Carlo Rubbia (2016) - The Future of Energy

We can see the clock started. We have 30 minutes, from here it's 29:59 - you lost 4 seconds. (Laughter) Thank you very much. Now we are going to move ourselves to another subject which is also very relevant to the future of mankind, which is the future of energy. And at the beginning I will start to discuss briefly the climate of the past, which is a clear premise for its future. The Earth was created about 4.56 billion years ago, much later than the Big Bang. The complex multi-cellular organic life was almost entirely born during the last 600 million years. Here you can see the temperature of planet Earth over the last 600 million years. You see there have been many changes from low and high temperatures. Some very warm temperatures have taken place down to glaciation. And in some instances we reached almost ice at the level of the equator. And various other periods were much higher and warmer than that. The last million years is represented by a large number of periods in which glaciations were reaching the equator and combined with "climate optima", about today’s temperature. And now the whole history of mankind is based on a remarkable uniform period, which you see in this graph, during the last 10,000 years, which has permitted to sustain the development of human civilisation. So the little trace we have here at the end has been the one which has made us be what we are today. If you look at these things: the last period, for instance, using Vostok ice core from the Antarctica. You can see that the situation is characterised by very short interglacial periods, equal to present warm air presence. Surrounded by very long glacial periods over the last half a billion years. You can see the probable beginning of the Homo sapiens occurred something like 300,000 years ago. That the earliest Homo sapiens moving to Africa was about 100,000 years ago. And agriculture, which is the beginning of our present civilization, only occured about 10,000 years ago. Notice the shortness of the warm period over very long glacial periods. And the question is, of course, the modern time - how long will it continue, how long will it last from this point of view? If you go on a shorter timescale and you look at the last 2,000 years, you can observe for instance in the northern hemisphere the natural changes between cooler and warmer conditions on a period which is roughly over 1,000 years. In Roman times the temperature was warmer than today. Then we had the dark ages in the middle of the millenium. And then around the year 1000 the temperature came up again. We had a little ice age around 1600/1700. And now we are coming to today’s situation. You can see that warmer and colder periods have been alternating. Extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere. The current mean temperature variations relative to the variations are indicated in this graph with something like 2 standard deviation bars. At the present moment we have a major new phenomenon developing: the emergence of what is called "anthropogenic era". The permanence of the unique long stable period after the inter-glacial period has been essential to create and sustain life and civilisation as they are today. And, of course, it is an essential element for survival that we must preserve at all cost. But, as well-known, we are presently facing a new phenomenon which was coined by Eugene Stoermer and popularised by the Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen: the emergence of a man made Anthropogenic era. For the first time, human activities may strongly influence the future of the Earth's climate. For instance, since 1750, about 1 million of million tonnes, 1000 Gtons, of CO2 have been injected into the atmosphere to which many other pollutants have to be added. The first sign of such an Anthropogenic era may have been already detected. This effect should be curbed to avoid the irreversible effects of a major climatic change. The amount of CO2 accumulation is, of course, enormous. You can see here the distribution over the planet. You can see that, for instance, in some of the countries we are using more than 100 kg of CO2 per day - each individual person. The second effect is that the CO2 production so far appears as uncurbed. You see here the function of time, the amount of emissions of CO2. The whole planet - you can see that there is a continuous line growing linearly, exponentially. The CO2 production is enough to fill with super-fluid CO2 at 100 bars, with a density similar to water, a volume like the lake of Geneva, which is 80 km^3, every 4 years. You can see the lake of Geneva here. And you can see how it has, in fact, been affected by the situation. The second question is, of course, how long does CO2 last in the biosphere? Here is a graph which shows the variations of the lifetime of the CO2 in the atmosphere and appears to be somewhere between 30 and 35 kilo years. You can see here what will happen over time. You see here 600 years in this plot with a certain emission of CO2, which, I assume, will occur for the first few 100 years and then they will stay steady for a long way to go. As a comparison, for instance, the lifetime of Plutonium 239 is 26 kilo years, associated with today’s public negative perception of nuclear energy. So we are talking about really incredible durations. The mean atmospheric lifetime of the order of 10^4 years is in contrast with the popular perception of many people who think that in a few hundred years CO2 will disappear. Now let’s see, what are the predictions for the next 25 years? Those are particularly gloomy. You can see the plot here from IEA, International Energy Agency, from Paris. You can observe here a massive expansion of fossils burning with no scarcity of resources, but a very slow growth of renewables, hydro included. You can see from this graph that, in fact, the renewables grow simply from 13% to some 18% over a quarter of a century. And the effect of this is coming from a situation which is very characteristic. You can see here that for the USA, Europe and other OECD countries essentially it is flat, constant in intensity. China and India are developing very rapidly, together with the remaining developing countries, and bringing the contribution of the CO2 by an increase of the order of about 33% over this period of 25 years. The immediate consequence of that is, of course, some change of the temperature of the Earth. You can see here the plot of the temperature of the Earth in the year 2015, referring to the baseline situation before the development between 1951 to 1980. And you can see that, in fact, there is a very substantial increase in temperature, mostly the northern hemisphere right here and in our situation. And you can see that the overall effect over the period is substantial, of the order of about 1 degree centigrade above what it was in 1961 to 1990 on average. There is a small little effect up here and down to the bottom of the Antarctica. But fundamentally most of the civilised world is now warming up very substantially. How do we go about this? - That’s the second question. To do this we need, of course, new technologies. The statement is that new technologies are the only key to solving sustainability of the future of energy. The transformation to energy with lower emissions and a quantitatively significant management of CO2 are amongst the most important technological challenges of our times. Of course, the current worldwide energy supply is dependent mainly on fossil fuels, which will remain indispensable for decades to come. But in order to curb environmental changes, it is necessary to proceed vigorously on 2 lines: One is the development and progressive utilisation of renewable energy sources. And the second is the more efficient utilisation of fossil fuels, limiting the effects of anthropogenic CO2 and other emissions. I will briefly present here the main guidelines of major rules which are being followed by Europe on one side, the United States on the other. And finally the developing countries like China, to show what are the differences in interest and behaviours about the future of energy. Let me start with the first pillar of energy policy which is Europe. During as many as 20 years the energy policy in the European Union has been determined by 2 main priorities. The first strategic priority of the European Union has been one to prevent dangerous climate changes. The second consideration is based on the assumption that the energy prices will rise inexorably as global energy demand rises and resources become scarce. And this will necessarily make renewable energy competitively the winners. By 2040, about 80% of the European primary energy should aggressively be coming from renewables, abating both nuclear and fossils. And one of the development and progressive utilisation of renewable is positive action. Europe has missed substantially the consequence of technological progress. And the US successes of CO2 efficient, lower cost and abundant utilisation of unconventional natural gas, which we call also shale gas. So let me briefly show you the situation of the European future. You can see, for instance, the example here of Germany. You can see that from 1990 the amount of CO2 in 2050 will collapse by a factor of 20 - you can see there the situation. You can also see that hydrogen electrically produced by PV, hydro, wind, geothermal and solar, are the main energy sources of industry and transport. According to Europe, which is specifically presented according to the German situation, the amount of fossils will eventually disappear almost entirely and will be replaced by renewables. Let me show you here, as an example, wind energy which is a dominant element for Europe. You can see here that in fact most of the wind energy is really coming from northern Europe, with few little traces around here near France. This is how it’s distributed over Europe. Now let me show you here how it is realised in practice. Wind off-shore is probably the real solution. And you see enormous effort has been performed in order to carry out such a situation. Here you can see, for instance, how the average power now has grown up to something like 6 megawatts per unit. That some of these units go under the water up to 700 metres in depth. That they are, in fact, distributed mostly in the operation offshore in the region between England, Scandinavia and Germany. Now the real problem with wind is variability. You can see here, for instance, the variability of wind in Germany. You can see that essentially there are moments in which there is too much wind, and there are moments when there is not enough wind. Let me also point out that the power carried by wind is cubed in proportion to the speed of the wind. It's squared because 1,5 v^2,is squared, and another v because of the speed at which the wind travels. Therefore there are moments where the very large variability is a major problem, as you can discuss. If you go more generally, you can see that the renewable energy can be done with biomass, geothermal, wind and hydropower. The economic potentials of these various solutions are not very large when you compare them to the demand. Europe will foresee by 2050 to have 7,500 TWh/y of electric power. And you can see that the best you can do of economic potentials of these various alternatives of renewable energy are much smaller than this number. And therefore, long-term renewable dominance requires resources outside Europe. The key resource of Europe is, of course, the sun which has an enormous amount of economic potential, 600,000 TWh/y. Which is, of course, dominating in the southern part of Europe and most importantly in the Sahara desert and so forth and so on. And you can see how little of that can bring an enormous change. A total energy worldwide could be accumulated by covering with solar panels, a system of the order of this little graph you can see here around Africa. However, the situation now is not so clear because, although for solar energy the deserts are a necessity, you can see that transporting energy from Africa to Europe is not a simple task. In fact, the major disasters taking place recently, because the Desertec Industrial Initiative has abandoned its strategy to export solar power generated from the Sahara to Europe, killing hopes of boosting Africa’s share of renewable energy. Therefore it is not very clear what will be the situation in the future. Here you can see, for instance, the cost of large scale electricity and how they go as a function of the various systems. Conventional energies are hydro, geothermal, nuclear and biomass. Wind on-shore and off-shore, you can see them there. And you can see the on-shore wind is still reasonably acceptable, but the off-shore wind has a major cost increase. Then you have also carbon sequestration which is there, which is also again accumulating the CO2 from the coal. And this is also very high in terms of temperature. You also see the solar energies are there - very nice but, of course, extremely expensive. So you see that moneywise the situation is rather difficult to be understood. There are 2 main problems in Europe: one is the high cost as a function of fraction of renewables. You see here a graph which shows, for instance, what is the cost of electricity with about 1,000 watts per capita – which is the situation of Denmark and Germany. And you compare that with the situation in the United States, which is down here, for instance. Where you have in effect a much smaller renewable capacity, but the cost of electricity is almost a factor of 2 lower. The second question is that there are not enough renewables within Europe to satisfy fully the domestic resources. Therefore something has to be done elsewhere. But there is real difficulty in carrying over several thousand kilometres the energy from Africa to Europe. The key problems of renewable energy are, of course: the best energy is always the cheapest energy. Energy, however, must be available when it is needed. And the third important point: that electricity is now becoming the dominant source of energy for renewable energies. But renewable energies require much wider surface of collection, located in specific locations in which production is optimal. And therefore, electricity at very high powers must be transported over much longer distances than today, which is technically not very easy compared to the one possible today for natural gas and oil. So this is the European situation. Now what about the American situation? The second main pillar is coming from the US. And this is essentially based on the question of this graph coming from Time Magazine, which says, Commercial extraction for oil shale is now something which has already started over the last 10 years. And, in effect, the development is quite remarkably growing nowadays. In fact, you can see that there are possibilities to do natural gas from shales. This is how this is being organised. Or coalbed methane, again another possibility, which can be adsorbed to produce unconventional natural gas. And the world-wide shale resources are massive. You can see that both Americas, China and Europe have large amounts of these resources. Coalbed methane again is very rich in different countries. So there are plenty of resources there. In Europe we also have plenty of resources for this. But, as I said, resources are vast, but strong popular opposition forbids the use of these applications when it comes to Europe. Because Europe is totally absent at the present moment in a practical sense to these solutions, which are very strongly developed in the United States. This has produced a very fundamental difference between the prices of natural gas in the US in respect to Europe and Japan. As you see from this graph: while in 2006 to 2008 the situation was, in fact, very similar. Now in 2012/13 you can see that while the prices in US have been going down, the prices in Europe and in Japan are much higher. So there is a big difference between the predictions of the 2 systems. This has also introduced another important fact: that electricity production from coal has gone down in the US thanks to the development of shale gas, and production from gas has increased. The result is that the US has had a very substantial reduction of CO2 emissions. And the primary energy production in North America is, in fact, rising rapidly, while in Europe it is decreasing. And the petroleum production in various countries shows here that now the United States is producing as much petroleum as Saudi Arabia, which is a remarkable result. You can see, for instance, in the case of Texas, which shows clearly that the development of shale gas has created a real revolution in the amount of oil which is being used. The third question I’d like to mention very briefly in the few minutes I’ve got left, is the question of China. China is the world’s largest producer of electricity, surpassing the United States in 2011. Electricity generation in China has increased 9.6% annually, reaching a very large amount of terawatts. The real problem is the coal-fired plants currently make up two-thirds of the power generation, which is, of course, the result of an abundance of coal in China. The demand is expected to continue to increase at a very rapid pace. However, the growth of electricity from coal-fired plants resulted in an increase in air pollution and general lack of efficiency. China is now moving aggressively to curb pollution and increase supply of renewable power. China is the world’s largest wind energy producer with over 90 GW of installed power at the end of 2013. And 15% is the near-term renewables target for China. Here you can see how the renewables represent themselves in China: wind, solar and hydro are there. The electric demands are shown in this graph. You can see why wind and solar and hydro are optimal in some regions. The electric demands are dominant, of course, where the people are. There is a big business in the 2 distances. You can see here a long transmission of power is required, as I mentioned already. You can see that several thousand kilometres of distance are required between the best production of hydro power, wind power, solar power and the presence of the main people occupations. You can see that situation in China. Shale gas is strongly developed by China. You can see here the various companies exploring shale gas, most of them American companies, which are going into China to get this system productive. And you can see how quickly the shale gas is being developed in China to reduce the coal dependency. You can see here a graph showing the estimated annual production rising very rapidly, with a very impressive, high-aiming level of the situation. Let me then continue asking ourselves in the 8 minutes I’ve got left about the future of energy productions. Unconventional natural gas resources seem to be a major new effect, which we have to take into account. The process of progressive decarbonisation of fossils goes necessarily through an increased use and consumption of natural gas. It is quite clear that natural gas represents a practical alternative to the presently growing exploitation of coal as the main source of energy. In addition, many other new developments have to be introduced in order to ensure that the future can become a remarkable era of abundant and cheap production from fossils. And the key element to this is novel methods. Let me also point out to another new fact: the presence of a new source. The largest untapped reserve for natural gas on the crust is a thing called clathrate. Maybe some of you people only know what a clathrate is. The clathrate is a combination between some - you can see here some water and some natural gas, which combine in a situation which is stable at a temperature around zero degrees, and is called clathrate. And it’s very rich in methane. For instance, one litre of methane clathrate, so-called burning ice, will produce something like 168 litres of methane gas at the normal pressures. You can see here a picture of a small amount of this clathrate which is now burning, producing natural gas. And you can see the molecule and the structure of a system like that. The subject appeared to be purely academic until the people realised that a very large amount of methane hydrate could be present in any environment with suitable pressures and temperatures. And therefore the potential amount of methane in natural gas hydrate is enormous, with current estimates converging around a conservative value about 10,000 gigatons of methane carbon. As a comparison, the total estimates for conventional natural gas and oil are of the order of a few 100 gigatons. Therefore you can see here the location where clathrates were observed in the oceans. You can see almost everywhere around the world there are places in which recovered gas hydrate samples or infer gas hydrate occurrences have been observed. The procedure is extremely simple: You go underground. You can extract these clathrates out of the ocean or you can bring them eventually out from the permafrost. And you can recuperate the amount from the system either by having a depressurisation or having a thermal change which separates the natural gas from the water. Now, of course, the question is: How do we solve the question of future global warming? It’s quite clear that natural gas is inevitably emitting CO2 - although at a small fraction, which is half compared to coal. So the new project, the new question is, How can we reduce even further the CO2 productions? And the project - in which, by the way, I'm also involved – is, CO2 productions could be avoided with the help of spontaneous thermal decomposition at sufficient temperatures of methane into hydrogen and black carbon. You can see here the CH4 will transform itself into hydrogen and solid black carbon. This method is quite valuable because it does not use more energy than the existing reforming process, which, however, can produce a lot of CO2 - 4 tons of CO2 for each ton of hydrogen. And the black carbon can be recovered as a filler or construction material. And this is a process under investigation. You can see here the initial attempts which we did many years ago, in which we just took a tube. We put the tube in at the suitable temperature. Some kind of natural gas just naturally transforming itself into black carbon and hydrogen very quickly. And so forth and so on. The way of methane cracking is more or less represented here. You can see the methane input coming in. Through the methane cracking process hydrogen and carbon are separately produced. The efficiency is high. And, in fact, the numbers you can see can be explained comparing the standard method of producing CH4 with emission of CO2 or without emission of CO2. You can see that in both cases – (mobile phone is ringing) sorry, oh my God. (Laughter). Excuse me. Anyway, the situation is, in fact, that this is very similar. You can see here that 40% energy is lost by a conventional method. And about 42% is recovered and stored with a normal method in here. The technology - I cannot spend much time describing it. It’s represented by this picture here. It’s very efficient. We have reached in this case a 1,000 degrees, something like a major fraction of methane conversion today. It works. And the cost is also very valuable. So let me use the 2 minutes I’ve got left by mentioning a few more questions: the question of "fuel for transportations". A lot of people have claimed that you should use hydrogen for transportation. But, however, a future subsitute to petrol for transportation has to be a liquid. Now you can build a liquid by combining the amount of hydrogen produced by the previous method with remaining CO2, which is spent already, where plenty of CO2 is produced. In other words, the idea is to produce methanol through a process in which hydrogen plus CO2 transform themselves into methanol plus water. And this is an example, very briefly, how you do it: You take, this graph here, essentially the natural gas from the methane producing hydrogen with emission of carbon storage. And you take CO2 from already used CO2 and you combine them together in a methanol synthesis reactor, which then becomes a liquid. And its transform is used as a future replacement for oil. Now let me therefore conclude. What are we talking about energy for the future? In my view a new age of abundance is now developing. And it is based on unconventional gas resources, initially coalbed and shale gas in the foreseeable future. And methane hydrates later on, after the coalbed methane and shale gas has been more or less distributed. North America, India, China, Africa, Latin America will all have access to cheap and abundant shale gas and oil. Europe, of course, is, for political reasons still on hold. With both environmental sensitivities and gas consumption on the rise, the main question is, how to recover this huge novel natural gas resources, available for millennia to come. And economically harvest the immense energy wealth in the most efficient and effective manner and with minimal environmental footprint. I believe the natural gas resources with zero CO2 emissions are the winners: Shale gas, and ultimately clathrate, with the ability of becoming the dominant primary energy source for tens of centuries to come. Thank you very much.

Carlo Rubbia (2016)

The Future of Energy

Carlo Rubbia (2016)

The Future of Energy

Abstract

The current worldwide energy supply is based mainly on the availability of fossil fuels and they will remain indispensable in the decades to come. The development of energies with lower emissions and a management of CO2, is one of the most important technological challenges of our times. Novel methods are the only practical way out of the risks of the Anthropogenic warming threat.

In order to curb environmental changes, it is necessary to proceed simultaneously on two parallel lines: (1) the development and progressive utilization of renewable energy sources and (2) a more efficient and friendly utilization of fossils fuels, curbing the effects of their anthropogenic emissions.

NG (methane) is the fossil fuel with the highest de-carbonization, whose full combustion produces ≈ 2 times less CO2 than coal for the same energy. One of the possible solutions lies in the ability to economically develop unconventional but large NG resources, initially coalbed methane and shale gas and in a foreseeable future methane hydrates. Methane hydrates, (burning ice) are expected to be the largest and unexploited reserve of hydrocarbons in the planetary crust. They are common constituents of the shallow marine geosphere both in deep sedimentary structures and as outcrops on the ocean floor.

The presentation will describe novel methods in order to ensure (1) very long distance transport of electricity from renewable sources with MgB2 superconducting cables (2) a remarkable reduction in the GHG emissions from fossil NG combustion with the spontaneous thermal decomposition (TDM) at sufficient temperature of methane to hydrogen and black carbon: CH4 -> 2H2+C.

Suggested readings:

Abánades, A., Rathnam, R. K., Geißler, T., Heinzel, A., Mehravaran, K., Müller, G., Plevan, M., Rubbia, C., Salmieri, D., Stoppel, L., Stückrad, S., Weisenburger, A.,Wenninger, H., Wetzel, T.(2015 online): Development of methane decarbonisation based on liquid metal technology for CO2-free production of hydrogen. - International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

DOI:http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2015.11.164

Geißler, T., Plevan, M., Abánades, A., Heinzel, A., Mehravaran, K., Rathnam, R. K., Rubbia, C., Salmieri, D., Stoppel, L., Stückrad, S., Weisenburger, A., Wenninger, H., Wetzel, T. (2015): Experimental investigation and thermo-chemical modeling of methane pyrolysis in a liquid metal bubble column reactor with a packed bed.- International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 40, 41, p. 14134-14146.

DOI: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2015.08.102

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