changes What’s driving the process industry

Partner in change

Endress+Hauser has been a major and key supplier of process measurement engineering to Shell for more than a decade. Why are enduring partnerships especially important in times of fundamental change? An interview with Harry Brekelmans, member of the Executive Committee at Shell, and Endress+Hauser CEO Matthias Altendorf.

Questions: Laurin Paschek and Martin Raab
Photography: Christoph Fein

Mr Brekelmans, Shell aims to become an industry trailblazer by achieving a neutral CO2 balance by theyear 2050. Why this radical change in strategy?

Brekelmans: I’ve been working at Shell for more than 30 years and during this time I’ve experienced the company as highly dynamic. Change is nothing new for Shell. Time and again, we have turned to new fields of business and developed new technologies – and ensured their financial viability, such as with the introduction of biofuels and the exploration of hydrogen power. This attitude has made us one of the world’s leading energy companies. The transition to a neutral CO2 balance by the year 2050 is nevertheless a very big task. We’re taking on this transition because it is what society, our stakeholders and our customers want. And we will shape it in constant dialog with these same interest groups.

What is the biggest challenge with this transition?

Brekelmans: There are a number of challenges here. One key question is certainly timing. If the company changes too quickly, on the one hand it could put us at an economic disadvantage with respect to our competitors and we then fall behind the global competition. In the end, perhaps we would lack the stamina to bring the transition to a successful conclusion. On the other hand, if we act too slowly, it could potentially jeopardize the actual goal. Such are the tensions under which we operate, and that’s precisely why we want to press ahead with the transformation in line with the expectations of society and our stakeholders.

1,7

gigatonnes of CO2e = Shell’s present carbon footprint, which the company aims to reduce to net zero by the year 2050.

SUSTAINABILITY MISSION

Harry Brekelmans (born in 1965) is Projects & Technology Director at Shell and a member of the Executive Committee under CEO Ben van Beurden. In this role he has held responsibility since 2014 for implementing the company’s major oil and gas projects, driving technology and commercial innovations and overseeing the areas of technology, contracts and procurement, IT, security and the environment. He joined Shell in 1990 after graduating from Delft Technical University. In describing himself, Harry Brekelmans says: “I’m fully aware of how important it is for industry, governments and society to optimally utilize the world’s resources in a sustainable manner.”

Mr Altendorf, in considering the magnitude of this task, have you ever experienced a comparable transformation?

Altendorf: Personally, I can recall the introduction of catalytic converters for automobiles in the 70s and 80s as a way to combat acid rain. In this case lawmakers led an entire industry to change based on available technologies. The Endress+Hauser Group has also undergone change, time and again. A good example is the transition from simple electric devices to electronic microprocessor-driven measurement technology, and onward to purely digital, software-based solutions. We were able to shape this transformation all on our own, so there is no comparison to the challenges of the energy transition.

The digitalization that you speak of can certainly be viewed as a major transformation. How do you go about mobilizing the necessary willingness to change?

Altendorf: First off, employees of large companies need a shared understanding of what the future could look like. And then, everyone has to tackle this envisioned future together. To do that, management must allocate resources to tasks that don’t benefit the company in the here and now, such as developing and validating future scenarios. Once a company knows more, it can go a step further, but with a continued footing in the current business model so as not to endanger its future. People need a sense of security and dependability in times of change. They need to know that they are part of the journey to the future.

How did Shell convince its shareholders and the workforce of the new strategy?

Brekelmans: I believe this comes down to having a very logical and easy to understand approach. We have always tried to understand the world around us by listening to our stakeholders, writing scenarios and carrying out studies. Based on this, the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee develop the frame of reference. An important aspect is that when defining the future energy world, we have to think backwards in terms of what the customers need, rather than extrapolate forward based on assumptions about the available resources. We also have to ask ourselves what forms of energy our customers will in future prefer if they want to see more climate protection at the same time. Another important aspect is the realization that while we need more and cleaner energy, global energy demand will continue to grow.

What technologies are the major actors in your strategy?

Brekelmans: Innovative technologies such as biofuels, hydrogen and atmospheric CO2 capture feature large in most scenarios. But at this point in time, I would not emphasize any single technology. What’s decisive is not the technology itself, but its scalability. With existing technologies we can make considerable progress toward our net-zero goal. Yet all that depends on leveraging the necessary economies of scale. This is where Shell has always performed well, and we must continue to work on that.

 

“Our corporate cultures are very similar in a way that they both highly value technology and innovation, quality and reliability.”

Harry Brekelmans,

Projects & Technology Director Shell



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How can business partners such as Endress+Hauser best support you?

Brekelmans: Our partners can give support by developing the innovative components that we need for the transition and integrating them into novel, complex systems. Endress+Hauser has extensive experience in this area and a very good understanding of Shell’s business as a long-standing supplier. In addition, our corporate cultures are very similar in a way that they both highly value technology and innovation, quality and reliability. That’s why we view Endress+Hauser as a really important partner in our forthcoming transformation process.

Altendorf: Take the aviation industry as an example. A Shell pilot plant recently provided synthetic kerosene made from renewable energy sources that powered a flight from Amsterdam to Madrid, and will in the long term enable carbon-neutral aircraft fuel. Producing this climate-friendly kerosene as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible requires reliable and precise measurement technology. We can supply this technology today and advance it together with Shell as part of a further scaling effort. Sharing information directly between the two companies is of central importance to innovation development.

Conversely, could Endress+Hauser also use Shell products in its decarbonization strategy?

Altendorf: I can well imagine Shell one day providing our company with green energy, even though we don’t have extraordinarily high demand in our production. But of course there is demand in our office buildings and our supply chain. At some locations we are currently producing the energy we need on our own, with the help of natural gas. We could eventually convert these cogeneration units over to synthetic, climate-neutral natural gas or green hydrogen from Shell.

A personal question before we wrap up: how do you make a commitment to more climate protection in your private life?

Brekelmans: My family understands the special responsibility my job carries. I have frequent conversations with both my children and my wife about the energy transition and climate protection. We try to create as few greenhouse gases as possible, even though we still drive a combustion engine vehicle from time to time privately. We use electricity from renewable sources and keep a conscious eye on the climate impact of the food we eat. We have set ourselves a goal of being CO2-negative within the coming years.

Altendorf: I often have these kinds of conversations with my 24-year-old son. I currently drive a hybrid vehicle, which can operate fully electric on the commute to work, and I frequently take the train for medium-distance travel. Furthermore, the roof on our house is decked out with solar panels. In terms of my overall balance, I have the advantage of owning a few hectares of woodland, which I tend to and maintain myself. I enjoy working there. That’s my personal carbon capture strategy. Ultimately, forests are the most natural way to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Energy giant

Shell is a global energy company with expertise in the exploration, production, refining and selling of oil and natural gas, as well as chemical manufacturing and sales. The company, which is based in London, United Kingdom, generated sales exceeding 180 billion US dollars in 2020 and employs a global workforce of 87,000 people.

Shell-Vorstand Harry Brekelmans und Endress+Hauser CEO Matthias Altendorf im Gespräch.

Partners in dialog: Harry Brekelmans and Matthias Altendorf at Shell in The Hague.

Climate strategy

Shell aims to be emissions-free by the year 2050. The energy company wants to reduce its carbon footprint from 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2e annually to net zero, which includes reducing its customers’ emissions that stem from Shell products (Scope 3). Shell’s energy transition strategy rests on three pillars:

  • Avoid: Shell wants to provide, invest in and scale up low-carbon energy solutions for customers.
  • Reduce: The company wants to limit emissions as much as possible today.
  • Mitigate: Shell wants to capture or offset any remaining emissions.

Milestones

These are the goals that Shell has established for 2030:

Operational efficiency betriebliche-effizienz
  • Eliminate routine flaring of fossil fuels
  • Maintain methane emissions intensity under 0.2% by 2025
Renewable energy erneuerbare-energien
  • Double sales of electricity
  • Supply over 50 million households
  • Build 2.5 million electric vehicle charging points
CO2 capture and storage co2-abscheidung-und-speicherung
  • Target 25 megatonnes annually by 2035
Natural gas erdgas
  • Reduce oil production by 1–2% a year
  • Grow gas share to 55% of hydrocarbon production
  • Refrain from new frontier exploration projects after 2025
Biofuels and hydrogen biokraftstoffe-und-wasserstoff
  • Increase production of lowcarbon fuels eightfold
  • Increase the share of low-carbon fuels to more than 10% of transport fuels
Natural carbon offset natürliche-co2-senken
  • Create 120 megatonnes of capacity a year
  • Give backing to high-quality compensation projects only

 

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