Tackling the 75% Problem

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on November 13, 2018
Traver Kennedy
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Bill Gates’ Open Call to Tackle Humanity’s Biggest Challenge

Bill Gates has challenged the world to address the deeper issues around climate change, noting that tackling the problem through renewable energy and electric vehicles will, at best, only speak to 25% of the problem. The real challenge, he writes, is in addressing the remaining 75% of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that are caused by the way we lead our lives―from basic building materials to the contribution from farmyard animals (an astonishing 24% of CO2 comes from cattle). He writes:

“To stop the planet from getting substantially warmer, we need breakthroughs in how we make things, grow food, and move people and goods—not just how we power our homes and cars.”

What Gates, with his typical clarity, is saying, is that the problem needs to be addressed through a total rethinking of the basic concepts of our lives, rather than tinkering on the edges. His call is for radical innovation in a world where we are not going to turn back the clock on people’s expectations of the many creature comforts in our lives. Nor can we expect the world’s “have not’s”―the one billion people with no access to electricity or the three billion still using solid fuel to cook (most without access to clean drinking water or sanitary conditions)―to not want to improve conditions for their children and grandchildren.

Maybe the answer to global warming is staring at us from the stars.

Breakthrough Innovation Needed to Tackle Five Key Areas

The big problem is that tackling climate change through CO2 emission reduction needs to touch most every facet of our lives. In addition to our bovine gas producers (24% GHG), Gates has identified other big offenders outside of electricity generation (25% GHG) that need to make structural and material changes including:

  • Manufacturing, which accounts for 21% of GHG emissions to make all of the things we consume to make modern life more livable;
  • Transportation, which stands at 14% for operating aircraft, ships, trains, trucks, buses, and automobiles; and
  • Buildings, which contributes 6% for the materials used to build them and make them usable.

Bill Gates is an accomplished doer when it comes to solving the world’s toughest problems. His work in sub-Saharan Africa has gone a long way to eradicating malaria, while his campaign to reinvent sanitation promises a remarkable change to the communal latrines that spread so much disease. Global warming is now on his agenda, and his vision is clear. He calls for breakthrough innovation to get real when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions and makes this approach clear:

“It is not obvious what the big breakthroughs will look like. Most likely we will need several solutions to each challenge.”

Finding the Breakthrough Innovation

While the answer to the problems that Gates has identified will most likely lie in a multiplicity of answers, they will all require an audacity of thought if they are to be effective. In agriculture, we may well need to move from beef consumption to protein sources that are sustainable yet scalable. Across the other four sectors―electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings―a similar quantum leap in thinking and behavior is required.

Today, there are many innovators working to replace inefficient and GHG-producing energy systems in the face of global warming. Yesterday’s energy architectures are based on massive hub power generation and systemic oversupply with insufficient safeguards against the environmental consequences. To effectively change this monolithic architecture means more than wind farms and solar panels; it requires an entire rethinking of the energy lifecycle we use on our planet.

What is required is a new architecture based on the premise of energy harvesting, energy storage, and energy distribution that is clean at every point in the supply chain. The fact is, there is no “energy crisis.” It takes just a few minutes of sunshine for humanity’s total annual energy usage to reach the Earth. There is an abundance of energy for all if we put the right architecture and systems in place.

Look to the Number One Element for Breakthrough Innovation

The answer is to move globally to an energy architecture built on the simplest of all molecules, hydrogen. The number one element can boost our odds of solving the 75% problem when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions. After all, hydrogen is plentiful (around two-thirds of your body is hydrogen atoms); it has a very high energy value per-pound; and when it burns, the only by-product is water. Hydrogen is also easily made from water, which can be stored, transported, and consumed locally―making it the perfect energy architecture to accompany the transition to renewables and beyond.

Historically, the challenges to hydrogen have been the inefficiency of its production from water and the difficulty of its storage. But these problems are being overcome by a new wave of innovation. Our own Hydrogen 2.0 technology can not only be produced efficiently but also on-demand.

Hydrogen 2.0: Breakthrough Innovation  

If hydrogen energy could be more easily available and cheap, the “75% problem” would look more solvable across all five sectors that Bill Gates identified. Hydrogen 2.0 holds the potential to make clean hydrogen energy fully available, cost competitive, and pervasive across utilities, manufacturing, agriculture, materials for infrastructure, transportation, and buildings.

What is now needed for hydrogen to become the “Microsoft” of the energy sector is a hand by visionaries like Bill Gates.

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