As the push to control carbon emissions intensifies so the number of oil&gas people engaging in the battle grows. One such person is Tom Baxter, unit director of Genesis Oil & Gas Consultants in Aberdeen.
Baxter is clear about why he has joined the battle lines.
“I’m of the opinion that the facts are indisputable; CO is affecting how we live and we have to do something about it,” he told Energy.
“At Genesis, I’m trying to position the company as having expertise in a number of areas associated with carbon, and that’s primarily around energy efficiency and carbon capture. I’m no expert on the climate-change piece, but all the evidence I can think of says we have to do something about it. It sounds trite, but I don’t want my grandchildren looking at me and saying, ‘You did what?’.”
So what is he doing as a senior consulting engineer with more than 30 years’ track record?
“We’re doing what we can. It takes two forms … one is energy efficiency … designing and operating facilities that are low carbon generators for what they do; and the other area is capturing carbon and moving it to a safe place of storage, or using that CO for enhancing oil recovery.”
Indeed, Genesis was closely involved in the ultimately aborted Miller project and it was clear from what Baxter said that he did not necessarily agree with the model being pursued by BP and its partners.
“One aspect of the BP scheme where I thought the company maybe missed a trick was the use of a reformer that would take the methane delivered at pressure from the offshore field. It would be reformed at around 25Bar to syngas, CO, CO and H. The technology that BP wanted to use to capture the CO to then take it back offshore was an amine unit.
“The technology that struck me that probably would have been better would be a membrane unit where you take the hydrogen/CO across a membrane and capture the CO at 25Bar, so saving energy. We mentioned that to BP, but the view was that membrane technology wasn’t developed enough to propose that whereas amine units are standard.
“In terms of technology development, I’m not sure that 250-300MW hydrogen turbines are any better developed than membrane units in terms of application.”
Genesis continues its CO EOR work, but in Abu Dhabi, not the North Sea, though some of the action is taking place in Aberdeen. However, it is engaged in the UK Government’s CO power station demonstrator, helping potential operators define the engineering and costs associated with the CO.
It is important to realise that Genesis Aberdeen and London are both involved in such work, ploughing mostly different, but complementary, furrows. Broadly, Aberdeen consultancy services are 90% UKCS-related, versus 90% foreign for London.
Baxter said: “We’ve done a number for CO studies. Strategically, I see it as a very important and growing piece of the energy business. My aspiration is to have Genesis as the first port of call for a client company that’s looking for expertise in capture and transportation of CO.”
One of the puzzles for Baxter is that upstream oil&gas arrived at energy conservation late in the day.
“My background is downstream, where energy was king. It was a substantial part of your operating budget. So we really looked after energy. It was an eye-opener when I moved into upstream in the late ’70s/early ’80s. The view there was that we had energy to burn. It just wasn’t a feature.
“Downstream, we weren’t chasing energy because of an understanding of carbon. It was just good business. Energy was expensive. In some onshore plant, you were taking your energy from the grid, and you made sure you took as little energy out of that as you could. Some people view it as magic. It’s not. That’s what mechanical, chemical and electrical engineers do … they look after energy. A big part of your training is energy-related.”
Baxter is a self-confessed technology anorak, but believes it has a vital role to play in the low-carbon future, including the application of so-called optimisation techniques.
“If you’re a mathematician, you would know there are new optimisers coming forward called ‘evolutionary optimisers’. What we’re trying to do is look at the jargon a mechanical or chemical engineer would use in heat and mass balance … the movement of energy … analysis and overlay these ‘genetic optimisers’ to test the heat and mass balance that’s actually got to a point of minimum energy.
“We’ve got a demonstration that has one operator interested, and they have asked us to use this evolutionary optimiser on their asset to see if we can do something to minimise energy usage.
“This is about reconfiguring the pressures and temperatures within an upstream process. As you disturb one temperature or one pressure, there is a knock-on. In some cases, the optimisations are obvious.
“In complex flow sheets where you have a lot of petroleum gases being condensed and recycled back into the processes, a human brain isn’t big enough to work out from a pertubation in one area what it does in another. But the optimiser can look at this field of numbers and potentially get you to a better place than you are now from the energy point of view.
“We think optimisation techniques apply to energy. In some ways, it’s not new. They certainly did it in refineries, but evolutionary optimiser/genetic optimiser, as the mathematicians call it … we’re pretty excited about the application of that technique.”