Policy Perspective: Sustainable Transitions

Article by Elena Demou

TEKENA FUBARA, member of IChemE’s Energy Centre board represented the centre at a UN meeting focussed on the mechanisms for accelerating the transition to sustainable energy systems.

Despite the general recognition of a climate change emergency, no meaningful progress has been accomplished in reducing carbon emissions. As a technical community, IChemE attended the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Sustainable Energy Week held in Switzerland in September so it can engage and stay up to date on the current thinking surrounding this complex technical issue.

Based on the data presented, fossil fuels account for 80% of today’s energy supply in the UNECE region. Even under a scenario that meets the 2°C target, fossil fuels will still represent 40% of the region’s energy mix by 2050 - far from a net-zero world.

Fubara said: “To be able to attain sustainable energy at the same time as meeting the 2°C target, a radical disruption in the energy sector with meaningful outcomes achieved over the next five years will be obligatory”.

Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that all technology options will play a role in countries developing pathways to a robust and sustainable energy system. To achieve sustainable development, it will be essential to adopt a mix of measures that improve energy efficiency, modernise and optimise fossil-based infrastructure, and integrate low-carbon infrastructure. It is also necessary to accept that each country has a distinct set of options on how to proceed, based on their economic circumstances and natural resources.

Another issue discussed at the meeting, is that the energy industry is perceived as a commodity business. The industry’s existing assets, organisational infrastructure, regulations and policies, are shaping decisions about its future direction because today’s structures are expected to endure.

Therefore, Fubara noted, it is important that the chemical engineering community starts seeing the energy industry as a collection of service industries. Such a reconfiguration would promote innovation, investment and improved energy productivity.

Lastly, there was an interactive demonstration session on energy transition tools. The toolkits, developed by the World Energy Council, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies and Global Climate Forum, are designed to assist stakeholders, and could also benefit chemical engineers, in analysing and addressing energy transition challenges.

For more information and to access these tools, visit: https://bit.ly/2pDOmRV.

To read Fubara’s report from the meeting, visit: https://bit.ly/2N4fZf8

Sustainable water

A member of IChemE’s policy team attended a conference hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry in October on the role of the chemical sciences in facilitating the sustainable supply and treatment of water. Presentations covered policies, strategies and technologies for the supply of safe water whilst minimising the environmental risks and costs of providing and treating water.

Dionysios Dionysiou from the University of Cincinnati emphasised the role of advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) in efforts towards sustainable water management. He outlined that factors influencing the cost included the types and concentration of contaminants, targeted percentage removal, desired water flow rates and pre-treatment and/or post treatment.

He stressed that reactive species generated in AOPs can destroy key functional groups of so-called contaminants of emerging concern. This can potentially decrease or increase their toxicity or bioactivity and hence there is a need to carefully assess the selection of the most promising AOP for a target application.

The evidence presented in the workshops will help us inform policymakers, particularly as a new Environment Bill is working its way through parliament in the UK.


IChemE has been hard at work with our members on a number of consultations, which have recently been completed. Reports will be published in due course. Follow these links for more information:  

Carbon capture - https://bit.ly/2oU5Utf  

RAB model for nuclear - https://bit.ly/32E1tRH

Bio plastics - https://bit.ly/2o74PxA

National Food Strategy - https://bit.ly/2P9wcSN

Article by Elena Demou

Technical Knowledge and Policy Intern, IChemE

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