Welcome to Navigating Net Zero: COP26 Series. Navigating Net Zero is JWN Energy’s framework for curating conversations and content related to Canada’s climate opportunities and challenges in a transition to a low-carbon economy. In this special series in advance of COP26, we have asked nine individuals to reflect on where Alberta and Canada fit within a global climate leadership nexus and offer perspectives on navigating collaboratively. Today, Michael Binnion, chief executive officer, Questerre Energy Corporation and Modern Miracle Network, explains why he’s ‘betting’ on oil and gas to win the race to net zero.
To solve the climate crisis, let’s have a race — first to net zero wins!
As humanity grapples with the environmental challenges of a population expected to grow to 10 billion people by 2050, we need all hands-on-deck to save the planet. With more people wanting higher standards of living, global GDP is expected to more than double by 2050. We all have to acknowledge this will cause environmental pressures globally even if we disagree on the details.
The “Great Reset” and new “Green Economy” approaches, which seek to phase out our conventional energy options, risk being too little and too late. We need real action. Soon.
I say, let’s make this a fair race and give all energy industries a chance. It promises to be exciting because in this race the dark horse of oil and gas just might be the unexpected winner. I’m placing my bet there, no need to see the odds first.
Let me tell you why.
First and foremost, no one does innovation and improvement like Canada’s energy industry. The oil and gas industry of today is nothing like the oil and gas industry of 15 years ago, which was dramatically different than the one of 30 years ago. Technological change is a constant in oil and gas and few industries are as quick to follow and reward successful innovators.
This leads to the emerging concept of a circular economy. Most of us know that CO2 is the building block of life that Mother Nature recycles into growing forests and every other form of life, including you and me. But that’s not all: a myriad of industrial products from cement to calcium carbonates to fertilizers are also made from CO2. Circular economy technologies seek to duplicate those natural processes to recycle CO2 in industrial processes that make commercial products.
Incredibly, using technologies that exist today, we can turn CO2 from a disposal problem into a useful feedstock. Mimicking Mother Nature, we can transform CO2 into valuable products. There are already companies working to commercialize CO2 conversion technologies for ethylene, ethanol, methanol, propanol, calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, cement, concrete, and many other everyday products. There are also high-tech carbon nanotubes, carbon fibre, and graphene possibilities.
There is even a high-end and extremely pure vodka, produced from CO2, that is commercially available online. I like to say organic chemistry is cool — and “Air Vodka” proves me right.
As part of the circular economy, we can convert fossil fuels to zero emissions hydrogen and create an industrial quality source of CO2 to use as a feedstock.
We can apply the three energy Rs — reduce, recycle, and return our emissions underground. A lot of that technology already exists and is advancing rapidly. This circular economy has the advantage of bolting on to our existing energy systems, and for many technologies, it does so at lower costs than other renewable energy sources.
One might ask if it is possible to recycle the carbon dioxide why haven’t we been doing it already. We didn’t recycle pop cans either until there was a deposit. Recently carbon pricing has provided the price to make it worthwhile to capture and recycle or store the carbon. With pricing for carbon on the way up some are predicting a trillion-dollar market.
Opponents assume that oil and gas technology is static — they couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, it is changing rapidly, and the industry has only just begun. If history is a guide, as these emerging carbon conversion technologies roll out, we will inevitably see significant breakthrough improvements in efficiencies and economics.
Others see the potential. Elon Musk put $100 million of his own money into a global Xprize for carbon tech. A few additional examples: Catapult in Norway has been helping new carbon tech to market. Avatar just was launched in Alberta as a carbon-tech accelerator for commercializing carbon negative technologies. There are already billions chasing this trillion-dollar emerging market.
As COP26 is set to begin, the third option for climate of energy transformation through carbon recycling is not high on the agenda. The recent Canadian election did not even discuss energy transformation. There is a risk the proponents of energy transition and leave-it-in-the-ground are already stuck in the past.
So why am I betting on oil and gas to win the race to net zero? Because wind and solar have farther to go to get to the finish line than oil and gas. They need rare earths, electronics grade silicon, and lots of concrete and steel — and all of those need oil and gas. You cannot build a windmill with a windmill but soon you will be able to build a zero emissions windmill with fossil fuels derived from the three Rs of the circular economy. That race is on.
It’s a race that no matter who wins, the environment wins. With all-hands-on-deck we have a chance to meet the energy demands of the 10 billion people expected by 2050 with a higher standard of living, but smaller environmental impacts than today.
Where do you put your bets?