Energy company founder Mika Anttonen: “Carbon sinks could be established on the African continent”

The founder of the energy and fuel company St1 Mika Anttonen does not believe electric cars or biofuels are the way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Getting our planet back on track requires radical approaches, systemic changes and a global carbon market.

Before discussing the solutions to the climate crisis, Mika Anttonen wants to address its root causes. Anttonen points out that our globe is largely overpopulated.

"The Earth's population has grown rapidly from four billion to eight. Roughly 60 percent of these people work for six euros a day. Naturally, everyone wishes to improve their standard of living, but that would demand enormous amounts of natural resources. There simply isn't enough mining and energy industry to meet this need. The traditional approach no longer works," Anttonen explains.

"The population explosion, the pursuit of a higher standard of living, and the acceleration of climate change also reflect on food production. No pollinators, no crops. No crops, no food."

"Climate change is a threat to our civilisation. Nature's biodiversity cannot be modelled ahead of time."

According to Anttonen, we need to rethink the entire system from scratch.

"The whole system needs an overhaul. We need to examine the life cycle of items from design to recyclability. This means developing technological solutions and recycling materials."

Capturing carbon from the atmosphere

"There's simply too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement is highly unrealistic, and our globe is far too dependent on oil."

Anttonen criticises a number of the climate targets, such as the European Union's policy to implement climate actions only within the EU. Improving the situation would demand fresh, global perspectives, such as strengthening carbon sinks and recovering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The sector is also in need of qualified experts.

"We need more incentives and relevant targets to capture carbon from the atmosphere and return it to the ground. This approach is still in its infancy, but I see it as a befitting solution for the future. All we need now is more investments – tenfold the current amount. Money we have, but not experts."

The situation calls for novel solutions because for instance the electrification of transportation will not solve the climate crisis.

"A Tesla is undoubtedly an impressive vehicle for people in suits, but I have little faith in the company's future. Electric cars are far too costly for the regular consumer, which already renders the concept null and void. In five years' time, we may very well come to the conclusion that electric vehicles were a poor idea. Frankly, they do not even reduce the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content," Anttonen states.

Actions required beyond the EU

Anttonen's remedies include a concept where fossil energy companies pay for carbon sinks that draw carbon from the atmosphere into the ground.

"A global carbon market is an exemplary solution. The producer of carbon dioxide would pay to have the carbon they emit recovered from the atmosphere."

Carbon sinks could be established especially on the African continent. The large-scale forestation of Africa would provide a partial solution to global warming. St1 has taken advantage of LUT's industrial engineering and management expertise in its forestation projects.

"We should focus our efforts on parts of the world that yield the greatest impact on curbing climate change," Anttonen emphasises.

"Forestation is generally considered a significant factor in reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. Forests prevent erosion and maintain a microclimate that is important for food production. Also the local population would commit to maintaining and protecting their forests. Finland's top forestry expertise could serve as a benchmark. Finland has already taken an active role by contributing 80 million euros to the forestation of Africa."

Emission-free fuels

Anttonen is also a firm believer in the importance of hydrogen. To turn hydrogen into a clean fuel that does not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it must be produced from water with renewable energy such as solar power.

Anttonen is excited about the carbon-free power-to-x (P2X) technology developed at LUT. It can be applied to the manufacture of synthetic fuels that replace fossil fuels. Power-to-x transforms electricity into another form of energy, and if need be, back to electricity. The technology requires carbon dioxide or nitrogen from the air or hydrogen from water as its raw material. The emission-free manufacturing process is powered by the sun or wind. The end products, such as methane, methanol, dimethyl ether and ammonia, are well-known fuels.

"The use of synthetic fuels manufactured from the atmosphere's carbon dioxide would be carbon neutral, making them worthy contenders as transport fuels."

Mika Anttonen is the founder of the energy and fuel company St1 and a member of LUT University's Advisory board.

Edited from the article published in the journal Materia in October 2019.Text: Katarina Boijer

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