$ 1 billion bet on clean technologies


It seems that even yesterday, the mere mention of the direct capture of carbon in the air would provoke giggles from energy analysts. The same goes for sustainable aircraft fuel and hydrogen. Nonetheless, these three magical areas of cleantech are starting to go from the impossible to the possible, and a new EU investment fund of up to $ 1 billion has just been created to push them all into the realm of, well, at least probable.

The new $ 1 billion cleantech fund

The new European cleantech fund also targets long-term energy storage as well as carbon capture, aircraft fuel and hydrogen. While this combo doesn’t seem to make much sense in the context of the powerful electrification trend, it doesn’t. After all, the fastest route to global decarbonization appears to be improving solar cell, wind and battery technology while removing fossil fuels from the energy landscape.

The picture becomes sharper when you take a closer look at the backers of the billion dollar company (around 820 million euros). About a billion does not sound too impressive, but each euro should generate an additional three euros of private investment.

The EU-Catalyst fund was created last week as part of a memorandum of understanding between the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the company backed by Bill Gates. Revolutionary energy catalyst, which is part of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, also supported by Gates. Gates’ fingers are everywhere in each of EU-Catalyst’s four areas of interest.

Breakthrough Energy bounced around the CleanTechnica radar since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, in part due to its involvement in next-generation flow batteries and other aspects of the long-term energy storage area.

As part of the MOU, Breakthrough is tasked with bringing together partners to buy the new clean tech, which is quite important given that investing in new clean tech is one thing, and successfully bringing it to market. is another.

Clean Pie-In-The-Sky technology comes to earth

Not all articles in the EU-Catalyst portfolio have been targeted by skeptics. Long-lasting energy storage is the one that seems immune, mainly because at least one such system has been in use for generations, and that is pumped hydraulic energy storage.

New clean technologies in the field of long-term energy storage are represented in the Breakthrough portfolio by the American company ESS, which recently presented its version of the flux battery in the making.

The direct capture of carbon in the air is no mystery. For those of you new to the subject, capturing carbon directly from the air is like tree growing, but without the trees. Instead of growing trees to capture carbon for fuel and other products, you can cut out the middlemen and harvest the carbon yourself, from the air.

Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, designing the systems to do the job has been quite a journey. One of the sticking points is the cost, of course, but new forest conservation commitments could help provide the leverage needed to subsidize policies that support new clean technologies that save trees.

Gates enters the field of direct carbon capture in part through the Gates Foundation, which is a funder of the Canadian company Carbon Engineering, which is part of a consortium that has just started the preliminary design work for a new air-fuel installation in Great Britain. Colombia.

The plan is to deliver up to 100 million liters of fuel per year by combining the carbon extracted from the air with green hydrogen (more on this angle in a second). Hydroelectricity would provide the juice to run the system.

Capture the sustainable unicorn from airplane fuel

The vision of large-scale, zero-emissions, battery-powered electric planes crisscrossing the skies is distant, which is why aviation players have relied on biofuels to wean air travel from fossil fuels.

As an alternative to fossil fuel, biofuel sounds great on paper. However, it quickly becomes the wrong solution at the wrong time. Land use issues and food supply conflicts have always been a problem, and now climate change and habitat loss are mingling with the picture.

Third-generation biofuel crops like algae and seaweed can avoid most of these problems, but they have yet to thrive. This allows direct capture of carbon in the air with the possibility of gaining a foothold in the field of sustainable aviation fuel. Another promising angle is the capture and conversion of industrial waste gases.

A third path is through zero-emission fuel cells, and Breakthrough has that angle in hand thanks to its investment in aircraft startup ZeroAvia.

Like their battery-powered cousins, fuel cell electric airplanes still sit on the small end of the scale. However, interest in the sector is growing and there is a possibility that fuel cells could give battery-powered flight value for money in the realm of small aircraft for regional travel, and it looks like it is there. targeted by EU-Catalyst.

ZeroAvia recently announced that it is on track for London-Rotterdam hops as early as 2024, so stay tuned for more.

New clean technology for the hydrogen-nuclear mashup

This brings us to Clean Hydrogen, the fourth leg of the EU-Catalyst stool.

For those of you new to the subject, almost all of the world’s hydrogen supply comes from fossil fuels, which impacts the carbon footprint of major economic sectors, from fuel cells to production. food, pharmaceuticals and toiletries.

CleanTechnica has spilled much ink on new clean technologies in the field of hydrogen, in particular with regard to the production of renewable hydrogen by deploying electrolysis, in which electricity is applied to water.

In terms of decarbonization, electrolysis makes no sense if fossil fuels provide electricity. The advent of low-cost wind and solar has been a game-changer, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures is already at work with support from the new European Green Hydrogen Accelerator Center and Israeli startup H2Pro, among others.

Gates also brings a nuclear angle to the table, which might explain why the EU-Catalyst announcement uses the more general term “clean hydrogen”.

Clean hydrogen can mean just about anything. In the context of Gates’ interest in nuclear power company TerraPower, that could mean using electricity from nuclear power plants to run electrolysis systems to produce hydrogen.

This is an interesting twist in terms of increased use of existing power plants. As for sprinkling the world with new nuclear power plants, that’s a whole different box of worms.

When Gates launched TerraPower in 2006, the US market for new nuclear weapons was a tough puzzle to crack. It seems the company was aiming elsewhere, with China being one of its areas of focus. This idea seems to have faded on the vine, and TerraPower is currently studying the implementation. a demonstration plant in Wyoming.

Clean hydrogen vs. Green hydrogen

Critics are already hitting the Wyoming project, in part because of the spending. This profit angle gives the wind and solar players the advantage. As costs continue to fall for renewables, the green hydrogen market in the United States is already organizing itself into a hub-like configuration.

Interestingly, the emerging poles know no political boundaries. Utah, for example, aims to hydrogenate the economy of the western United States, by take advantage of its wind and solar resources as well as private salt caves for storing green hydrogen.

Texas also plans to leverage its burgeoning wind and solar assets to form a green hydrogen hub, in part with the help of its extensive oil and gas infrastructure.

Then there is Mississippi, which has not been very active in the field of renewable energies but which could nevertheless become Southeast’s green hydrogen hub – if he can beat Louisiana with his fist. Pelican State has embarked on the related field of green ammonia and is continuing its plans to develop its offshore wind assets.

Considering that the bipartisan infrastructure bill has finally been passed by Congress, other states may start to cram into the green hydrogen hub’s action. West Virginia, for example, is in a good position due to its proximity to major markets, as well as an adequate supply of water and a growing number of abandoned fossil fuel sites that could be redirected to fuels. renewables, although U.S. Democratic state senator Joe Manchin appears to be more focused on preserving the natural gas industry in his state.

Part of the challenge, however, is a lack of the civic investments and social programs needed to grow the workforce in the state, which is one of three U.S. states to lose population since the 2010 census.

The labor shortage problem is being felt throughout West Virginia’s economy, exacerbated by an ongoing opioid abuse crisis and an aging population. It could also have an impact natural gas industry, of which Senator Manchin is a friend, and coal industry, in which he is an investor.

Senator Manchin could do something about this by supporting the Better Rebuilding Social Infrastructure Bill. It remains to be seen. The bill is supposed to be voted on before Thanksgiving.

Either way, West Virginia policymakers had better act quickly or the state will continue to fall behind, dragging its tail on fossil fuels as other states jump on the bandwagon. clean technologies.

Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Clean technology takes off (fuel cell aircraft courtesy of ZeroAvia via prnewswire.com).

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