Global warming threatens the world as we know it and we urgently need innovative solutions to balance energy needs against climate action. NextFuel might be the answer.
A report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018 revealed the devastating news that the world had only 12 years to initiate action to keep global warming within a 1.5C rise. Yet world leaders seem to be drifting further from even acknowledging that global warming exists, let alone curtailing the industrial processes and fossil fuel industries that accelerate climate change.
Fossil fuels – coal, natural gas and oil – account for approximately 80% of the world’s energy consumption. The Global CCS Institute argue that demand will continue to grow – they project fossil fuel consumption will be 40% higher in 2035 than in 2010.
While it is tempting to argue that irrational ideologies lie behind a refusal to engage in meaningful action, the reality is that many governments are unwilling to acknowledge and manage the cost implications of ending our dependence on fossil fuels.
While some governments have invested in wind and solar energy, with some success, they still only represent a fraction of total energy use in the world. Often the fall-back position to make up shortfalls are based on dirty fuels. And with more countries officially joining the small number of advanced industrial nations – such as China and India – the demand for electricity and oil is growing.
The IPCC report sees part of the solution in BECCS – bioenergy with carbon capture based on wood and trees – to meet the 1.5C target. A report by Our World in Data entitled Renewables showed that the burning of traditional biomass – wood, forestry materials and agricultural waste – continues to dominate the renewables sector. However, is there a quicker alternative, one that is cheap, effective and can be used now to mitigate climate change?
NextFuel is an innovative new technology that transforms plant matter – grasses and the byproduct of agricultural produce – into fuel.
An international consortium developed the technology, and it was funded by millions of Euros worth of – mainly – research grants from the Austrian government and the European Union. It took six years to develop, and the company – NextFuel – was launched in 2016 to commercialise the technology.
How does NextFuel work?
While in theory, the NextFuel reactor can use any organic matter, from wood to bamboo, the team decided to focus on fast-growing crops that thrive on non-arable land. These crops are elephant grass – a plant that thrives and proliferates on marginal land – and bagasse – the residue left after sugarcane is crushed.
The crops are harvested, dried and then turned into briquettes in less than thirty minutes in the patented NextFuel reactor. The briquettes – which have close to the same energy density as coal – can be used in many different industries. They are copies of fossil fuel and can be used as a direct substitute for coal in existing coal-fired plants. But they have no carbon impact due to a quick carbon cycle. And while wood takes decades to grow, grass only takes weeks.
In an added ecological twist, crops such as elephant grass stores around 20% of the CO2 it absorbs in its root system when growing. This can help to reverse climate change further since less CO2 is released when NextFuel is burned than is captured from the atmosphere when the grass is growing.
This CO2 storage, together with the quick carbon cycle and low energy need in the production process, makes it possible for NextFuel to claim they are the world’s first commercially viable CO2 negative fuel. The company also argues that the crops, within 10-15 years, can revise desertification and create new agricultural land. The transformation occurs because the carbon stored in the soil can gradually transform marginal land into fertile land.
NextFuel offers a solution to foot-dragging on climate change on the grounds of cost. The briquettes can be used in conventional coal-burning energy plants, either by themselves or in combination with coal, meaning no costly infrastructure investment. NextFuel can be used as a substitute for any fossil fuel, from coal to oil, to gas to domestic wood pellets, and are significantly cheaper in most markets.
After a few years working in stealth mode, NextFuel made its first public appearance at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s R20 Regions of Climate Action (Austrian World Summit) in May 2018. It was chosen as one of ten best practice projects at the Summit.
The New Economy featured NextFuel as one of its top five innovative alternatives to fossil fuel in September 2018. And, according to NextFuel’s CMO, Audun Sommerli Time, the company has received inquiries from all around the world after the first media stories were published.
“We have noticed that there are a lot of companies looking for a way to reduce their CO2 footprint without reducing their profit. Our technology offers them a fast and cost-efficient way to switch from fossil fuel to a clean alternative,” says Sommerli Time.
The team at NextFuel will present its product for the first time at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP24), where they have been invited by the Austrian Government that currently holds the EU Presidency.
Ready to go
Unlike many emerging tech solutions to climate change, NextFuel has already been developed and is available for commercialisation today.
They have their first small factory in production in Austria. And they are in the process of implementing two large-scale industrial projects in East-Africa and South America, with possible follow up projects both in Europe, Asia, and several other regions in Africa.
The team at NextFuel hope to begin exporting and licensing the technology to companies around the world as soon as possible.
“To scale fast and impact climate change, we need to work together with existing industrial and energy companies through joint ventures or by licensing the technology to them,” says NextFuel’s CEO, Stefano Romano.
This partnership structure is also the business model used in their first African project. There, a large cement plant will license the technology from NextFuel. They will have a target to replace 250,000 tons of coal with the CO2 negative NextFuel briquette, thereby cutting their energy cost in half and reducing their CO2 emissions by an estimated 105%.
In a second planed project, one company that is already growing the grass in South America wants to license the technology and export NextFuel to coal plants in Europe and Japan.
Technologies like NextFuel will be critical if we are to have any hope of tackling global warming. The NextFuel briquette offers a low-cost, low infrastructure investment means of slowing the emerging catastrophe.