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The Future of Energy: Innovations at the Kazakhstan Energy Expo

Innovations and opportunities: Part 2 of our Reporting from the Kazakhstan Energy Expo. Read part 1 here.

The very purpose of this Expo was to push boundaries of innovation and try to imagine the future. Of course, the majority of the inventions presented at Expo will not survive – some will not be cost competitive with the alternatives, others will not have the right team to pull the idea off within the available timeframe. Nevertheless, it is immensely important to shine a light on the most promising inventions proposed at the Expo. Here are some of the most exciting innovations and opportunities from the Expo:

The trend called biomimicry was visible in many exhibited inventions, such as tree-like structures which in place of leaves have leave-like wind turbines. It is still doubtful whether energy generated by such tree is of a significant quantity, but it is worth trying to harvest energy in the most unlikely of places.

Creativity is being able to see thing other people are not able to see. Maybe this is why we have a hard time believing that the road covered by solar panels presented by the French can actually work. Similarly, our minds struggle with believing in the concept of harnessing energy from walking presented by Pavegen and Platio.

Inventors always try to re-imagine the status quo. Let’s consider “wind” energy. Ewicon created a prototype of a “wind” turbine with no moving parts. Instead the wind removes electrostatic particles from the panel and therefore, the current is being created Similarly, EnerKite is developing a model for base load wind-power, with much different cost structure to any standard wind turbine. Instead of blades EnerKite uses a kit connected with a home base via ropes. As the kite flies up and down at the altitude of constant winds, the energy is being produced on the ground. Some people are dreaming even more: in the space pavilion a concept of space solar panels was presented. The idea is that we send solar panels to the space and connect those with the earth, so that constant supply of clean, base-load electricity becomes available.

As one walks around the inventions it soon becomes obvious that funding mechanisms for encouraging innovation are needed. Most of the concepts presented in Astana were funded by the European Union programs. This holds true for Green Rail– an Italian enterprise recycling old tires into the rail sleepers not only giving the material second life, but also eliminating noise. There was a sizable contingent of EU-based innovative water-based electricity generation concepts. Examples include concepts such as Pelamis – the snake harvesting energy of the waves – and the underwater “wind” turbine presented by Andritz Hydro.

It is interesting to notice what the behemoths of the current system believe in. Viessmann was showing heat pumps aimed at residential applications, as well as technology to convert power to gas as a way for stabilizing the grid. Another giant: ABB bets on smart grids, which seems like a very reasonable bet to make.

An interesting concept for innovating with solar energy was presented by Heliovis, which is re-thinking the concept of concentrated solar power (CSP). The business created an inflatable tube-like structure, which heats water just like any CSP plant. The steam is then used for turning the turbine and generating electricity.

The fusion reactor was an innovation that dominated the Expo. The EU, U.S., Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Russian and South Korean governments have partnered to construct the International Thermonuclear Experimental Rector abbreviated: ITER, which in Latin stands for “the way.” The construction of the reactor started in 2013, while the consortium was formed as early as 2007. If successful, the project will deliver first ever fusion reactor, which produces more energy than it uses for operation.

Rarely one participates in an event, which forces you to re-think your understanding of entire sectors, regions of the world and therefore, the future. Participation in Expo 2017 was exactly such an experience and we do hope our experiences described in this article triggered new thoughts in each of our readers. Huge changes and opportunities are facing global agricultural and energy systems. Changes in those two sectors will have an impact on the mining world.

All those are central to the Center for Industrial Development’s mission of attracting investments into those sectors. The opportunity is huge. As Shell mentioned during Expo over 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night even though we already have enough food to feed world’s population one and a half times over. By the half of this century two thirds of the world population will be living in cities and the global energy demand is expected to double. We must acknowledge those trends and position our investments accordingly. The Center for Industrial Development is here to help any parties interested in investing in the future growth of these industries.

Mateusz Ciasnocha is constantly on a mission to “unleash dormant potential.” He specializes in agriculture, energy, and Africa, and is also passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship. Mateusz currently studies at ESCP Europe Business School and the University of Oxford, where he is receiving a Masters in Energy Management and Philosophy Certificate, respectively.

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