Will we produce electricity from algae in 2060?

According to a UN report, the world population is projected to reach almost 10 billion people in 2050. That’s two billion more than today. This rapid population increase comes with many questions. One of the most pressing challenges: Where does the electricity for so many people come from?

The following statements were made in the context of the current #Window2TheFuture campaign. They are intended to encourage sustainable thinking, and are not tied to any investment recommendation. 

More people means bigger cities, more mobility, more electronic devices: This requires a great deal of energy. Prof. Dr. Anthony Patt from the Department of Environmental System Sciences at ETH Zurich says that the problem was not the electricity supply for 10 billion people, but that the critical aspect would be to reform the current electricity market – which, to this day, favors fossil fuels. The future market would have to simultaneously meet the needs of the population and be environmental friendly.  

Expanding electricity production in an economical and sustainable way 
Current state: Fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas are depleted at a very fast rate. The carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which strongly fuel climate change. With almost 10 billion people, the current production of electricity would be disastrous for the climate. Surprisingly: Already today, there are enough renewable energy technologies available. More than many people are aware of at the moment. “At prizes, which are similar to those for the production of energy from fossil fuels,” says Prof. Dr. Anthony Patt. The potential for innovation to advance energy reform is there. A study by researchers at University of Cambridge is one of many good examples. They developed biophotovoltaics (biological solar-cells) that utilize the photosynthetic properties of algae to convert light into electric current. But what is the revolutionary aspect?

Are algae the source of energy of the future?
Conventional solar cells cannot store energy. The electricity production is dependent on sunlight. This means that both the electron generation (energy) and power delivery (electric current) happen in one chamber. The newly developed biological solar-cells by the researcher team surrounding Paolo Bombelli paint a new picture: They have collaborated to develop a two-chamber system where the generation of electrons and their conversion to power are separated.  The genetically modified algae carry mutations that enable the cells to minimize the amount of electric charge during photosynthesis, which in turn creates a surplus that can be stored in one chamber and used at a later moment for electricity production. 

Innovations that drive energy reform forward
Storing energy without having to use it immediately: What sounds like a small step could have a decisive impact on our society. Being able to store excess energy, shows a lot of promise. How would that look like? New buildings – built as energy efficient homes – would deliver home-made electricity to its tenants. Biological solar-cells could be mounted on already existing house fronts. As a society, we would be less and less dependent on electricity production from fossil fuels, and could ultimately rely on renewable energy. 

Shaping tomorrow’s life today
Population growth, greater prosperity, the increase in demand for energy: With today’s investments, we are initiating change for tomorrow – for our children and grandchildren. At Julius Baer, we treasure long-term thinking. Our ambition: Promote sustainable economic growth and structural change at the same time. The future relies on innovation, investments, and courage. That’s why we engage in Formula E.

Formel E serves as test bed for e-mobility
Early on, we at Julius Baer recognized the potential of Formula E. The racing series represents so much more than just motor sports. It serves as a test bed for innovations. As the founding Global Partner of Formula E, we contribute to the development and testing of future technologies. Formula E is a source of inspiration for electric mobility. At Julius Baer, we believe that e-mobility will provide a significant contribution to stopping climate change – from electric racing cars through to energy-producing algae.

We are in control of how we want to live in the future. Within the context of our #Window2TheFuture campaign, we ask ourselves questions such as: Will we fly to work in 2060? Will we produce electricity from algae in 2060? Will drones have replaced trucks in 2060?

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