Robert Swan and Bertrand Piccard – meet the energy ‘ambassadors'

Adventurers can help bring clean energy technologies to the hearts and minds of consumers.
Published: Wed 06 Dec 2017

With the new clean energy technologies such as renewables and electric vehicles emerging, public ‘ambassadors’ with a high popular profile can play a key role in fostering interest within the conscious of consumers.

Two such individuals are currently out on their latest adventures, neither appointed in any official role and both at the cutting edge, driven by a personal passion for the future wellbeing of the world and the life that it contains..

Let’s meet them - and let's try to find ways to build on their achievements.

Robert Swan – polar adventurer

Robert Swan first made his mark in the mid-1980s with an expedition walking ‘in the footsteps of Scott’ to the South Pole.

Subsequently he became the first person also to walk to the North Pole and has undertaken a succession of projects focused on a more sustainable environment and on Antarctica in particular.

His latest venture entitled ‘2041’ and currently under way with his son Barney and two others, involves another walk to the South Pole but this time powered entirely by clean energies – and thereby making it another world first.

This so-called South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) involves several technologies.

On a standard polar expedition, each person uses around 200-250ml of jet aviation fuel per day to melt ice to water and to cook upon. SPEC is pioneering the use of passive solar thermal systems, a NASA designed ice melter and advanced biofuels to sustain their water, cooking and clothes drying needs.

Additionally, the solar technology is used to charge lithium batteries to power their camera and communication devices.

"Bringing together the technology to launch the first polar expedition to survive off renewable energy has been a monumental task,” says Swan in a blog post.

Testing took place at Union Glacier in Antarctica in December 2016, after which it underwent modifications to prepare it for the almost 1,000km walk.

In the walk day 8 blog, Swan comments on the advanced biofuel, which was developed from woodchips by the Shell technology centre in Bangalore. Having described it in an earlier posting as a technology that at the time of his first expedition 30 years previously he would not have believed available to anyone except perhaps in a sci-fi movie, he says it has “proven to be much more efficient than I first anticipated.

“Could this be another step in the energy mix as we transition away from fossil fuels and into clean energy? I hope so … every effort counts.”

The 2041 initiative is focused on building a future leadership with a sustainable ethic, with the date referencing the year when the international treaty protecting Antarctica comes up for review and issues such as a possible re-negotiation of the moratorium on mining.

The aim of the SPEC is to support the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and “to give companies, schools, and individuals the tools to make viable changes in the way they understand and use energy.”

Says Swan, who expects to complete the journey to the South Pole in the second week of January 2018 after the mid-November start: “With hope, the SPEC expedition will help create momentum towards the clean energy transition and showcase both the application and viability of these emerging technologies.

"If they can work here, in this inhospitable and remote land, then surely they will work at home; in your home.”

Bertrand Piccard – pioneering aviator

When the Solar Impulse completed its 40,000 km circumnavigation of the globe in July 2016 a significant first was marked as the first such flight of an aircraft undertaken on solar power alone.

The pioneers behind the venture were the Swiss Bertrand Piccard, a medical doctor specialised in psychiatry, explorer and aeronaut, and André Borschberg, engineer, pilot and graduate in management science.

At the time of the completion of that journey, the pair promised to continue to actively promote the use of modern clean technologies. And giving this substance is the latest venture named the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, which will identify and promote 1,000 promising solutions that are profitable to protect the environment.

“Today, thousands of solutions exist that can boost economic growth while preserving nature, but they are often hidden in start-ups or research labs,” says Piccard.

“They remain unknown to decision makers and are not implemented at industry level. So few people realise that everyone can use them and how profitable they have become.”

Renewable energies are obviously going to be prominent among the solutions but they won’t be limited to these. According to the Alliance web page, the solutions will “encompass products, services, clean technologies and processes.”

The solutions will be submitted starting in Q1 of 2018 by Alliance members – currently numbering almost 500. They must have reached full-scale laboratory simulation stage and they will be assessed by independent experts.

The 1,000 selected solutions will then be presented at COP24 in December 2018.

Potential member solutions range from deep water offshore turbines, solar desalination plants, containers to transform organic waste into energy, air filters that capture C02 emissions and turn them into renewable fuels, hydrogen-based devices that can be added on cars to increase fuel efficiency, to free electric car chargers

Writing in a posting of his dislike of long-term targets out to 2050 because of their distance away and the lack of responsibility people may feel, Piccard states that a rough estimation shows that existing clean technologies and processes could divide by two the energy consumption of the world and therefore the CO2 emissions.

“Decision-makers need to focus on solutions and shorter-term achievable goals as part of their roadmaps for action. An ambitious legal framework would pull innovative products to the market instead of leaving everybody in uncertainty,” he says vowing to personally go around the world again “to deliver the solutions to governments, companies and institutions, and we shall of course also make them available for everyone to access and use.”

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