Technology offers solutions to all types of problems, both in the near term and in the long term: Ben Driggs

Ben Driggs, President & CEO of Global High Growth Regions, Honeywell, talks about the role technology can play to have a real impact on sustainability, energy conservation and energy transition

Ben Driggs, President & CEO of Global High Growth Areas at Honeywell, spoke on the issues that the entire globe has in terms of sustainability and how all businesses are placing themselves at the forefront of this challenge.

He mentioned that 55% of the global 200 companies have already committed to being carbon neutral or to having significant reductions in the future, and about 90% of executives say they are increasing their sustainability investments and that they are committed to making sustainability a part of their business transformation.

Later, he also talked about a framework that he thought would be helpful to think about that could have an impact on sustainability and how companies could think about using technology in the framework. He said, “I think everybody needs to think about doing things in both dimensions of this framework. We must think about how we get the same output using less energy for existing assets.”

He added, “We try to address both sides of this equation, energy conservation and energy transition. So, when you think about energy conservation, the most important thing is that you establish your baseline.”

He also talked about how most companies today estimate their emissions with a lot of assumptions and that there is no real scoreboard that enables them to say how they are doing and how they manage improvements. He talked about “sensorizing” the factories and buildings and establishing a real time baseline to monitor these emissions.

“Depending on how you look at the denominator, buildings account for somewhere between 25% and 45% of total carbon emissions in the world today.” He said we must clearly be more efficient, but we also want buildings to be comfortable, and we must have the same quality inside buildings that we have come to expect. The great thing about reducing energy consumption in buildings is that technology is very much present today in most facilities.”

In this context, he also gave an example of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and how they were able to build the most advanced systems. They were still able to recognise the significant reduction when they put smart algorithms on top of their system, so it shows you the power that exists even in very modern buildings.

Moving on, he discussed his observations in plants and manufacturing facilities. He said, “In manufacturing facilities, if you put in smart algorithms for energy optimisation, you probably cannot get quite as big of a reduction as you can in buildings because they are already monitored and managed closely. But you can still get high single digit returns just by adding algorithms to this picture, and this is a very powerful tool that you have.” He also mentioned how President Biden discussed methane at COP 27 in November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.” It has a huge impact on the environment, and there are very easy opportunities to install equipment to monitor methane leaks, to quantify methane leaks, and then go fix them. And these are the types of things that can have a significant near-term impact on emissions”.

While talking about transportation, he stated another area that is critical to focus on conservation is aircraft routing. He also stated that when we think of quantum computing, what it can do is take very large, highly variable data sets and come up with ways to optimise them.

“Refrigeration is another critical area we all learned about during COVID, and we all see a significant growth in cold storage facilities. And there are very significant opportunities to make new refrigerant gases that can drastically reduce the energy usage in cold storage facilities as well as all other areas,” added  Driggs.

“When we think of some of the most successful global environmental legislation, there are a lot of transportation assets out there that are going to be around for 20-30 years that will require fuel for aircraft and trucks,” he said, while giving an example of cargo trucks.

“But what exists in today’s times is the opportunity to use advanced biofuels made from a variety of different feedstocks, from used cooking oil to agricultural waste to algae and many other things, to produce aviation fuel and green diesel. And this is a significant opportunity for these assets, which are going to continue moving for decades into the future, to have a significant reduction in their carbon impact,” said Driggs.

While talking about India, he said that one of the areas that could be most important for India is ethanol to jet or ethanol to green diesel. India is a major producer of ethanol today and has significant capacity, but the technology now exists to take this ethanol and produce sustainable aviation fuel or green diesel as this can make a significant impact on the future of those segments and their sustainability impact.

In context to carbon capture technology, he said that this technology is improving dramatically. Both, pre and post combustion carbon capture technologies could have a significant impact and these policies are formed around those that can make some of these hard to abate segments reduce their overall impact.

Shedding light on the use of plastic, he remarked that globally, plastic is a key material and plastics are used everywhere, but the current mechanical recycling only enables about 10% of that plastic to be economically viable to recycle. But even here, technology arrives with a solution, that is, chemical recycling of plastic. This technology could help reduce approximately 80% of waste plastic and create recyclable polymer oil that can go into new plastic being created. He also said that this technology could help incorporate plastic into making infrastructure such as roads.

Continuing his speech, he also stated how hydrogen is a part of the solution going forward. “The key is to make electrolyzers as efficient as they possibly can. “Whether it is a chemical problem or a controls and electronic problem, the good news is these are opportunities to use these technologies to make electrolyzers for both green and blue hydrogen much more efficient,” he said while mentioning India’s hydrogen policy.

He mentioned how large as well as small companies have all made public commitments to reduce the use of energy. “The challenge is how are these companies going to meet these commitments. In order to meet their commitments, there is never going to be just one solution. It has to be a combination of energy conservation and energy transition technology.”

On a positive note, he said, “As seen throughout the history of the world, technology offers amazing solutions to tackle these problems, both in the near term and in the long term.” He also warned that being carbon neutral would not be achievable with just one or two initiatives but across numerous initiatives on both conservation and transition terms. “That is why I encourage all the companies and governments of all countries to look at the wide variety of solutions to have a real impact with our sustainability practices and policies”, he concluded.

Ben Driggs shared these insights during a session at the Economic Times Global Business Summit 2023.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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