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Dr. Mehdi Jafarian is a senior research associate at the University of Adelaide (Australia) and part of Mission Innovation. For the past 8 years, he has specialized in the areas of energy storage, solar thermal energy, carbon capture and solar hybrid systems. Currently, he is managing 2 projects through the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute (ASTRI) and Future Fuels CRC.

We had the chance to meet Dr. Jafarian in the SUNRISE consortium and Mission Innovation meeting in Brussels on October 9-11, 2019.

Are we still in time to achieve one of the Paris agreement’s goals of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius?

Unfortunately, the current trend of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is not very promising, though significant effort has been allocated to the mitigation of these emissions. We are desperately missing the valuable time to avoid the catastrophic effects of the global warming. We need a global momentum and determination to tackle climate change and keep the CO2 concentration less than 450 parts per million (ppm).

Is it realistic to talk about zero net carbon emissions by 2050?

Considering the facts that fossil fuels still account for more than 80% of the world energy demand, the current fossil-fuel based technologies are economically well-established and the cost associated with development and implementation of the zero emission technologies, it would be challenging to achieve a net zero carbon emission by 2050. Furthermore, the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, for either storage or reuse, by the latter half of the century is widely regarded as necessary to keep the global temperature rise to well below 2 °C.

We need a global momentum and determination to tackle climate change and keep the CO2 concentration less than 450 parts per million (ppm).

A way to reduce the emissions of CO2 would be to store renewable energy sustainably. Are there new technologies being identified to solve this?

Many technologies have been developed and are already commercially available for energy storage such as batteries, pumped-storage hydropower* and thermal energy storage systems. New technologies and material are also emerging. But further research and development is required to make them more economically competitive with the current fossil-fueled based technologies.

Could you mention any example?

For instance, in mining and mineral processing sector in Australia, there is a great demand for high temperature process heat with temperatures of more than 800 °C, which is well-compatible with the temperatures that can be achieved with concentrated solar energy. Australia also has unique and great solar resources. But, the state-of-the-art thermal energy storage systems are typically limited to lower temperatures. On the other hand, big industries such as mining are well-established based on combustion of fuels, such that any changes would potentially results in huge costs. The use of renewable fuels, as an energy storage medium, is also another alternative. Nevertheless, their cost is still high. Hence, there is need for further research and development in these fields.

What is still needed to make clean energy-storage technologies like batteries commercially viable and scalable?

Despite the fact that batteries are beyond my expertise, I think these are already very well-developed, although they are still expensive for large-scale storage. Besides, their energy density is low, and some batteries like the lithium ones may have a negative environmental footprint in the long term.

Batteries are still expensive for large-scale storage. Besides, their energy density is low, and some like the lithium ones may have a negative environmental footprint in the long term.

Any personal takeaway that you would like to share with the SUNRISE community?

I would like to appreciate the opportunity for being a part of the SUNRISE community. Global warming is expected to have devastating consequences for life on planet Earth. So, we urgently need to find ways to tackle it and we need to do it all together globally.

* Pumped-storage hydropower (PSH) is a type of hydroelectric energy storage. It is a configuration of two water reservoirs at different elevations that can generate power (discharge) as water moves down through a turbine; this draws power as it pumps water (recharge) to the upper reservoir.