Gates is a proponent of next-generation nuclear technologies and they’re on the list too.
Global philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is on the leading edge of breakthrough technologies in the fight against climate change – and he’s just published a Top 10 list of those technologies for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Review.
Gates said he jumped at the chance to be MIT’s first “guest curator” for this year’s version, which showcases cutting edge developments in sustainability and health. “I wanted to choose things that not only will create headlines in 2019 but captured this moment in technological history – which got me thinking about how innovation has evolved over time,” he said.
From his musings on the early plow in 4000 BCE, he quickly jumped into the developments that will shape tomorrow. High on his list are carbon-capture technologies.
“Even if we slow carbon dioxide emissions, the warming effect of the greenhouse gas can persist for thousands of years,” wrote James Temple, describing the Gates vision for MIT. “To prevent a dangerous rise in temperatures, the UN’s climate panel now concludes, the world will need to remove as much as 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere this century.”
Several companies are working on the negative-emissions technology problem, including David Keith of Harvard University. Keith, a climate scientist focused on geoengineering and other climate technology interventions, determined in 2018 that machines could pull carbon directly out of the air for less than $100 a ton.
“That’s an order of magnitude cheaper than earlier estimates that led many scientists to dismiss the technology as far too expensive—though it will still take years for costs to fall to anywhere near that level,” Temple said. “But once you capture the carbon, you still need to figure out what to do with it.”
Keith’s own Canadian startup Carbon Engineering, above, is working to develop captured carbon into synthetic fuels. Climeworks in Zurich has a direct-capture plant in Italy it’s using to make methane, and two companies – one in Switzerland and one in the United States – are looking to capture carbon dioxide and sell it to the soft drink industry.
Meanwhile, sewers aren’t sexy but neither is the waste problem in the developing world where they don’t have any. About 2.3 billion people don’t have good sanitation, Gates notes, while diarrhea causes one of every nine children’s deaths worldwide. With an innovative approach, toilets will be accessible to protect health while also protecting water resources and creating crop fertilizers.
In 2011, Gates created Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Since then, several teams have tested their prototypes – all without miles of pipes to a treatment facility while using minimal water.
Gates is, of course, a proponent of next-generation nuclear technologies and they’re on the list too. His own TerraPower investment is partnered with government and utility firms on ‘new-wave nuclear’ that’s cheaper, safer and more flexibly deployed. There has even been progress on fusion, which has been elusive but is preferable because the reactors can’t melt down and the waste disposal is less challenging, which should allay public fears.