SCI Scotland Group PhD Student Competition - Greg Mutch Report

The SCI Scotland Group ran a PhD student competition in February 2016. Students from across Scotland (working in scientific research) competed for 12 free one-year SCI memberships. The students were asked to submit a short (~600 word) article describing their PhD research project and its relevance to the SCI strapline 'where science meets business', in a format suitable for publication in a scientific news magazine read by scientifically literate members of the general public (such as New Scientist). The 12 winners will be introduced to senior academics and industry contacts working in Scotland and will be given opportunities to build their networks and develop future skills to help with their onward careers. Greg Mutch (University of Aberdeen) was one of the top three entrants awarded and his award-winning article on carbon capture and storage, which will also be published in C&I magazine, can be found below.

Carbon capture and storage - can we change the way science and business works for us?

‘Fossil fuels are widely considered in the scientific community as an ageing and environmentally problematic source of energy - creating vast quantities of CO2 driving climate change. However, our global desire for energy grows and our reliance on fossil fuels strengthens in the absence of reliable, cost effective and trusted renewable or nuclear sources. Thus we are left with a conundrum, particularly in the short to medium term, where we cannot meet energy demand at the pace it is requested whilst combatting climate change legislation.

‘The UK is phasing out coal, in favour of nuclear, but with uncertainty over cost and deliverability it is likely that reliance on gas will continue for some decades. This is compounded by the desire to utilise shale gas, creating jobs and securing the domestic energy supply. At the same time the North Sea oil industry collapses due to low prices causing thousands of job losses. The UK has removed ‘contracts for difference’ for solar and wind energy and is the only G7 country increasing fossil fuel subsidies, whilst committing to ambitious climate change targets primarily through cutting CO2 emissions. Altogether this creates a confusing picture as to the direction of energy production and environmental policies of the future, impacting capital investment, R&D and the implementation of ‘green’ technology.

‘On a global scale, China is breaking records in spending on renewable technologies, but also consumes the most coal. A selection of countries have the ability to produce almost all of their energy from renewable sources, yet continue to invest in fossil fuels, have high electricity prices for consumers and in certain cases face energy supply crises from water shortages potentially caused by fossil fuel climate change driven drought.

‘We are surely facing the biggest challenge in human history, how do we securely supply energy to an exponentially growing population with increasing demands on personal, financial and technological security? Science and business are fundamental institutions that should enhance our lives through invention and investment - but at times they can be at odds with each other. In the short term we need reliable clean energy production from secure mature means, whilst focussing in the long term on renewable and nuclear processes, all the while providing jobs and energy. If we don’t, we fail to provide future generations with clean air to breathe in a climatically stable world and the technological advantage that energy and financial security brings to the individual.

‘Carbon capture and storage is a proven technology that removes climate change causing CO2 from fossil fuel emissions. This CO2 can then be stored safely in the locations we once extracted fossil fuels from or by creating ‘fizzy water’ in large underground aquifers. The chemistry is proven. The geology is proven. The engineering is proven. The economic incentive and political will however, are not. That is why I study advanced processes for removing CO2 from fossil fuel energy, driving down costs so that businesses and governments can make sound investments in our collective future. I also look at what happens to the CO2 when we store it. We know from past experience that it is safe, we’re currently just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. All in all, carbon capture and storage provides a clear solution to the problems outlined above; we can continue to use fossil fuels, but in a clean and environmentally safe fashion. It is secure, it is safe and it is necessary.

‘My research is at the crux of ‘where science meets business’ in that we use scientific principles to justify, incentivise and importantly clarify government and business investment in processes that improve the lives of our global population. It goes further, it’s ‘where we meet science and business’.’

Greg Mutch
PhD Student, University of Aberdeen

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