A special event involving young people was hosted on Day 2 of ICEF 2019. Seven young researchers of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (Dutch: Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek; TNO) participated in the sessions on "CO2 Utilization" and "Energy Productivity through IT and AI" right after attending the preliminary lectures from NEDO members. They then exchanged opinions with Prof. Dr. Nebojsa Nakicenovic on the content of the sessions and how we could advance innovation.
Day 2 of ICEF had many inspiring and insightful presentations given by global energy transition thought leaders. It was a great opportunity for our small group from TNO to attend the conference, and it was encouraging to witness the high level panel discussions between representatives of industry, academia and government. But there is much work and a long road ahead of us to achieve such ambitious emissions reduction targets.
This year's ICEF roadmap addresses industrial heat decarbonization, and this topic was widely covered throughout the day. TNO is developing several novel low carbon technologies and is working closely with the Dutch industry to establish strategies to reduce emissions from their operations. We certainly recognize the need to focus on industry as one of the major energy consumers, especially in the form of heat. In the Netherlands all of the decarbonization options that were presented are currently being evaluated, and there are plans to take concrete action by 2030, in line with the government's goal to reduce overall emissions by at least 49% compared to 1990 levels.
The concurrent morning session stressed the need for carefully designing complex value networks. The presenters outlined thought-through examples of how to approach CCUS from a systemic perspective and the examples given complemented each other. For instance the circular coffee bag case was well in line with the topic of creating markets through policy support for investment, procurement, standards, infrastructure, and innovation.
The first speaker presented an overview of current carbon utilization applications, of which the most promising (e.g. for concrete production) are thermodynamically favorable and low cost. The projected scale for chemical CO2 utilization, or creation of synthetic fuels and chemicals, is modest when compared to current emissions. Nonetheless, this is a very important avenue to pursue to achieve the ambitious decarbonization targets towards 2050. Some sources of CO2 are here to stay for the coming decades and it's hard to imagine achieving a 95% emissions reduction without deploying CCUS technologies. Costs are high at present, but several innovative CO2 utilization routes based on electrochemical reduction and fermentation show much promise, of which the technology developed by Lanzatech is a great example.
A widely used CCS application that has been successfully deployed in the US is the use of captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Prof. Sally M. Benson made clear that there is a strong case to be made for EOR using CO2, as it boosts oil recovery from reservoirs and at the same time significantly reduces the carbon intensity of oil extraction. At low carbon prices, the challenge we see is whether governments will indeed be open to financially support this approach, also considering the risk of public backlash and the current debates around direct and indirect subsidies for oil & gas companies. If captured CO2 can be used for EOR, without subsidies and with a high net CO2 capture rate, then it's clearly an appealing option since oil production will most likely continue beyond 2050.
Within our organization we think differently about the name Decarbonization. We look for opportunities to decarbonize whenever that is possible, but decarbonization is not applicable for certain products and processes. In those cases we are looking to REcarbonize, i.e. capture the CO2 and reuse it, instead of emitting the CO2 to the atmosphere. Capture and reuse can also be applied when the CO2 comes from other sources than coal, natural gas or oil, such as plastics and biomass. Of course, our goals of reaching a CO2 neutral industry completely align. This approach resonates with the remark by LanzaTech to start thinking of carbon as a precious commodity and Roger Aines' remark on "residual emissions".
The session outlined topics highly relevant for climate issues in the context of accelerating digitization and societal changes. The fact that major items are part of Society 5.0 (e.g., smart production, IoT, ITS, new manufacturing, energy value chains) helps to ensure fair treatment of the interlinked opportunities and limitations. The session provided significant expertise and depth of discussions. Modern technologies of high integrative capacity were highlighted, such as digital twin and machine learning. The well-moderated discussions included important topics like the difficulty to apply direct optimization through objective functions.
Overall AI and IoT can be of great benefit to our society and goals of reducing CO2 emission, while maintaining safe operation of the electricity and heat networks. The increase in fluctuating renewable sources requires a flexible energy system, which will be supported by the wealth of collected data and smart algorithms. Within the Netherlands we work on an automated integrated system where the chemical processes are combined with AI control systems, using renewable electricity and storage in fuels (hydrogen or synthetic fuels) as a buffer for the electricity net. This system integration could be a great additional topic to the AI/IoT topic. Apart from the energy system, given the societal challenges of several developed countries facing an ageing population, it will be very interesting to see how the advance of digitalization techniques can improve quality of life for the elderly.
Cybersecurity issues related to advancements in IoT technologies are a topic of concern, and this is one of the reasons that slows down their deployment at industrial assets. In our view this a very significant topic, which wasn't directly addressed during concurrent session 5 and would be a great addition to future ICEF sessions.
The closing plenary discussion was illustrative of the healthy dialogue that's needed between industry and policy makers, and also highlighted some of the challenges faced to reduce emissions from globalized industries such as shipping.
Diversity is also an important topic in the Energy Transition, and was nicely illustrated in the ICEF 2019 logo by the woman leading the bobsled team. We need the entire population to help with the energy transition, irrespective of belief, gender, nationality or age. We noticed that many sessions had a good balance between men and women, and we acknowledge your effort as organizers in that part. The last concurrent session on Cybersecurity and Digitalization technologies was an exception, as only men presented.
On a separate note for diversity, from our perspective it's worth pointing out that there seemed to be very few representatives from nearby countries such as China, Korea, Russia, India and Indonesia. These countries have very large populations, large industries and massive national CO2 emissions, so close engagement with them is essential for achieving the long term global ambitions for emissions reduction. There is also very significant potential for technology transfer from highly industrialized economies and technology leaders like Japan and the US. This could be a great addition to the conference and the climate goals.
Overall the conference provided us with a great overview of all the topics that belong in the energy transition discussion. From CO2 utilization to inclusion of the people, everything is important to achieve the climate goals. It was very interesting to witness these talks and we are happy to have been invited.