The zero carbon quest will increase demand for minerals which make up batteries, and Fitzwilliam College alumnus Robert Perrons hopes to play a role to make supply networks ‘smart’.
Robert (Engineering 2001) is an associate professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia and has been named as a Fulbright Scholar for 2020.
“I'll be working at the University of Delaware in the latter part of the year, and will also be making pit stops at the World Bank and United States Department of State in Washington DC,” Robert told fitz.cam.ac.uk.
The transition to green energy will require significant amounts of ‘technology minerals’ – metals like lithium and cobalt, commonly found in rechargeable batteries, and tellurium used in solar cells – but, Robert says, the mining community is not ready to satisfy the anticipated demand.
Robert, who studied at McMaster University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge, will develop an integrative framework for the policy- and business-related aspects of applying blockchain technology (a digital ledger) to make supply networks for technology minerals 'smart'.
He added: “I had been doing some work with the Intel Corporation for the last couple of years, looking at how digital technologies are impacting the resource sector. I’ve been looking at things like blockchain – how can value be delivered in the resource sector using blockchain?
“One of the other topics I’ve been developing is the Uberisation of the energy sector. Digital technologies have had a transformational effect on the transportation market, in the form of Uber, so I wondered what changes in the competitive dynamics of the resource sector would be reasonable? And what might we see in the future because of similar digital technologies? How would mining, or the energy sector, be different under those conditions?”
Looking at Uber, Airbnb and amazon.com as examples, Robert pondered whether their methods could transfer to the energy sector and, following a talk at the United Nations last May, he was invited on to the UN expert group on energy and resources.
He adds: “We need to create this market-wide improved awareness of what we’re getting out of the earth and making sure supply is going to meet demand. Blockchain is one solution to try to lend the system a higher degree of transparency and situational awareness throughout this vast network of companies and organisations.”
Robert is aware of the flaw in the bid to electrify everything, with metals needed for renewable batteries, wind turbines, solar panels and so on, and those sourced by mining, which has myriad environmental consequences.
In Delaware he will be working alongside Professor Saleem Ali, who focuses on ways of resolving ecological conflicts through technical and social mechanisms, who recently wrote in Science, about the geopolitical and environmental consequences of relentlessly pursuing mined products on an unprecedented scale.
Robert says “the over-arching theme is that this shift and the intended target is to get to green and clean energy technologies”, moving away from traditional fuel sources.
Robert was inspired to study at Fitzwilliam by Ken Platts, who retired as a Fellow last year.
Robert says: “I met Ken when he was visiting Boston while I was at MIT. I had been doing research in an area complementary to him and we got on really well and I thought ‘I’ve got to do my PhD with this guy’.”