Challenges in store: How existing fuel storage and transport infrastructure is crucial to achieving net-zero

15 Mar 2021

Stanlow Manufacturing Complex has been producing fuels for the United Kingdom for the last 60 years. Patrick Walters explains the fundamental role this existing infrastructure can play in creating a Sustainable Energy Hub of the future.

The UK Government has set out its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which will keep the UK leading worldwide innovation in establishing a net-zero future. I believe the Tank Storage Industry will play a key part in the country achieving these goals.

Increasing reliance on Biofuels

As the UK transitions to Zero-Emission Vehicles there will undoubtedly be changes in the fuel we use. Taking into account the practical issues for HGV’s, aviation and the maritime sector, liquid fuel sources will remain in place as part of the net-zero solutions of the future. We can already see a shift towards electrification of vehicles, and while technology advancement is making greater numbers of electric cars available, it will be many years until the private and commercial ICE fleets are fully transitioned.

As part of bridging this gap the UK Government recently announced an increase to 10% Ethanol in petrol to come into force this year. This change is the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road having an immediate effect on emissions hugely welcomed by the industry.

From a storage and logistics perspective, this has resulted in increased demand for Ethanol storage to ensure supply can keep up with consumer demand. These tanks require specialist linings to avoid corrosion and to manage HSSE requirements.

Stanlow Terminals has been working with coatings specialists to develop a suite of linings now being deployed, for multiple biofuel components to re-life existing infrastructure for these new greener fuels. This allows the repurposing of currently unused infrastructure originally built to handle products like fuel oil, a fuel supply in decline.

The fact that existing unused infrastructure can be repurposed has enabled us to provide a faster more economical solution to increasing capacity requirements for this new growing market.

Greener Aviation

As previously mentioned the aviation industry has fundamental challenges in moving away from a traditional liquid fuel particularly with long haul flights and low temperatures at altitude. Therefore it is commonly agreed that a more traditional fuel will continue to be required in this sector. Innovation has therefore been focused on technology to produce a synthetic alternative fuel from a sustainable feedstock.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) of the future will have similar chemical properties to existing Jet fuels therefore not bring with them the challenges of other new fuels in their storage and transportation requirements, meaning existing infrastructure can be used.

Existing infrastructure links was a major factor in Fulcrum BioEnergy selecting Stanlow for the location of their planned SAF Bio-Refinery. Fulcrum, a pioneer in making low-carbon fuels from non-recyclable household waste is due to complete construction of their US plant this year.

The fact that Stanlow has storage tank capacity, development land and links to the existing Manchester Jet Line, the underground pipeline linking Stanlow Terminals to Manchester Airport, made it the primary choice for the development.

Re-tooling for Hydrogen & Carbon Capture

The fuel that is earmarked to play the most important part in the UK achieving net-zero is hydrogen, this is reflected by the prominence the government gave the fuel in its latest energy white paper.

The HyNet project already at an advanced stage of development provides one blueprint for the future. Under its proposals, blue hydrogen – produced from natural gas whilst capturing all CO2 generated from the process – will be produced at Stanlow providing a net-zero fuel to decarbonise industry and heat UK homes. This fundamental change in how we fuel the country will bring significant new requirements for storage and transportation.

One of the uses of hydrogen set out is a net-zero replacement for diesel to fuel HGV’s of the future. In order for a seamless transition to this new fuel a network of fuelling stations will need to be established and ongoing supply methods established. Following this change through the supply chain to source, there will need to be developments in suitable storage, pipelines, road, rail and marine infrastructure. An exciting but substantial change to the industry.

In order to ensure a secure supply of natural gas to feed the blue hydrogen plant it is also likely investment will be required in new regional LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) import terminals accompanied by LNG storage tanks fed directly into the plant. Once the hydrogen is produced there will be a requirement to capture and store all carbon produced from the process and this is where Stanlow Terminals can provide a unique solution utilising existing currently unused infrastructure.

Depleted gas reservoirs under the seabed in Liverpool Bay which were once used to supply natural gas to the UK now form vast empty caverns and are proposed as the location for CO2 storage. Offshore and onshore gas extraction assets with direct pipeline links to the Stanlow site will be repurposed to move CO2 to Liverpool Bay ensuring no carbon is released into the atmosphere during hydrogen production.

This opens up further opportunity for Stanlow Terminals to potentially establish wider access to these storage caverns and enable industry to capture CO2 produced at manufacturing and processing sites around the UK and deliver by road, rail or ship into Stanlow Terminals to ensure safe storage of CO2.

The Green Industrial Revolution

This is why I know that the bulk liquid storage industry will play a major role in achieving net-zero targets by supporting and developing the Sustainable Energy Hubs of the future. The storage and distribution of future fuels, energy sources and CO2 to meet consumer demand while protecting the environment will be a fundamental pillar of UK society and a supply chain ensuring minimal disruption to consumers and industry while maintaining key environmental requirements will be vital in maintaining day to day life as we know it. We should all be very proud of the role we are taking in the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

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