July 15, 2021
New Technologies provide the vital DNA for our times, key catalysts for change in a fast evolving, ever changing world: thanks to digital innovation, you can now shop from home, buy a new home (from home), and send a message from Brighton to Bangalore in the blinking of an eye (provided it doesn’t exceed 280 characters). Everything has changed, nothing will be the same again…and especially with so-called Clean Technologies, progressively replacing dinosaur products and services with equivalents that have a much less harmful impact on the environment, but also have equal and often better performance levels. And it’s about time too…
A joint study produced in 2016 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey (www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org) predicted that, left unchecked, there would be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. And in 2021, that’s more or less exactly what has happened…thirty years ahead of schedule.
Finding an Alternative: The Age of Hydrogen
Crude oil, rich in carbon high in hype, has been at the heart of global industrial policymaking for more than a century: literally created from (and by) fossils, it harks back to a forgotten age, but is still the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere (along with its carbonised cousin, coal). But glance just a few lines further along the Periodic Table and you’ll find the answer: Hydrogen…one of the most abundant elements on earth, with the virtue that after combustion it creates harmless water…not harmful carbon dioxide.
Hydrogen fuelled buses have been a commonplace across the globe for decades, acceptably making water on our streets…and hydrogen is increasingly used to create electricity too, making it an integral part of the fast evolving move towards electrically powered cars (most of which run off hydrogen fuel cells). It can also be used to heat your home and power your smartphone, with minimal impact on the environment. An English company, Intelligent Energy (www. intelligent-energy.com) developed a mini hydrogen cell capable of powering mobile phones and computers, and it only needs recharging once a week: so in future we’ll be seeing less of the Duracell Bunny on our hydrogen powered televisions. Over in post Brexit Europe, Viessmann and Panasonic have created a domestic boiler capable of running on a hydrogen fuel cell, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 30% and securing greater energy independence in the process. So far so good, but where is Hydrogen going next…
Well, for a start, there’s Renewable Hydrogen: cutting edge innovations that radically reduce the carbon emissions traditionally associated with hydrogen production. Solar energy can now produce hydrogen by photo catalytic water splitting (think of it as the reverse of the hydrogen bus making water: catalytic splitting takes hydrogen out of the water), and wind turbines are being used to create hydrogen through electrolysis. US based HiSeas Energy manufactures offshore wind turbines to power electrolysers that can extract hydrogen from seawater, and deliver it onshore using liquid organic hydrogen carriers (in short, organic from end to end).
Then there’s X-Hydrogen-X, which sounds like a cross between a 1970’s punk band and a Dr Who Villain (at least it does to me), but it has the potential to change all our futures. Here’s how it works: hydrogen has a number of chemical intermediaries (e-fuels like e-methanol: notice the “e”s there, that’s important), and when added back to an engine unit they create more hydrogen on combustion (hence “X to hydrogen”), which then produces still more intermediaries (hence “Hydrogen to X”). It sounds complicated, and it is, but it’s also a major leap forward in solving the waste crisis, with lower carbon emissions and more valuable hydrogen in the process. It’s a near perfect circular economic cycle (more of which in a moment).
And down the road we’re looking at hydrogen fuelled airplanes, jets and spacecraft: recent developments in space technology have blended hydrogen with other fuels to produce rocket propellants with genuinely green credentials, including Hydrogen Peroxide. Richard Branson could find himself catapulted into orbit on an explosive mixture of H2O2 (many see that as a small step in the right direction), then returned afterwards to a cleaner planet, which nobody will disagree with. And if you think that all sounds futuristic…
Over in France, the boffins at Glowee (www.glowee.com) were intrigued that 90% of marine species produce light naturally (a phenomenon called bioluminescence, for obvious reasons): so working away in their laboratory, they isolated the bacteria that produce the light, and developed non-polluting units capable of lighting up an entire city street or a domestic home: wholly transparent in daylight when the light isn’t needed. That’s just about as environmentally friendly as it gets…
Circling Back to a Circular Economy
The DNA of technological development has changed beyond all recognition, leaping in a few short years from a Linear to a Circular Economy Model, where the future is just as important as the present (and way more important than the soot choked past). In the process we’re all learning a lot more about what that means for our precious planet.
Red Ribbon Asset Management (www.redribbon.co) aims to harness the full potential of fast evolving technologies to meet the social and environmental needs of global communities as part of a circular economy, recognising the inexorable demands of people, profit and planet.
It’s time to think about tomorrow, and what clean technology can do as part of a more responsible, environmentally friendly trajectory…because in no doubt, these technologies will be part of all our futures.