Japan held the Science and Technology in Society Forum in early October (STS Forum 2016). The Russian delegation was represented by Andrey Kazak, leading research scientist from the Center for Hydrocarbon Recovery at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech).
STS is held annually in Kyoto, Japan. Established in 2004, the forum has become a platform for discussing the main challenges of technological development. Though the benefits of progress are obvious, scientific achievements cause disputes ethics, environmental conservation and safety.
The STS forum aims to provide a mechanism for open discussions on an informal basis, and to build a human network that would, in time, resolve the new types of problems stemming from the application of science and technology.
Andrey Kazak describes what was discussed in the Forum, and elaborates on the current trends in the global energy market:
“One of the key issues discussed at the forum was the hidden threats to society and human development posed by technological innovations. I had the unique opportunity to discuss various subjects with Nobel Laureates, including the future development of the world’s energy production and consumption. Non-restricted CO₂ emissions in the industry are still a real problem. It has been established that the higher the CO₂ level, the higher the average temperature on the Earth’s surface. Large quantities of CO₂ are emitted as a result of the combustion of fuel hydrocarbons that we extract from the Earth’s subsurface: coal, oil, and gas. If humankind fails to limit CO₂ emissions, the world will reach a point of no return. This will result in the northern swamps’ active decay, ice melting, and global sea level rising. Once this occurs, it won’t matter what we do. Even if we assume that we refuse to burn anything, the processes will nonetheless be set in motion.”
“The world’s demand for energy is rising globally alongside technological development. and therefore more and more energy is required. Nuclear energy is a great alternative to hydrocarbons. It is one of the cleanest energy sources, generating almost zero CO₂ emissions. It is also one of the safest. The number of technologies used in nuclear power plant defence is astounding: supervising committees, regulations, sensors, standards – it’s a whole world of its own. All nuclear plant breakdowns were the result of human errors. However, after the Fukushima-1 disaster, many countries have limited their use of nuclear power, with some even having banned it entirely. Nevertheless, Japan is planning to launch all its reactors by 2030.”
“Another alternative to burning hydrocarbons is using renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, these are only local solutions as few areas enjoy enough wind and sun. Moreover, electric power is mainly required in the morning and evening when the air is still and the sun is down. Therefore, we have to figure out how to accumulate this energy. The simplest way is to pump water up a tower during the day and drain it through a turbine in the evening. More substantial technological solutions include installing highly efficient electrical capacitors. But even in this case we will have to review our topology of the electricity supply with these changes requiring huge capital expenses.”
“Although a number of countries have managed to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, this problem continues to be global. СО2 emissions do not just form a cloud above a specific area: they travel on atmospheric air flows and spread to cover the entire planet, thus rendering the efforts that individual countries make to reduce emissions meaningless. In the USA, a lot of private home owners and farms have bought solar panels (photovoltaic cells) and no longer rely on the national grid for their electricity. In the process, the USA has significantly decreased its СО2 emissions. However, until all major producers of СО2 come to an agreement, the attempts made by the USA, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands are basically futile. When compared to the countries listed above, Russia is small fry; we don’t manufacture a great deal or produce a lot of emissions. Forums like this are very beneficial to us because we will be able to pro-actively modernise our systems and use existing technological solutions effectively once Russia undergoes the second wave of industrialization.”
“Despite the active attempts to use and popularise the use of alternative energy sources, leading foreign experts in the field still agree that non-renewable energy sources will continue to dominate the energy sector in the next 50 years. Incidentally, the largest hydrocarbon fields that were discovered back in the 19th and 20th centuries are seeing a sharp decline in production rates as the reserves are exhausted. To meet the demand for hydrocarbons and increase the extraction rate, the global community is:
- increasing the efficiency of hydrocarbon production from existing fields by improving the oil recovery rate through the use of modern exploration technologies and innovations;
- producing hard-to-recover and unconventional resources of hydrocarbons (carbonate, tight, shale reservoirs, heavy crude oils, natural bitumens, gas hydrates, etc.);
- attempting to extract hydrocarbons from greenfields in new frontiers (polar regions, the Arctic continental shelf).
“This is where the Skoltech Center for Hydrocarbon Recovery is playing an increasingly key role. We are developing technologies for exploration, and production of oil, gas and condensate from Russian assets with even higher efficiency in terms of production volumes and cost. The Center is currently developing EOR (enhanced oil recovery) technologies (chemical, gas, thermal, complex), geomechanical modelling workflows, and improving the efficiency of hydraulic fracturing technology, novel hydrodynamic and geomechanical stimulators, and a range of technologies designed for use in unconventional hydrocarbon production processes. We are not working alone but in close cooperation with major Russian oil and gas companies: LUKOIL, Gazprom Neft, and NOVATEK.
“In addition to the future of energy, the forum participants discussed the problems relating to genetic engineering, industrial innovation and the internet. Even harmless inventions attract controversy over the safety and ethics of their use.
“For example, the internet is a superb invention. However, when an individual operates under digital certificates, IDs and passports, they are susceptible to identity theft or they can commit various online crimes. A real person might have to answer for these crimes — and they they would have to prove they are not to blame.
“On the other hand, there are a number of beneficial technologies that the general public continue to resist. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) have been used worldwide for the last 25 years. However, no matter how many scientific articles there are, how transparent the manufacturing process or distribution is, there will be politicians who try and gain popularity by calling for a ban on GMO. What’s more, they don’t even think about the fact that banning GMO lead to an influx of refugees into the European Union — no one wants to face up to this.
“It turns out that it is not enough to simply invent and commercialise a new technology (if you are really lucky) in our modern-day world. You need to be prepared to deal with potential resistance from your own consumers and the general public: they are not always keen to accept and adopt new technologies. People need to be eased into using innovations. Our society is very conservative and has a tendency to pay attention to negative reviews: one negative aspect outweigh a thousand positive features.”