For decades, the blazing plumes of gas flares at oil sites have been featured in fossil fuel news stories and dystopias like Blade Runner – emblems of the massive economic waste and carbon emissions that most assume are just a cost of doing business. According to a 2021 estimate, the amount of gas flared at oil sites worldwide that year exceeded the amount of gas imported by European Union member states from Russia.
But GE is trying to offer a two-for-one solution that could significantly mitigate the problem: Capture the flared gas released from oil production and use it to generate electricity, cutting carbon emissions and helping more homes and businesses Connected to electricity and enable economic development. This approach has been used in Ghana and underlies a new contract GE recently received from Masila Petroleum Exploration and Production Co., an oil and exploration company in Yemen.
As part of its ongoing energy transition plan, PetroMasila is installing an additional GE TM2500 trailer-mounted aeroderivative gas turbine—a “power plant on wheels,” as GE commonly describes it—at an oil field in Yemen. Initially, the unit will generate electricity using flared gas to power PetroMasila’s oil exploration operations, replacing the more noxious diesel fuel. And once connected to the local grid, more than half of the electricity generated will be delivered to power 50,000 homes in Yemen. In 2022, PetroMasila installed three TM2500 units in Yemen’s eastern Shabwa province, and these units produce 50% less emissions than the diesel engines previously used.
This will particularly benefit Yemen, a country whose power system has been severely damaged by conflict and economic challenges and is in need of quick energy solutions. “In a country where nearly a million people are still connected to the electricity grid, the choice of an alternative fuel source for power generation puts Yemen well ahead on its carbon emissions reduction journey,” said Aman Joshi, General Manager of Aeroderivatives from GE Gas Power business. “When the world says, ‘Hey, stop burning coal, cut your emissions,’ many developing countries say, ‘We don’t have a choice.’ Success in Yemen will change that narrative and set a model for much of the world.”
As the name suggests, aeroderivative uses technologies derived from aircraft engines and adapts the same gas turbine that has been at the heart of air travel for about 50 years. “We’ve all flown with this engine,” says Joshi. “It’s on Boeing 767, 777, whatever, and it comes with the aviation industry’s high standards of availability and reliability.” This means longer maintenance intervals and ultimately a reduction in operating costs for oilfield operators.
GE has sold more than 300 TM2500 units worldwide, from California to Angola to Ukraine; about 70 of these are located in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The units are often designed to provide fast and mobile power where it is needed, and their modularity can solve a number of specific power generation problems. Site operators tend to vent and burn gas to regulate dangerously high and variable pressures during extraction. “Aircraft derivatives are incredibly flexible,” says Joshi. “You can start up and shut down quickly based on your gas supplies, and plant operators can use as many or as few units as a site needs.” These assets are critical to power generation for remote or inaccessible drilling sites and industries with less electric power expertise . “These are oil and gas companies – producing electrons is not their business,” Joshi continues. “They don’t want the complexity of managing an entire power plant.”
The TM25000 has also been used in fracking to convert flared gas into electricity at the sites. GE has sold four units for use in the Permian Basin, Joshi says. While this promising trend has been held back by COVID and lower oil demand, among other things, he says analysts still see huge potential for a fracking technology recovery.
The environmental benefits can be immense. Countless worldwide reports attest to the destructive gases released during flaring. In 2021, 144 billion cubic meters of gas were burned in flares at upstream oil and gas facilities around the world, resulting in about 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions, according to the World Bank’s 2022 Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report. And it goes well beyond CO2 and contributes “a significant amount of methane slip,” says Absar Kazmi, product champion for GE Aero in the Middle East and Africa. A UN report found that about 40% of human-caused methane emissions come from leaks from fossil fuel exploration, production and transportation — an amount that increased by almost 50% between 2000 and 2019. Over a 20-year period, Kazmi says: According to calculations, methane is almost 80 times more responsible than CO2 and carbon monoxide in terms of its impact on global temperature increases.
Using flared gas to generate electricity also reduces reliance on other fuels with higher CO2 emissions to power a grid. “In countries like Yemen, Nigeria, Iraq and Algeria, they often offset diesel-based power generation,” says Kazmi. Three TM2500s previously installed in Yemen replaced diesel generators, which produced about 50% more emissions than gas turbines. “If a country has the opportunity to use this technology, it will do it,” says Kazmi. “If people have the right incentive, they will change.”