Five students from five Perth universities. Five solutions to solving the world’s future energy demand.

Royal Dutch Shell has earned a reputation as the most gas-focused of the world’s energy super majors. But when it called on university students to share their views of how the world’s future energy needs could be met, the answers could not have been more diverse.

“I believe we are able to supply a significant amount of energy needed through hemp,” Gareth Jones, from the University of WA, told the Shell Global Energy Forum on Wednesday night.

“Hemp will play a critical role in shifting the planet’s fuel sources from unsustainable towards sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly.”

Mr Jones was one of five students to receive $1500 from Shell for his address of the topic
“Where should the world get its future energy from”.

The topic was based on Shell’s forecast of a global population of nine billion by 2050, an accompanying doubling in energy demand and pressure on curbing carbon emissions.

Shell Australia vice-president Peter Robinson said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the diversity of the energy solutions proposed by the winning students.

“It underscores that there is no silver bullet,” Mr Robinson said at the conclusion of the forum, which was moderated by WestBusiness and attended by Federal Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans and leaders from Perth’s oil and gas industry and its five universities.

Rebecca Grennell, from Edith Cowan University, said the world’s oceans were “an ignored form of concentrated energy” but conceded, like her fellow students, that every energy solutions had some downside.

“(However,) this could be the first step to globally changing the amount of emissions produced as ocean wave converters are responsible for little or no emissions or pollution,” she said.

“If we convert as many coastal towns to wave energy as possible, carbon emissions will be cut drastically.”

Murdoch University’s Marcus Tang also focused on renewables, and recyclable resources such as human and animal waste.

“They are abundant, accessible and have little or no claims of ownership,” he said.

“The challenge lies in the right mix of technology to generate the required output and efficiency.”

Cost was often an impediment for nuclear power, Notre Dame University’s James Ball argued, although he cited production costs in Europe of 8.3¢ per kilowatt hour, compared with 12.2¢ for onshore wind, 14¢ for hydropower and 28.8¢ for solar photovoltaic generation, in favour of his solution.

While he concededing that nuclear power had attracted significant public opposition, in terms of the reactor safety and the issue of waste storage, the backlash from the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year failed to factor in advances in technology.

Curtin University’s Joshua Yarham argued that concerns over the storage of hydrogen were overdone.

His chosen fuel also had a higher burning temperature than natural gas.

“Regardless of the way our future energy is generated, the future standards for energy storage and transport will be hydrogen,” Mr Yarham said.

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