SPACE-BASED SOLAR POWER
The future state of energy is no doubt one of the largest and most serious challenges facing the world today—a fear that has also provided a necessary catalyst for some of the greatest opportunities for innovative solutions. But, in a macro-electronic based world, coupled with exponential population growth, will human ingenuity be able to keep up?
It's in man's nature to survive, after all. That's why today's entrepreneurs are pursuing creative technologies that will ensure our ability to power generations to come, creating completely new industries in the process. Solar energy, in particular, has always been a popular renewable source of power with the greatest potential. As the industry has developed over the years, the market has rapidly evolved and become more economically viable. Even space-based solar power (SBSP) is now an approaching reality, and one to start paying close attention to.
It's not that the technology hasn't been there. Mankind has been launching satellites into orbit and converting transmission frequencies back to Earth for decades—that's all very well understood. The challenge has always been the commercial aspect, or the cost of getting solar satellites up into space in the first place. Traditionally, in a solar market dominated by heavy silicone-based photovoltaics, solar panels have been too heavy to launch into space to be profitable. With the advent of ultra-thin film photovoltaic panels, however, weight requirements have dramatically decreased. Launch costs in the commercial industry are also declining and the amount of R&D in the next generation of space travel has enabled orbit-based technologies that didn't exist a few years ago.
While many of today's most depended on resources on Earth are finite, the sun is not. But unlike ground-based renewables like solar and wind power, SBSP is not subject to the intermitencies involved with weather conditions.
“Developing the technology to reach that source directly to be used abundantly and 24 hours of the day would serve as the holy grail of renewable energy,” says Peter Sage, one of the Founders of Space Energy, a forward thinking renewable energy company.
Space Energy's plans to commission an in-depth study of SBSP will address the technical and commercial aspects in route to the world's first orbital demonstration, with the help of some of the most accomplished experts in the field. The $10 million study is expected to take six to eight months, at which point, concrete figures will be established and energy purchase agreements set up to fund the $300 million it will take to launch the SBSP demonstrator.
At that point, other minor challenges will be addressed including misconceptions about the safety involved in the transmission of solar power down to Earth or the possibilities of SBSP demonstrations colliding with the International Space Station. That's all a matter of educating the public. The more companies and governments who get involved in SBSP, the quicker those myths will dissolve.
“This isn't anything short of an Apollo type project,” says Sage. “But for now, for us to move forward towards a civilization where our children have a chance of a sustainable future, it's going to require a level of coordination cross-culturally, globally and politically.”
In a market where the demand for clean energy will never become obsolete, the more involved, the better. The variety of players in SBSP will help raise the public profile of the technology and increase the scope of unification or co-development. “Now is the time to start collaborating,” says Sage.
Unfortunately, the US government does not see it that way. Although the Department of Defense has supported the pursuit of SBSP from an energy security standpoint, the US is not exactly politically set up to make it easy for these types of projects to come to fruition. Having approached the State Department, NASA and Department of Energy, Sage came to a stalemate.
Sage described NASA as “a collection of sub-agencies, all fighting with each other over budget and technological prominence. It doesn't serve its purpose as well as it could in any way, shape or form.”
Not only were NASA and the Department of Energy reluctant to work together on the technology, but politicians were also reluctant to take on a project that could potentially be used to push a political agenda.
“It was made quite clear to us that when we spoke to politicians on both sides of the House that the problem with a massive project like this is that no matter how good it is or how much it would serve the US economy—the amount of jobs gained through energy independence, among other benefits—if one party gets behind it and endorses it, it simply becomes a target for the other party to tear down,” says Sage.
Yet, the prospect of an all-out global conflict over the last remaining scraps of nonrenewable energy has been taken very seriously by the National Security Space Office of the Pentagon, as discussed in a report conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Michael J Hornitscheck of the US Air Force entitled "War Without Oil: A Catalyst for True Transformation."
For now, SBSP is getting the ball rolling in other countries like Japan, China and India, where environments are more ideal for developing and investing in the technology, Sage explains on a phone call from his office in the United Arab Emirates.
Over the next decade, energy is likely to become a major source of conflict as electricity demands increase to the point of becoming unaffordable to the average citizen.
“In England, where I'm from,” notes Sage, “energy prices have increased 50-60 percent in the last five years. That's completely unsustainable. The average family is living in energy poverty in one of the first first world countries you could name.”
From that perspective, it's hard to understand the politicization of energy. Regardless, SBSP is well in the works and is set to revolutionize the way the world uses and generates energy. With the ability to transfer energy on demand anywhere on Earth as needed 24/7 in a way that no other form of energy can, the implications are enormous, offering a global solution to some of the most serious challenges ever faced in history.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
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