The drive to tackle climate change needs to start with solutions that are available here and now, argues Ben Richardson, CEO of greentech company SulNOx Group PLC.
One of the key aims of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow was to get the world to agree to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Even if that had been achieved, that is still almost 30 years away. 30 years during which industry and transport will still lean heavily on fossil fuels.
But that 2050 target has already slipped. India has pledged to make its emissions net zero, but not until 2070. That’s two generations away. China says it will be carbon neutral by 2060. That’s two of the world’s top three polluters who will not be making any real inroads on climate action for years to come.
A lot of the focus at COP26 has been on these kinds of pledges and deals that promise to achieve X by Y. However, the stark takeaway, after days of meetings and talks, is that fossil fuels will continue to dominate our energy requirements in the immediate future with certain further damage to the environment.
In a recent report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that the world’s reliance on hydrocarbon liquid fuels will continue and is likely to still account for 80-90% of transport consumption in 2030. Talk around COP26 has been predominantly about clean energy, which absolutely needs to be the ultimate goal, but we have to acknowledge that is, unfortunately, a long way off.
Think about it. The technology of generating hydrogen is really rather old, we did it in school in chemistry classes with electrolysis of water into oxygen and hydrogen. And yet how many hydrogen powered cars are on the road today? Then there’s electric vehicles. Great for cars, but that’s about it. What about when you scale up? Where are the commercially available EV HGVs? What about planes or ships? Cars spend most of their time sitting around at home or your place of work. Ships and planes are on the go all the time. Imagine if the 60-minute turnaround for an aeroplane was lengthened to 12 hours for charging of massive, heavy batteries. It’s so uneconomical that all the airlines would go bust with enforced 12-hour layovers for recharging. And they couldn’t just swap one battery for another, because the technology does not have the power to hold sufficient energy density yet.
The truth is aviation and shipping are shackled and committed to fossil fuels for years to come.
At SulNOx we are prepared to acknowledge this. Instead of focusing purely on future technologies, we say that we need to roll our sleeves up and do something to make the fossil fuels that we are reliant on, and will continue to rely on for decades to come, cleaner.
Our own solution is to improve the quality of combustion to both improve fuel efficiency and reduce harmful emissions, including CO2. Typically, in cars, lorries, ships, all the things we are used to using fossil fuels in, too little oxygen availability leads to incomplete combustion, meaning, some of the fuel is not actually burnt properly but is released as smoke, soot and particulate matter. These emissions can cause all sorts of health issues if the carbon deposits are breathed into our lungs and get into our blood and vital organs.
The sad reality is that fossil fuels will not be disappearing any time soon
By increasing the oxygen availability, fuel produces less carbon. Waste carbon is transformed into useful energy, giving fuel savings and reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Despite pledges to limit support, governments around the world spend more than £313bn a year subsidising non-renewable energy, according to the UN Development Programme. The sad reality is that fossil fuels will not be disappearing any time soon. We can all gnash our teeth and talk about solutions that will take decades to come down the line, or we can face reality head on and do everything in our power to make those fossil fuels as clean and efficient as they can possibly be, while we wait for the greener solutions to come online.
Ben Richardson, CEO of SulNOx Group PLC