A Clean Alternative to Fossil Fuels: Could This New Renewable Energy Source Help Solve Climate Change?
While the world’s leaders were gathering at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Poland in December, the streets of Paris looked like a war zone. The reason was a massive protest against the country’s new green taxes. The unrest provided just one example of why it is difficult for politicians to counter climate change with regulations that impact people’s personal finances. Although a clear majority of the voters in most countries support action against global warming, few are willing to pay for it.
The situation is even more severe in developing countries. To increase economic growth and create new jobs, there is a huge need for cheap electricity. With an entire energy infrastructure based on the burning of fossil fuels, it is nearly impossible to connect more people to the grid without higher CO2 emission. To both solve climate change and increase economic growth there is an urgent need for an alternative energy source – a fuel that is clean, cheap and profitable. Even more importantly, it’s essential to find an alternative fuel that’s compatible with today’s energy infrastructure, making is possible to replace fossil fuels quickly and directly.
A new CO2 negative solution
At the COP24 summit, NextFuel AB presented a completely new CO2 negative fuel that we believe has the potential to supplant coal, oil and natural gas as the leading fuel of the future. Thanks to a technological breakthrough, we’ve developed the ability to produce a cheap and clean replacement for fossil fuel both quickly and sustainably.
How is this possible? We start by planting fast-growing elephant grass on marginal land. Elephant grass can grow up to 4 meters in 100 days, giving us several crops to harvest each year. This grass can grow on cheap, marginal land that’s unsuitable for food production, and there is plenty of this land available around the world. Since the grass grows fast and also stores a percentage of the CO2 it absorbs from the atmosphere in the roots below ground, our entire carbon cycle becomes CO2 negative in less than one year. In the long term the soil stores so much carbon in the ground, absorbed from the elephant grass roots, that the marginal land becomes fertile in 10 to 15 years, and can even be used for food production. After the grass is harvested, we feed it into our patented reactor, and in less than 30 minutes we have produced a CO2 negative briquette we call NextFuel.
Replace coal directly in coal plants
The energy content of NextFuel is 23-28 GJ/t, which is close to coal, and we use very little electricity in the factory to produce our briquettes. These factors make NextFuel a very cheap and profitable substitute for fossil fuel. Since it can be used directly in today’s energy infrastructure, our solution is also very easy to scale. For example, a coal plant can directly replace coal with NextFuel without any changes to its infrastructure. This could be a game changer in the energy industry. Utilities can now go clean, just by switching fuel.
NextFuel can also be a clean substitute for fossil fuel in many other industries beyond power generation. It can replace coal cost-effectively in both the cement and steel industries. When these companies start saving costs by replacing coal with our clean alternative, then coal will lose its competitive advantages, and could soon be phased out.
It can also replace natural gas and wood pellets, and even be used as clean back-up power for the wind and solar industries when there is no sun or wind. And for NextFuel to replace heating oil in industry, the companies only need to switch their burners – a cost they can earn back in less than three years, since NextFuel’s price is lower than oil. It could even replace charcoal in developing countries, saving both forests and lives as well: Since NextFuel burns much cleaner than the charcoal many people still use for cooking, it could help reduce the risk of illness due to harmful smoke emissions.
The good news is that NextFuel is not one of the many promising clean technologies that are years away from viability. The technology is ready today, and has been tested over a period of six years. We even have our first factory in production in Austria, and are in the process of implementing our first commercial projects in East Africa, Asia and South America. Since we have a licensing model, making it easy to work together with larger local companies, our new fuel could quickly spread around the world. We don’t need subsidies to be profitable, we only need investment capital to scale.
Growth in developing countries
What’s more, we expect our growth to mainly come in developing countries. The reason is simple: Although we can grow elephant grass in both the U.S. and Europe, a hotter climate allows us to produce crops even during the winter season. There is also plenty of marginal land available, and a huge need for clean electricity. If we succeed in spreading the NextFuel technology around the world, we can create thousands of jobs in developing countries, and lift even more people out of poverty.
If we’re successful, Africa, South America and Asia could even become global leaders in producing clean energy over the long term. If there are enough investors and licensing partners available, we could grow very fast in these regions in the coming decades. Hopefully we can also grow fast enough to impact climate change. Our long-term goal is for NextFuel to replace fossil fuel as the fuel of choice in the 21st century.
That may sound ambitious, but throughout history, new technologies have always emerged to solve mankind’s biggest challenges – and they’ve often come from surprising sources. We believe that NextFuel, together with other new clean technologies, represents the world’s best hope for addressing climate change.
Photo of torrefaction reactor, used to produce the CO2 negative briquette, courtesy of NextFuel AB.