Technology Breakthroughs Drive Clean Energy Success – The next 30 years are crucial for the future of the global climate. To have a chance of fighting to limit warming to 2°C, a threshold beyond which the Earth may no longer be able to support human life, we need 25-55% reductions in cumulative global emissions of 30 years to 2050 requires innovation and mobilization on a larger scale than the most ambitious projects ever attempted, such as harnessing the potential of atomic energy or landing humans on the moon.

Chetan Hebbale Graduate Research Assistant at the Sustainable Energy Policy Initiative – Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

Technology Breakthroughs Drive Clean Energy Success

, the United States has a unique obligation and opportunity to lead the way through transformative investments in clean energy research and development. The recent bipartisan infrastructure bill is a starting point, authorizing $65 billion for clean energy and grid investments and another $7.5 billion for a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations. .

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But rather than funding numerous and disparate R&D efforts, the United States should focus the bulk of its funding on a specific set of topics, technologies, and institutions through net-zero innovation hubs. These hubs would represent a geographically concentrated collection of public and private sector facilities, laboratories and universities dedicated to tackling the most extraordinarily difficult challenges related to the clean energy transition, those for which we do not yet have solutions that just have to evolve.

Three of these challenges are decarbonizing heavy industries, building a resilient supply chain for critical minerals, and developing a clean energy workforce. Why these three problems among the myriad of challenges? They represent some of the major social, economic, and geopolitical headwinds that could prevent the United States from achieving its ambitious decarbonization agenda and will lay the foundation for a successful clean transition.

Heavy industry products such as steel, concrete, iron and aluminum are difficult to produce without fossil fuels and demand for these materials is expected to increase both from infrastructure development in emerging economies and from green energy infrastructure such as wind turbines, solar panels and batteries.

Meanwhile, the global supply chain is tightening and critical minerals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements, which are essential for several green technologies, are held in the hands of a few nations, not all of whom are close allies of the United States. . and some have already imposed export bans on these minerals.

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These challenges are occurring against the backdrop of a broader social transformation unfolding in the energy workforce amid coal plant shutdowns and public pressure to reduce investment in oil and gas. gas. To successfully develop a clean energy workforce, new standards and practices are needed to retrain workers from the old energy economy to the new.

Properly structured and set up to succeed innovation incubators can overcome these barriers to deep decarbonization and be a real game-changer in the fight against climate change.

To that end, the Department of Energy (DOE) could start by announcing a competition for cities to bid to host these innovation hubs. From there, the DOE would activate a one-of-a-kind facility using funds from the recent infrastructure bill. This would include entering into public-private partnerships to raise capital in exchange for access to national laboratories to conduct experiments and demonstrations, sponsoring grants and visas to attract top talent from around the world, and entering into long-term federal purchasing agreements to support the commercialization of innovations.

The industrial sector produces the building blocks of modern life, such as cement, steel, iron and chemicals, but it also accounts for nearly 40% of global CO2 emissions each year. Cement, in fact, is already the most used substance in the world after water. Due to the extremely high temperatures and chemical processes required to create heavy industry products, fossil fuels are an integral, and often unavoidable, part of their creation.

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As explained earlier, demand for these materials is only expected to grow as emerging economies launch ambitious infrastructure projects. Ironically, stimulating the green economy will also make the problem worse, as wind turbines, electric vehicle parts and carbon capture equipment will require significant amounts of steel and concrete, among other industrial products. As a result, industry-related emissions are on track to become the largest source of US emissions over the next 10 years. Recognizing this, the United States helped establish a new G7 Industrial Decarbonization Agenda in May 2021 to promote new solutions.

A net-zero heavy industry center should leverage the DOE’s new $42 million funding opportunity for next-generation manufacturing processes to focus on new technologies to decarbonize steel and cement. These two products alone account for 15% of all global emissions and are major sources of the most harmful types of air pollution. Below, we provide examples of possible innovations that a net zero hub could pursue based on the latest industry developments.

Almost all emissions from steel and concrete come from two processes: heating a kiln or kiln to extremely high temperatures using fossil fuels and creating a chemical reaction to break down iron ore and limestone which releases CO

As a by-product. Changing the heating process has been difficult to achieve, with some innovative pilot projects in Sweden, Norway and the UK demonstrating that electrification of ovens is technically feasible using plasma, biomass or hydrogen technology. hydrogen. This is an area ripe for future research.

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For steel, hydrogen could completely remove CO2 from the iron ore reduction process. Further research would be needed to ensure that the quality of the steel is not compromised as carbon imparts certain desirable properties such as hardness and weldability.

For cement, a hub could identify alternatives to ‘clinker’, an intermediate product created from the breakdown of limestone, which includes blast furnace slag from steel production or certain natural products such as gypsum, l calcined clay, crushed limestone or volcanic ash. These products are still in their infancy, but with further research and successful testing at the center, they could represent an almost 40% reduction in cement emissions.

Given the existing technical hurdles to decarbonize both steel and concrete, the most promising solution to date may be carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) to remove CO

Of the waste stream and pump it underground or use it in another process. Although there are currently only 27 operational CCUS projects online, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that this technology will be responsible for almost 20% of emission reductions in the industrial sector. A key innovation that a net zero hub could foster for CCUS is soccer circuit technology, which has only been demonstrated at a limited pilot scale. It takes lime produced from cement and steel clinker to improve CO

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A crucial area requiring targeted innovation is that of critical minerals. The entire world is simultaneously undergoing a clean energy transition and the building blocks of these technologies, such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earths (REE), are already in astronomical demand. Indeed, copper prices have increased by 70% during the pandemic.

To date, the United States imports 31 of the 35 critical minerals and has no domestic production for 14 of them. There is only one active lithium mine in the country. To address this issue, a Critical Minerals Center should be established to identify mining and technology substitutions in the presence of supply chain and environmental vulnerability, open mines to access domestic sources of REEs, and improve recycling technology and mineral recovery. Without this kind of innovation, the clean transition will be at the mercy of unpredictable price volatility, supply chain disruptions and geopolitical extortion from a handful of countries that control access to most ores.

Take, for example, wind power and electric vehicles. Both rely heavily on neodymium, a rare earth element without which they couldn’t make the magnets needed to run the motors. Almost all of this mineral is mined and processed in China, which once banned all exports of neodymium and other rare earths to Japan due to a fishing dispute.

What would we do if it happened again due to a different political or business disagreement? Wind turbines are not equipped to switch to non-magnetic or hybrid gearbox configurations. The production of electric vehicles that use permanent magnet synchronous motors (almost all) should be stopped and moved to something more nascent, such as induction motors.

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To that end, the hub can leverage the Bill’s $7 billion investment in batteries and critical minerals infrastructure to open more mines at home in Wyoming, Texas and California, where are found REEs such as neodymium, dysprosium and terbium, or the scaling up of reciprocating engine designs. does not depend on these minerals at all.

A more direct path could be to develop better recycling of these minerals from e-waste or better recovery from the mine sites themselves. Hubs should develop advanced metallurgical separation techniques to optimize waste streams of batteries, solar panels and personal electronics so that they become secondary sources of supply. They should also develop advanced mining tools using autonomous robots and drones to extract remaining minerals in mine tailings, slag, sludge and tailings.

The IEA estimates that meeting the commitments of the Paris climate agreement would require quadrupling mineral requirements for clean energy technologies by 2040. A carbon-neutral hub

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