Over the coming days, we’re going to be looking at my top 10 stories across the industrial gas year – and what a year it has been.
We’re going to see hydrogen, synthetic fuels, ASU growth, medical oxygen milestones, and so much more besides.
In fact, today’s Editor’s Pick at number six, is all about those synthetic fuels…
Okay, so I hold my hands up here, I hugely indulged a personal interest with this interview – and I did so against the backdrop of one of the fiercest fought and arguably best seasons in Formula One (F1) history.
That’s because I was delighted to interview Paddy Lowe, formerly the executive director of the Mercedes Formula One team, a key figure at the McLaren Formula One team for 20 years, more recently the chief technical officer at Williams Racing, and a widely regarded technical genius of the sport.
I was in my element. It couldn’t have been a more satisfying interview. And during our exclusive webinar with Lowe in June, he was gracious enough to field my questions both on air and off camera about F1, about Lewis Hamilton, about his most memorable race, and much more besides. It was an honour.
The reason for our interview, however, was not my passion for the sport and its statistically most successful ever driver. It was instead the exciting new venture in decarbonisation and sustainability that Lowe is leading at Zero Petroleum.
Today, Lowe is co-founder and Director of Zero Petroleum, a new enterprise dedicated to the production of ‘net-zero’ petroleum-based products.
As he explained, it’s an age-old science proven in photosynthesis and engineering feats of previous decades – and these synthetic fuels could hold the key to near-term decarbonisation, and a long-term window of breathing space for the scale-up of wider renewables.
The roots of our current ecosystem are deeply entrenched in fossil fuels, and it’s often overlooked that many of the products we rely upon today – from inks, upholstery and toothbrushes to rubber, tyres and soaps – are in fact derivatives of fossil fuel science. The list is exhaustive. Even many of the hand sanitisers and rubbing alcohol that we have turned to during this Covid-19 pandemic will have been derived from petroleum on some level.
Any decoupling from these products was always going to be a huge challenge; the transition deep and resource-intensive. It is perhaps unrealistic to think we could achieve that with renewables alone. That’s where synthetic fuels come in, and Zero Petroleum.
The company explains that society has gained immeasurably from the unique advantages of hydrocarbons – its vision now is to be a prime constructor of a fully circular and carbon-neutral supply at scale.
It was a rewarding and highly pertinent interview, particularly with COP26 looming later in the year in Glasgow and the decarbonisation movement boasting more momentum than ever before.
Zero Petroleum would go on to score further breakthroughs as the year unfolded, not only revealing a funding boost in September to the tune of £200,000 from investor syndicate Raising Partners Angels, of which F1 World Champion (1996) and broadcaster Damon Hill is a member, but also making history in November after joining forces with the Royal Air Force (RAF) to complete the world’s first flight using 100% net-zero synthetic fuel.
The company continues to race forward in its quest to make synthetic fuels an important part of the clean energies transition in the near term, and this interview will always remain a huge highlight for this Editor, for all the right reasons.