What future do fossil fuels have?



Global warming is expected to remain below two degrees. This is why we need to reduce our use of coal and oil. This creates anxiety and optimism. But is the end of fossil fuels really insight?


The warnings are clear: "With anthropogenic emissions of more than 41 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2017, we are running out of time. It will be so difficult to keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius, let alone below 1.5 degrees., Declares climatologist Corinne Le Quéré during the presentation of the last report on the development of greenhouse gases at the United Nations climate conference in Bonn.


Most greenhouse gases are emitted when coal, oil and gas are burned. According to Quéré forecasts, there will be 36.8 gigatonnes of CO2 this year, about 2% more than last year. Besides, other greenhouse gases are mainly generated during deforestation and agricultural production.


"The peak of global emissions must reach within the next few years, and therefore a rapid reduction in emissions to fight against climate change", warns climatologists.


Rapid replacement of coal, oil and gas with renewable energy is seen as an essential step towards reducing greenhouse gases. According to a study also presented at the climate conference, global electricity production could be converted relatively quickly and cheaply, reducing greenhouse gases from the current eleven gigatons of CO2 to 0.5. gigatonnes by 2035. This corresponds to a reduction of 95%.


The prices for wind and solar energy and batteries are falling rapidly at the moment. This is why electricity can be produced cheaper with renewables than with coal, oil, gas and nuclear power. "The energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but a question of political will," explains the author of the energy study, Christian Breyer of Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) in Finland.


Is the peak in coal use behind us?




The recent shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is such a big shift the world hasn't seen since the energy transition around 1880, British financial expert Kingsmill Bond told the World Climate Conference in Bonn. From the 1880s, wood and coal were increasingly replaced by coal, oil and gas.


Today, coal growth is already slowing down again. "2013 was the global climax for coal," said Bond. "We will see peak demand for fossil fuels in 2020 and demand for combustion engine cars in 2021," he said.


However, the US government sees it differently and is promoting the long-term use of coal-fired energy at an event at the climate conference. With more efficient CO2 capture and technology (CCS), coal could be climate-friendly and forward-thinking, representatives from the U.S. coal industry said. In the face of the world's growing hunger for energy, coal could be used for many decades to come.


At present, however, only a few coal-fired power plants generate electricity using the more climate-friendly CCS technology. In Europe, operations in several pilot plants have been stopped. One reason for this is the high cost: CCS coal-fired electricity costs about twice as much as large solar and wind power plants. The prospects for this technology are, therefore, not exactly bright.


A possible solution: synthetic oil




Our vehicles are one of the biggest climate problems. The demand for petroleum for world traffic is growing rapidly and so far, unchecked. Electric cars have yet to catch on, although this would be extremely important for climate protection. "We need safe and climate-friendly mobility," World Bank's Laura Tuck said at the climate summit.


A quarter of all fossil fuels are currently used in transport. Associated emissions are currently between six and seven gigatonnes of CO2 per year and are expected to increase to 16-18 gigatons by 2050 without a trend reversal.


The Paris climate objectives would be torpedoed with such a development and could no longer be achieved.


A glimmer of hope: the technology already exists to produce some "replacement oil" for aeroplanes, cars and ships. In the power-to-liquid process, hydrogen is first produced using water and renewable electricity. Then, in a second step, synthetic methane is produced with the addition of CO2, which corresponds to natural gas or synthetic petroleum product. . This allows climate-neutral mobility.


Synthetic fuels are currently much more expensive than crude oil or natural gas. But that will change, says expert Michael Sterner of the Research Center for Energy Networks and Energy Storage (FENES) at Regensburg Technical University. "The breakthrough of this technology is only a matter of time".


The global implementation of the Paris climate agreement is leading to the necessary replacement of oil and natural gas in many sectors with this technology. In the future, climate-friendly fuels will be needed, especially in the chemical industry. air traffic and heavy transport.


"Here we will experience the same development as photovoltaics," says Sterner. "Even there, a few years ago, it was said that all this did not make sense. Today we have an industry of several gigawatts."

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