Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time.
By 2050, the human population is forecast to expand to 9 billion people, requiring 50 per cent more fuel (International Energy Agency), 70 per cent more food (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), and 50 per cent more fresh water (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
At the same time, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data show that we must reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 80 per cent to limit the rise in average global temperature to two degrees Celsius — the global warming safe limit agreed to at the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
Renewable energy technologies are critical if we are to stay in this safe zone. Current renewable energy technologies—including solar, wind and wave—are almost entirely focused on generating electricity, which accounts for only 20 per cent of global energy demand. The other 80 per cent of energy is supplied as fuels. As a result, reducing CO2 emissions and slowing global warning is dependent on fast tracking the development and scale up of clean fuel technologies.
To help meet this global challenge, Professor Ben Hankamer and his team are focused on tapping into the vast energy resource of the sun.
Amazingly, the sunlight striking the Earth's surface in just two hours delivers enough energy to power the entire world economy for a whole year.
Over three billion years, plants and algae have evolved intricate solar powered interfaces. These tap into this huge energy resource of the sun and use it to power the capture of CO2 and water and their conversion into the food, fuel and atmospheric oxygen that support life on Earth.
Ben's team focuses on producing next generation solar fuels systems based on single cell green algae called microalgae.
Microalgae systems sit at the nexus of our food, fuel and water challenges as they are solar powered, can be located on non-arable land, run using salt rather than fresh water, and enable CO2 neutral solar fuel production processes such as light driven hydrogen production from water.
Microalgae systems are a front runner technology that can help us to transition from finite fossil fuel resources to support a sustainable solar powered future.
Ben and his team at the IMB Centre for Solar Biotechnology are now working to increase the efficiency of fuel production, and improve production processes for foods, feeds and high-value products.
"The world depends on a stable fuel supply, so it is vitally important, economically and environmentally, to invest in and develop efficient renewable fuel systems now, before it's too late," Ben says.