Shell downstream director Mark Williams

Shell downstream director Mark Williams

Shell has just announced it is to build the world's first floating liquefied natural gas facility (FLNG) 200km off North-West Australia's coast. As well as that mammoth project, the energy giant is also heavily involved with the huge gas potential in Qatar with the Pearl Gas to Liquids (GTL) project - the world's largest GTL plant. Shell downstream director Mark Williams outlined some of his alternative fuels and transport thinking at the recent Challenge Bibendum sustainable mobility event in Berlin.
 
j-a: To what extent is Shell convinced of the future of biofuels?
 
MW: The advantage of biofuels is they can rely on existing infrastructure and rely on existing engines. It is not possible to replace fossil fuels 100%, but we can make significant inroads with biofuels without having to wait for infrastructure to take over.
 
Biofuels share agricultural space with food resources so sustainability is important. Sugar cane can be sustainably produced, has very low C02 and is low cost. The cultivated amount of sugar cane in Brazil is 0.6% of total land and 1.5% of arable land.

Brazilian Sugar Cane ethanol is the only biofuel produced today that is economic to manufacture without subsidy. In comparison, corn ethanol produced in the US relies on a blenders tax credit of US$0.45 for each gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline.

j-a: Turning to vehicle transportation of the future, do you think journeys will diminish as traditional energy sources start to wind down?
 
MW: Mobility is not an option, it is access to human beings, to jobs, families. It is important to social and political freedom. Demand for mobility will grow with triple the cars and trucks by 2050 (IEA) - We can't get in the way of demographics.
 
j-a: So will there by necessity have to be a plethora of energy solutions to cope with that explosion in demand?
 
MW: Future mobility will depend on not just more but more diverse sources of energy - there will be a mosaic of solutions including petrol, diesel, biofuels, hydrogen and even carbon capture and storage.
 
There will be new challenges and new dilemmas. For energy companies, city planners, consumer groups, advertisers and research laboratories - they all need to be collaborating.
 
j-a: So of that range of energy alternatives available, what does Shell view as the most interesting and can existing transmission technology be improved?
 
MW: We have biofuels and sugar cane in Brazil and we see it as the most commercially viable way to reduce C02 emissions for at least the next decade.
 
We have just formed Raizen, a US$12bn biofuels joint venture with Cosan in Brazil.
 
It is easy to see how vehicles have improved during the last 100 years, but lubricants and fuel have [also] improved. Fossil fuels have some obvious issues with emissions, but they are an immensely efficient way of transport.
 
j-a: Will the growth of so-called megacities drive ever-more different solutions to mobility challenges?
 
MW: Mobility depends on smarter infrastructure - roads, bridges, supply and distribution - and perhaps after all the design layout of cities,
 
By 2050, three-quarters of the world's nine billion people will live in cities. Research puts the development [costs] of urban cities at US$350bn by 2050.
 
j:a: It's a common complaint that energy companies are benefiting from the current extremely high oil price - how does Shell view oil at such a high cost?
 
MW: I don't welcome high fuel prices as a way of promoting this [efficiency], but nonetheless I think it is on the [minds] of consumers. We find consumers are increasingly interested in fuel efficiency and higher [energy] prices accelerate that trend.