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Editorial comment

The first few months of this year has seen the release of reports from BP, ExxonMobil and Shell providing energy scenarios up to 2030 and 2050. All three reports from the oil majors focus on the future role of fossil fuels and the impact factors that affect the global economy will have on the general energy market. The reports have several things in common, however, three topics are discussed at length and considered to be some of the most important forces likely to affect the future energy industry.

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Economic growth and the increase in population are universally acknowledged to be the biggest driving forces behind energy demand for the foreseeable future. Rex W. Tillerson Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ExxonMobil, is quoted in ExxonMobil – The outlook for energy: A view to 2030 as saying ‘the demand for energy is tied to the human desire for a better life.’ This is whole heartedly agreed upon by all three oil majors in their reports, although it could be argued that this is an obvious and logical conclusion to draw. As the global population increases it is of course inevitable that energy demand will increase.

All three reports also emphasise the future importance of natural gas. It is expected to become the fastest growing energy source to 2030 by BP and ExxonMobil. Peter Voser, CEO, Shell, states in Shell’s Energy scenarios to 2050: Signals and Signposts that he ‘firmly believes that natural gas must make a growing contribution’ to the energy market. The Shell report then continues to comment that natural gas demand will increase as the global energy market seeks lower carbon fuels, cementing both BP and ExxonMobil’s opinion that natural gas will become an important and fast growing energy source.

However, one subject that seems to be the hot topic in the above reports and the energy industry in general is the speed of technological development and the energy efficiency of newly created technologies. The BP Energy Outlook 2030 notes that ‘global energy consumption growth continues, driven by industrialisation in the developing world, but efficiency improvements are likely to accelerate’ and who would decide to disagree? Energy efficiency must increase as carbon legislations are going to come into play more forcefully over the next few years and if industry is to decrease CO2 emissions to the specified levels then energy efficiency is surely key. BP furthers this point in their report stating that ‘in all parts of the world, new energy saving technologies will greatly improve energy efficiency, curbing growth in both demand and emissions.’ Shell appear to agree that energy efficiency is one factor that will help lessen emissions as the report reads, ‘energy efficiency measures, made before the recession and stimulated as part of economic recovery plans, will reduce the energy or carbon intensity of many advanced and developing technologies.’ However, Rex W. Tillerson takes a slightly different stance and ‘sees global demand in 2030 about 35% higher than it was in 2005, even with substantial gains in efficiency’. Tillerson appears to believe that energy efficiency will be enhanced however; it could be suggested that he is not totally convinced it will be improved at a rate equal to the growth in population and global economy which will cause the increase in energy demand.

To take a quick look at this issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering: on page 44 you will find the introductory article to our annual sulfur review from Black & Veatch which discusses if shale gas could result in an end to the sulfur glut. This issue also takes a look at petrochemical processing with an article from CMAI and blending technologies with an article from Honeywell.