American football is not the only thing on the University of Notre Dame’s mind this weekend, as Dublin gears up for the game at the Aviva Stadium, but academics from the university were at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin this morning to discuss global energy challenges, the future role of renewables and how technologies such as carbon capture and storage can play a role in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This morning’s conference itself was entitled ‘The Future of Energy: dreams and responsibilities’. The keynote speaker was intended to be NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, but he had to cancel his appearance in Dublin as a result of the passing of the astronaut Neil Armstrong.
While Ireland’s Energy and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, opened the conference, before he headed off to reveal the country’s National Broadband Plan, speakers in the opening session about next-generation energy included Mazhar Bari, co-founder and CTO of the Irish company SolarPrint, which is developing photovoltaic technologies via dye-sensitised solar cells. Meanwhile Thomas Corke, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, was also in Dublin this morning to talk about new technologies.
One of the most topical sessions was the second panel discussion in which the speakers talked about ways of achieving a more sustainable energy future.
Mike Hogan, a senior advisor at the Regulatory Assistance Project, which covers both the US and Europe, particularly honed in on the decarbonisation of the power industry. He drew upon his time as the director of the European Climate Foundation between 2008 and 2010 in relation to the European Commission’s energy roadmap to 2050 to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Pointing to the power sector, Hogan claimed that we have the knowledge to decarbonise the power sector by 2030, or at least certainly by 2050.
"The power sector is the heart of the solution," said Hogan, who also added that there would be a need to diversify technology risk, looking to areas such as wind, solar, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.
"There’s no prudent pathway without at least 50pc of electricity from a diversified mix of renewables by 2050," he said, pointing to key areas such as the electrification of heat and transport.
University of Notre Dame and carbon capture R&D
Next up on the podium was Professor Edward Maginn, department chair of chemical and bio-molecular engineering at the University of Notre Dame. He delved into the practical work happening at the university to try to develop technologies for carbon capture.
However, at the start he spoke about how fossil fuels will not be fading out anytime soon.
"Renewables are increasing rapidly but the bad news is fossil fuels will account for 75pc of the primary power for the next 30 years," said Maginn.
As to the fossil fuel reserves that are left, he pointed to how the world is estimated to have 2,795 gigatonnes of "proven" fossil fuel reserves, worth about US$27trn.
"That’s a lot of fossil fuels available to us, so what can we do to prevent CO2 going into the atmosphere?" asked Maginn.
That’s where the university’s research on carbon capture comes into play. He said that the biggest technical challenge for fossil fuel plants is the cost of carbon capture.
Right now, Maginn said that the current solvents, such as a mixture of amine and water, require far too much energy for regeneration in order to capture carbon.
He said that Notre Dame has been working on ionic liquids to be cheaper and more energy efficient than competing technologies out there.
The university is currently carrying out test systems along with other companies to look into this new platform for carbon capture.
Ireland’s energy roadmap
From an Irish perspective, David McAuley, R&D programme manager from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, kicked off by talking about how energy efficiency is going to play a major role in meeting CO2 reduction targets.
He said that it’s also about getting people and organisations to understand their role in achieving energy efficiencies.
McAuley gave an energy research roadmap of Ireland, looking at the major technological areas the universities and institutes of technologies are focusing on.
He said that between 2004 and 2010 energy efficiency, bio-energy and solar energy had been some of the key areas.
As to FP7 funding under the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, McAuley said that Ireland has gleaned €25m specifically for energy research. Strength areas, he said, included marine energy, bio-energy and solar power.
He said that Ireland could be looking at an extra €5/6m of FP7 funding for energy research this year.
The final speaker during the panel discussion on the future of energy was Thomas Degnan, who manages breakthrough and leads generation for Exxon Mobil Research and Development, a segment of the oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil.
Degnan spoke about achieving energy efficiency, with the company currently ranking as North America’s biggest natural gas producer.
He said that there is going to be a 1pc increase per year over the next 30 years in energy demand, due to factors such as population growth and also higher standards of living.
"Rapidly expanding economies will drive demand," said Degnan. By 2040, he claimed that 80pc of the world’s energy will still come from fossil fuels, along with a strong growth in natural gas.