Executive interview sponsored by Pall Corporation
On the surface, the energy transition may appear rather simple—clean energy sources, primarily wind and solar, need to replace fossil fuels to decarbonize the electric grid and support sustainable practices.
But the enabling forces behind the energy transition are far more complicated.
Advanced filtration and purity technologies, like those pioneered by Pall Corporation, are critical to realizing the promise of green hydrogen, fuel cells, and biofuels, not to mention the repurposing of entrenched oil and gas infrastructure.
To better understand these opportunities, and the challenges that lie ahead, Renewable Energy World interviewed Pall Corporation president Naresh Narasimhan about what’s next for the energy transition.
As a corporation with support operations in both oil and gas, as well as clean energies, where do you see the energy transition most on display?
We see a major transformation in the oil and gas industry. More oil and gas companies are setting net-zero emissions goals and prioritizing efforts to decarbonize operations.
Gas processing is hugely significant because gases burn cleaner – as far as fossil fuels are concerned – and if that is combined with carbon capture, it allows the gas industry to operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities in the energy transition?
Co-processing, where biomass can be converted to biofuel in refineries that have traditionally processed oil and gas, is a big opportunity. When existing machinery can be used without the need to build completely new refineries customers can realize the benefit of producing cleaner fuel from organic sources with minimal expense. In many cases, Pall has existing partnerships with these refiners, and they trust Pall filtration technologies to achieve the high standards of purity and stability of their output regardless of feedstock or final product type.
The hydrogen industry is generating a lot of excitement, though it is specifically green hydrogen that is showing a lot of promise. The electrolyzers that separate water into hydrogen and oxygen are powered by renewables such as wind or solar, so there are no polluting emissions. When hydrogen is burned as a fuel source, the only by-product is water vapor.
What are some of the challenges facing legacy energy operators who would like to transition to more sustainable processes?
One of the biggest challenges is cost. If any large piece of industrial equipment must be extensively altered or if new equipment is needed, it can be very expensive. It can also be disruptive because operators need to maintain a baseline of energy supply while any changes are made. The option of using existing equipment with minor adaptions or processing alternative material using existing infrastructure makes the transition to a more sustainable process a reality for legacy energy operators.
What trends are you seeing in the market with the evolution of e-fuels, like green hydrogen, and how do we most effectively support growth in those areas?
Green hydrogen is a key focus for an emissions-free, but to make it economically viable is a real challenge. Energy companies are investing a significant amount in green hydrogen production and electrolyzers, as the economies of scale will mean that the cost of production will start to come down.
Pall helps these organizations by supplying the solutions needed to make the process efficient and suitable for requirements. For example, the regulations around gas purity specifications are extremely stringent. Usually, concentrations between 2,000-6,000 ppm (parts per million) of oxygen and more than 2,000 ppm of water contaminate the hydrogen produced using commercial alkaline electrolysis. The maximum concentration allowed for fuel cell vehicles is 5 ppm of each under the ISO standard for hydrogen fuel quality. The various filters and separators we make enable customers to meet the required standards.
In many countries and industries, there are also requirements stipulating ratios of biofuel to petroleum fuel, and although biofuels and petroleum fuels can be used with existing equipment, minimizing the need for major infrastructure alterations, it also poses a challenge as biofuels and petroleum fuels can form naturally occurring gels which cause clogged fluid paths and filters which negatively impact operation.
Pall recently worked with a mining company in Indonesia to help address this challenge. The Indonesian Government mandates that a minimum of 30% palm oil is mixed with petrodiesel for use as biodiesel, which is a big challenge for the mining industry due to the reliance on diesel to power machinery. To address this challenge, Pall developed a variant of the Ultipleat High Flow filter that has gel-resistant properties and removes gel and other contaminants to keep fuel flowing at an optimum rate.
Solutions like this, that are showing results in the field, will continue to enable the evolution of e-fuels.
What do you see as the biggest headwinds facing the energy transition, and how do we overcome them?
Commercialization of technologies is always going to be an initial barrier, but innovation leads to progress. Wind power was incredibly expensive a decade ago as the output from the turbines was small, but technology has improved conditions and the cost is now lower or at least on a par with traditional energy sources. This is something that must be replicated for hydrogen.
What advantages does a supplier with exposure to several industries, even outside of energy, have over a single-purpose provider navigating the energy transition?
Pall has been operating for more than 75 years with expertise in many sectors including energy and power generation, industrial manufacturing, aerospace, chemicals and polymers, microelectronics, and food and beverage.
This diversification gives us stability overall, but it also allows us to identify synergies across our key industries and apply best practices across our entire portfolio. The common factor is filtration and separation, and Pall has provided solutions for some major international milestones including the first moon walk in 1969, the Three Mile Island remediation in Pennsylvania in 1979, the construction of the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France, and COVID-19 vaccine scale-up. We remain at the forefront of applications for safety and efficiency in many sectors.
How do you approach market uncertainty, while acknowledging the urgency of the energy transition?
No matter what challenges the market is facing, close collaboration with customers is critical. By understanding the key challenges of our customers, Pall is able to build strong partnerships and develop optimal solutions that meet current and future needs.
The key is to balance the urgency of the energy transition with customers need to maximize the investment in existing equipment and infrastructure so they can continue to operate efficiently while transitioning to more sustainable manufacturing practices.
As an example, pyrolysis – where items such as plastic containers and car tires are thermally decomposed in an oxygen-free environment, and the vapor is condensed to create oil, gas, and ash – is showing promise as the waste-to-energy trend is building momentum. Pall has seen an increased interest in pyrolysis due to increasingly stringent targets on recycling. This technology has the potential to develop rapidly.
Are you active in the primary renewable markets?
Yes, we supply filtration technology for wind farms and associated service companies. We’ve recently signed a European agreement with a major energy and oil supply company to provide filtration to achieve the exacting cleanliness standards for a leading brand of wind turbine lubrication oil. It is vital that the operation of the fluids in the turbines works properly in order for the unit as a whole to function optimally. The variations of temperature and weather where turbines are located require different operational considerations, and our experience with customers in various geographic areas and climates enable us to provide the right solution no matter the situation.
Our technologies are also applied in the manufacture of photovoltaic panels supporting the solar power industry. By implementing our effective filter technologies to eliminate sub-micronic contamination, photovoltaic process stability can be achieved, and the necessary process conditions sustained leading to higher production yields and lower operating costs.
Overall, energy transition strategies should not only make the best use of locally available resources, but also look at what can be brought in from other regions in an environmentally friendly way. At Pall, we can help customers work out what will take them to the next level of diversified, commercially viable, and sustainable operations.
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Author: Renewable Energy World