Professor Nilay Shah discusses negative emissions technologies and how they could contribute to climate mitigation efforts

dino on a bike The finite nature of fossil fuels has conventionally been recognised as a problem, but this is not the case.  In fact, we have more than enough fossil fuels, but lack the space in the ecosphere to continue using it as we are.  The main challenge we are faced with today is finding the routes to development given improved human development index without compromising the environment.

The need to transition to a sustainable energy future is well recognised across the globe. Fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) are readily available currently, but recent estimates warn us that our urgency to act is now. In the next 100 years, as energy demand increases, finding an alternative to the conventional use of fossil fuels will be necessary.

Many large areas in the world lack modern energy infrastructure and transport fuels. Fossil fuels are an attractive option—they are cheap, still readily available, and a lot of knowledge and technology surrounds them today. If there is an attempt to turn to fossil fuels without flexibility, the result would be disastrous. We have seen in some areas of the world how the quickest route to industrialisation and development has a detrimental negative effect.

The common argument that we need to completely move away from fossil fuels is daunting, and likely impossible given the lack of knowledge and support for alternative sources. Our research team recognises and embraces the need for an alternative plan—one that provides a smooth transition to a low-carbon, sustainable, clean energy future. The deployment of carbon capture and storage in the near term is technically feasible to bridge the gap between renewable energy and fossil fuel use.

To provide resilient low-carbon energy systems, we aim to understand the facts and effects of the entire system, as well as each of its parts. There exists a clear chain that needs to be taken into account when deciding the best way forward to this clean future. Economics and engineering go hand-in-hand: whatever our future holds, it needs to be economically vibrant and flexible especially in politically unstable regions of the world. Too long has the world been focused on energy cost—which is no longer the determining factor, and instead we need to realise that each energy source has a value. We aim to develop a model that realises what forms of CCS and clean energy use are most suited for consumers and producers, and be able to flexibility alternate between these sources.

The focus of our group is transitioning to use clean fossil and bioenergy, concentrating on three areas: electricity market modelling, above ground engineering, and below ground engineering.