Sep 24, 2014

Forsaking Their Legacy?: Rockefeller Brothers Fund Shifts Toward Renewable Energy

3 min
John D. Rockefeller is a legend in American history. One of the most noteworthy personalities of the 20th century, Rockefeller has left a legacy that...

John D. Rockefeller is a legend in American history. One of the most noteworthy personalities of the 20th century, Rockefeller has left a legacy that will remain in the collective American consciousness for centuries.

Ultimately, though, Rockefeller’s legacy is built on oil. The founder of Standard Oil amassed a fortune early in life, retired early, and spent the rest of his life working on philanthropic efforts. So, with news breaking this week that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is divesting from big oil in order to shift toward renewable energy, there was naturally a lot said about it. NPR states what many are thinking plainly in a headline: “Rockefeller Brothers Fund Forsakes Its Legacy.” That, however, might not totally be true.

It’s important to note that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund isn’t quite the Rockefeller money we’ve come to be associated with—that would be the Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was started in 1940s by several Rockefeller heirs.

So, as Vauhini Vara of The New Yorker put it, this wasn’t “like the heirs to the McDonald’s fortune suddenly giving up meat.”

“In fact, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has been moving in this direction for years,” Vara explained. “In 2010, its board of trustees committed to investing up to ten per cent of its endowment in companies that meet sustainable-development goals. This year, the fund plans to cut its investments in coal and the petroleum-rich material known as tar sands to less than one per cent of its portfolio. Beyond that, the fund is more circumspect.”

Still, the unusual nature of the situation wasn’t lost on the fund’s president, Stephen Heintz.

“There is something ironic about having all this wealth that was created in the oil industry now being used to move to a different energy future,” he told NPR.

Stephen Rockefeller, trustee of the fund and son of Nelson A. Rockefeller, told the New York Times that he believes that those still focused on the current energy reality without looking to the future may be in for some trouble. In the end, the decision for him has two parts.

“We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension,” he said.

Beyond that, Heintz sees this move as very much carrying out the legacy of John D. Rockefeller, who was on the cutting edge of energy development in his day.

“If he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy,” Heintz said.

The Telegraph’s Matthew Lynn agreed that John D. Rockefeller would certainly be out of the oil business by now if he were still around, but his take was peppered with just a hint of cynicism.

“He would probably be concentrating on an industry where he could establish a crushing monopoly, squeeze his rivals out of business, impose total control over the supply of a vital commodity, and extract vast profits in the process,” he writes, “—all of which would mean that he’d be operating a search engine, or a social media site, rather than an energy company.”

Still, Lynn admits that the move away from oil is a savvy one, saying that while his heirs might be quite the businessmen their ancestor was, “they are smart enough to sense which way the wind is blowing, and adjust their portfolios accordingly.” The move toward renewable energy is, as Stephen Rockefeller said, both smart economically and morally, and Lynn believes “They will probably stay rich for a few generations yet.”

Share article

Jul 29, 2021

Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030

Dominic Ellis
4 min
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades says the UK's National Infrastructure Commission

Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission

Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.

The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.

The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture. 

It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.  

The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020. 

Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.

The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.

While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.

Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.

Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse. 

"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.

“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.” 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets. 

Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.  

Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."

McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:

  • Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
  • Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
  • Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
  • Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
  • The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere

Share article