• Sunday, March 03, 2024
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Four energy transition technologies that can transform the World

Scaling energy transition technologies is next growth frontier

For companies globally to meet climate targets, innovative technologies like electric vehicles (EV), greening aviation, hydrogen fuel cells, and nuclear energy will facilitate the transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources, says the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The world needs substantially reduced fossil-fuel use to keep temperature rises below 1.5°C. More than $35 trillion in investment in transition technologies is required by 2030 to make this possible.

The WEF recently held its inaugural meeting of Advanced Energy Solutions and spoke to four leaders of companies leading the charge toward a green future to explain innovations that will transform the world.

Electric vehicles

Countries across the globe are increasingly introducing targets to phase out the internal combustion engine and bring down greenhouse gas emissions. But is the EV charging infrastructure in place to support the transition, and are people switching?

Michael Farkas, founder, executive chairman, and CEO of Blink Charging, a leading owner, operator, and provider of EVs, said there is a long way to go to realise the potential of electric vehicles.

“When you look at the scale and numbers of how many charging stations are deployed, how many EVs are on the road, and where we need to be in 2030, 2050, and beyond, we have not even scratched the surface,” Farkas said.

“A couple of million viable chargers have been deployed globally. Some estimates say as many as 450 million chargers need to be deployed between now and 2040.”

According to Farkas, he says early concerns that “range anxiety”—the fear of an EV running out of power before reaching its destination—would put people off making the switch were largely unfounded.

“It was a major concern in the beginning, and it hindered growth. But people are seeing more and more charging stations everywhere. Now, businesses and hardware allow people to drive across countries. So, I think it is less of an impediment than before,” he said.

“Cars being released now can go over 600 miles on a single charge, that is way more than anyone could handle in a single journey. Now, the question is, do consumers want those vehicles? Look at the consumer acceptance rate of a technology similar to EVs.”

According to Farkas, anyone who drives an EV realizes it is much cheaper in terms of per-mile fuel costs. And EVs need no transmission or brake fluid to maintain the car.

“When you look at the cost for fleet operators operating EVs versus internal combustion engine cars, it makes tremendous sense. So, you are seeing massive amounts of fleets globally converting to EVs because it saves them so much in fuel and maintenance.”

Greening aviation

According to the WEF, aviation accounts for around 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions; the sector aims to reach net zero by 2050. So, what are the options?

“Sustainable aviation fuel is a substitute for kerosene, fossil kerosene, but then made from other materials like used cooking oil and other biowaste that you can use for fuels,” said Theye Veen, co-founder, and chief commercial officer at SkyNRG, a global market leader for sustainable aviation fuel solutions.

According to Veen, currently, less than 0.1 percent of all jet fuel used globally is sustainable, and that needs to change. Sustainable fuels are more expensive than fossil fuels, so that needs to change with policy and regulation mandates to create a level playing field.

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“Planes delivered today will be flying for the next 40 years, so that’s an important part of why this industry does not change that fast. There’s a wide range of feedstocks that you can use, and that depends on technologies.

According to Veen, the first wave of biofuels used oils like palm or soy. Waste oils, like used cooking oil, are produced on a smaller scale for the whole aviation industry.

“Other technologies include the Holy Grail of green hydrogen, synthetic fuels (using hydrogen and CO2) that you can create at a large scale. Hydrogen planes are not there yet, that could be another 40 years,” he said.

“We are already seeing electric planes, and in 10 years, we will probably be flying short-range with not too many people. But for the larger scale, long-haul flights for the next 20–30 years, we see sustainable aviation fuel as a drop-in to these fossil fuels, with existing infrastructure as the solution. More and more corporations are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint.”

Hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen could have a key role to play in the green transition. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels could avoid up to 60 gigatons of CO2 emissions by mid-century.

Jason Few, President and CEO, of Fuel Cell Energy, a global manufacturer of fuel cells for decarbonising power and producing hydrogen, said fuel cells are all about making electricity using chemistry.

“With traditional power generation, you run into environmental issues just because you combust the fuel, but in the case of fuel cells, it is a chemical reaction. There is no fuel combustion,” the CEO said.

“We believe the best way to do that is with hydrogen and to use hydrogen as the energy store to firm up wind and solar capacity. You can use excess wind and solar to convert that electricity and water into hydrogen, through electrolysis, and store the hydrogen. Then you can reverse that hydrogen and produce power.”

According to Few, hydrogen is a very abundant fuel, and hydrogen must be part of the story to achieve decarbonisation. Long-duration energy storage has to be part of the story.

“And because there are several industries that are going to be hard to eliminate emissions from, carbon capture must also be part of the story, for us to achieve our climate goals,” Few said.

Nuclear energy

Nuclear power could play a role as a source of low-emissions electricity that is available on demand to complement the leading role of renewables such as wind and solar in the transition to electricity systems with net zero emissions, according to the IEA.

Stefano Buono, founder, and CEO of Newcleo, said we try to understand what scares people and why nuclear has not been successful so far, and the reason was essentially the cost and, of course, the fear of accidents and waste. So we are trying to solve these three problems with our new design.

According to the CEO, we are using the nuclear waste, essentially plutonium and uranium, that the nuclear industry has used to produce more energy than was initially extracted.

“Another thing is the cost. Big installations are very costly. Historically, nuclear has become very big to keep the cost down, but the opposite has happened. So now nuclear is returning to the idea of making very small and modular machines that can be produced in series. Of course, safety is very important for the nuclear industry. In the next generation of nuclear, you can enhance passive safety, making your reactor switch off in any condition,” he said.

“Nuclear technology essentially stopped progressing for 35 years. But there has been a lot of research. So we are using the experience and the research. We are still trying to find something new. You don’t need new technology, but we need to put this technology together in a new industrial design.”