Big Oil Leads the Charge for New Energy

By Chaika Christova
The article is published in Business Connect magazine, Sept.-Oct. 2017 issue

Will President Donald Trump change his determination to leave the Paris climate deal? Doubtful, despite the efforts of the EU and other participating countries’ politicians to convince him otherwise. Despite the efforts from the U.S. big businesses, political and other leaders to make him soften his stance. Despite the convincing scientific evidence that time is of the essence for climate policy changes.

“For anyone who had any hope that two historically devastating storms striking our nation would wake up the Trump administration to the reality of the climate crisis – think again,” said John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s director of global climate policy. He was invoking the damage from the destructive hurricanes Harvey and Irma, after the White House denied any change in its attitude.

President Trump did not even mention the Paris Agreement in his first speech on Sep. 19, 2017, in front of the annual United Nations General Assembly. But hopes and fears on the topic were in fact answered the previous day in his welcoming address to the world’s diplomats. In his words the United States would start negotiations to “re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.”

Why Republicans are frozen on climate change

This is the headline of a profound analysis of the topic on CNN’s website. Let’s quote just the campaign money part: “The Republican party receives the vast majority of the campaign contributions from oil, gas, coal and other energy industries. (In the past three elections, the oil and gas industry has directed nearly 90% of its campaign contributions to Republicans, and the coal industry channeled at least 96% of its contributions toward them in 2014 and 2016.)”.

The geographic divide of the vote is even more convincing, according to Ronald Brownstein, who authored the analysis. He also points out that the federal Energy Information Administration’s ranking of states, based on their total emissions of carbon per person, almost precisely follows the national political divide – with the states with most per capita carbon emissions reliably voting Republican.

Anybody still asking what is the cradle for the U.S. president’s stance on the Paris Agreement? The history is in fact repeating itself. The previous world agreement on climate – the Kyoto Protocol – was not ratified by the U.S. Senate because of GOP opposition. The difference is that the scientific evidence that climate change is not a hoax has become overwhelming in the intervening years.

What about the businesses? The Big Oil may be the GOP’s largest donor, but these businesses are neither “frozen” in the past, nor beholden to the economic status quo. Some of them publicly disagreed with the president. “Even worldwide titans of energy production such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP objected vociferously before and after the June 1 decision”, said in his standpoint “Paris, We Have a Problem” Business Connect’s Christopher Karadjov in the magazine’s previous issue.

Strangely as it may sound at a first glance, those three are also among the leading oil companies, that

“vote” with their money for the green future of the planet.

Firstly, by being the biggest polluters, they are constantly investing in lowering their carbon footprint and have reduced emissions by 13% for the last five years according to Bloomberg.

“The five biggest oil companies — Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp., BP Plc and Total SA — collectively curbed their pollution by an average of 13% between 2010 and 2015. BP cut the most at 25.5%. Exxon, the largest emitter among listed companies, pushed it down by 14%,” reads the Bloomberg publication.

After all, they have to comply with environmental regulations in so many countries, don’t they?

The other side of the “greening” process of the leading oil and gas firms is their investment in clean energy start-ups. For example, Shell has made “significant investments in wind, solar and biofuels — not all of them successful,” Harry Brekelmans, the projects and technology director for Royal Dutch Shell is quoted as saying during a discussion at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in September. According to him the energy transition is accelerating and “it’s time to act, even more so than before.” Shell is supporting carbon-free energy field by investing not only in start-ups but also in R&D in collaboration with MIT and other institutes worldwide.

Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA, Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron all

invest venture capital in new energy technology.

Their investments are not just in solar, wind, geothermal and bio-fuel energy production, but also in improving electricity grids, energy storage systems, ways of capturing and storing carbon emissions from fossil fuel, energy-efficiency processes, energy-saving materials, etc.

According to a recent Bloomberg publication, the money those firms invest, is just a fraction of the $7.5 billion that venture capital and private equity injected into the clean energy industry in 2016. Even so,  the funds support work that “may evolve into major income streams in the decades ahead as governments work to limit fossil-fuel pollution and global warming,” Bloomberg concluded.

So, are the Big Oil companies diversifying their businesses? Are they learning to explore new fields in order to be ready to shift? Or are they just showing intent to comply with the public’s pro-environmental spirit? Perhaps all of the above reasons and many more. But this is how the world evolves, driven by multiple interests, right?


Perovskite solar cells

Solar cell that include a mineral called perovskite as the light-harvesting active layer are cheap to produce and simple to manufacture.

This solar cell efficiencies have reached 22.1% in early 2016, making this the fastest-advancing solar technology to date. Because of their potential of even higher efficiencies (above 30%) and low production costs, perovskite solar cells have become commercially attractive.

Oxford Photovoltaics, a venture of Statoil ASA (Norwegian oil and gas multinational), that is developing panels with perovskite, is among the expected major players on the global solar cells market in the next five years.

Novel technology for carbon capture

Inventys, the Vancouver-based company in which Chevron has put venture capital, is transforming the post-combustion carbon capture. Inventys is an energy technology company that could alter carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide. The company has developed the VeloxoTherm process, which is the most economically viable means to capture carbon at its emission source. Unlike conventional methods, their process uses Inventys’ patented structured adsorbent. Cheaper than any competing technology, both energy and capital efficient, non-toxic, capable to work with a variety of CO2 sources, concentrations and volumes, and more efficient than amine solutions, structured adsorbents are the future of carbon capture for enhanced oil recovery and greenhouse gas reduction and could accelerate the global transition to a low-carbon economy.