Pioneering a new era of technology development
Innovation has long been the engine that drives the world economy. It helped power the Industrial Revolution, leading to the transformation of manufacturing, and powered the Digital Revolution, impacting everything from business to communication.
As the world now faces the challenges brought by the Energy Transition, innovation will again play a key role as we work to remake the world’s energy system for a low- or no-carbon future.
If we hope to substantially move the needle when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change quickly and cost-effectively, innovation – in technology, finance, institutional design, partnership models and more – will be critical. The question, though, is where will those innovations come from?
Certainly, asset-intensive industries will play a central role. For decades, innovation – using modelling and simulation tools, production planning systems, energy efficiency measures, dynamic optimisation and more – has been at the core of companies’ efforts to increase efficiency and performance. Today, many of those same innovations help drive efforts to accelerate sustainability as companies address the dual challenge of how to meet the growing demand for resources from a growing population with increasing standards of living, while also addressing sustainability goals.
A new generation of companies, however, is also emerging to pursue new approaches for everything from clean energy generation to emissions mitigation, and in the process is creating new value chains and business models that can develop and scale innovative technologies.
Already, companies are working to develop groundbreaking technology to use captured CO2 to produce everything from fuel to chemicals to polymers which could replace petroleum-based plastics. Other companies, meanwhile, are developing processes to produce emissions-free cement. As one of the world’s most common building materials, cement is today responsible for as much as 8 percent of global CO2 emissions – reducing that impact could dramatically improve the sustainability of the construction industry.
Using ancient microbes and a specialised fermentation process, another company is transforming captured CO2 into amino acids – the basic building blocks of food. The resulting product could be used in plant-based meat or milk products and dramatically reduces the environmental impact of agriculture – using 99 percent less land and just 0.01 percent of the water used in traditional farming.
Other companies are taking unique approaches to storing carbon captured from the atmosphere. Using a proprietary process based on natural carbon mineralisation, one company is storing captured CO2 by transforming it into solid rock, which can be stored underground.
To make a difference when it comes to climate change, however, those innovations must be tested, refined and scaled, all of which is the job of process engineers.
Playing an indispensable role in asset-intensive industries’ efforts to reach sustainability goals, process engineers are responsible for using digital solutions to optimise traditional processes, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced emissions. As new processes emerge, those same skills and tools – modeling and simulation tools, digital twins, emissions control, energy efficiency and renewable power and more – will be critical to ensuring they achieve maximum efficiency with minimal emissions.
Technological innovation, however, is only part of the picture. Global challenges demand global solutions, and as the world confronts the climate crisis, the need to address sustainability is more urgent than ever before.
While companies need to meet their business objectives going forward, they will also need to continue to evolve their partnership strategies and global events such as those surrounding the upcoming COP28 in the UAE are invaluable in helping build those business alliances.
Bringing together, hundreds of thousands of energy professionals, non-governmental organisations, government officials and decision makers from around the globe to explore new and emerging strategies for the future of energy and to shape international climate action going forward will be key.
The meetings also offer attendees the chance to forge critical partnerships – across and between industries and public-private affiliations – which can help enable the development and deployment of new technologies with the potential to have significant impacts on global climate.
Last year, COP27 was dubbed the “implementation COP”, and laid out a series of guideposts for the global community to follow as we address the climate crisis, along with a warning that time is running out, and the work must start now.
If we hope to follow the path that has been laid out for us, it will require leadership with the courage to not only make difficult decisions, but with the foresight to understand and support innovation across all industries. The coming decades represent a truly rare opportunity, one in which we can come together as a global community to address the challenges we all face.
I am eager to see how our ability to innovate – from asset-intensive industries to environmental startups – helps to pave the road to a sustainable future.
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