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HPIn Brief

02.01.2012  |  Thinnes, Billy,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, Houston, TX


Accelerating energy innovation

A three-year study by a team of researchers based at MIT has now identified a suite of policy and investment strategies that could accelerate innovation in the US, helping the country to meet its growing energy needs. The conclusions are detailed in the new book Unlocking Energy Innovation by Richard Lester, a professor at MIT, and David Hart, a professor at George Mason University.

The authors identified four stages through which an innovative technology becomes an established part of the energy infrastructure. Of those, the first stage (the discovery of new technological options) and the final stage (fine-tuning of technologies already in commercial use) are relatively well-managed, they said, though both will require more investment.

The two middle stages are less well-managed. These stages, spanning what is often referred to as “the valley of death,” include the development of prototypes to demonstrate viability in the marketplace and the initial implementation of the first full-scale systems by early adopters in the marketplace. These intermediate stages are costly and pose high investment risks, and a modest carbon price will do little to accelerate them.

The book’s analysis of past advances reveals several steps that tend to foster energy innovation: encouraging competition (and always leaving space for new market entrants), making rigorous and timely selections of promising concepts, and matching the scale of the system to the scale of the need. “The current system satisfies none of these,” the authors said.

They think that it’s essential to pursue parallel innovation strategies aimed at different timescales: changes over the next decade focused on efficiency improvements, such as building insulation and gas mileage; mid-range efforts to reduce the costs and risks of known low-carbon energy-supply and electricity-storage technologies; and, from about 2050 on, a third wave of technological deployments drawing on fundamentally new developments in fields such as materials and catalysis.

Petroplus Holdings closed three European refineries in January due to credit line difficulties. According to the company, the restart of the refineries is dependent on economic conditions and credit availability. The shuttered refineries are in Antwerp, Belgium; Petit Couronne, France; and Cressier, Switzerland. The refineries have a combined throughput capacity of approximately 667,000 bpd. Meanwhile, the company’s refineries in the UK and Germany are running at half of their combined 330,000-bpd capacity.

Inpex and Total have finalized sales agreements with customers in Japan and Taiwan for their proposed Ichthys gas-export project in northern Australia, according to the country’s resources minister. The agreements to provide Taiwan’s CPC and Japan’s Chubu Electric Power Co. and Toho Co. with liquefied natural gas (LNG) were first announced in June. Inpex and Total have also agreed to sell LNG from the project to another five Japanese utilities and they are close to making a final investment decision on the project’s construction. Inpex said last June that it had agreed to sell to CPC 1.75 million metric tpy of LNG from the project for 15 years, commencing 2017. It also said it had agreed to sell Chubu Electric 490,000 tpy and Toho 280,000 tpy.

LyondellBasell will shut down two polypropylene (PP) lines in Wesseling, Germany, by mid-2012. The lines, with a combined capacity of 90,000 tpy, are among the company’s smallest and oldest PP production units. A company executive said that it has sufficient capacity to meet the needs of customers in Europe from its larger scale facilities. LyondellBasell produces PP at eight sites in Europe, including facilities in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Enterprise Products Partners has received sufficient transportation commitments to support development of its 1,230-mile Appalachia to Texas pipeline (known as the ATEX Express) that will deliver growing ethane production from the Marcellus/Utica shale areas of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to the US Gulf Coast. ATEX Express will have the capacity to transport up to 190,000 bpd from the Appalachian production areas to the partnership’s storage and distribution assets in Texas. The committed shipper transportation rate will range between 14.5 cents per gallon and 15.5 cents per gallon.

Tesoro plans to sell its Hawaii operations, including the 94,000 bpd Kapolei refinery, operations at 32 retail stations and all associated logistical assets. The company’s president said that Hawaii is not aligned with its strategic focus on the Midwest and West Coast. The Kapolei refinery yield is distillate-focused and is complementary to the on-island demand for utility, jet and military fuels. The facility has the necessary logistics to support product movements to and from the US West Coast or Pacific Rim markets. The Hawaii operations are fully integrated and include a hydrocracking refinery, a network of retail stations, a deep draft single point mooring facility for crude and product movements, proprietary pipelines with connections to business hubs and terminal access and barge operations to supply the major outlying islands.

IHS CERA’s 31st annual executive conference rolls into Houston’s Hilton Americas March 5–9. This year’s CERAWeek will focus on energy’s new role in rebuilding the global economy and providing stability in a volatile time for the international political order. Heavy hitting speakers booked for this event include Martin Craighead, CEO of Baker Hughes; Iain Conn, BP’s executive director; James Hackett, chairman of Anadarko Petroleum; and Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric.  HP 

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