The future is today: Enabling greener oil and gas production is already here

By Dr Dave Edlund, Element 1

Element 1’s hydrogen generators are modular and highly scalable up to 500 kilograms per day of fuel cell grade hydrogen from methanol, while maintaining breakthrough economics
Element 1’s hydrogen generators are modular and highly scalable up to 500 kilograms per day of fuel cell grade hydrogen from methanol, while maintaining breakthrough economics (illustration: Element 1)

Balancing the mounting external pressure with the global need for oil and gas to remain in the energy mix is a delicate act. Dr Dave Edlund, co-founder and CEO of Element 1, discusses a potential option available to those operating in the remote and offshore oil and gas industries.

Regulatory bodies, legislative frameworks, and broader societal pressure have all contributed to place the issue of sustainability high on the agenda for industries across the globe. The energy sector is not immune from this push for decarbonisation, and the end-users of oil, including governments, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders are all progressing their increasingly ambitious environmental targets and compliance-focused milestones.

Most major players within the industry have committed to reducing emissions, but with oil and gas production remaining critically important to the energy mix, at least for the medium term, the path for the industry to drive toward a cleaner, greener future appears relatively complex. For those in the offshore and remote energy sectors, the limitations of infrastructure and the technology required to operate efficiently present a particularly unique challenge.

Hydrogen alternative
Remote and offshore oil and gas operations currently rely on heavily polluting diesel generators, so while oil and gas continue to play an important role in the energy mix, it’s important for operators to take advantages of opportunities to make immediate environmental gains and contribute to the global decarbonisation effort.

This transition won’t happen overnight, but there is technology already available today that can reduce or even remove the need for diesel generators and provide a more environmentally friendly, yet still operationally efficient, platform to work from. Unable to take advantage of grid infrastructure or onshore solutions, offshore and remote production needs to look at alternative, yet proven methods, such as replacing existing diesel generators with methanol-based, on-site, on-demand hydrogen generation technology. As some of the heaviest carbon emitters, offshore oil and gas operations need to view decarbonisation as a journey, taking the appropriate steps at the right time to make progress.

There is no “one size fits all” solution here, so understanding the options available, and taking advantage of technology that is already in-play, is an important first step on that journey. Methanol powered hydrogen generation, such as that provided and developed by Element 1, is one such option, and deserves a seat at the table as the discussions and actions for the industry are ongoing.

Element 1 hydrogen generation technology is modular, scalable, mobile, and economic, and can produce hydrogen whenever and wherever you need it
Element 1 hydrogen generation technology is modular, scalable, mobile, and economic, and can produce hydrogen whenever and wherever you need it (illustration: Element 1)

Methanol feedstock
Using methanol as its feedstock, Element 1’s technology presents a scalable solution for those operating in remote environments. If there is capability to deploy diesel generators, then Element 1’s hydrogen generation (paired with fuel cells or hydrogen-combustion engines) presents a cleaner, greener alternative.

This unique technology is one example of a “quick win” for operators, because it can play a role today in helping the oil and gas industry reduce its carbon footprint, with a minimal capex requirement. The use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel is a developing conversation across many industries but presents storage and transportation issues (both safety-related and economic) that would require a shift in operational procedure and a cost-heavy, comprehensive conversion of the existing infrastructure.

Using methanol-based hydrogen production technology removes that barrier. For those remote and offshore sites that currently run and rely on diesel-fuelled generators, everything in place to transport and store significant amounts of fuel. As methanol has similar characteristics and properties to diesel, much of the existing infrastructure can be used immediately, or at the least, cost-effectively converted.

Lowering carbon intensity
Operators can choose between hydrogen fuel cells or hydrogen combustion generators depending on their operational requirements. Both options would provide an immediate reduction in emissions, and the use of renewable or green methanol results in a very low (even negative) overall carbon intensity.

Even with the use of grey methanol, the technology provides a significant reduction in air pollution and allows operators to take those first steps and develop their knowledge and supply chain as they embark on their respective net-zero pathways. As the production and availability of green methanol continues to progress, its cost-competitiveness will continue to improve, allowing many within the sector to take advantage and transition to net-zero electrical power generation.

With the ultimate end-goal of net-zero oil extraction, hydrogen generation technology, such as offered by Element 1, presents an important stepping-stone for those in the industry whose sustainable efforts are perhaps sometimes hamstrung by the demands of their operating environment or infrastructure requirements.

Improved green credentials
The multi-directional pressure on the energy industry to clean up its act is clear for everybody to see, but the global reliance on oil and gas, while set to reduce over the coming decades, presents a unique situation. The world can’t turn off the taps just yet, but with a proactive approach and the right level of collaboration and investment, the oil and gas sector can take positive steps toward and improve its green credentials.

Dr Dave Edlund, co-founder and CEO of Element 1Dave Edlund is the co-founder and CEO of Element 1 Corp, headquartered in Bend, Oregon, USA. Dr Edlund graduated from the University of Oregon in 1987 with a Ph.D. in chemistry, and has worked developing fuel cells, hydrogen generation technology, and hydrogen purification membranes for 35 years. He has authored an engineering textbook on methanol conversion to hydrogen, as well as chapters on hydrogen purification technology in two other engineering texts. Dr Edlund holds 116 US patents and more than 350 foreign patents.