Young UAEU Scientist Publishes Ground-breaking Work To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions to perhaps try and alleviate all fossil fuel production and commerce’s vigorous pursuit as currently undertaken in the Gulf countries.
With global methane emissions reaching a record high of almost 600 million tonnes a year and expected to continue rising in the coming years, researchers at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have taken action. Eyas Mahmoud, Assistant Professor in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the university, is leading an attempt to design adsorbents that capture methane from the atmosphere to reduce the emissions. But the task at hand is not as straight-forward as one may think. There are many different adsorbents, each with its own unique combination of characteristics that determine its ability to reduce methane emissions. Prof. Mahmoud, therefore, set out to discover which adsorbents perform best for enhanced methane capture. Some of the adsorbents he is currently looking at are metal-organic frameworks – also known as MOFs. MOFs, which are compounds comprised of metal nodes coordinated to organic ligands, are a promising platform because their porosity can be adjusted and their chemistry can be tailored. “They can be designed in a variety of different ways to form three-dimensional structures tailored to methane adsorption,” Mahmoud says.
To date, he has demonstrated the best methane uptakes at 1 bar and 298 K, based on experiments that compared MOFs to carbonaceous materials, polymers and zeolites. The idea came about when Mahmoud’s original interest was triggered in methane storage for natural gas vehicles. He describes the pressures for such vehicles as extremely high – around 100 bar or more. But once the news hit that methane emissions were skyrocketing; he shifted his attention towards lower pressure applications. Although he initially focused on natural gas vehicles, this year, Prof. Mahmoud has redirected his attention towards global methane emissions. Mahmoud explains that MOFs hold more promise than other materials thanks to their higher adsorption capacity.
“It has never been done before,” he mentions. “The focus now is mostly on carbon dioxide, and you now see a lot of focus and a lot of developments being made on CO2 capture.” Methane is also a greenhouse gas, indeed it is considered 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Although the methane concentration used to be lower, it is currently rising at an alarming rate, which could pose a global threat in the future. This is especially important as methane was recently reported as starting to leak from the sea-bed. And with sea levels rising, the concern must be addressed imminently.
According to Mahmoud, who was recognised by the London Press as a Rosalind member, methane originates from a variety of sources, including the oil and natural gas industry, agriculture and farming. In the past year, it was reported that 300 tonnes of methane were released in Florida in the United States. An active leak of sea-bed methane was also discovered in Antarctica for the first time in 2020. “It’s mostly industrial sources, but there are other sources as well,” he explains.
Such events are a concern because if global warming continues, other parts of the seafloor may also begin to leak methane and microbes may not quickly move in to prevent methane from rising to the atmosphere.
Methane release is considered extremely problematic because it is a major greenhouse gas and a cause of global warming. As such, effective strategies to curb methane emissions are needed. As well as a global issue, the problem is considered to be a regional problem in the Gulf due to a number of natural gas reserves, including the UAE. But there is hope, as Mahmoud’s work has generated initial promising results that could have a positive environmental impact on the world.
His latest research was published in October in Applied Sciences, an open access journal with a rapidly growing impact factor.
Going forward, Mahmoud will attempt to tailor the MOFs’ structures – of which there are thousands. His aim is to understand which structures are considered optimal at such conditions. “We will develop what we term our quantitative SPRs that relate the structure of the MOF to the adsorption capacity and the adsorption kinetics that are important for good performance for this process,” he adds.
The work is timely, as there is currently a strong push to mitigate greenhouse gases and commercialise them to capture carbon dioxide. With technology for CO2 capture developing rapidly, and climate change impacting the environment at a rapidly increasing pace, Mahmoud’s advice is to make sure we become wary of other greenhouse gases such as methane to ensure successful atmospheric restoration.
A report commissioned by international union coalition Industrial examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor). Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19.
In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.
Some highlights of the responses:
“the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
Lacking corporate policies or support, some employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training
The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”
The report was commissioned by Industrial and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP).
An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) article advises the world about Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation
By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.
As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.
Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.
“Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world?” #DevMattersTweet
Then came March, and a worldwide upheaval as the COVID-19 pandemic struck nations indiscriminately. The official response across the board ranged from well-meaning but knee-jerk, to discriminatory and short-sighted. Some of the strictest lockdowns were implemented in the most congested areas of Gulf cities, where migrants live. However, their labour was considered essential, as the process of nation-building could not be paused. Attempts to decongest were hopeful at best, but the majority continued to live in cramped quarters, were bussed into construction sites, and remained vulnerable to this new infection, as they had been to other infections and health perils.
The women, hundreds of thousands employed as domestic workers, have been invisible at the best of times because their ability to leave home and enjoy an off day or free time has always been at the discretion of their employers. The pandemic guidelines prevented even this thin leeway, with some countries explicitly prohibiting domestic workers from socialising, even when their employers were allowed to. Domestic workers, like a lot of other poorly-paid and badly-treated workers, were considered essential workers. With entire families working and studying from home, their workload increased exponentially. They were also exposed to strong chemical cleaning agents without proper protective gear. While their services were essential, even critical, the individual was considered dispensable and replaceable.
Force majeure rules allowed companies to reduce pay, terminate workers, or put them on leave without pay. Measures were introduced to ensure business continuity even if these measures infringed on workers’ rights. The lack of civil society and trade unions and inability to negotiate collectively –– all disempowering conditions that preceded the pandemic –– meant workers’ voices and representation were limited and muted. No mechanisms were established to challenge the unfair implementation of the measures. Access to justice was riddled with even more problems than before, as wage theft and other labour abuses from the pre-COVID era were yet to be resolved. This post is not even attempting to explore the vulnerabilities and exclusion of undocumented workers –– many of whom are forced into irregularity by the sponsorship or Kafala system.
“When a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.” #DevMattersTweet
In the plethora of webinars that consumed the early months of the pandemic, human rights advocates and activists repeatedly spoke of the lessons being learnt, the new normal that awaited us at the end of the dark tunnel, with ‘building back better’ punctuating every discourse. What they failed to recognise is that when a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.
In fact, we saw the opposite, with migrant workers being blamed for spreading infections, because of their living conditions over which they had no control over. Ten months into the pandemic, it is almost back to business as usual, with malls, offices, schools and even tourism, opening up in stages. Vaccination drives have begun, with a promise to include migrants in all of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries. But the most marginalised are still housed in deplorable conditions, their temporariness being reinforced. And the first sector that re-opened for recruitment was domestic work bringing in more women from impoverished countries reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
If there is one takeaway for human rights advocates it is that a socio-economic environment devastated by the pandemic is not fertile ground for righteous policies. If anything, origin and destination countries may go lax on due diligence over corporations in the name of business continuity and impose tighter controls over migrants under the pretext of protection.
“The last year has seen an increase in wage theft, and there is an urgent need for transnational mechanisms to deal with this.”#DevMattersTweet
There are key questions we need to ask ourselves and the governments:
Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world? What combination of policies and prejudices leads to this situation?
With so little public investment made in social welfare, the dependence on live-in domestic workers is only likely to increase. How do we ensure recognition of domestic work as work, and domestic workers as workers, formalising their status in the labour market?
How do we then break the monopoly of live-in domestic work that is inherently exploitative?
The ghettoisation of migrant labour is both the root cause and the result of discrimination. In many Gulf Co-operation Council states, migrants constitute the majority of the population and their needs are deliberately neglected in urban planning.
In the coming years, climate change, population imbalances and economic distress will increase migrants’ vulnerabilities, and solutions cannot be rooted in the current environment of inequity and discrimination.
China Daily Global in an article titled ‘If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society’, perhaps domestically, but says it all about what to expect in the future relationship of China with say countries of the MENA region.
If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society
By Liu Xiaochun | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-18
It was clearly pointed out in the meeting statement that the collection, usage and management of data shall be improved.
With robust growth of the “new infrastructure” sector, particularly the application of 5G and the internet of things, digital technology will find applications in all walks of society and will bring significant change to people’s way of living.
While appreciating the positive effect that digital society may bring, it is important to fully acknowledge and evaluate the risks that interconnectivity of data may bring and pay attention to data governance.
As digital technology is highly penetrative and spreads widely, the risk of digital technology can be widely disruptive and can go beyond personal privacy. It thus requires precautionary regulatory measures to manage or pre-empt such risks.
There are key issues and risks in data connectivity, and it is important to strike a proper balance between breaking the information silo and data security.
On the one hand, it is important to clarify which part of the society will guide the connectivity of data, be it the government, technology firms or other institutions. For example, the building of smart cities will require data collection from a great number of sectors and departments. It is crucial to make clear who will be responsible for collecting and managing them.
On the other hand, how data can be categorized and managed is another emerging issue. In governing smart cities, new data of all kinds emerge every second. The idea of smart city construction, building industrial internet and digital China cannot be realized without data from all departments and organizations going online.
Yet, with all these key data openly accessible online, inadequate or improper management of these data may pose a possible threat to public security, the police, or even to social and national security.
Both governance and the internet of things across all industries should take the management of public data into account. At the same time, the arithmetic model, a key technology in artificial intelligence, may amplify potential risks in information spreading with no targeted audiences.
There is also the risk of giant internet and technology companies adopting a winner-takes-all approach in data collection. Conventional monopoly usually means taking monopoly of one particular type of products or at most, a certain industry. The new winner-takes-all approach would mean exclusive owning of all data on one particular platform by a certain enterprise.
Online platforms in fields such as e-commerce, digital payments, and delivery services may even gain access to huge amount of social data in the name of innovation or breaking up information silo. Such data may be related to personal, business or even government information.
Should such platforms or online behemoths land in major trouble, or face some unforeseen risks, massive systemic disruptions could unsettle or destabilize society. And with the growth of 5G, the number of such businesses is expected to grow.
A number of steps will likely be taken to strengthen data governance. Control of data risks should be raised as part of State governance efforts. Any arbitrary collection of personal information and data should be prohibited.
The issue of data categorization needs to be resolved through legislative efforts in this field. A number of suggestions have been made in legislation regarding personal information protection, which is very necessary.
Categorization should be made for data under digital economy.
First, special attention should be given to managing data regarding public security, finance and people’s livelihood, and how they can be made accessible on internet platforms and how such data can be used.
Second, the responsibility of data management should be specified, and ownership and usage rights to data clarified.
Third, legal liability in data use and transaction must be made clear.
Fourth, as data management is a new and emerging sector yet closely related to national security, social stability and a steady running of economic activities, a special regulatory department or mechanism should be set up with powers of oversight.
At the same time, a category-specific, more proper oversight on artificial intelligence is also needed, particularly a more targeted regulatory model for algorithms developed by various businesses.
An overhaul of personal data already collected once all the aforementioned systems are in place would be in order.
Mechanism for the oversight and management of super-giant data platforms should be set up. On the one hand, objective views are needed about the monopolies taken by super-giant digital platforms.
These platforms also bear public service functions, differentiating them from industrial or commercial monopolies. Concentration of platforms may also help add on commercial competitiveness and social efficiency.
Take third-party payments as an example. To ensure unimpeded payments, various market participants tend to gather on one payment platform. If communications across different telecom companies cannot be realized, only one telecom platform will eventually survive.
Such logic also applies to third-party transactions, which explains why even though the regulators concerned issued a number of licenses, only a few survived. And there are reasons behind why only those few did manage to survive.
First, the survivors are those that are supported by the banks’ unified payment services. Second, the companies specialized in integrated payment services has become a solution for third-party payment platforms banning one another.
Super-giant platforms will likely continue to increase as digital society grows. Concentration of multiple services in a single platform may make business sense for market share-minded companies. But it is debatable if this is the right path to digital transformation of society.
So, proper regulatory measures and oversights are needed in helping such platforms to grow with society in a responsible manner. This is why, oversight mechanisms are needed, as platform enterprises can’t achieve this on their own through self-regulation.
Meanwhile, all data collected by platform businesses are related to society’s various publics and therefore should not be treated as commercial assets.
The article is a translation of a comment from the Bund Summit by Liu Xiaochun, the deputy dean of the Shanghai Finance Institute.
That’s the question Sabrina Burns, a petroleum engineering student got from an Uber driver in 2018. She and some fellow students were headed to a petroleum industry banquet, and at the time it seemed a little silly. While many younger people questioned the wisdom of going into the oil industry, conventional wisdom held that the oil industry is a great career.
While students in other majors and other people she knew questioned the wisdom of being an oil major, her parents persuaded her to stick with the oil industry. Her father, who worked as a helicopter pilot, met a lot of successful women working as engineers on offshore oil rigs. On top of that, older generations probably have a harder time imagining a world in which the oil industry isn’t stable, lucrative, and essential to everyone’s lives.
2020 threw these older generations and any younger believers a curveball, though. “We got a slap in the face, an entirely unforeseen situation that rocked our entire mind-set,” said Ms. Burns when asked about her prospects by Clifford Krauss at The New York Times. “I have applied for every oil and gas position I’ve seen, like all my classmates, and nothing really has turned up. I’m discouraged.”
What was once seemingly invincible was now stumbling and couldn’t be counted on.
The biggest blow to graduating oil students was the sudden drop in oil demand due to the pandemic. Oil products like gasoline and jet fuel weren’t needed nearly as much because people worked from home, many businesses were closed, and travel was avoided. With all of this lost demand despite ample supplies, prices tanked.
With such low demand and low prices, the industry took a big hit. Over 100,000 people were laid off. Workers weren’t needed in the field to pump oil that wasn’t needed, and refineries were closed. Some oil companies even declared bankruptcy.
This stands in stark contrast to the better years, when these students started their college careers. The oil industry and the faculties of colleges felt they could promise great careers, with lots of job security and a good income. Under Donald Trump, shale drilling and “fracking” took off, and the United States became the world’s largest producer of oil. There had been booms and busts in the industry in the past, but those seemed to affect less educated field workers, and not people with engineering or geology degrees.
With these prospects gone, and future climate change issues seeming likely to hurt the industry even after the pandemic is over, oil students are looking at other options going forward. Sabrina Burns told The New York Times that she’s looking to intern in a related but different field, and that she may need to go back to school for a graduate degree in Environmental Science to have a better career. She is even considering moving in with family to make ends meet while recharting a new course for her career.
In the same article, Krauss goes on to interview a number of other students in the industry. Their stories are all pretty similar. Some expect the industry to bounce back, and are biding their time. Others are looking to take on a graduate degree while waiting, but are hedging their bets by majoring in something else for their master’s degrees.
One student actually landed a job, but the company is looking at diversifying to avoid future exposure to what could be a failing industry in future years. He is glad to have found a job, but worries that his education and skills he’s building won’t transfer well to other parts of the energy economy.
Some Things We Can Learn Here
Readers of CleanTechnica are probably having an “I told you so” moment reading this. People following the energy industry could see that renewables, battery storage, and other technologies aren’t competing with oil just yet, but have a much brighter future than oil, which isn’t growing. Oil is still big, though, and has a lot of inertia, so it’s not going away now or even in the next four years under Biden and then likely Harris.
What many (even among us) didn’t foresee was how oil’s newfound weakness would leave it more vulnerable to crises, like the one we currently face with COVID-19. Oil is weakening and growth has less potential than ever, but at the same time it wasn’t shrinking. A sudden jolt in demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel hit them hard, though.
Few people fully avoided the impacts of the tsunami of COVID, but electricity is a lot more diversified. In my home, we use electricity for heating, cooling, and most of our driving. We use it for lighting, entertainment, cooking, and security. The cats and dog even have toys powered by electricity. When we turn on the tap, electric pumps somewhere else in town provide the pressure. LED street lamps light the street in front of our home.
Sure, I drive a lot less now not taking the kids to school, but our overall power bill didn’t take a huge drop.
On the other hand, our use of gasoline took a HUGE hit. In the last nine months, we’ve spent far less than $200 on the stuff. The occasional trip to the next town makes our Nissan LEAF struggle for range, and we’ve driven there on gasoline power only twice. The prior year, we probably did this dozens of times. Trips to see family, where we need to pile the whole family into the family SUV, are also a lot more rare. A tank of gas used to last one to two months in those vehicles, but now last three to four, if not more.
We don’t use gasoline for anything else, so oil companies are taking a much bigger hit than companies involved in electricity generation, whether they’re renewable or fossil fuel-powered. Even when fossil fuels are used to generate, very few power stations run on oil. Natural gas is far more common, and comes from a related but different industry than oil.
Another important lesson we can find here is that it’s wise to question the prevailing narrative. Yes, oil has been very strong in the past, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be strong in the future. No industry is a sure bet, but this was an area where generational bias caused parents to mislead their children into a bad career move.
This is no trivial thing. Most of the students will go on to find another career, and some will eventually succeed in oil as the pandemic ends. However, they’ll still have tens of thousands of dollars of debt that they wouldn’t have had, and a harder time servicing that debt than they would have had if their parents had been more forward looking.
Oil is Not Invincible
On the other hand, there’s a silver lining. Seeing oil stumble shows us that it’s not invincible. As Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 says, “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”
If you don’t remember the film, Iron Man (a character partially modeled after Elon Musk) is at the top of the world and the top of his game, giving global leaders security with his unique Iron Man suit. He seemed invincible until someone with his father’s arc reactor technology attacks him, only narrowly losing the fight. Once he didn’t seem invincible, a variety of enemies emerged, including business competitors and government officials who wanted to take him down when he seemed weak.
A similar moment is happening with oil. It seemed like a god, but now it’s a god that failed. Its blood is in the water, and the sharks are definitely circling. It might sound too dramatic to use the imagery of sharks here, but imagine being a student $50,000 in debt with no job prospects. The fear is quite real for some.
Don’t assume that oil is some Goliath that can’t be beat. All it took was a rock in just the right place (COVID-19) to bring him down.
Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba
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