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Tomorrow’s mobility: Driving the future

The Future of Energy (Part 3)

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change once again made climate protection and CO2 emissions a topic of global discussion. But measures to reduce CO2 emissions already influence our business not only since Paris.

How will climate protection affect our industry? And what do oil and gas companies have to do to remain successful in 2030? These questions are being discussed at length in our industry. We are using this as an opportunity to explore the issue of “The Future of Energy” in a series of blog articles. Part 1 dealt with “The IEA’s view on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change”. Part 2 elucidated how returning to our core competency can mean a step towards the future. In this Part 3 Paul Schöffl explores the issue of “The Mobility of the Future”.

We assume that the fuel mix available at future filling stations will be very broad. Even though fossil fuels will continue to play a major role, electromobility in the form of electricity and hydrogen is already a feature today and will continue to gain popularity.
Paul Schöffl, Expert New Technology, OMV Aktiengesellschaft

Paul Schöffl:
Opportunity knocks

The climate policy will largely be determined by the transport policy, among others. How will people get around in the future? What will the power source be? What are the concepts behind this? And above all: will OMV still earn money with this in the future? These are some of the questions that Paul Schöffl, who is responsible for new technologies, sustainable refinery commodities and hydrogen as part of Innovation Management, has been addressing.

Developing renewable energy, the climate goals on reducing emissions and progress in alternative drive systems are rapidly gaining momentum and are consolidating into an expanding growth market for electric drive systems. This is a development that OMV is responding to with its planned entry into SMATRICS, thereby taking a step towards electromobility.

But OMV is already looking further ahead. When E-mobility calls for large ranges or heavy freight, then energy sources with a higher energy density are required—and this is where hydrogen comes in. “The energy density of hydrogen is 100 times higher than the common battery. A Fuel cell in a vehicle transforms hydrogen into electricity which then powers an electric motor. This reduces the weight and above all the amount of time, as the heavy vehicle batteries can be much smaller and that means that they also recharge much more quickly”, says Paul Schöffl.

The good news: today OMV already meets every requirement for providing hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles. Hydrogen is far from a new element for OMV; for example, the OMV refinery in Schwechat produces around 50,000 tonnes of conventional hydrogen from its natural gas steam reforming. However, so-called green hydrogen can also be generated from renewable energy sources, for example in the Wind2Hydrogen pilot plant in Auersthal.

“We assume that the fuel mix available at future filling stations will be very broad. Even though fossil fuels will continue to play a major role, electromobility in the form of electricity and hydrogen is already a feature today and will continue to gain popularity”, says Paul Schöffl.

These considerations are also in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and the EU White Paper on Transport, which cut transport emissions step-by-step. This will allow savings of up to 60% of CO2 if we use fuel-cell cars with a mix of 2/3 conventional and 1/3 green hydrogen. These approaches fit in well with the OMV business model—and a mix like this makes sense in terms of security of supply: the disadvantage of renewable energy sources such as wind and sun is that they must be stored in order to provide stable availability. The share of conventional hydrogen is a good solution for balancing out production fluctuations.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

It all sounds logical. So why isn’t it all happening already? The technological advances alone are not enough for alternative drive systems to take off. “In order for technological advances to be put into practice, projects have to be economically feasible and this requires a certain level of demand among customers. This in turn requires affordability, comfort and security of supply—key decision-making criteria when purchasing a vehicle. And finally, the state also has an interest in having its say. Not only in terms of the legal framework and state subsidies, but also in terms of tax receipts”. This means that there are a great deal of factors that have to come together before theoretical concepts can become part of our everyday lives.

Nevertheless—a pure fuel switch will not solve every problem. “There are likely to be a variety of transport concepts tailored to the varying needs of town and country, freight and passenger transport, aviation and marine travel, and rail and road transport”.

Paul Schöffl believes that the ongoing developments in driverless vehicles will have an increasingly strong impact on this transport vision of the future. “If you think about the intensity with which companies such as Tesla, Google and Uber are driving this development, driverless cars or car-sharing fleets will lead to a fall, at least in urban centers, in the number of people who own their own car”, says Paul Schöffl. The most recent urban planning developments also point in this direction: “Modern housing projects, for example, are starting to include a smaller number of parking spaces—and those that are planned are not directly beside the apartment blocks, but in a central location. In this way urban planning is having a very deliberate influence on the way we get around as individuals.

Hydrogen – a green energy solution of the future

But what does this then mean for OMV? “OMV has lots of coals in the fire in order to be able to react to the changes and also to proactively shape them. Once good example is the OMV partnership with Verbund, which plans cooperation at the level of the operating business and which will support the transformation process of the two companies on the energy market.

Here hydrogen also plays a central role. As in the field of mobility, it has a wide range of possible applications in industry. In concrete terms, OMV is exploring the application of green hydrogen as an industrial feedstock as well as for energy storage in order to balance out the volatile energy production from renewables.

More on it in the following video:

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