Joe Powell: ‘Renewable energy needs more than just one silver bullet’

The Shell scientist says that while fossil fuels dominate the world’s energy of today, he sees a coming shift to energy like biofuels, wind and solar.

Joe Powell: There’s no single silver bullet in terms of a new renewable energy. One can’t simply flip a switch and say, ‘we’re going to do this now. We’re going to go renewable.’

Joe Powell is Chief Scientist of Chemical Engineering at Shell. Dr. Powell researches ways to develop renewable energy. He said that while fossil fuels dominate the world’s energy of today, he sees a coming shift to energy like biofuels, wind and solar.

Joe Powell: It’s already a portion of the energy spectrum today, and we’re looking in the 50 to 100-year time horizon for when that would become a dominant source.

Powell said biofuel is being researched that is not based on food people eat, such as corn or sugarcane.

Joe Powell: They would use, for instance, the corn stalk rather than the corn kernels, and then convert the molecular structure into a biofuel that can go into your existing car and fuel tank without a lot of change in infrastructure

Wind power, said Powell, is also coming on strong.

Joe Powell: Wind is very competitive today, where there is wind and where it is environmentally acceptable

Another promising renewable, said Powell, is solar energy, which is virtually unlimited in supply from the sun.

Joe Powell: The main issue with solar is the cost of capturing and converting it into convenient fuels. Hydrogen is one of the storage mechanisms being contemplated for how that would take place, essentially using renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and then being able to use the hydrogen as a clean energy supply, say in a fuel cell or for combustion.

Dr. Powell spoke more about a transition away from fossil fuels.

Joe Powell: Renewable energy is very significant today and becoming a key issue for the migration of our energy supply over the next 30 to 50 years. We view it as a balance between cheap, clean and convenient. The balance, between economic and/or cheap energy, along with the environmental factor of being clean, but then also the convenience and the utility and power our customers deman,d is the balance that has to be worked.

This podcast was made possible in part by Shell – encouraging dialog on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar