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Schlumberger taps RTI International’s lower-cost CCS tech

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Boosting RTI’s non-aqueous solvent (NAS) technology to industrial scale will help oilfield services firm Schlumberger’s New Energy business.

  • US-based Schlumberger (NYS:SLB) will help scale-up non-profit research institute RTI International’s (RTI) non-aqueous solvent (NAS) technology to industrial scale.
  • RTI has developed NAS, a carbon capture technology, to use less energy and materials in its process, making it more cost effective.
  • Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) will be vital to the transition to net zero, especially for hard-to-abate sectors like oil and gas.

Schlumberger is investing in RTI’s NAS technology to lower CCUS costs. This has been identified by the IEA as one of the main barriers limiting the large-scale deployment of CCUS to help decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors.

For Schlumberger, what this demonstrates is the company’s ability to transition from a traditional fossil fuel sector (oilfield services) to take advantage of greener opportunities through its New Energy business.

It launched Schlumberger New Energy in 2020 to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the need to transition to net zero, seeking to become more than an oilfield services company. The new business is focusing on areas such as battery technology, CCUS, and blue hydrogen. Not only are these facilitators of the energy transition, but they will help Schlumberger help its own traditional client base, its oil and gas clients, with their own transition plans.

Investing to bring RTI’s technology to industrial scale is also a good example of a transition finance project. The lack of adequate transition finance investment ideas has been cited by asset owners and managers as a reason to underinvest in the sector.

RTI’s technology can provide major cost savings on an industrial scale

RTI’s NAS technology enhances the efficiency of absorption based capture capture. By increasing the efficiency of the process and requiring lower energy use for the same end result, it provides cost savings on upfront investment, and ongoing expenses. 

In addition, RTI claims that NAS is also less corrosive than comparable technologies. This eliminates the need to use expensive high-grade alloys in the production equipment used in the process, which also reduces upfront capital costs. The process also retains a high level of CO2, which, according to the IEA, results in a lower cost per ton of CO2 captured.

Chemical absorption is the most advanced and widely adopted of carbon capture technologies. This methodology has been used in large-scale projects globally, in such sectors as power generation, fuel transformation and industrial production.

Lower cost carbon capture fills a large gap in decarbonisation market

The development and deployment of low-cost CCUS technologies is critical in meeting global net zero goals. The amount of CO2 being captured today, according to BNEF, is 43 million tons per year. To align with the net zero by 2050 pathway, BNEF estimates would require the capture of 1 and 2 billion tons of CO2 per year, by 2030.

Cost is one the major factors inhibiting the widespread deployment of CCUS, according to the IEA.  Costs can also vary depending on the application, with high concentration CO2 streams costing $15-25 per ton, while dilute streams could range between $40 and $120 per ton. The large ranges also have to do with many technologies still not having reached industrial scale.

SLB’s interest in low-cost CCUS go beyond traditional oil and gas services

SLB’s New Energy has expanded its portfolio of services to target several new hard-to-abate sectors. The new service areas include carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), geoenergy and geothermal power, battery technologies, and hydrogen production. Its interest in developing CCS solutions also goes beyond its traditional oil and gas client base.

It has identified a few key sectors suited to developing its CCS offering on an industrial scale. These include blue hydrogen, bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), and cement and steel. BECSS in particular is considered a critical technology globally, because it plays a significant role in the IPCC’s view of how to achieve net zero.

Hydrogen mania will create a huge demand for CCUS

The IEA has identified CCUS as being the cheapest option available to decarbonise ammonia and methane production. The cost of ammonia used to produce electrolytic hydrogen, however, is 50-115% higher than its unabated counterpart, according to the IEA calculations.

A total of 26 governments have made commitments to hydrogen as clean fuel. The IEA forecasts a near-doubling in hydrogen demand by 2030 to reach 180 million tons per year. Of this 37 million tons per year is expected to come from hydrogen production using fossil fuel and CCUS. This number could be much higher if renewable energy capacity is unable to scale-up fast enough to meet green hydrogen demand.

SLB’s investment to scale RTI’s technology is a good example of a transition finance opportunity. Making more investors aware of this could be a way to direct more funds towards transition finance, which is also becoming an urgent need.

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