The transition to Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and a renewed sensibility towards the reduction of greenhouse gasses have opened the way to a new swathe of opportunities for players in the gas and oil industry. Refiners and oil producers have put in place a variety of strategies to establish their future relevance as energy providers. The importance of reducing carbon emission as a bridge towards a Carbon-free society, has brought the industry to focus on already available solutions smoothening the impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Carbon-free crudes and biofuels production represent the most feasible products for the industry in the short-medium terms.

Industry outlook

2020 has hit hard on the Gas and Oil sector plunging global crude oil production to 94.24 in 2020 and dropping US refineries operations to -70%, a level not seen from Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

Even though estimates show a production rate improvement by 2022, the transportation sector which alone accounts for 66% of global oil usage, dealt a heavy blow to the oil and gas industry (1). Seaborne trade registered a cargo volume drop of -27%, whereas passenger air traffic fell by -80. Widespread lockdowns have diminished car sales and the use of cars in general, as people have increasingly started working from home.

The fossil fuel industry is now at a crossroads regarding its relevance in the future of energy. On one end it lays the old traditional way, solely focused on harnessing yields out of environmentally “dirty” energy sources whilst on the other there’s a future full of challenges but also of opportunities, which think of fossil fuels and their derivatives as a bridge towards environmentally sustainable energies.

Why is important to diminish greenhouse gasses’ emissions?

Carbon dioxide is mostly a by-product of fossil fuels combustion and accounts for 80% of the Greenhouse gasses mix in the atmosphere (2). These gasses are responsible for trapping heat coming as sunrays to earth, consequently increasing temperatures on our planet.

If these gasses are linked to human activities, humans can also put a leash on their emissions. Luckily, the idea of countering environmental and pollution issues has made its way into many oil and gas companies’ strategies, eyeing at reducing or eliminating carbon emissions.

Fossil fuels are set to stay relevant in the short and medium terms as they represent a cost-effective energetic source compared to the still-developing renewable technologies, but forward-looking players and more investments are needed to create economies of scale for products like carbon free crudes and biofuels.

The Short and Mid-terms

A prominent example of an adapting player is Saras, one of the biggest refineries in the Mediterranean Basin with a daily output capacity of 300,000 barrels defining an industry model in terms of efficiency and environmental sustainability, thanks to its more than 60 years of know-how. Saras’ location in Sardinia, at the center of the Mediterranean Sea, provides the strategic advantage of being at the crossroad between Africa and Europe. However, Sardinia’s wild nature and scarcely populated lands, have made this Island a unique oasis for wildlife and Mediterranean flora, propelling the creation of one of Italy’s tighter environment protection policies.

With the purpose of being an innovative and responsible energy provider, Saras has developed numerous projects aimed at minimizing the environmental impact of crude refining activities. The group has at its core values the protection of the local natural environment and the creation of values and growth for local communities, providing direct and indirect employment.

The Saras Group has been implementing a strategy focused on two main medium-term strategies at its Sarroch refinery, in Sardinia. On the one hand, it has maintained its plants in the most efficient manner, regularly installing new equipment with higher efficiency, in order to reduce direct energy consumption and direct CO2 emissions. On the other hand, it has recently focused on developing biofuels, expanding its production capacity whilst reducing its carbon content, providing Saras’ customers with reduced indirect CO2 emissions fuels.

Indeed, there’s always room for improvement in reducing fossil fuel CO2 emission, and there’s a higher demand in the short term for cleaner refined products. As a European Commission report finds out, oil extraction and production phases account for about 20% to 25% of car engines well to wheel emissions (3). If refineries and oil producers can face this challenge properly, cars and airplanes in a few years from now will have up to a ¼ cumulative emissions reduction.

Carbon neutral crude oil

Among the various initiatives taken by the Saras Group to reduce carbon emissions, there has been also the recent purchase, in April 2021, of the world’s first-ever certified carbon neutrally produced crude oil (4). Saras and Lunding Energy, an experienced Scandinavian oil and gas company, share the same view on the future of fossil fuels, agreeing on how crucial it is to improve on current technologies and on neutralizing the refining and extraction processes polluting effects.

Star Sardinia had the honor of providing its support and services to the incoming CO2-free cargoes from Norway sharing its experience and knowledge with the client. Its 40 years plus experience, 20 of which ISO certified, have led the tanker service agency into providing its services efficiently oriented to problem-solving.

Biofuels

Biofuels represent another short-term solution in diminishing carbon emissions and will be increasingly relevant for the road transport sector as European directives eye a target of 14% of the total fuel mix by 2030. Biofuels can not only substitute gasoline and diesel but they could also be produced by recycling waste. For instance, hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) yields ample benefits as these can be directly used to power diesel engines without modifications while at the same time taking care of environmentally unfriendly palm and waste oils. Particularly, this type of biofuel (produced from waste), does not require ad hoc crop cultivation, and it drastically reduces the burden of disposal of used oils.

Saras has renewed its pledge of building up its biofuels production capacities, aiming to boost its HVO production at its Sarroch plants from 50,000-100,000 t/yr to 250,000/300,000 t/yr (5). Moreover, Saras plans to blend biofuels also into the Gasoline pool, either by adding bio-ethanol or, even better, by using TAEE (tert-Amyl ethyl ether), a chemical compound, classified as an ether, and used as a fuel oxygenate. Saras refinery in Sarroch already has the know-how and capability of producing TAEE at a specific plant, which is currently idle.

LNG

Liquid Natural gases are thought to be a relevant substitute for mineral fuels and for energy production. Two main feasibility studies have been made for the construction in Sardinia of an LNG storage and regasification facility and a ‘peaker’ power plant. LNG will serve as a medium in the generation of electricity in the coming decades as it leaves a lower polluting footprint on the environment and is much safer to store.

Conclusion

Saras’ goal of protecting the environment and the local economy has been echoed by its efforts in implementing carbon emission reduction, direct and indirect, including through the use of alternative fuels. Biofuels, LNG, and neutrally produced crude oils can in the medium term be effective measures in filling the gap for renewable energies to catch up with fossil fuels in becoming the energetic sources of the future.

Sardinian tanker service agencies will maintain a relevant role in the future if they’ll be able to adapt and make these targets their own. Star Sardinia is ready for the future and is striving to improve and provide a better service for its clients, believing in Saras’ eco-sustainable drive and its capacity to futureproof its energy business.

[1] https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/use-of-oil.php[2] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases[3] https://www.fch.europa.eu/sites/default/files/Hydrogen%20Roadmap%20Europe_Report.pdf[4] https://www.lundin-energy.com/worlds-first-certified-carbon-neutrally-produced-oil-sold/[5] https://www.argusmedia.com/en/news/2128424-italys-saras-eyes-hvo-ethanol-expansion-at-sarroch