💡 One idea: Blue hydrogen, tomorrow's solution or climate enemy?
📈 One data figure: 80% more water for snowmaking
✨ One success: Basecamp Research maps the world's proteins
💡 Blue hydrogen, tomorrow's solution or climate enemy?
Grey, blue or green hydrogen refer to the same end product: H₂ molecules that you can transport, store and eventually burn to produce energy. The name - or the colour - is defined by the method of production.
Today, 96% of hydrogen produced worldwide is made using coal, oil and natural gas as inputs. The process generates carbon dioxide and hydrogen. To be clear, hydrogen produced this way is neither clean nor renewable. But you can capture the CO₂ emitted during the process and store it in the deep geological layers of the Earth. Carbon Capture and Storage equipment is still costly, raising the price of the fuel, but the technology is improving quickly and can already provide for low-carbon hydrogen production at a lower cost than green hydrogen (produced with solar or wind electricity).
It all seems too good to be true! Blue hydrogen production unfortunately also emits methane that is a greenhouse gas too, but with a global warming potential roughly 30 times greater than CO₂. A recent American study (Energy Science & Engineering, 2021) claimed that "greenhouse gas emissions from blue hydrogen are still greater than from simply burning natural gas". Moreover, the energy efficiency of the process is not very high. Roughly 25% of the energy contained in the initial natural gas used to produced blue hydrogen is lost during the transformation. Hydrogen detractors happily welcomed the study and quickly accused oil & gas industries of pushing hydrogen technology, being driven by their sole self-interest.
On the other hand, several specialists pointed out the lack of scientific rigour of the researchers when measuring methane leaks. Currently running European facilities present methane leakage rates up to 100 times lower than what the study is based on. The results are therefore deemed unrealistic picture and misleading. Indeed, different technologies have different leakage rate. The discussion goes on...
While green hydrogen is a strong candidate to become the energy carrier of the future, blue hydrogen has the potential to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions now and could play the role of a bridging technology. This is because green hydrogen is still 2 to 3 times too expensive, whereas the infrastructure and the technology to produce blue hydrogen at scale is already available. The IEA's Net Zero by 2050 report predicts that 40% of the sixfold increase in global hydrogen production by 2050 will be blue hydrogen.
By the end of the decade, blue hydrogen annual production should exceed 3 million metric tons, most of which is expected to come from Europe, followed by the US in a distant second place.
📈 80% more water for snowmaking
Climate change is not only global warming, it also disrupts climate patterns. In Europe, scientific models predict more precipitation in winter, but more rain than snow. This is a major concern for ski resort owners, operators and employees who have been facing dire snowfall conditions in recent years.
However, one investor recently dared to spend millions of Swiss francs on expanding the Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis ski resort in Switzerland, where the ski pistes are located well above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). Bullish and foolish investment or brilliant foresight?
A study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology by Dr Maria Vorkauf et al. specifically looked into this business case. The climate models show that winters will often not be cold enough to guarantee the presence of snow in the Christmas season, an economically critical time of the year for ski resorts. But the use of artificial snow should indeed ensure a 100-day ski season in the higher parts of the resort (at 1,800 meters and above).
Nevertheless, the researchers have calculated that water consumption for snowmaking will dramatically increase, by up to 80% if the resort were to remain open at the end of the century. In an average winter, total water consumption would amount to more than 500 million litres (110 million gallons). In other resorts located at lower altitudes, we can expect a surge in water needs by a factor of 5. This will undoubtedly generate unsustainable conflicts over water use, notably with hydropower generation. Time to disinvest!
✨ Basecamp Research maps the world's proteins
Nature is an infinite source of inspiration, particularly in the biotechnology sector, where industries and researchers are always on the look for new proteins to mimic or adapt. But it is not straightforward to find and sample these molecules, hidden within our world's vast biodiversity. This is the challenge Basecamp Research is taking on.
The London-based start-up dispatches its scientists to collect samples in the most remote corners of the planet and uses next-generation DNA analysis technologies to build the bridge between biodiversity and biotechnology.
Founded in 2019 by two PhD students, Glen Gowers and Oliver Vince, the young company claims that 90% of the proteins in their database are entirely new and has increased the number of proteins known to science by 50%!
R&D managers and protein engineers from the pharma, therapeutics, and food industries call on Basecamp Research whenever they need to find the right matching protein to develop a specific product.
Basecamp Research has just raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Systemiq Capital. The funds will be used to expand the team as well as the database. Industrial applications seem endless!
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