Shell raises comm’l-scale prospects for biofuels

By Myrna M. Velasco

With global oil prices now on relatively improving pace, multinational energy giant Royal Dutch Shell plc is eyeing to make headway on previously stalled ventures in second-generation biofuel technologies.


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Second-generation biofuels or what are touted as “advanced biofuels” are those that can be produced from non-food feedstocks, such as previous experiments on algae for biodiesel or the lignocellulosic biomass for ethanol, among others.

In presenting the Anglo-Dutch firm’s “Sky Scenarios” before businessmen at the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Shell Vice President for Global Business Environment Jeremy Bentham noted that “15 percent of the whole energy mix would be biofuels – the majority of that will be second generation biofuels.” The “Sky Scenarios” of the Netherlands-headquartered energy giant casts the 2070 pathway for the energy sector globally as anchored on the Paris climate change diplomacy agenda.

Bentham added, “We’re looking at the future and if you want to decarbonize things like fossil fuels, you’re going to need more biofuels.”

He reckoned that it is not just actually the second generation biofuels that could be exalted as a viable cleaner energy alternative, but even the food-based first generation biofuels could be sustainable if done in a manner that will not be depriving populations on their daily subsistence.

“First generation biofuels can be sustainable but it is using a feedstock that could either be used in the food chain or grown on land that could be used in the food chain,” he said.

For Shell, Bentham cited that in their Brazil operations, “we have a big joint venture that is producing bioethanol using sugarcane – and sugar cane could be part of the food chain, but actually there is no excess demand for that and it is growing in a way in land that hasn’t been cleared for that purpose – so it’s kind of sustainable first generation biofuels.”

For second-generation biofuels to flourish at this point, he acknowledged that it would still be “technically hard, but technical progress is continuing – and so we envisage in the ‘Sky Scenarios’ that this currently high hanging fruit will become a low hanging fruit just as solar costs have gone from high to low.”

Bentham further explained that investments into second-generation biofuels stalled in recent years because of the oil price collapse that had jolted energy markets.

But with the recent developments in the oil sector, the executive of the Anglo-Dutch oil firm noted, “We now have a higher price environment where the technology is going to continue.”

“Across all other forms of transport, biofuels play a critical role in Sky due to continued reliance on liquid fuels as the high energy-density fuel of choice, but set against the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” he said.

Further, in Shell’s Sky energy scenarios, it has been engaging governments to “implement legislative frameworks to drive efficiency and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions,” – both through forcing out older energy technologies and by promoting competition to deploy new technologies as they reach cost-effectiveness.

In the transport sector in particular – beyond expanded investments in biofuels, it was noted that the goal to “net zero emissions by 2070” shall largely be anchored on vehicles’ electrification.

“Electrification begins most clearly in the transport system through inter-governmental initiatives and pledges by countries and cities to phase out internal combustion engine passenger cars,” Shell said.

It added that by year 2030, more than half of global car sales must already be electric – and extending that up to be “all cars electric” by year 2050.