President Donald Trump’s recent nod to large-scale coal use has raised doubts about the success of efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change on the planet. Added to this is the United States exit from the Paris Agreement – an international treaty to combat global warming. According to a report published by the magazine “Independent”, climate change can cost up to US$1.8 trillion to the world’s economy until 2030 because of the negative consequence of intense heat on productivity.
This growing concern with the decisions of one of the countries that most emit greenhouse gases, due to the size of its industry, raises expectations regarding the responses that technological innovation can offer to the problem. Fortunately, there are several research initiatives to minimize and contain the climate change process and several possibilities to explore. Technology is a strong ally in the fight against global warming.
Concern about the reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases is one of the main focuses of technological development in the field of energy. One of the best-known personalities among the technology companies, Bill Gates, is betting on clean energy as a way to slow down global warming. In conjunction with other big businessmen, the creator of Microsoft established a Fund, the Breakthrough Energy, to raise resources and investment to encourage research in the area of ecological energy.
The Canadian company General Fusion is betting on innovations in the nuclear power industry to reproduce the reactions that occur in the sun: the company uses state-of-the-art technology to power a plant that heats hydrogen at five million degrees Celsius. The resulting steam makes a turbine rotate producing electricity. According to the company’s CEO Christofer Mowry, General Fusion will be able to provide enough power for 10,000 homes within one year with only 10 liters of water. The project is still in its early days, but, according to the company, it is advancing fast.
The field of energy for transport is another important front. The fleet of over 1 billion vehicles in the world is responsible for 23% of the pollutant gas emissions. It is not difficult to imagine how replacing petroleum-derived fuels is important to avoid worsening the global scenario.
In spite of the remarkable advance presented by the research with this type of vehicle, the biggest challenge is to change people’s customs. One of the fathers of the disruption concept, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, is skeptical of the possibility of replacing conventional cars with the electric ones, mainly because of the price. For him, it is more likely that disruption occurs at the fringes of the market, as for example the use of electric cars as a means of transportation for the youngsters to go to school or move around the neighborhood. In this niche, instead of competing, a new consumer market would be created.
Currently used batteries, made with lithium – a type of alkaline metal – are extremely harmful to the environment. This type of battery, called lithium-ion, created numerous problems for the company Samsung, whose Galaxy Note 7 smartphones exploded and caught fire, putting the lives of many users at risk until the company ordered a recall of all the devices. Faced with this problem, a Massachusetts company called SolidEnergy System has developed a new lithium battery, nicknamed “lithium metal”, which can double the operating time of a mobile device and decrease the recharging time. This new model presents a lower risk of short circuit and lithium leak because it is coated with a more resistant material, even allowing it to be used in electric cars.
Another company that is developing products in this area is the Israeli StoreDot. It has created a battery prototype that uses quantum point technology capable of recharging in a short time: 30 seconds The purpose of this battery is to be durable enough so that the user does not have to get rid of it even after a long period of use. According to its manufacturers, the idea is that the final product is adaptable for various types of device, avoiding the production of electronic waste every time a person changes smartphone.
Technology can be one of our greatest allies to overcome the climate problem, but it is important that investments in this area are stimulated by appropriate policies not just leaving it up to the spontaneity of the market. Governments must give incentives to companies which seek sustainable solutions to stimulate the innovation that will save the planet in the future.