Three Game-changing Energy Technologies by 2040 and Beyond
Three Game-changing Energy Technologies by 2040 and Beyond

Green innovation is on course to change the way we power our world. In the second of a two-part series, we examine three more game-changing technologies with the potential to revolutionise the way we live.

Innovative low-carbon energy technologies are being adopted around the world to support decarbonisation efforts. This is the second of a two-part article introducing six game-changing low-carbon energy technologies shaping the global energy transition. 


Our first article explored technologies we are likely to see the impact of by 2030: Offshore renewable energy, energy storage, and high voltage direct current. 


This article looks into three further technologies that may take around two decades to develop and could emerge by 2040: Green hydrogen, carbon capture utilisation and storage, and nuclear fusion. 

1. Green hydrogen

The industrial sector has largely failed to decarbonise over the past decade and is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels for both energy and feedstock. Hydrogen, an element used in a variety of industries, was historically not a low-carbon contributor. Natural gas has been a primary source of hydrogen production, which also involves processes that produce carbon dioxide (CO2) such as steam reforming. 


Now, however, there is a way to produce “green hydrogen” by using renewable energy to electrolyse water (H2O), separating the hydrogen (H2) atom within it from its molecular twin, oxygen (O2). As the cost of producing renewable energy goes down and the demand for hydrogen goes up, there is great hope that green hydrogen will become an important contributor to emissions reduction. 


Moreover, hydrogen offers benefits both as a direct fuel and as an energy carrier for long-term storage. The low to zero-emission hydrogen fuel can be used in fuel cell vehicles, while hydrogen is also a good option for storing renewable energy, giving it more potential in the energy transition.  

How green hydrogen is produced

Development of green hydrogen has been gaining momentum in Australia, where a US$300 million green hydrogen project was set up in 2019. By 2022, the project is expected to produce 25 tonnes of green hydrogen a day, powered entirely by renewable energy supplied from about 85MW of solar power and 75MW of wind generation capacity. 


One downside of producing hydrogen through water electrolysis is the enormous quantities of purified water required, which may exacerbate the water scarcity problem. This limitation may be solved in the near future following the news that Stanford researchers have found a way to create hydrogen fuel from seawater. 

2. Carbon capture utilisation and storage

Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) to be recycled for further usage in delivering a “net-zero” energy system. CCUS involves a range of technologies to keep CO2 produced by main factories and power plants from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. 


CCUS can be retrofitted to existing power and industrial plants that could otherwise emit 600 billion tonnes of CO2 over the next five decades, equivalent to almost 17 years’ worth of current annual emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.


The two main categories of CCUS technologies that still require a lot more development are carbon capture technologies and carbon utilisation technologies. 


Carbon capture technologies, including the use of monoethanolamine (MEA) and novel capture mediums, adopt a conventional adsorption-desorption cycle to capture CO2. Compared to MEA, novel capture mediums use solvents that have a lower thermal requirement, claiming a higher capture efficiency, while not requiring constant maintenance.


Carbon utilisation technologies include processes like carbonation, catalytic conversion, electrochemical reduction, photocatalytic conversion, and microbial conversion. Depending on the processes, captured CO2 is transformed into valuable products and applications, such as fuels, chemicals, construction materials and others. Captured CO2 injected into depleting oil reservoirs can increase recovery, through a process known as enhanced oil recovery, opening up the opportunity for the oil industry to participate in emissions reduction.

Carbon utilisation and potential products

Carbon utilisation and potential products
Source: National Energy Technology Laboratory


In June 2020, international think tank Global CCS Institute identified 59 CCUS facilities in various stages of development with a capture capacity of more than 127 million tonnes per annum. There are now 21 facilities in operation, with early forerunners in the United States, Canada, Norway, and China. 

3. Nuclear fusion

Whenever the subject of nuclear energy arises, most people will think about nuclear fission, where heavy radioactive atoms like uranium are broken apart in a process that releases a lot of energy. This is the process that has powered nuclear reactors since the 1950s, since when the industry has been tarnished by rare but cataclysmic meltdowns at Chernobyl and Fukushima. 


There is actually another nuclear energy process, called nuclear fusion. Fusion is the process that powers our sun, and nuclear fusion is an attempt to recreate this process to produce energy. In contrast with nuclear fission, small atoms like hydrogen and helium are fused together in nuclear fusion to release energy.


The Sun
Nuclear fusion is a process that produces energy by fusing small atoms like hydrogen and helium, which is also a process that powers the sun.

Potentially, it can generate power that is low-carbon but without the by-product of nuclear fission such as high-level waste and risk of meltdown. It is the most energy-dense form of power and has the potential to transform the way the world is powered. Two cubic kilometres of seawater could, in theory, provide energy equivalent to all the oil reserves on Earth.


While the promise of unlimited risk-free, zero-waste nuclear fusion has always remained the same, it remains technically extremely challenging to produce a controlled reaction. It is often said that nuclear fusion is just 20 years away, and always will be. Advances in technology are showing some exciting progress that may begin to bring that “20 years away” within reach.

Researchers at Oxford-based First Light Fusion have published results demonstrating their cost-effective solution for clean baseload power. The company’s inertial confinement fusion process in initiating nuclear fusion reactions by heating and compressing a fuel target, could deliver a levelised cost of energy as low as US$25/MWh when the technology has matured, compared with approximately US$100/MWh for nuclear energy and up to US$50/MWh for onshore wind. 


The inertial confinement fusion process can bring down the costs because it overcomes three potential hurdles of other fusion technologies which all add massive costs: managing the intense heat flux, preventing neutron damage to structural materials, and generating the required tritium fuel.