For years I’ve been very critical of the oil industry for a great many reasons, and one of my pet peeves has been their stunning lack of business foresight.
It seems there are two primary responses a company in the oil industry could make concerning the reality that not only is there a finite supply of the fossil fuel they deal in, but that the burning of this fuel is contributing to a planetary climate crisis.
- You can bury your head in the sands of denial and even obstruct the development of eco-friendly renewable fuels; or
- You can assure your company’s long-term survival and prosperity by taking the lead in the development of eco-friendly renewable fuels.
After all, the oil companies already have R&D departments, supply line infrastructure, and production and distribution facilities all over the world. It is so painfully obvious that planes, trains, and automobiles aren’t going to disappear, and so the market for fuel will always be there. It’s just a matter of producing, distributing and selling a different product to all those users.
Sadly, the oil industry has mostly opted for the sands of denial and short-term profit mongering, crying pathetically when governments want to subsidize renewable energy development projects because, they claim, it will harm their business. They even tread out the shameful scare tactic that they’d be forced to lay off thousands of people if they lose a lot of business.
You know, when big box stores come to town and put Mom and Pop shops out of business, you’ll hear free market sycophants say that it’s all about survival of the fittest, and that if Ma and Pa aren’t creative and resourceful and competitive enough then it’s not the fault of the big box stores if they fail. And yet, you won’t likely hear the same person say that the oil industry is to blame if their companies fail because they refused to respond to the geological and meteorological realities by taking action to adapt, develop renewable fuels, and secure their future.
Well, it seems that Shell Oil is at least making an effort, however small, in the right direction.
No, it’s not some deadly new virus.
Fresh from winning $64,000 worth of funding from Shell’s low-carbon technology contest, UK-based Cella Energy recently revealed an innovative, inexpensive and safe method for storing hydrogen. Using nanotechnology, Cella has developed ‘micro beads’ – 30 times smaller than a grain of sand – that can trap and release hydrogen when heated. And because the beads are small enough to flow like liquid, refuelling could even be done at any gas station.
What’s more at $1.50 per gallon, and with one tank capable of powering an average car for 300-400 miles, the benefits don’t stop at the environment. “In some senses hydrogen is the perfect fuel,” says Professor Stephen Bennington, head of the scientific team behind the fuel. “It has three times more energy than gasoline per unit, can be used in a standard combustion engine, and when it burns it produces nothing but water.” The micro beads can also be used as an additive to conventional gasoline. Because so much hydrogen production occurs at oil refineries it would be possible to seamlessly integrate Cella’s technology into the supply chain for conventional fuels. The micro-beads can even be returned to oil refineries where they could be refuelled using existing hydrogen production facilities.
Sure, it will take a HELL of a lot more than Shell’s $64,000 to get this product into fuel tanks all over the world, but it’s the most promising technology that I’ve read about in a very long time.
They’ve got a snazzy website highlighting their efforts in the areas of the environment and society, so let’s hope their keep putting their money where they mouth is so we can celebrate even more progress.