this, thermal or combustion power remains the most viable back-up to ensure consistent, reliable load availability, making it crucial to find alternatives to diesel.
Future fuels comprise a myriad of fuel types and applications and include some that make efficient use of by-products from industrial processes. Several variables, such as power density, availability, and landed costs must however be considered, as well as the need to potentially adapt, upgrade or replace existing engines to be able to use these fuels. The availability of these fuels in certain geographic locations also plays a key role, along with affordability for the end-user. So, how does one determine whether a future fuel is a viable alternative to traditional thermal or combustion power?
Several of the fuels referred to as ‘future fuels’ are already available today. These include existing alternative fuel sources, such as renewable diesel, biodiesel, and liquified natural gas. By-products from industrial processes can also be used, even though they are not strictly ‘future fuels’. These include biogas, or landfill gas, and associated petroleum gas or flare gas.
Bio-methanol and, in the longer-term green hydrogen, can also be used as a sustainable fuel source. These are clean-burning, carbon-neutral fuels that can cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 200%. While in its liquid state it is cheap to transport and store, there are still obstacles associated with its corrosive nature to overcome, such as the requirement of a dedicated engine or reformers and fuel cells to successfully convert it to electricity. Additionally, bio-methanol has less than half the energy density of diesel, which means that it is currently best suited for short-term projects. For it to be viable in the longer-term, better storage facilities will be required for hydrogen.
We expect to see many of these existing technologies scaled up as infrastructure is developed and alternative fuels become more financially viable. This is particularly the case for HVO and biofuels and we foresee the development of virtual pipelines to deliver these new fuels to customers who are not connected to existing gas distribution infrastructure, providing a flexible, adaptable alternative gas distribution channel.
Ongoing research and development into new fuels will continue, and result in some exciting opportunities. Green hydrogen, for example, generates zero carbon emissions in its production or when used to generate electricity. Highly versatile, it can be transformed into electricity and synthetic gas, diesel, and hydrogen carriers such as methanol or ammonia. The challenge we face, however, is that it is expensive to produce due to a lack of production and storage infrastructure. It is, therefore, crucial that there is continued investment in improved hydrogen storage and transport facilities. This will further pave the way to produce power-fuels or e-fuels, which are renewable electricity-based fuel sources, which all require green hydrogen made from renewable energy.
It is important to note that no single fuel will be a silver bullet as industries strive to reach Net-Zero. It requires the right balance of fuels and technologies, tailored to specific locations, sectors, and customer requirements. It requires integrated, digitally controlled, hybrid systems that provide low-carbon, low-cost, and highly efficient energy. As Aggreko, we continue to invest in developing new ways of generating power as part of our roadmap to decarbonisation. As infrastructure and production processes for these low-carbon fuels continue to improve, they will become more affordable, allowing us to incorporate the best of these to create the ideal fuel mix for our customers to meet their logistical and carbon-reduction needs as well as their budget.