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Interview at United Airlines Conference: Carbon-Free Aviation

Vanessa was invited to speak on the interview panel at the United Airlines Conference for Carbon-Free Aviation. As part of one if highest carbon-producing industries, this is a critical field for ESG research and discussion.




Prompter: Here in the room, we have starting to my left here, Vanessa Thompson. Vanessa is a former researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and now an author about clean tech.


After working in both the public and private sectors, she’s writing now about how environmental business practices can increase innovation. So, thank you very much for joining us, Vanessa!


Vanessa: Thank you! As Norm was talking about, ESG has become a huge point of conversation for a lot of corporations. So about two years ago, a publisher reached out to me and asked me to write a book about ESG, but particularly how sustainability can be a catalyst. So a lot of companies are trying to look at how they can increase their innovation and sustainability is actually a great way to enhance it, mainly because when you're doing something sustainable, it's normally the first time it's ever been done.


So, it ends up being a great prompt for innovation. And I got the honor to speak with 60 executives on the topic of innovation and how sustainability can be operated into it. A lot of people talk about how constraints are a great way to enhance R&D and patents within organizations.


And sustainability is a perfect constraint for this. I hope to be able to have shared strategies and case studies that I build into the book and also learn from other leaders.


Prompter: So, can you tell us if there's any technologies out there that you're excited about, in addition to the ones that are coming down the pipeline?


Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. So there's been huge breakthroughs within sustainable technology, and also how carbon in the air can actually be used for other cliques.


Right now, there is a Gates-backed company called Carbon Engineering and Carbon Engineering is actually taking part of carbon dioxide emissions in the air that are already out there, combining them with renewable energy and producing car fuel from it. The only two ingredients are renewable energy and carbon, and they can make a viable fuel that you don't even have to change your car for.


So, you can use current parts to use the technology that's completely, actually, carbon negative. This is really, really fascinating technology because one of the issues is that even if we stop carbon emissions today, there's still a lot of carbon emissions in the atmosphere that we're going to have to remove in order to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change.


So this is a really interesting technology that could be used for aviation that currently has viable prototypes of all paths, and now it's just a matter of scaling. So that's something that's really exciting to look at.


Prompter: And are there any energy storage technologies that might be applicable to aviation?


Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the biggest things with electrification of the aviation sector is batteries right now. Currently, we have incredibly inefficient batteries that are too heavy for flight - we have the lithium-ion battery. The next breakthrough is really going to be solid state batteries.


And that's what a lot of investors and technologists are pinning their hope on. That hopefully solves that they will be lighter, cheaper, and safer for us to actually use in aviation. Quantum Scape is a company that's really leading the pack in that regard. And in addition, for them being safer and cheaper, this company actually has a technology that's going to set an even more apart.


A typical battery is composed of an anode and a cathode - that's a positive and negative end that allows electrons to travel through it and create an electric current. This removes the anode entirely, making it even lighter and even cheaper. So, it's likely that for a car in this application, instead of charging for three to five hours, probably around 15 minutes. And also being incredibly light so that it actually might enable electric flight of large passenger vehicles.


So that's one that's really exciting. And then one other is the Wright Electric that's spelled like Wright Brothers Electric. And they're planning to actually have an electric plane by 2027. So that's another really cool company to look out for.


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