Clean energy chronicles
In this edition of the Clean energy chronicles, we turn the spotlight on circular economy technology, carbon capture, and electric trucking.
1. Electric heavy goods trucks. Two of the world’s most important logistics companies made further commitments to the electrification of heavy transport. Maersk announced two orders in the US for heavy ‘Class 8’ trucks. It bought 300 vehicles from the Swedish start-up Einride for delivery in 2023-25 and a smaller order from Volvo of about 110 trucks planned to arrive in 2023 for short-haul journeys. Maersk North America said its ‘long-term goal is to move toward a fully electric trucking fleet’. Amazon said that it will have 9 DAF electric trucks in use in the UK by the end of this year. They will be charged by 360 kilowatt chargers at the company’s distribution depots, providing one of the fastest charging rates in the country. Amazon reiterated its commitment to achieving at least 50% decarbonisation of its UK transport by 2030. These orders, and others like them, strongly suggests that the logistics industry sees the future in pure battery vehicles, not fuel cell trucks.
2. Direct Air Capture (DAC). Much more money became available to develop the DAC industry. Although it admitted that its pioneering $15m Iceland plant had had reliability problems in the cold winter, Zurich-based Climeworks raised about USD650 million to invest in much larger carbon dioxide capture facilities. A consortium of US businesses led by payments company Stripe promised that USD925 million would be available to purchase carbon dioxide removal from DAC providers. The intention is to assure funders of DAC plants that customers will be available for the CO2. Also in the US, the Oxy venture 1PointFive, which is expected to build a 1 million tonne DAC plant in the next two years, sealed a deal with wood products company Weyerhaeuser to utilise CO2 storage space in geologic pores beneath a 12,000 hectare forest in Louisiana.
3. Circular electronics. German company Grover took in new investment of USD300 million to expand its electronics leasing business by buying more stock. Customers rent from a choice of over 3,000 items such as cameras, phones and computers for a monthly fee and are able to return the device at no cost at any point after the minimum rental period. When the goods return to Grover they are refurbished and then rented out again. At the end of life, the items are then fully recycled. Sales are growing strongly in the markets in which it operates around the world helped, the company says, by the tightening economic conditions in many countries. This ‘unicorn’ is probably the largest single circular business in the world today, operating in a sector in which only about 20% of goods have any form of second life.
4. The costs of carbon capture (CCS). Two of the oil majors said that they expected the market for carbon capture to be around USD4 trillion by mid-century. Exxon Mobil upped its estimate of the CCS market to USD4 trillion from half that level a year ago. Occidental put the figure at USD3-5 trillion. These estimates are about 4 per cent of current world GDP. Expenditure of this money would allow them to continue extracting fossil fuels much as at present. No other companies or institutions think this route will be lowest cost way of obtaining the world’s energy and getting to net zero.
5. Biochar. Net Zero, a French startup developing biochar production factories for tropical countries, won USD1 million from the X Prize, a competition funded by Elon Musk. Agricultural wastes are heated to very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, leaving almost pure carbon. The carbon is stable for hundreds of years in soil. Two other biochar startups were also among the 15 winners, one in Kenya and one in the US. Biochar is identified as one of the most promising techniques for permanent carbon removal from the atmosphere and has the advantage of also improving acidic soils and reducing the need for fertilisation. The carbon content of biochar can be measured relatively accurately and easily, making it very suitable for carbon offsetting schemes.