“We cannot go back to ‘business as usual;’ coming out of COP26 there must be an advanced level of accountability and transparency on any climate goals set, since we are currently way off track to meet Paris targets.”

Those are the words of Dr. Nils Røkke, Executive Vice-President of Sustainability at SINTEF, who recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk all things clean energies and sustainability with gasworld amidst COP26, at which it has been said leaders must go beyond a mere goal of setting standards for emissions reductions.

Having completed a PhD focused on reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, and now holding an executive role at the largest Research Technology Organisation (RTO) in Oslo, Norway, Røkke holds a deep passion for the planet’s future and the evolving technologies that will help revitalise the world we live in today.

Also based in Norway, SINTED holds its headquarters in Trondheim, and together the organisation has more than 2,000 employees from Trondheim and Oslo.

“Environmental protection and technologies have always been close to my interest and to my heart. Having witnessed the human-induced climate change unfold, and observing early scientific information on this, were strong motivators for me to work towards finding solutions in the space.”

Røkke’s own drive and ambitions complement SINTEF’s own goal to grow within areas supporting sustainability, and the organisation’s “Technology for a better Society” vision, for which it boasts research and innovation activities covering more or less 360° of societal needs.

It’s fair to say that the majority of the world and its leaders are now in agreement that big moves need to be made to enable a clean and sustainable future for our planet, but where does SINTEF come into this? Well, carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, biomethane and LNG are all avenues of interest to the organisation.

“SINTEF has pioneered the idea of CCS for the purpose of climate protection – the first reports go back to 1986. We are also operating a centre of excellence on CCS, The Norwegian CCS Research Centre, and have constantly been underpinning the developments of this area. Our activities cover capture, transport and storage, encompassing a fully integrated view.”

“Our knowledge of LNG and of the liquefaction of gases in general, from hydrogen to CO2, has been applied in industrial projects over the years. Ammonia and other working media for refrigeration cycles have also been a stronghold in SINTEF.”

“Concerning hydrogen, we are now preparing an application for a centre of excellence within hydrogen and hydrogen carriers. We have extensive in-house expertise and experience in the production, transport and use of hydrogen. This applies both to electrolysis and hydrogen from natural gas with CCS applied,” Røkke told gasworld.

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The decisive decade for climate action

Naturally, the deployment of the above technologies provides a great pathway for the world to at least start making great strides towards meeting various targets such as the Paris Agreement, a legally binding treaty which saw 196 signatory countries commit their focus to alleviate the global climate emergency in 2016 – but words are not enough.

“It is key that we get bold announcements on action for climate and that the contributions from all parties are intensified. The greatest threat to climate change is that everybody expects someone else to solve the issue. This is not game theory; this is our planet.” 

Even though we see very promising pledges from major economies we are short of meeting the 1.5°C target, especially as these pledges have to be put into action - and action seems to be the missing ingredient in the discussions. The problem is that the time for taking slow and progressive action is there, but the actions has to start now.

Building on such need, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently warned that if the world stays at current levels of international co-operation, we will be 40 years delayed in reaching net zero. And it’s for this reason, among others, that SINTEF now participates on COP.

Highlighting another staggering statistic from the IEA, Røkke said, “The IEA’s report Net Zero by 2050 states that we currently have only half the technology needed to reach net zero by 2050 at our disposal. In other words, we only have half the answers, with 29 years to go.”

“We are at a point in time where mature technologies mut be scaled up and development solutions must receive more investment. From COP26, we hope for more investments in research and innovation. This is crucial and mandatory in addressing the climate goals set in Paris. In my opinion, current investments are too small in relation to the challenge.”

“It would be great if world leaders actually looked at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and IEA report (NZE2050) and discussed who will take the lead following up on the hundreds of milestones within.”

The role of industry

So where does this leave us and what does Røkke believes the future hold? “Naturally, we need massive deployment of renewable energy production from both wind and solar, but there are sectors that simply cannot be electrified.”

“Some industrial processes will simply need CCS and hydrogen to be able to come close to zero. We also know that some sector, such as agriculture, cannot become zero-emission, thus carbon removal is needed,” he continued.

Focusing specifically on the industrial gases market, however, Røkke wants markets to be created for zero carbon or carbon neutral gases. “If the demand is increasing, we will see an upturn in supplies and with the current quota market it will become cheaper to avoid emissions than to pay for emission allowances.”

“The €100/tonne price tag in 2030 does not seem implausible anymore, double that and it will make zero emission energy the simple and sensible thing to buy and uses. Gases should also come with certificates to cater for emissions along the whole value chain.”

On a finishing note, Røkke concluded, “I think we need to change our mindset on the energy transition. It is hypercomplex and unless we think holistically about the transition, we will fail.”