In 2020, GE made a commitment to become carbon-neutral in its own operations by 2030. And last summer, the company went even further. It plans to be net zero by 2050 — including the Scope 3 emissions that result from the use of products it sells. Making this more urgent is the fact that roughly one billion people around the world lack access to reliable electricity, and overall demand for energy, healthcare, and aviation — the three core industries in which GE operates — continues to grow. Meeting this demand while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require innovation, and GE is ready for the challenge, says Roger Martella, GE’s chief sustainability officer. “We want to solve this for the whole world, not just the United States or North America,” Martella says. “Our ability to shape our technology, to tailor it in all parts of the world, is key.”
To celebrate Earth Day, April 22, GE pulled together an interactive breakthrough energy technologies map listing some 60 global GE projects that can help reduce carbon emissions. They involve the use of hydrogen fuel, carbon capture and sequestration, small modular nuclear reactors, wind turbines that use superconducting generators, sustainable aviation fuel and other technologies. Take a look below.
In a recent conversation with Techonomy’s founder David Kirkpatrick at the Techonomy Climate conference, Martella highlighted the work of GE Research and the company’s longstanding work in breakthrough technologies. For example, GE scientists are developing the flexible transformer, which could become a kind of superhero for the grid. It could help protect power lines from failures or extreme weather, help prevent severe outages, and restore power faster when such problems happen. At the same time, it could also make the modern grid cheaper to build and maintain.
But the research work goes far beyond the grid. A demonstration project on New York’s Long Island last fall temporarily replaced a portion of the natural gas that runs a power plant’s so-called “aeroderivative” gas turbine with a blend of green hydrogen and natural gas. And in Alabama, GE and the Department of Energy are partnering to explore ways of lowering the cost of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) while reducing CO2 emissions from natural gas power plants by up to 95%.
Says Martella: “If you go into our labs, it’s like a time machine: You’ll see people working on a piece of a future jet engine that we may or may not use in five or ten years, to get a fraction of a percent of efficiency. But we have to be doing that today — if we’re not, who else is going to do it?”
He also pointed out the gains GE has made with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and its investments in hybrid electric engines, hydrogen-fueled engines, and open-fan designs that have the potential to reduce emissions. And he outlined a future where even fully electric flight may not be out of reach.
Martella also cited nuclear energy as “the turnaround story” of the past few years. “We’ve seen a strong trajectory on the next generation of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) being part of the solution.” An SMR, he explained, is a classic nuclear reactor, shrunk down and modularized to have a 90% smaller footprint. One can be built in two to three years, compared to well over five years for a conventional nuclear plant.