COPENHAGEN, Denmark – While the wind industry is striving to eliminate hydrocarbons an energy source, thus cutting CO2 emissions, wind turbines still use hydrocarbons as a lubricant. With that in mind, Royal Dutch Shell announced on 26 November at WindEurope Offshore 2019 in Copenhagen its gearbox oil for wind turbines, Shell Omala S5 Wind 320, is now carbon neutral.

“The whole wind industry is about eliminating hydrocarbons a power source but we’re still using hydrocarbons as a lubricant within this area,” Richard Tucker, Shell’s general manager for B2B Lubricants and Supply Chain Technology, told New Europe in an interview in Copenhagen on 26 November. “We’ve tried to reduce the amount by particularly by extending the life of the lubricants. So, the product we’re talking about comes with a 10-year life warranty. A few years that would have been three, five, maybe seven years, now it’s 10 so there is less hydrocarbons through the turbine. The final step – because we can’t go any further just yet – is to offset that by using some nature-based solutions to compensate for the lifecycle CO2 emissions for the product so that’s the piece of news we’re announcing today,” Tucker added.

Maximising turbine efficiency will be key to wind remaining a driving force in the transition to a low-carbon energy system, said said Tucker before adding, “The big thing for us, of course, is that is that as a lubricant company, we’ve been involved in the wind sector now, I don’t know for that long, longer than I have been involved for sure, so decades, and we have been continuing innovating in our projects to try to help wind turbine operators, maintenance companies, etcetera drive up the reliability of the space. It has been a challenging area from a reliability perspective.”

According to Shell, the 10-year warranty for the high-performance oil comes gives customers peace of mind that fewer oil changes are likely to be made during a wind turbine’s lifecycle. This reduces costly breakdowns, generates productivity gains, and helps to ensure consistent protection against equipment wear.

“We still see statistics that say something more than 1,200 maybe gearboxes break down, average cost of the breakdown 300,000 to half a million, something like that – it is a reliability challenge and the effect this has on the competitiveness within the mix of renewables is still a serious challenge. So, by innovating on the product side and also the services and solutions we can provide around that we hope to help the innovators to drive down their TSO and drive up their reliability,” Tucker added. “But increasing that’s not enough, there is also efficiency, of course, and to be fair that’s true for all industrial equipment we operated … and particularly in this sector the story around sustainability as well.”

Shell’s global portfolio of nature-based carbon credits will compensate CO2 emissions from the lifecycle of Shell Omala S5 Wind 320. Each carbon credit represents the avoidance or removal of greenhouse gases equivalent to 1 tonne of CO2. According to Tucker, measures such as gearbox optimisation also help ensure that the energy captured is stored and distributed resourcefully and does not go to waste further down the value chain, improving operations for customers, and helping to avoid the need for energy production from carbon emitting processes.

“The turbine itself is the renewable part, the lubricant is not renewable itself – we’re the offsetting the carbon dioxide or the greenhouse gas emissions from the lifecycle of that lubricant using nature-based solutions so that’s protecting natural resources and growing natural resources when necessary and using carbon credits,” said Tucker.

Nature-based solutions, or natural climate solutions, are projects which protect, transform or restore land. In this way, nature absorbs more CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. The protection, or redevelopment, of natural ecosystems – such as forests, grasslands, peatlands and wetlands – leads to lower concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such activities can also result in the creation, marketing, trading and sale of carbon credits. They also help deliver many other benefits, including improvements in biodiversity, water quality, flood protection and livelihoods.

“We’re offsetting in this case and you only do that as a last resort – eliminate, reduce, offset is the hierarchy of approach. But fundamentally these wind turbines – 10 megawatts or whatever – have a great big bearing under there and are under a lot of stress and need lubrication in there and the only way to lubricate at the moment is through hydrocarbon-based products – maybe 400 litres of gear, something like that – and our contribution is to offset that part of it so through its lifecycle that’s carbon neutral,” according to Tucker.

He also said Shell, which already a strong presence in parts of the world, is looking to extend its presence in Europe’s renewable energy market. “We have a presence in Europe, but we’ll be striving to increase that,” Tucker said. “We’re a user as well. In our facilities we’re a user of our lubricants but we sell our lubricants across the board to many, many players,” added Tucker, who also said that Shell is part of the 2015 Paris Agreement to cut CO2 emissions.

“At the end of the day, Shell signs up to the Paris Accord. We want to meet those targets. We have to change our mix in order to do that and in – the phrase we use is ‘thriving energy transition’ so we’re encouraging those things to happen. So, another part of my job, for example, is developing the fluids for electric vehicles so not only on the generation side but the use side as well,” Tucker said. “As part of the we’re investing in our new energy arm up to 2 billion a year in renewable sectors – be it wind, be it onshore, offshore, floating, etcetera, solar, those kind of things, as well as new fuels, new fuel sources like biofuels, for example, so a whole spectrum of things recognising that we can’t carry as we are,” he said, stressing: “We need to change and we want to drive that change – not be a victim of that change but drive that change.”