This was the conclusion of IChemE researcher Dr Philip Holmes who spent two decades working for oil giant ExxonMobil when he spoke at Sustainabilitylive! on Thursday.

Dr Holmes said that the major refineries could probably reduce their emissions by 60% while remaining commercially viable, but further cuts would only be made if demand dropped.

He argued that the UK refineries could cut their carbon footprint by around 24% using existing technology and operational changes, most of which would save them money in the long run.

By adding carbon capture and storage (CCS) onto the refineries further savings of around 37% could be achieved.

He stressed that there were already living, breathing examples of far more efficient refineries in Europe and that the British plants simply had to follow suit.

“Benelux and Scandinavia are currently operating as leaders of the pack when it comes to energy efficiency and carbon emissions,” he said.

“The industry doesn’t have to believe what I’m saying, it just needs to benchmark itself against the best in Europe.”

He outlined how carbon pricing under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) would influence the industry, arguing that as petroleum refinery was a highly competitive sector, the industry would probably have to take the majority of the hit rather than passing on prices to the consumer.

“So far the carbon allowances have been given out for free by the Government and the low price of carbon has not really had much of an influence,” he said.

“But [as carbon prices rise] it’s a vulnerable industry and UK refineries could lose their competitiveness,” he said.

“In the worst case scenario, retailers will send fleets of tankers over to Rotterdam and fill them up with petrol that could come from anywhere in the world,” he said.

Sam Bond

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