Emerging technologies

A range of emerging technologies could transform the energy landscape

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Dr Steven Griffiths, VP for Research and Associate Provost at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, discusses the future energy landscape

Major energy technology advances have been rare, but when they have occurred they have driven transformation and disrupted markets and business models. The clearest recent example in the oil and gas sector is the development of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies for producing shale gas and oil. The pace of innovation and therefore potential for such breakthroughs is increasing, facilitated by businesses, universities, governments, specialist research centres and consultancies combining their capabilities.

Time range from technology commercialization to significant impact

  • Hydrogen infrastructure and storage - widespread availability of hydrogen for the consumer
  • Data analytics - creating value from vast data sets
  • Automation via robotics - enabling safe and reliable operations
  • Solar conversion - breaking through the 30%-efficiency barrier using low-cost fabrication methods and biotechnology to drive agriculture
  • Beyond silicon computing - ultra-fast, high-efficiency computing utilizing next generation materials and approaches
  • Better batteries for vehicles - enhancing the growth of vehicle electrification and reducing emissions
  • 3D printing - bespoke custom components in high-value applications
  • Fuel cells - modular approach to power generation

Disruptive potential

The nature of certain technologies in areas such as digital systems, bioscience and nanoscience confers on them great disruptive potential. In the shorter term, digital technologies – such as data analytics and automation enabled by supercomputing – have the greatest potential to drive far-reaching change, offering multiple opportunities to make energy supply and consumption safer, more reliable, and more cost-effective. It is perhaps difficult for us to imagine their potential in the longer term, when, for example, some expect machines to overtake humans in intelligence.
Developments in advanced materials could lead to extraordinary improvements in the performance of batteries, solar conversion and the use of hydrogen as a fuel. However, these developments could still take decades to be applied globally due to the huge amounts of capital required.
Digital technologies – such as data analytics and automation enabled by supercomputing – have the greatest potential to drive far-reaching change.

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