Christiaan Richter

Dr. Christiaan Richter is a professor in Chemical Engineering at the University of Iceland. He received his PhD in chemical engineering from Northeastern University in Boston, jointly supervised from the chemical engineering (Prof. Ronald J. Willey) and physics (Prof. Latika Menon) departments. Subsequently he did a postdoc in the Department of Chemistry at Yale and served on the faculty of the Chemical Engineering department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2016 he joined the faculty at the University of Iceland and focused on biofuel and eFuel production, both in academic research and by participating in industry projects.

Title of presentation: The future of fuel – is it up to politics, science or both?

When it comes to land, sea and air transportation… is the major barriers to sustainable transport just scientific, or just political, or both? If the widespread adoption of sustainable transport solutions requires any significant scientific breakthroughs, what are they? In this presentation I will suggest that for one potentially key process – the reaction of renewable hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methanol, the remaining barriers are pretty much just political.

I will share the perspectives of an erstwhile academic material scientist/chemical engineer who participated extensively in large scale eFuel project development for the last 5 years and running.
The country of Iceland may be small, but in terms of eFuel it is surprisingly a world leader – the Icelandic company CRI operates an industrial 5 000 tonne/year eFuel plant since 2012, a full decade before any other comparable project. Even today, Iceland may have the lowest global production cost for certain types of renewable eFuel.
It is from this perspective that I will propose the hypothesis that the barriers to sustainable fuel adoption are mostly political. A sensible transition can be done, even without any new scientific breakthrough or advance.

However, though not necessary, scientific progress can meaningfully improve eFuel economics in certain key areas. I will propose the key areas where research progress can accelerate eFuel use is:

  1. The efficiency of electrolysis has not improved for about 90 years. Efficiency improvements of electrolytic hydrogen and/or lower electrolyzer material cost will accelerate the switch to green fuels.
  2. Separations technology, in particular CO2 capture and separation.
  3. Neither batteries, nor the direct use of hydrogen, is necessarily required for an environmental and sustainable transportation future. However, both these modalities could realize their early promise if scientific breakthroughs pan out that resolve their respective Achilles heels. In the case of hydrogen it is the hydrogen storage problem, in the case of batteries it is the twin problem of extensive rare metals use and recycling.

Sometimes contributions also come from left field. Such an example is the ALICE waste to hydrogen project (Institute of Solid State Physics University of Latvia, Lithuanian Energy Institute, University of Iceland and IceTec).
In the final part of the presentation I will share some insights from the ALICE waste to hydrogen project and how this form of green hydrogen can supplement hydrogen from renewable electricity while also increasing high recycling.

Speaker Details
  • Title of presentation: The future of fuel – is it up to politics, science or both?