The COP26 summit and Glasgow Climate Pact have underlined the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions quickly and equitably.
While sustainable energy technologies are progressing rapidly and becoming more viable every day, fossil fuels still make up 80% of the global power supply, emitting around 35 gigatons of CO2 annually. Any hope of remaining below 1.5°C of warming will require us to cut emissions by 45% from 2010 levels — down to around 18 Gt per year.
However, replacing fossil fuel systems with renewable power facilities and infrastructure will take time — particularly for emerging nations with fewer resources and rapidly growing energy demands. A recent study showed that at least in the United States, 80% of existing coal-fired power plants are more expensive to operate than to swap out for new renewables. Despite this finding, coal continues to be widely used for power generation in the developing world, where plants tend to be younger and cheaper to operate.
Additionally, projected increases in wealth and population indicate that global energy demand will grow by nearly 50% by 2050. To meet this demand and reach a 45% global reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, the world will need to add around 11,600 TWh of sustainable power capacity every year until then. For some perspective, in 2019, the world added just 440 TWh of renewable energy capacity — the second largest increase in renewable energy output ever.
While the United States’ strong presence at COP26 shows that the country is recommitting to mitigating climate change, we are in a race against time. While sustainable energy technologies mature and become cheaper, we cannot allow emissions to continue unabated. We can—and should—reduce emissions from fossil fuels immediately, even as we work to replace them.
Oceanit is committed to driving disruptive innovations in the entire energy sector, to improve the safety and efficiency of existing systems, enabling impactful emissions reductions right now. We believe that sustainable and renewable energy sources must be the focus of our future, but we also recognize that fossil fuels will continue to play a significant role in energy generation for years to come. Rather than waiting for a silver bullet, or an economic one, Oceanit is committed to continually improving energy—diving into the deep end of dirty energy as it is today and seeing through the entire process to make it what it ought to be.
CO2 emissions are currently our biggest contributor to global warming. Phasing out fossil fuels as quickly as possible is the clearest path to reducing those emissions, but there is still more that can be done.
As a whole, fossil fuel-powered plants run at approximately 40% efficiency. This is because most of the fuel burned is lost to heat rather than converted into usable energy. Improving power plant efficiency and preventing even a fraction of that energy loss would translate to significant emissions reductions.
To that end, Oceanit has been working in the field of nanotechnology for over 15 years – developing nano material technologies that can improve cycle efficiency massively.
Heat exchangers and condensers are ubiquitous in refineries and power plants. Using nanocomposite treatments, Oceanit has found it possible to greatly improve power generation cycle performance by preventing fouling and deposition on nanocomposite-treated surfaces. As of 2021, HeatX, our surface treatment for heat exchangers, has been deployed at over a dozen power plants and refineries around the world and reliably improves efficiency by as much as 7%, correlating with massive carbon savings.
For every 1 GW of power generation capacity, emissions are reduced by about 300,000 tons of CO2 per year. If applied globally, HeatX could mitigate 1.26 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions—equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestrated by 1.5 billion acres of forest or the carbon savings of 262,000 wind turbines operating annually.
While applied in a dozen power plants and refineries at the time of writing (November 2021), the hope is that HeatX will be deployed in twice that number in 2022. By improving the efficiency of fossil fuel plants as they await decommissioning, humanity can buy the time needed to reach our ambitious renewable energy goals.
Methane—also called natural gas—was another big topic at COP26, with more than 100 countries agreeing to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. Although we emit far more CO2 than methane (by a factor of 60), methane has a much stronger greenhouse effect and is responsible for about a third of the warming associated with human activities.
A 2018 study showed that in the US alone, as much as 7.1 million tons of methane is emitted into the atmosphere due to transport (pipeline) and storage (tank) leaks and improper venting. Much of this loss is due to poor adherence to pipe and tank inspection best practices, severe system corrosion, and subsequent failure in the form of leaks.
Another Oceanit nanocomposite, DragX aims to address this problem. Like HeatX, DragX is a surface treatment that mitigates corrosion and build-up of deposits by preventing debris from attaching to treated surfaces. DragX is designed for application on natural gas pipelines. It can be applied to long, in-situ pipelines of any diameter to increase efficiency—even on old, in-service pipelines.
DragX has a direct influence in reducing methane emissions on several fronts. Tests have shown that surfaces treated with DragX experience 36x less corrosion (microbially-induced corrosion) than untreated pipes, thereby protecting the structural integrity of pipelines and preventing leaks. DragX also enables a lengthening of the intervals between pipe inspection and maintenance, a process that requires a pipe’s contents to be vented out into the atmosphere.
Because burning natural gas produces relatively fewer emissions than other fossil fuel energy sources, it will likely continue to be used for a while, even as coal and oil are more aggressively phased out. And so, as gas infrastructure ages, it will be increasingly important that we ensure the integrity of our natural gas pipelines to prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere.
Global Energy Transformation
A global energy transition to sustainable sources is a fraught process, with no simple answers. Yet, great strides have been made in developing electric vehicles, better battery technologies, and the sustainable energy sources to lead this charge. But simply replacing fossil fuel energy with renewables is not enough. Even if there were unanimous global buy-in (which there is not), the rate at which we need to act would require almost unthinkable amounts of resources and labor. By paralleling the global energy transition with improvements in existing fossil fuel infrastructure, we give ourselves a far greater chance at success.