Discovery & impact: innovations driving sustainable energy

Bryan Davies, VP of Engineering Solutions at Elsevier, on how data harnessed by engineers can help optimise operations within the energy sector

The global energy sector is facing its defining moment: rising energy costs highlight the immediate urgency of achieving energy security while, at the same time, the necessity of decarbonising the global economy grows more urgent.

Addressing the key energy challenges surrounding achieving net-zero goals will require collaboration on innovative solutions between governments and industry. 

Despite the general consensus that energy security and net-zero goals are at odds, Bryan Davies, VP at Elsevier, believes just the opposite – energy security and net-zero goals now come hand-in-hand, with engineers playing a critical role in enabling nations to achieve both.

As VP of Engineering Solutions, Davies oversees the management of the engineering R&D information solutions portfolio, which includes geospatial intelligence tool Geofacets, as well as the substances and material database Knovel. 

His role includes working with customers across energy and natural resources to understand the issues they are trying to solve, while updating the vision and direction of our products to align with those needs. Davies leads the Engineering Solutions team at Elsevier, developing online information tools, databases, and services for global academic, corporate and government customers to help them improve their research and commercial outcomes through innovation.

Currently, much of this work involves helping companies along the path to net zero; Elsevier’s solutions are being used to identify how current operations can be made more sustainable, as well as how to accelerate renewables projects.

Tell us about Elsevier

Elsevier is a leader in information and analytics for customers across the global research, health, and engineering ecosystems. We’ve got a rich history, founded in 1880, and are currently headquartered in Amsterdam – although we have offices globally. While many will know of Elsevier’s publishing division, we also have a powerful portfolio of R&D solutions for corporate and academic users that bring together incomparable data assets, powerful analytics and technologies. Our tools help R&D professionals, engineers and researchers shorten the distance between discovery and impact, enabling them to make more confident decisions while managing costs, regulations, and health and safety risks.

How is Elsevier embracing digital workforce models for the energy sector?

Recent changes to the workplace have reiterated the importance of having the right technologies for many industries, and engineering is no different. Onsite visits to existing and prospective sites during the pandemic were reduced, and what we saw instead was many energy and natural resource companies trying to make more of the desk research phase of projects. This is where Elsevier enabled them to thrive – providing technologies that enable scientists to understand the intricacies of a location and assess potential risks by taking a virtual tour.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be overlayed together with base maps, allowing researchers to conduct in-depth virtual field work that’s comparable to walking around a location without visiting it in person. Researchers can analyse terrain, rock and mineral composition, or data on climate and weather, such as wind direction or wind speed, using our platforms. Having these insights virtually and in a user-friendly format informs strategy for remote researchers, saves time and money, and reduces carbon emissions produced by unnecessary travel or failed attempts at developing new sites.

How is the importance of data enabling engineers to thrive within the energy sector?

In the energy industry, data is the foundation on which all projects are safely and successfully built. For example, data is critical for screening and developing new offshore renewables sites, which present high capital costs and risk due to their limited supply chains and connectivity. Having access to the right data enables engineers to make confident decisions about the viability of potential sites and ensure energy investments deliver results. Some factors they might assess include: geology, shallow seismic data, seabed mobility and obstructions, and meteorology data. It’s also important to be aware of existing infrastructure, transport viability and environmental impact, especially when setting net-zero opportunities such as geothermal plants and wind turbines.

However, finding and aggregating the different types of data is often a time-consuming and arduous process. Data is typically stored in inconsistent formats, and it is a labour-intensive process to normalise data for analysis. Such challenges mean engineers can spend up to 80% of their time searching for and formatting geoscience information and data, slowing down projects. To really thrive and keep pace with the latest innovations, engineers need data to be searchable, interoperable, and in user-friendly formats to provide better insights into the sustainability of various choices, commercial feasibility, and mitigate risk.

What countries are leading the way?

An Elsevier study found that globally, the amount of NØEnergy (net zero) research has grown rapidly in the last 19 years. Net-zero publications have risen by 13%, whilst overall research output only grew by 5%. Leading the way is China, with nearly 400,000 publications between 2001 and 2020, followed by the US with 280,000 publications, then India, Germany and Japan. Collaboration is key to accelerating timelines to net zero – our study found that Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland and Canada are most likely to collaborate. In total, the international collaboration share of net-zero research increased from 31% in 2011 to almost 50% in 2020.

What do the next 12 months hold for you and the company?

COP27, the landmark US Climate Bill, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and shifting consumer preferences mean governments and companies’ timelines to net zero have accelerated rapidly. We’ve already seen intergovernmental organisations such as the International Energy Agency seeking to help sustainability journeys, establishing shared goals to promote the effective operation of markets.

But, change doesn’t happen overnight. The next year will see companies and governments strategising on their transition period, including how they can improve their energy security posture. 

At Elsevier, we’ll be providing the technology and data that will help companies identify points in their current operations that can be made more sustainable – for example, using innovative materials and better maintaining current infrastructure. We’ll also be helping customers accelerate their renewables projects, providing insights that can mitigate risk and ensure ROI. We believe that with the right data, the industry can overcome the global energy challenges of today and reduce its environmental impact on tomorrow.

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