New Scientist presents Meet the Low Carbon Pioneers
The world needs more energy but delivered with fewer carbon emissions. Embracing that dual challenge is the way BP thinks about every aspect of its business, says Kathrina Mannion.
“The world is facing a huge challenge,” says Kathrina Mannion. The global population is rising and expected to reach 9 billion by 2040. The standard of living is rising for many people, who want access to transport, to nutritious and plentiful food supplies, to development and so on. To achieve all this, they need energy.
“But how are we collectively going to meet this massive demand while also reducing emissions?” she asks. The issue is that greenhouse gases are emitted through use of fossil fuels in activities such as transport, power, heating and agriculture. But these gases play a role in global warming.
Mannion’s question may sound unusual given that she works for BP, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies. But that’s the point. BP believes it has a key role to play. And Mannion is heading a unit inside the company that is helping drive action across the business.
“No one company or sector alone can deliver a low carbon future. Everyone, from consumers to corporations to governments, needs to take responsibility. At BP we’re asking what we can do to help to play a role in addressing this challenge,” she says. “As part of that we launched the Advancing Low Carbon programme,” for which she is the programme director.
Kathrina Mannion, director of BP's Advancing Low Carbon programme
Earlier this year, BP announced a number of new low carbon targets. “We’re trying to reduce emissions in our own operations, to improve our products to help our customers reduce their emissions, and also to create new low carbon businesses. The Advancing Low Carbon programme is looking to encourage more action in all of these areas,” says Mannion, who has a degree in ecology.
For example, BP is one of the top wind energy producers in the US, generating 2259 MW of renewable power. That’s enough to power every home in Philadelphia.
But it’s not just renewable energy sources she is focusing on. “We know that the world will be using fuels and lubricants for many decades to come. So we are looking at ways to make those the most efficient or low carbon fuels and lubricants we can,” she says.
One example is Biojet, a lower carbon jet fuel made partly from recycled cooking oil that BP sells in Sweden and Norway. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60 per cent compared to standard jet fuel.
Listen to the New Scientist podcast featuring Kathrina (audio only)
This low carbon thinking can be seen in BP’s lubrication business too. It’s Castrol business has developed an innovative new way to change and recycle used engine oil, called Nexcel, set to hit the market after 2020. It has also developed a range of carbon neutral lubricants.
Applying this kind of innovative thinking to its shipping fleet means that BP tankers operate more energy efficiently too.
BP has also invested in external companies that have potential to reduce carbon emissions . A good example is Solidia Technologies, which has developed a form of cement that captures and stores carbon dioxide as it dries.
The ability to quantify the impact of these efforts is a crucial part of the Advancing Low Carbon programme. Mannion is adamant that these figures must be supported by evidence and clear and provable data . So the figures and the approach are all checked by independent observer Deloitte to ensure that it is thorough. “We’ve brought in an external partner who looks at these activities to check our figures and make sure they are robust and verifiable,” she says.
The Advancing Low Carbon programme is beginning to change BP from the inside by energising low carbon thinking. “We need to think right across the company how we can encourage and drive low carbon action,” says Mannion. “To deliver significantly lower emissions, every kind of energy needs to be cleaner and better.”