As the climate warms, so does the transition to clean energy.
The United Arab Emirates is expected to host the COP 28 conference in November under high scrutiny and diplomatic activity. The Climate Tech event held in Abu Dhabi earlier this month was a step forward in bringing together the next generation of environmentally friendly technologies.
The conference launched the Decarbonization Technology Challenge in December, awarding up to $1 million to winners selected from 10 finalists.
Many interesting and innovative companies appeared – from well-known companies to startups. Without excluding those not mentioned or others who may enter the fray later, little-known companies offer solutions to the four critical climate challenges.
Firstly, reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector itself – with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) as one of the event’s organizers – highlighting efforts to tackle the problem. Fossil fuels still provide 83 percent of the world’s primary energy and will remain relevant in a net-zero carbon world until 2050 and beyond. The producers that survive will be able to keep their costs and carbon footprints low.
Companies such as military and technology group Edge, G42 and AIQ, all based in Abu Dhabi, offer advanced digitalization and artificial intelligence. Saildrone offers autonomous, solar-powered floating vehicles that collect offshore data, providing clear applications for making offshore oil and gas platforms safe and secure.
Secondly, to find solutions for the “difficult to eliminate” sectors. The path to clean electricity and ground transportation is well understood – solar, wind, nuclear power and battery cars. Of course, these solutions have a lot of room for improvement. But they require heavy industry, long-distance transportation and air travel, and long-term energy storage. They may not be “difficult to tackle”, but “doable with the right technologies”.
UK-based CarbonClean raised $150 million last May. Its modular system is more efficient and lower-cost and is intended to be retrofitted into existing industrial or power plants to allow carbon dioxide to be recycled or safely disposed of.
Dubai-headquartered Enerwhere offers solutions for temporary or remote locations such as drilling rigs, tourist resort islands and modular buildings, portable solar power and energy efficiency optimization. Commonwealth Fusion Systems has received an impressive $1.8 billion in funding by November 2021 to advance the limitless energy source that will fuel the Sun and other stars.
Hydrogen is attracting a lot of attention in the MENA region. Its many advantages come with practical challenges for cost-effectiveness and transportation. Baker Hughes is known as an oil services major, but at the event it agreed with ADNOC to work on this light clean energy carrier innovation.
US-headquartered Omium makes proton exchange membrane electrolyzers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. Efficient, cheap and long-lived electrolyzers are essential to bring versatile hydrogen into the mainstream – for long-term electricity storage, heat and food supply for heavy industries, and the basis for synthetic fuels.
Hydrogen is key to decarbonizing four sectors – air travel, shipping, steel and fertilizer – that account for more than 14 percent of global atmospheric emissions.
Third, to build the future clean-energy economy. Here comes the Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology, another sponsor of the event. The US, EU, China and India are investing hundreds of billions – if not trillions – of dollars into developing future energy materials and equipment. Other countries must find a place to contribute and compete.
The humble construction material cement produces up to 8 percent of global emissions and is an important industry in the UAE. Khalifa University has demonstrated cement enhanced with 2D material graphene as well as cement made from sulfur, a byproduct of the petroleum industry.
Several other graph developers, such as Levidian and the Manchester Graphene Innovation Engineering Centre, advocate a circular carbon economy that aims to reuse carbon indefinitely rather than release it into the atmosphere.
On a different track, Lanzatech uses bacteria to make fuels, chemicals and plastics from captured carbon dioxide.
And fourth, to reverse the pollution of the past decade. All credible ways to save temperatures below 1.5°C or 2°C by 2100 involve removing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
1PointFive could one day rival its parent, US-based Occidental, a leading oil and gas operator in the GCC and elsewhere. The branch office is working on a series of ventilation facilities that will extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground, and is planning a $1 billion-a-year, 1-million-ton plant in Texas.
Vesta adds sand made from the mineral olivine to the beaches. This both protects against sea erosion and captures carbon dioxide as underground minerals react. This is similar to the natural climate that forms the Earth’s long-term thermostat, but much faster.
44.01, led by Omani entrepreneur Talal Hassan, has a different spin on the same idea. It traps carbon dioxide and water in olivine-rich rocks, such as in the mountains of the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and in some other areas of the world. In January, the company agreed with ADNOC to start a pilot in Fujairah.
Many more technologies and companies are represented at Climate Tech and no doubt others will compete for the award.
It’s important to be bold and take some chances to find great ideas that work on a massive scale in the real world.
The biggest prize is global carbon reduction, which makes the leading countries and corporations the winners.
Robin M. Mills is CEO of Gambling Energy and author of The Legend of the Oil Crisis.
Updated: May 22, 2023, 3:00 am