Fighting Climate Change through Technology

climate change technology

If the results of a survey conducted at a gathering of energy executives and leaders are any indication, the industry is fully aware of the threat posed by climate change (contrary to public perception).

Fortunately, the executives weren’t all doom and gloom about climate change; rather, they believe that climate change can be mitigated through innovative technology without overthrowing the fossil fuel industry.

According to IndustryWeek, executives weren’t shying away from the controversial topic of climate change. Darren Woods, the CEO of energy giant ExxonMobil, said: “We understand the risk to climate with fossil fuels. We think we have the opportunity to mitigate that risk with technology.”

Expanding upon that theme, Woods took issue with the idea that “affordable energy and a cleaner environment are a zero sum game.” Rather, technology can be used to “keep innovating” and offer a road to lower carbon emissions in the near future.

Technological Options to Protect the Environment

One of the more promising – and controversial – technology options involves carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS theoretically can greatly offset much of the carbon emitted by fossil fuel plants by capturing the carbon and sequestering it deep underground instead of letting it loose in the atmosphere.

The main problem with CCS is that it hasn’t yet been proven to be feasible on a commercial scale; the only viable CCS projects are small in scale. As the technology scales, the cost rises, making the practice currently cost-prohibitive – although some of that may be due to inadequate caps on carbon emission that make it more expensive to capture carbon than to emit it.

Nevertheless, CCS is the holy grail of anti-climate change technology in the fossil fuel industry and one that offers the highest ceiling of potential.

Other technological solutions similar to CCS – collectively called “negative emission technologies” (NET) by the industry – include anything from incorporating more biomass and bioenergy crops into the fuel matrix to ultrasupercritical technology for coal plants that has become more mainstream outside of the U.S. but has yet to be fully implemented domestically.

Fighting Climate Change through Higher Efficiency

Plants and utilities don’t have to rely on advanced technology that may be years away from implementation to reduce emissions, though; they can start by increasing the efficiency of their plants through systematic and strategic plant optimization in the form of upgrades and retrofits.

Many of the coal plants operating in the U.S. currently are decades old, with decades-old machinery delivering antiquated levels of efficiency. Even a modest campaign of upgrades and retrofits can boost efficiency by a noticeable degree. Higher efficiency means less fuel is needed for the same electrical output – ultimately resulting in fewer emissions.

What’s best about this approach is that this technology is not only within reach, but actively being used today. It scales well and results in higher ROI (and often is the only way to increase ROI for a mature plant short of building a new facility, which isn’t happening anywhere in the U.S. at the present).

Whatever approach is taken, the future of fighting climate change is here. The industry realizes that it has to play its part in reducing emissions before the negative effects of an unstable climate manifest themselves in serious economic, political, and social consequences for the industry and the populations it serves.