Frans Nauta ‘klimaatchef’

Nieuws | de redactie
2 juni 2010 | Frans Nauta gaat het Knowledge and Innovation Centre leiden voor het grootscheepse Europese klimaatonderzoek in ons land. Die centra -ook in Parijs, Londen, Berlijn en aan de ETH Zürich- vormen ‘de Champions League van het klimaatonderzoek’ zoals Barroso het noemt. En ook de CEO van het geheel is een Nederlander: Shell-topman Jan van der Eijk, wiens visie op energie en klimaat u hier leest.

Nauta is bekend als oprichter van Nederland Kennisland,secretaris van het Innovatieplatform en nu als lector van de HAN.Ook in zijn nieuwe rol zal hij zijn column op ScienceGuideblijven verzorgen en als lector aan de HAN verbonden blijven. EnNauta treedt op als een van de kennisexperts die onder leidingvan Farid Tabarki de topkandidaten in het MTV Coolpolitics debat op 3 juni totextra diepgang mag verleiden.

De formele start van de Climate KIC van het EIT, dat Barroso inzijn eerste periode als Commissiepresident in Brussel heeftdoorgezet, is vandaag in Barcelona. “Dit is een lastige, maar ookspannende fase,”zegt Nauta. “We hebben de basisformatie voor de KICrond. Die staat. Daarmee is het ook het moment dat wij naar buitenkunnen treden.”

In ons land bestaat het consortium van kennisinstellingen dat deKIC trekt uit de UU, TUD, WUR, TNO, Deltares, de provincieUtrecht en de gemeente Rotterdam met haar Stadshavens-project.Op Europees niveau komt er een ‘governing board’ voor heel hetproject, waarin de CEO en enkele andere topofficials voor de tech,onderwijs en wetenschapsbeleid aspecten zitting hebben, samen metde directeuren van de vijf nationale centra, onder wie Frans Nauta.Voor de deelnemende kennisinstellingen in Oost-Europa komt er ookeen coördinerend centrum.

U leest hier een vraaggesprek met KIC CEO Vander Eijk, gehouden toen hij recent nog de CTO vanShell was:

It’s our understanding that Shell, as a company, hasarticulated what it calls the three hard truths of the world’senergy needs. Can you tell me, what are those truths?

JvdE: The first hard truth is thatthe world’s energy demand will grow and it will actually growsubstantially. This is driven by a growth in the world population,but also in an improvement of living standards in areas of theworld like China and India. That’s number one.

The second hard truth is that the supply of energy fromconventional oil and gas sources will struggle to keep up with thisgrowing demand and we will need new sources of energy, ranging fromrenewable energies to also unconventional oil and gas.

Then finally, this increase in energy demand and also the need touse all kinds of sources of energy will lead to an increase in CO2emissions and we all know that these CO2 emissions are related toglobal warming. So that’s a major concern and also something thatcalls for aggressive action.

May I follow up on that thought about Shell’s commitment to dosomething about the CO
2 problem that’s involvedwith producing energy? Why is Shell interested in this?Why is this something that’s important to Shell?

JvdE: This comes to our belief thatrising CO2 levels are very likely to lead to warming of our planetand that global warming is something that has unacceptableconsequences for mankind, at least unpredictable consequences formankind. We believe it is time to take action in this areanow.

Tell me a little bit more about these new efforts that Shell isdoing in tackling the CO2challenge?

People talk about CCS – it stands forCO2 carbon and carbon capture and sequestration and just to say itin layman’s terms it’s when we are burning fossil energy we make agas, called flue gas, that contains CO2 but also nitrogen and anumber of other things.

One of the main programs that we, but also other companies have, ishow can we effectively take that CO2 from this particular flue gasstream, but also from streams that we produce in our refineriesthat are sometimes a bit more concentrated than flue gas… how canwe effectively take that CO2 from that flue gas, then throughpipelines, bring it to a location where we then are able to injectthat in the subsurface – that’s called sequestration or storage -and then to make sure that the material that we have storedsubsurface is going to stay there for many, many centuries tocome.

The research that is done by Shell and other companies is aboutimproved capture techniques, to bring the cost down and to alsobring the energy consumption associated with capturing down. Butthen to focus very much on the subsurface. Understanding whathappens if you inject CO2 in the subsurface. Where does it move to?Would it actually react with the rocks? Would there be a chancethat, over time, that CO2 starts to come to the surface? There is alot of work going on in that space to basically provide theassurance that when you store CO2 it will be there for many, manycenturies to come.

That is an effort that Shell addresses, but we’re definitely notalone and we also realize that this is a subject where you reallyneed to work together with governments, other industry partners andacademia. Some of the topics we’re talking about are just too bigfor a single company and new ways of working together between theindustry, governments and academia are really necessary.

Tell me a little bit about the role of technology and how newtechnologies might help us deal with some of these truthsthat you’ve described.

JvdE: Let’s first focus on technologythat helps to make more energy available. As I mentioned, the firsthard truth is that there will be more demand for energy. Technologyat the moment is helping us to increase the recovery ofhydrocarbons from existing resources, so you have to think aboutthe resources like you have in the Middle-East.

Recovery rates today are about 35 percent and we’re trying to pushthis to higher numbers, let’s say up to fifty percent, by theapplication of modern control techniques, but also by the injectionof chemicals, for instance. Then we are also working hard to getnew energy from difficult locations and here you have to thinkabout very deep water.

Today the industry is able to produce hydrocarbons from asubsurface that is covered by more than two kilometers of water andalso finding ways to recover oil in the Arctic, where theenvironment is extremely sensitive and we need to have techniquesto not disturb that region. Then we are also moving to, what wecall unconventional oil and gas, where the composition of the oilor the gas is difficult. Here you have to think about the heavyoils, for instance, in Canada and Venezuela, but also the vasthydrocarbon resources in the United States, these are the oilshales.

But there are also vast resources of hydrocarbons, gases that arecontaminated with H2S and CO2 and if only we were able toefficiently separate these contaminates from the gas we’d have anew source of energy. So there is a massive investment in theindustry, and also in the company I’m working with, to make morefossil energy available.

Can you tell me a little bit about some of the projects thatShell is developing in these areas?

JvdE: I’m more than happy to do so.Our company invests very substantially in research and development.In fact, we are the biggest investor in R&D in our industry. Webelieve that technology differentiation is the way for us to growthe company. We build also on a history of technology first in manyareas.

Just to mention a few things, we have worked very hard to turn gasvia a process involving synthesis gas into liquids that can be usedin the transportation sector, so this is a way to use gas for thetransportation sector. In the past, of course, this was all comingfrom oil and not from gas.

And we are having a plant in Malaysia that actually produces theseexcellent transportation fuels, and we are now building a verylarge plant, the biggest in the world, in Qatar, that will producemore of these so-called GTL liquids. Then we focus very much onpushing the boundaries on deep water, ultra-deep water. We recentlyannounced further investments in the Gulf of Mexico, but also nearthe coast of Brazil and in Malaysia. This is an area where Shellevery time adds a few hundred meters of water depth to its record.It opens up the energy that’s available at these reservoirs belowsea-levels.

Then we’re working very hard on unconventional heavy oils. We havea new technology that makes that heavy oil that’s very difficult toproduce, available. We do this by having something like asubsurface refinery where we convert these very heavy moleculesinto lighter products that we can then easily produce. We’re veryproud of that development and hope that we are able to harness thatto substantial commercial production.

Then we have coal gasification. We are having a technology thatgasifies coal and allows you to have clean coal energy. That is away to avoid that all the contaminates in coal end up in the air. Ithink that’s a major contribution of the company to makeresponsible energy available. And then – I’m just going on here -there’s biofuels. We have a substantial program with a number ofdifferent start-up companies that are all aiming to make biofuelsavailable from sources that do not compete with food. Here you haveto think about agricultural residues or forestry products, or maybein the future, algae that you can grow in seawater farms.

So, in short, we have a long list of projects all pursuing twocommon themes. One is more fossil energy, and we do that inresponse to this first hard truth, that the world needs moreenergy, and also work hard to reduce the environmental footprint ofour energy and that is in response to the third hard truth that theenvironmental constraints are growing.

In the context of some of these new technologies that you’vedescribed, is there one that has really grabbed your imagination assomething that is extremely important and something that ispowerfully grabbed your imagination here, that could really make adifference down the road for people?

Let me just take two. One is this technology that we aredeveloping to convert heavy oils subsurface so that we can producethat. What we’re doing is we are having a technique to heat thesubsurface in which the heavy oil is contained and bring it to atemperature where the molecules in the subsurface start to crackand then we are producing the lighter components and turning theminto fuels whilst we leave some of the heavy fractions back in thesubsurface.

This is something I’m really fascinated by and this whole idea ofhaving something like a subsurface refinery I find, not onlyscientifically exciting, but I believe it has a tremendouspotential to unlock a number of sources that with currenttechniques are actually not possible to produce economically, andif you do, with undesirable environmental footprints.

The other area I’m personally really excited about is exploration.This is all about finding new oil and gas. This is of courseimportant to the world, because we need more fossil energy and ifyou just look at what new techniques around seismic gravitationaldifference measurements, electromagnetic radiation and theinterpretation of all the reflections that you get from thesubsurface when you treat the subsurface with these waves, it isreally fascinating to see how much we can learn about thesubsurface from these techniques, applying also high-performancecomputers that are able to convert and process enormous amounts ofdata.

I think that’s an area where we’re really at the cutting-edge ofscience. It’s also an area that has a very practical use and thatis that we are able – much better than in the past – to identifywhere hydrocarbons are and also getting more efficient at findingthe resources and then producing them.

Two very different subjects, one about chemistry and catalysis andthe other about measurements and data processing that both aregiving an enormous upswing to this industry.

What is the most important thing that you would like the public toknow about these three hard truths of energy that youdescribed?

I think… It’s not so that it’simportant for them to be able to reproduce these three hard truths.What is important is that people start to realize that fossilenergy is a finite resource. And that we need to find ways to usethat energy in a more responsible manner.

I believe this comes back to, not only the technologies I’vedescribed today, but also technologies that allow people to useless energy. This has to do, for instance, with buildings, lightercars, insulation of your buildings, but also I think differentchoices of consumers.

I think, over time, we need to realize that we have no totalfreedom in using this precious resource, but that we need to domore about conservation so that we leave enough behind for the nextgeneration and the generation thereafter. I think that is, Ipersonally believe, the biggest message for the broader society iswe need, together, to start using energy in a different way than wedid before.

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