Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a complex, multi-faceted problem. Renewables won't be enough

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a complex, multi-faceted problem. Renewables won't be enough

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction is a much more complex and multifaceted challenge than it first seems. It’s about much more than switching power production to renewables.

Here are some other significant contributors to our emissions:

  • Aviation; modern jet aircraft run almost exclusively on crude-oil based fuel. Biofuels are being trialled but have their own challenges, such as competition with land used for food production and with available water.

  • Industrial heat; industrial furnaces and reactors often require high temperatures (> 500C). This is currently provided by coal or natural gas. Finding economically viable emissions-free options for industrial heat is a challenge.

  • Fugitive emissions; so long as we produce coal and gas, we will release methane into the atmosphere. Finding better ways to capture and abate this will be necessary so long as we continue to use these energy sources.

  • Metals production often uses coal, not only as a heat source but as a “reductant” to drive the reaction. Alternatives exist but are a long way from widespread use.

  • Synthetic fertilisers enable us to feed 7.6 billion humans. They produce high nitrous oxide emissions as they break down after being used. We need alternatives that don’t cut food production.

Let’s get to work.

Growing LNG industry incompatible with Australian emissions reductions without abatement

Growing LNG industry incompatible with Australian emissions reductions without abatement

Australia has made international commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time it has a growing LNG export sector. A sector which, as last week’s WA experience shows, is not keen to offset or abate its emissions and will use its political and financial clout to fight regulation to do so.

The above two statements are incompatible.

The LNG sector has become an extremely important part of the economy, particular for our balance of trade. It employs many people. It’s vital in key regions, especially around Karratha and Gladstone.

So what’s it going to be? I’m of the view that we have the technology and capability to abate domestic emissions while growing the LNG sector. We can have our cake and eat it. But it certainly won’t happen for free. And if the sector won’t pay for it, who will?

IoT will fail unless you think through your whole business system

Internet of Things (IoT) devices have been growing like topsy in recent years. They offer remarkable benefits for businesses looking to improve the reliability, efficiency and environmental performance of their operations.

They are also cheap compared to conventional instrumentation (where cabling can be the bulk of the capital cost). It can be tempting to sprinkle devices throughout your facility without much thought.

Without a strategy and plan to handle the new data streams from these devices, they will end up being an expensive experiment.

You will need to consider these points:

  • What data will be genuinely useful, not just nice to know?
  • What data pipeline will you need to handle and store your new data streams. Is it compatible with your existing systems?
  • Data volumes will not be manageable with conventional spreadsheet ad-hoc analysis. Develop automated analytics (including machine learning systems) to take full advantage of your IoT data.

I’m hearing powerful stories of enhanced plant reliability through a combination of IoT vibration monitoring and machine learning. I’m hearing others of identifying poorly performing equipment by measuring temperatures that were never monitored before.

There’s a lot to be gained from IoT - just do it properly.

Remembering you will die will enable you to follow your heart

I’ve been reading a lot of Stoic philosophy lately. One of the central ideas of Stoicism is “memento mori” - remember that you will die.

It’s not intended to be morbid. On the contrary, it’s intended to do two things.

First, it keeps you grounded. If you’re having a run of success, it’s easy to get caught up in it and let your ego run wild. Remembering that one day you’ll be gone (and probably forgotten sooner than you’d like) helps you to keep your success in perspective.

Second, it keeps you working in the present moment. Not on the past (which you can’t change) and not in the future (which is mostly out of your hands) but right here and now. Life is short. You need to remember that so you don’t coast along not doing what you truly want to do.

As Steve Jobs famously said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart”.

For me, I want to raise my boys to be fine men who contribute to the world. And I want to help humanity transition to living in ways that preserve our planet for our descendants.

Remembering I will die is helping me to focus - today - on both those life goals.

What do you want to do with your life? Right now?

AI and our response to climate change

AI and our response to climate change

The power of machine learning and AI can take a much bigger role in our response to climate change. For example:

  • Machine learning enables rapid building of models of industrial plants. Using optimisation techniques with these models, it is possible to find (in real time) the best combination of control system set points that will meet your objectives while minimising energy use. Google’s Deepmind reduced one of their data centre’s cooling system power use by 40% with this approach. What would double digit energy savings, without physical changes to your plant, do for your business?

  • Deep learning enables you to automatically interpret and respond to video streams. This is most obvious in autonomous vehicles, but can include responding to plant upsets that normally require a human to see, interpret and respond. This response can be extremely rapid - less than a second to a few seconds.

  • Supply chains are ripe for much more AI-based optimisation. Getting the right products and materials to the right places is a complex business with many competing variables. Shipping items further than necessary burns bunker fuel and creates unnecessary CO2 emissions.

Energy & environment people need to know these options are available, include them in project plans and in their MACCs.