No corner of the globe is immune from the consequences of climate change, which impacts social economics, food security, and biodiversity. How to navigate the challenges of global warming and moving towards net-zero emissions has become pivotal for sustainable development. In the era of profound transformations in energy, digitalization, and beyond, green technology not only defines a nation's competitiveness but also serves as a survival guide for humanity.
The National Central University inaugurated in November the Graduate College of Sustainability and Green Energy (SAGE), the first ever in Taiwan, to cultivate sustainability professionals and foster green innovation. Positioned at the forefront of Taiwan's green energy transition, SAGE aims to provide optimal support during this critical juncture.
Cross-disciplinary expertise for carbon-free tech innovation
In response to the government's National Key Fields Industry-University Cooperation and Skilled Personnel Training act, top universities in Taiwan, including the National Taiwan University (NTU), National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU), have successively established semiconductor-related research institutes to fortify the country's economic competitive edge.
Going beyond, NCU envisions a role as a key player in industrial innovation and to advances the core values of all industries, NCU has integrated the College of Earth Science, College of Engineering, School of Management, and College of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science to establish the SAGE. Sustainable practices are the core values driving corporate and social development, serving as the guiding principles for the college's curriculum, said Dean Hsu Shu-kun (許樹坤) of SAGE.
Hsu Shu-kun, dean of SAGE and College of Earth Science. (Photo: Nana Chen)
The introduction of global regulations such as the European Union's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) and the United States’ Clean Competition Act (CCA) has disrupted global supply chains. Companies are now required to submit ESG sustainability reports. While there are numerous courses available, Hsu points out that this field is closely tied to knowledge based on earth science. With an aim to cultivate high-level “green-collar” professionals, SAGE offers three major programs: Sustainability Leadership, Sustainability in Decarbonization, and Sustainability in Green Energy, providing an international certification pathway and conferring actual degrees.
The new college is set to begin admissions next spring, with plans to foster 90 master's and 15 doctoral students every year. The sustainability trend has led to a rapid surge in global demand for green talents, as evidenced by many inquiries they’ve received.
Plans for CCS demo site development following successful industry collaboration
Before the establishment of SAGE, quite a few companies had conducted industry collaborations with the College of Earth Science on wind power, geothermal energy, hydrogen, and carbon reduction, resulting in numerous studies and industry cases. Hsu emphasized that a proficient ESG professional’s competency not only includes technical skills in carbon assessment and renewable energy but also environmental safety management, which spans geological impacts, and water, electricity needs. This comprehensive approach aims to minimize environmental and climate-related risks, fostering sustainable business practices.
In face of escalating global warming, NCU’s College of Earth Science has established the Carbon Storage and Geothermal Research Center and Taiwan Polar Institute to address ESG solutions for businesses.
NCU’s College of Earth Science works to tackle climate change. (Photo: Carbon Storage and Geothermal Research Center)
Carbon capture and storage is a key pathway in carbon reduction. Hsu explained that carbon dioxide in the air exists as a gas due to temperature and pressure, but with increased pressure, it transforms into a liquid or solid state. By injecting it underground at depths of 800 to 1,000 meters, it can be permanently stored beneath the Earth's surface. The underground rock layers are not just solid blocks but, in part, composed of sandstone with many pores that can be filled with CO2, he added.
“Taiwan actually has many environmentally suitable locations for carbon storage, especially along the sedimentary coastal layers in the western region,” Hsu said. Currently, NCU is actively researching and identifying suitable sites, intending to collaborate with government agencies and businesses in developing demonstration sites. The research team selects carbon storage locations based on three conditions, namely the presence of porous sandstone reservoir layers, sufficient depth to generate ample pressure, and a moderate seismic frequency. This is why Hsu believes that the northwest areas such as Taoyuan and Hsinchu are more suitable, as there are relatively fewer faults in the southwest.
Taiwan's geothermal potential for stable baseload power
Regarding Taiwan's geothermal potential, Hsu said that most volcanic geological formations have geothermal resources. Taiwan, situated along the converging Philippine Sea Plate and Eurasian Plate, exhibits an island arc structure, resulting in volcanic regions like the Tatun Volcano Group, Keelung Volcano Group, and Guishan Island in the northeast. The pilot geothermal power plants in Sihuangziping and Liusuandzipo in New Taipei City have started commercial operation in mid-November. Despite a slower start in geothermal power generation, Hsu saw ample development space, saying that “geothermal power is a continuous source and, compared to wind and solar energy, is better suited for baseload power, ensuring stable electricity supply.” Additionally, although volcanoes and earthquakes are related, the longer eruption times of volcanoes make it relatively easier to control volcanic earthquakes.
Hsu believes in Taiwan’s potential for geothermal power. (Photo: Nana Chen)
The rising global temperatures accelerate the melting of polar glaciers, releasing methane from permafrost, thereby intensifying the threat to human survival. To explore climate change in the Arctic and identify coping strategies, NCU has collaborated with Poland’s Nicolaus Copernicus University in research on the relationship between ocean currents and glacier melting, hoping to enhance Taiwan's international contributions to climate change issues.
In fact, Taiwan’s continental margin in the west coast is also emitting methane due to temperature rise. Hsu pointed out that the Earth’s temperature changes have cyclic patterns, and CO2 concentrations have experienced fluctuations in history. However, excessive carbon emissions from human activities have accelerated these cyclic changes, indicating that climate change is not solely driven by natural factors.
Amid the rapid changes in global technological trends, SAGE will promote sustainability, and further strengthen collaboration between academia, industry, and the government, Hsu said. He believes that the admiration for scientists does not solely stem from the number of awards they received but rather from their dedication to research while being willing to lend a helping hand and contribute to the society. In this pivotal transition filled with uncertainty, it is important for scientists to provide accurate guidance across sectors.