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Climate is changing and the way forward

15 oktober 2019 - Hans de Neve - CEO


Our climate is changing, we know it is caused by our emissions of CO2 and yet each year we emit more CO2 than the year before. Seemingly technology is not able to keep up with our way of life and despite the efforts of many individuals, humanity as a whole is not willing or able to change its way of life in order to reduce the emissions.

Flying is a nice example. Very few people are willing to give up flying while we all know it is a major cause of CO2 emissions, approaching 1 Billion ton of CO2 per year. So either we all stop flying which does not seem very realistic or we find a way to make flying CO2-neutral.

The problem is not the lack of renewable energy. There is more than enough wind and solar energy to power our society. The problem is that electricity is not backward compatible with the way we currently use energy. Airplanes do not fly on electricity. Only 20% of our energy appliances run on electricity. 80% run on energy carriers derived from fossil oil and gas.

So there are two ways forward. Either we re-invent all our appliance such that they can all run on electricity. Or we convert electricity into an energy carrier that is backward compatible with the existing appliances.

I believe we are focusing too much on the first one: trying to change the appliances in order to run on electricity. It is a long and slow process. We should by all means continue these efforts but it is time to start working on the second approach as well: converting electricity into an energy carrier that is backward compatible with existing appliances. We no longer have the luxury to go for one option – we should endorse all technical options we have, including the conversion of electricity to backward compatible fuels.

People have argued that the conversion of electricity into backward compatible energy carriers like gasoline, kerosene or diesel is a bad idea because you loose part of your energy during the conversion process. While very true, this argument does not hold very strong. There is plenty of renewable energy and we have developed technologies like wind and solar that manage to harvest it very efficient and at ever lower costs. New solar farms in the Middle-East are able to produce electricity at a cost of 1,5 Eurocent/kWh for 2000 hours per year and this cost keeps getting lower.

The spectacular cost reduction of solar electricity is the result of upscaled production in China. The same will happen with electrolysis equipment, allowing to lower the costs of renewable hydrogen. When we are able to complement this with a cost-effective technology to harvest CO2 from air, we are very close to a technology that allows to convert this electricity into renewable fuels that can compete with fossil fuels.

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