Month: March 2017

Is cold the hottest new trend? Capturing the new ‘cold economy’

ice-cubes-1194502_1280Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice Chancellor, Heriot-Watt University and Professor Toby Peters, Visiting Professor in Transformational Innovation for Sustainability, Heriot-Watt University share new thinking on how to meet the global demand for cooling – while reducing emissions and energy use – and call for global working groups from R&D institutes to accelerate delivery. 

Cold is a pillar of modern society and demand is booming worldwide to deliver air conditioning, data centre cooling and transport refrigeration, particularly in emerging economies. Although our cooling technologies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they are, in equal measure, energy intensive. The IPCC projects that, by the end of this century, air conditioning alone will consume almost half the electricity that we generate worldwide today.

Cold is also highly polluting, emitting 10% of the world’s CO2 emissions, which is three times more than aviation and shipping combined. Large amounts of toxic NOx and particulate materials are also released.

While we pollute, we are equally wasteful, throwing away huge quantities of cold during the re-gasification of liquid natural gas (LNG) at import terminals. But what if we could recycle this wastage, simultaneously providing cold and power? Could this dramatically reduce the environmental impact and spiralling costs?

The global trade in LNG has increased significantly in recent years and is vital to the energy security of a growing number of countries. LNG is natural gas that has been refrigerated to -162°C to make it compact enough to transport by tanker, but this cold energy is normally discarded during the re-gasification process. Research suggests that recycling this waste cold could generate more than $50 per tonne in economic and social benefits. With a projected global LNG trade of 500 million tonnes, this new “waste recycling” market could be worth $25 billion per year by 2025.

Economic modelling and case studies developed in Britain, Spain, Singapore and India suggest that in ‘developed economies’, LNG waste cold could form the foundations of an entirely new economy – the ‘cold economy.’

Energy would be stored and moved as cold rather than converted into electricity and then converted again to provide cooling. The Cold Economy is less about individual clean cold technologies – although these are vital – and more about the efficient integration of cooling with waste and renewable resources, and with the wider energy system.

The Cold Economy approach is powerful because it recognises that there is no demand for cold per se, but for services that depend on it. For the first time we are asking ourselves ‘what is the energy service we require, and how can we provide it in the least damaging way’, rather than ‘how much electricity do I need to generate?’

If the service required is cooling, current approaches such as burning diesel, which produces power and heat, or electric-powered air conditioners that expel heat into their immediate environment, are suboptimal.

Only 23 of the 111 LNG import terminals worldwide currently attempt any form of cold recovery and this is usually limited to the industrial plants close to the terminals themselves and at times when LNG is being re-gasified. The amount recycled could be raised by converting it into novel energy vectors that store and transport it for use on demand, such as liquid air or liquid nitrogen. Recycling waste cold in this way would produce cheap, low carbon, zero-emission cryogenic ‘fuel.’

Britain is currently developing two main energy technologies that could exploit large amounts of LNG waste cold: liquid air energy storage (LAES), which provides large-scale electricity storage for balancing the electricity grid and cryogenic expansion engines (CEE) that are driven by liquid air or nitrogen.

Due to the current grid regulations in the UK and elsewhere, the business case for new investment in LAES is challenging but the financial potential of CEE applications is more positive.

The first application of a CEE system is a zero-emission transport refrigeration unit to displace the highly polluting secondary diesel engines used on trucks and trailers today. Developed by the Dearman Engine Company, it is now in commercial trials with Sainsbury’s. Other Dearman engine applications include a back-up electricity and cooling generator for data and food distribution centres, and a ‘heat hybrid’ engine for trucks and buses that reduces diesel consumption by over 25%.

It is estimated that projected global trade of 500mtpa LNG in 2025 could produce enough liquid air to cool almost four million fleet-average refrigerated trucks – equal to the entire global transport refrigeration units fleet today.

While waste cold of LNG re-gasification is a huge resource, there are also significant barriers to overcome: air liquefiers are capital intensive, plant operators are naturally risk averse, and any such project would require an entirely new business model. Barriers aside, modelling shows that recycling LNG waste cold as distributed cold and power would be profitable once demonstrated and produce significant and measurable environmental benefits.

Given the urgency to meet global cooling demand growth, there is a clear need for government, industry and research institutes to convene global working groups to accelerate delivery of the cold economy with an in-depth feasibility study. This will maximise the business case through an in-depth analysis of the economic, environmental, and energy resilience aspects of this approach, comparing its costs and benefits with alternative strategies for greening cooling.

Heriot-Watt University Energy Academy is a pan-university initiative supported by all Schools at the Edinburgh and Orkney campuses. The Energy Academy has two principal objectives; to consolidate energy research activities and facilitate interdisciplinary programmes, both within the university and with other HEIs; and to ensure external parties can easily gain an appreciation of our vision, skills-base and active research projects. R&D activities at Heriot-Watt University are designed to be demand-driven and in line with current priority industry and government objectives. For more information, please visit http://www.energy.hw.ac.uk/research.html

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Scale and opportunity: our partnership with Climate-KIC

Andy Kerr, 22 March 2017

Andy speaking

Governments, businesses and civic society are grappling with extraordinary changes in our world. The challenge of reshaping our cities and regions in a period of rapid urbanisation and changing work and social patterns. The challenge of exploiting the power of new technologies – particularly data driven innovation and innovation in materials – whilst maintaining social and economic cohesion. And the challenge of radically changing the way we produce and use energy and land to slow and adapt to changes in our climate.

Solving these challenges must be a collective endeavour involving public, private, civic and academic partners. The recent Green Paper on Industrial Strategy from the UK Government is a welcome initial contribution, embedding a long term vision for the energy sector within a wider industrial strategy.

This is not a call for a return to seeking to micro-manage sectors in the economy. It is a call for ensuring the underpinning issues: effective skills within the work force; investment in research and innovation; support to help commercial and social enterprises to thrive; and clarity about the long-term vision – which for me remains lacking in the Green Paper – are prioritised in future.

This critical issue of creating an environment that turns good ideas into reality is a core part of ECCI’s mission. We host the Ideas Lab, for pre-commercial business ideas, and a business accelerator to support scaling up businesses. More widely across Scotland, ECCI is now part of the very constructive move to get all players to join forces to build a collective enabling CAN DO framework as part of a Scotland-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The opportunities are huge. A UK Government review suggested the clean growth/energy sector had direct sales of £71 billion in 2015, employing more than 450,000 people. This is the same size as the food and drink sector and twice the size of the chemicals sector. Globally, the market is worth well-over $1 trillion, and growing fast.

But if we are serious about tackling these continent-wide challenges, we need to scale up our endeavours. This is where Climate-KIC comes in. Climate-KIC is one of the Knowledge and Innovation Comunities (KICs) created in 2010 by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). It has been quietly bringing together its education, innovation and entrepreneurship into a range of programmes to give people and businesses the skills and financial support to make their ideas and new products and services succeed internationally. Now with new leadership at European level with CEO Kirsten Dunlop, and in the UK and Ireland with Director Tom Mitchell, Climate-KIC provides a vibrant community of companies, cities and regions, small and medium size companies, start-ups and students to drive innovation.

It is hugely exciting for ECCI to bring Europe’s leading climate innovation programme to Scotland. It provides a boost for Scotland’s low carbon business sector, building on the sector’s worth of almost £11 billion and support for 43,500 jobs. And it comes hot on the heels of the Scottish Government’s plans for delivering its ambitious climate change targets, and a draft energy strategy that would see the country transform its production and use of energy.

ECCI will be at the heart of one of four climate-focussed innovation ‘clusters’ in the UK and Ireland, supported through Climate-KIC’s programme of start-up support and innovation programmes. The Scottish cluster will focus on emerging strengths in data innovation, as well as the twin themes of rural and water innovation.

We’ll be offering Scottish entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid for funding and dedicated support to help develop their new products and services into new markets, from the Accelerator process to get low carbon start-ups to investment-ready to ClimateLaunchpad, the world’s largest cleantech business idea competition and the Greenhouse support programme for budding climate entrepreneurs.

Come and take part!

Andy Kerr

Director, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation

ECCI’s Vision for the Future

Andy Kerr, March 2017

Andy_Scotsman.jpg

At ECCI, we have a very simple vision for the future: we want to see a thriving zero-carbon world. Of course, getting from where we are today to where we want to be is the grand challenge that faces us. But we live in a world in which radical, disruptive change is becoming the norm. In areas as diverse as politics, new social norms, new business models, the power of data and information technology, and in engineered materials, many of the old certainties are being discarded.

We want to explore how these social, business, technological and political changes will impact on the delivery of a  thriving, zero carbon world. To do this, we are starting a regular blog, drawing on ECCI staff, friends of ECCI, and invited writers. We want to tease out some of these critical issues, to challenge ourselves, our members and our stakeholders, and we want to share some of the exciting developments occurring around the world. From data driven innovation in energy – think smart meters and phone apps that reduce the costs of warming your home – to re-designing everyday products and services that create no waste, from new government climate regulations to how communities organise themselves, we will ask what matters and how it will affect our households, communities and businesses.

At ECCI, our ethos is that no one individual or organisation has all the answers. We must be open to engaging and harnessing knowledge from diverse sources and organisations. We also firmly believe that zero carbon leadership is needed at all levels of organisations and society. We need to recognize the potential for leadership from around the world and help develop it wherever we can.

So, ECCI works with civic society in cities, regions and states. We work with entrepreneurs and small enterprises. We work with large corporates. And we work with Universities. We are keen for you to engage. Whether you agree or disagree with our ideas and views, or think you know better and want to contribute yourself, please let us know.

Andy Kerr

Executive Director, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI)

Director, Hong Kong Centre for Carbon Innovation Ltd.

Co-Director, Scottish Centre for Expertise on Climate Change (ClimateXChange)