Scientists have been warning for decades about the consequences of climate change and declining biodiversity. It would have been nice if we had acted on them right away, says Annita Westenbroek. “But apparently we need a few crises first to get the transition going. While the nitrogen crisis and water shortages make the puzzle more difficult, it appears they have enforced more and more people and businesses moving in the right direction.” Annita Westenbroek shares her vision on the transition.
There’s no more discussion needed: we can all agree the energy transition has to start now. Rather today than tomorrow. Unfortunately, no major steps have yet been taken worldwide. As a result, the task is becoming increasingly difficult. Annita explains: “For example, low water levels due to drought are starting to become an additional, pressing problem, putting pressure on solutions for cleaner mobility via rivers. The nitrogen crisis is also making the energy transition even more complex. Consider burning hydrogen: a nice CO2-free alternative, but then more nitrogen compounds will be formed than when burning natural gas.”
Crises as incentives
However, she says, crises surrounding drought, nitrogen, as well as resource scarcity and rising energy and food prices, are not just bad news. “They also spur us to change the way we do things as consumers and producers. Crises can initiate transitions. Apparently, this is how we are put together as humanity. Today, a growing group of people are realizing that they need to get their comfort from other things than buying new stuff all the time and going on plane vacations several times a year. There are more and more platforms and apps for reusing and sharing products. Sharing is social and fun – in my neighborhood we share everything. Because why should every family have a pressure washer or cordless drill in their home?”
Calculating social costs
According to Annita this need for change is equally felt in the industry. And also in the wallets of these businesses. On top of the carbon tax, rising prices for fossil fuels, raw materials and water are weighing in. And while this hurts companies, somewhere it is also a blessing. “I believe that the government should have enforced the carbon taks and societal costs. It creates a leveled and equal playing field in which companies can get started with circular and clean production processes that can also be competitive. The technological solutions are already there, but in today’s infrastructure they require complex and expensive changes and replacements. What we see now, because societal costs have not been passed on, no company dares to venture these expensive investment to develop a clean and economical production process.”
What do other ISPTers think of the transition?
“Change through faith, trust and decisiveness” – Carol Xiao
ISPT as neutral director
Crises fuel the sense of urgency. They can lead to open cooperation between companies in the industry. More and more parties realize that they need each other to tackle the complex challenges of the energy transition with combined forces. At ISPT, we bring them together as a neutral director and link them to inventive companies that come up with solutions. That is our value. I work on that hat within a number of promising themes. Like Deep Eutectic Solvents, with which we can set up energy-saving processes with new fluids. Or heat integration, with which we help companies save energy through better heat utilization. But also the valorization of waste streams, with the aim of using residual streams in such a way that they provide the highest possible economic value. In theory, a lot is already possible. Now we need the collective will to make the energy transition go beyond paper.
More about Annita Westenbroek
Annita Westenbroek is an expert on the bio-based economy and particularly keen to facilitate cooperation between companies.