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May-2022

Decarbonisation transformation of Shell’s Pernis refinery

Pernis refinery will play a key role in Shell’s transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 through a number of strategies involving biofuels, green hydrogen, and CCS

Andy Gosse
Shell Catalysts & Technologies

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Article Summary

The decarbonisation of a refinery goes well beyond seeking out energy efficiency savings. Many refineries are already very energy efficient, but most of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with their energy products come from the products’ end use: 85% of these emissions, in fact. Consequently, decarbonising a refinery also means making lower-carbon energy products.

One of Shell’s largest facilities is Pernis refinery in Rotterdam. In this article, I will describe the major transformations that are under way to see it become Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam, equipped to supply customers with lower-carbon products.

Need for more and cleaner energy solutions

Shell’s purpose for many years has been to provide more and cleaner energy solutions. It is clear that the world of the future will need more energy. Its population is growing, and people will use even more energy as living standards improve. Climate change is very real, and there are many examples in the form of extreme weather events, so cleaner energy is essential.

Powering Progress is Shell’s strategy setting out how the organisation will accelerate its transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. This ambitious process will be achieved in a purposeful and profitable manner. There are four pillars to this strategy, as shown in Figure 1.

The Powering Lives pillar is about providing cleaner solutions to customers to support an inclusive society. The Respecting Nature pillar sees an increased focus on sustainability and reducing waste.

Another pillar, Generating Shareholder Value, is about remaining profitable through the energy transition. Significant investment is required to facilitate the energy transition so that the future energy state can be achieved. This means keeping the core business healthy today to generate income and shareholder value. Capital discipline is key to this strategy.

The fourth pillar, Achieving Net-Zero Emissions, sets out how Shell aims to work with its customers to accelerate the change towards the widespread use of low-carbon products. Most of the carbon emissions associated with Shell’s businesses are those produced when customers use our products. Only 10-15% of the total associated emissions directly emanate from our own operations. The remaining 85-90% of  GHG emissions come from product end uses, for example, when vehicles burn our fuels. We will help to empower the transition of our customers’ businesses to net zero by providing them with lower-carbon fuels and alternative energy sources.

In the short, medium and longer terms, Shell has set goals and targets that will help to enable the transition to net zero by 2050. Some examples of milestones for 2030 involve eliminating routine flaring and a shift away from oil production. Oil production peaked in 2019 and is expected to decline at 1-2% per annum. Natural gas is seen as a key fuel in the energy transition and is likely to account for 55% of hydrocarbon production in coming years.

Shell also aims to double the amount of low-carbon electricity it sells to customers to provide the equivalent of 50 million homes with renewable electricity by 2030.

For the transport sector, Shell, already one of the biggest producers of biofuels, will grow its low-carbon fuel production by eight times.

Where direct product decarbonisation is not possible or not enough, Shell is targeting 25 Mt/y of CCS by 2035 and planning, in the longer term, about 120 Mt/y of nature-based solutions, including reforestation programmes.

Future of refining at Pernis: an integrated energy and chemicals park

One piece of the solutions jigsaw puzzle is Pernis refinery. One of the largest in Europe, Pernis refinery has a 400,000 b/d capacity and a complexity enabling the processing of many different crude types. The site is already deeply integrated with chemicals production.

We are transforming Pernis refinery into an integrated energy and chemicals park that will deliver low-carbon products. This transformation is already under way. Whereas the traditional feed has been crude oil, in the future, biomass, waste oil and gas, hydrogen and plastic and municipal solid waste will become significant feedstocks, with renewables providing a principal energy source, as seen in Figure 2.

The shift in feedstocks aims to broaden the site’s product slate to include, for example, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and biofuels. This represents a move away from the petrochemicals and transport fuels currently produced. The production of performance chemicals and bitumen will continue, as will waste process heat capture to provide district heating for buildings.

Carbon capture has been in operation at Pernis refinery for several years, with the carbon dioxide (CO₂) being fed to local horticultural sites to encourage plant growth. In the future, significantly more CO₂ will be sequestered via CCS.

The decarbonisation activities set to transform Pernis refinery are integrated into the three classic decarbonisation pathways, as shown in Figure 3.

Pathway 1: Increase energy efficiency

Pathway 1 targets energy efficiency. Across all of Shell’s downstream assets, teams are working to reduce the carbon intensity of refinery operations. At the Pernis site, a recent energy-efficiency programme helped to cut CO₂ emissions by the equivalent of the annual emissions of 50,000 cars. Our industry has been trying to find efficiency savings opportunities for years, but an integrated decarbonisation strategy that includes mitigating GHG emissions goes well beyond this.

Pathways 2 and 3 represent the biggest departure from historical activities at the Pernis site. In Pathway 2, the central aim is to help our customers decarbonise, so we need to provide them with lower-carbon energy products. For this, Pernis refinery will be producing green hydrogen and biofuels via exciting new processes. Pathway 3 involves significantly increasing the level of CCS via the Porthos project.


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