The Atlantic Council Global Energy Center is excited to launch a new online series: EnergySource Innovation Stream. Building off the Global Energy Center’s EnergySource blog and soon-to-be-announced EnergySource podcast, Innovation Stream highlights new energy technologies with the potential to reshape the global energy system through discussions with companies and individuals working diligently to bring those innovations to market at scale.
On April 10, 2020, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosted the second iteration of EnergySource Innovation Stream, a new series that spotlights emerging technologies with the potential to reshape the global energy system through conversations with individuals working to bring these innovative energy technologies to market at scale. Following introductory remarks by Randolph Bell, director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center and Richard Morningstar chair for global energy security, Bill Brown, chief executive officer and co-founder of NET Power, discussed his vision for the “electro-molecular economy,” the energy transition, and global decarbonization. Bell moderated the discussion.
The conversation centered upon identifying and advancing the industry actions necessary to meet the 2050 net-zero emissions target and limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Brown emphasized the need for a “sustainable electro-molecular economy” where common cogeneration equipment would create several value streams, and where the waste products of one process would serve as the feedstock for another. He explained that, unlike the digital economy that developed opportunistically over the past thirty years, the electro-molecular economy would be driven by the urgency of climate change and critical need for affordable energy.
In an informative presentation, Brown provided an overview of 8 Rivers’ and NET Power’s recent clean tech activities. Among a number of innovative energy technologies in process, Brown highlighted their advancements in cheap, zero-emissions hydrogen fuel, profitable direct air capture, industrial decarbonization, and coal ash remediation. Positioned within the 8 Rivers “Electro-Molecular Platform™,” NET Power specifically works to build and scale a zero-emissions electricity solution for thermal power plants, with commercial sites currently under development in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. If realized, this technology would provide affordable energy and electricity access to lowest-income nations, support extensive renewable deployment, and enable negative emissions.
Throughout the conversation and Q&A session, Brown noted the importance of taking advantage of what is in “plain sight,” focusing on existing infrastructure, and learning by doing. In his perspective, “we don’t have time to invent entirely new technologies” if the world is to meet crucial net-zero targets at cost and on time. Rather, clean energy innovators should capitalize on plain-sight technological know-how and infrastructure in creating today’s energy solutions, he noted. He continued to explain that C02 itself is not the problem, but rather C02 in the air. In his view, carbon dioxide is just allocated to the wrong places; within a circular economy that renders carbon capture and utilization highly economical, C02 waste from one process would become the feedstock of another, used to generate low-carbon fuels, produce industrial products, and remediate coal ash. When pressed on the environmental and social justice concerns associated with carbon capture and storage technologies, Brown underscored the critical need to provide low-cost energy options to the whole planet regardless of GDP or income, and not just for wealthy communities. “We need to make sure that energy is at a price that anyone can afford, not just those in rich countries,” he asserted.