A warm(er) future with cold(er) energy?

Welcome to 2014. As usual things are moving on, no difference to 2013 or years before. And yet, the most notable difference for people is the weather. Is it getting warmer in 2014, or maybe colder? Nobody knows for sure. While North-Europe is desperately waiting for the cold and snow, parts of the USA are under frosty and stormy attack at the same time. Very unusual events, but it happens and may happen again. Nobody knows for sure.

Surely a warm(er) future in general is following the latest predictions within the scientific world. What does that mean for securing energy supply to the people? Business as usual an neglecting the above mentioned warming of the world? Business as usual and planning ahead, slowly but with slight focus on cold energy? Maybe both? And what exactly is cold energy referring to? Too many questions.

To begin with, cold energy is, in this case, related to liquefied gases, which can be easily stored, transported, used directly as fuel, converted back to gases and used as fuel again, or used for heating, or simply used to produce electricity. It may answer the question how we ensure easy energy storage without loosing too much flexibility in our daily life. It may, but it is definitely embedded into the planning scenario to go ahead and it is actually happening; and happenings always start with door-openers – technology set in place, working and, most importantly, socially accepted.

Social acceptance is the key to opening any door. Nobody wants to change life style – at least not without any reason, or without force majeure, due to climatically imposed changes like a warmer future. We like our life styles, do we not? Changes threatens us and make us uncomfortable. But leaving the comfort zone is accepting the limitations of possibilities in order to plan ahead; too many possibilities and people get confused and planners will take endless discussions of pro and cons for each of them. No limitations and people will never see any other door except the one they already use. But which limitations then?

There are many of them, but the easiest is deeply related to our day-to-day behavior: we must eat and we (must) throw away leftovers or whole meals. In any case, the food-chain does not end in our households, it ends as waste in dumps. Does it really ends there? No, it is, often, used in smaller quantities to produce biogas, which can be used directly to produce electricity, treated to remove CO2 (a common by-product of any biogas production) and feed into nearby pipelines, or used as vehicle fuel as compressed biogas (CBG). Nothing new and part of business as usual.

But it is a fairly simply and fully socially accepted technology. The problem is the amount of waste and coordination of waste. Waste is big business – no easy catch like in the old days, where not-knowing-your-dump was socially accepted. But things had changed. Waste is handled as a resource with quality markers. There is bad waste, good waste and better waste, like food waste from our household. Fairly predictable in composition and amount. We do not change our life style, remember?

On top of the waste-to-gas-technology, liquefaction (converting to liquids) and storage is easily placed and, for the first time, energy can be stored for a long time, and used whenever needed. Again, technology is not the problem. Over the last years liquefaction units turned into sophisticated but fully automated units, which can handle a great variety of gases. Technology-wise, it is nothing compared to the understanding in harnessing the sun or splitting the atom but it works and enables to store great amount of energy in liquid form. Well, that is truly and amazingly groundbreaking and can be used for further planning, to gain social acceptance.

Again, facts speak louder than any kind of words. And the facts are good! In 2014 the municipality of Oslo, Norway, with an estimated population of 500’000 people, produces enough waste from households to sustain 130 buses in public transportation with liquid bio-fuel. Fuel from waste. Waste from people. People accepting social changes: to-know-your-dump-and-divide-organics-from-whatever-is-left-when-throwing-things-away. Small social change compared to the local impact: to ensure a warm(er) future can be handled fairly easily with cold(er) energy.

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