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Big Oil, renewables, electric vehicles + clean tech: Fossil fuel windfalls

Wind, solar, storage + electric vehicle

Prior to the Russian barbaric invasion in Ukraine, announcements made by the oil and gas majors seemed to imply they were engaged in energy diversification.  This diversification has been typically presented as that of increasing the proportion of their assets in clean technologies while reducing the exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Now, with the oil and gas companies earning windfall profits linked to the Ukraine war, inflation and European urgent short-term requirements for fossil fuel sources substitutes, the real truth is coming out.  High fuel prices have revealed opportunist short term thinking prevails over lofty long-term goals.

Canada’s indecent descent on climate since 2021 fed election

Forest Wildfire

The Canadian federal election of September 20, 2021 brought the Liberals back to power, once again as a minority government.  As with previous elections, the Liberal election campaign leading up to voting day, placed a major emphasis on addressing climate change.  Though the Liberals failed to deliver on previous emission reduction targets, this time things appeared to be different in that a former climate activist, Steven Guilbeault, was appointed the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Canada.

What has happened since this nomination constitutes a sad tale of giant steps backwards.  These are presented hereafter.

China: Largest emitter to green gamechanger, but…

China climate emergency global influence

China is several years ahead of other developed countries on the migration to a green economy, in clean technology production capacity, massive market penetration and green investments. China already has an extraordinary global green export potential. China leads in renewables, electric vehicles and battery production, incrementally regulating plastic solutions, high-speed rail, private clean tech investment, government environmental support and green bonds.  China’s concurrent climate actions are gamechangers destined to have huge global competition impacts on energy, economic, transportation, industrial and other paradigms, perhaps more so than the climate crisis.  But there are simultaneous contradictions. China is the world’s largest liquified natural gas importer, once again ramping up coal production and certainly not a leader on human rights.

Electric vehicle battery recycling: Competing with mined materials

electric vehicle battery recycling facility

The environmental footprint of an electric vehicle represents a sectorial industrial revolution, including the first lifecycle end of an EV battery.  With existing technologies, 95% of an EV battery can be recycled for inclusion in a new EV battery and/or energy storage.  The remaining 5% can be handled by third party recyclers.  Because the price of mined lithium is rising exponentially, recycled EV battery materials are set to compete with mined content.  With high recycled content, the emissions of a new battery can be reduced by 64%. The result is massive battery recycling investments and recycling agreements with EV manufacturers are underway and planned, especially in China, Europe and the U.S.  In the U.S., the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers tax credits that can be stacked on top of each other for the EV battery supply chain.  An IRA proviso is that the raw materials, including materials derived from battery recycling, be sourced in the U.S.  In addition, the U.S. Bipartisan Infrastructure Act allots US$7 billion for all battery supply chain stages, including battery recycling.  To counterbalance the IRA, the Canadian 2022 Fall Economic Update includes a 30% Investment Tax Credit covering clean technologies.  But the Canadian tax credits may fall short compared to the cumulative eligibility criteria impacts of the two U.S legislative initiatives. The U.S. initiatives, alongside the monumental head start in China and Europe, auger for a colossal challenge for the Canadian national and provincial governments to assure Canada is a major battery recycling player, despite two prominent existing Canadian recycling firms.

Canada’s 2030 climate plan: Designed to fail

Oil sands development

Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) was made public March 29, 2022.  Since the country’s oil and gas sector with methane included, plus transportation components, together, represent about half of Canadian emissions, one would have thought these sectors would be objects of strong climate initiatives.  Yet, for these sectors, the ERP appears to be the product of accommodation of industry lobbies.  The action items stupendously lack integrity and are weak.  As such, the ERP like all previous government emission reduction targets, will not achieve its goals.

Fossil fuel methane climate emergency: Solutions

Methane emissions underestimated

Methane emissions are underrated at one third of global warming gases, largely because fossil fuel sector methane emissions are underestimated by 70 percent.  Current data indicates the energy sector accounts for 40 percent of man-made methane.  Consequently, the COP26 non-binding pledges of over 100 nations for a 30 percent reduction by 2030 are not only dreadfully inadequate, but also, without standardized measuring, reporting and verification standards, oil and gas industry methane greenwashing is rampant.  The draft European Union (EU) plan to reduce methane emissions up to 80 percent by 2030 zeros in on methane accountability norms and establishes transparent extraterritorial requirements to cover imports.  The U.S. too, with the backing of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, now has the foundation for vigorous proposal to update its regulations and investments in methane reduction.  Sadly, Canada’s methane ambitions procrastinate and are fuzzy.  Lastly, stringent government actions would be less critical if the oil and gas industry applied existing technologies to capture fossil fuel methane and sell it for a net profit.

Green hydrogen, no panacea: Deep dive

Green hydrogen offshore wind powered

Green hydrogen, produced with electrolysers to separate hydrogen from water, uses clean energy as a power source.  Green hydrogen will not be with cost competitive with grey hydrogen for some time, perhaps not until 2030.  Grey hydrogen, derived from steam reformation of natural gas, represents 98 percent of global hydrogen consumption, and is primarily used for industrial processes.  To replace grey hydrogen with green hydrogen would require a doubling of global electricity generation with primarily solar and wind sources, pre-empting the use of renewables for electrical power.  This would necessitate more use of natural gas for power production.  And there are extraordinary inefficiencies and technological challenges for green hydrogen, while there is no shortage of affordable and efficient clean technologies alternatives.  Nevertheless, US$30 billion has been committed to-date for green hydrogen through government stimulus packages.  Is green hydrogen a fossil fuel industry trojan horse for gas derived hydrogen and the use of gas for electrical power?

Canada sheepish on electric vehicles: Stringent legislation required

Electric vehicle charging

If present trends continue, transportation will be the Canadian largest source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.  Canada’s objective for a legislated 2035 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) target for all new light duty models is too little, too late.  Canada can adopt incremental legislative objectives between now and 2035, much like what the European Union and China have done.  The latter jurisdictions may reach 50% ZEVs, mostly electric vehicles, by 2025.  Just as automakers can adjust to safety regulations while offering vast lineups of trendy vehicles, they can do the same with Canadian ZEV regulatory mandates.

Shipping sustainability: Oxymoron but paradigm to change

Container ship powered by dirty oil

Cargo and cruise ships represent 2.6 percent of global emissions and could reach 17 percent by 2050.  Nearly all these ships use cheap dirty heavy oil with high sulphur content.   International regulations aren’t helpful as they are lax and difficult to enforce.  Fortunately, Maersk, the largest container shipping company in the world, has created the conditions for an industry-wide sectoral revolution by setting 2040 as a target to achieve net-zero emissions, requiring all new vessel acquisitions be carbon-neutral and has already ordered 12 green methanol powered ships.  Concurrently, many new technological solutions are under development including ones associated with electric, wind and biofuel energy sources.  Stringent territorial waters and docking standards, Maersk technological catalysts, financing of emerging remedies, could advance clean technologies quickly.  Finally, open-loop scrubbers are widely used as a band-aid to remove sulphur from the exhausts to transfer the pollutants into the sea.

Carbon capture and storage: Greenwashing, subsidies and carbon pricing

Carbon capture and storage site

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are the darling of the fossil fuel industry since CCS offers the opportunity to continue increasing production, with the support of gargantuan government subsidies, while appearing to be green and gaining carbon price credits. But all CCS projects to-date have failed to live up to emissions reduction expectations and CCS is energy intensive.  As such, CCS is a greenwashing narrative.