Top scientist extols clean energy era

Alan Finkel has been recognised for work across several fields, including energy innovation.
Alan Finkel has been recognised for work across several fields, including energy innovation.

Last Friday Australia's former chief scientist, Alan Finkel, drove his hydrogen-electric vehicle to watch the world's first liquefied hydrogen carrier dock in Victoria's Port of Hastings.

The carrier, the Suiso Frontier, is scheduled to transport the clean cargo to Japan as part of a pilot program.

The day's events are symbolic of what Dr Finkel believes is representative of an incredible period of technological breakthroughs that he likens to the space race of the 1960s.

"It defines the beginning of a new era for humanity, an era where we will be transporting clean energy between the continents instead of fossil fuel energy between the continents - staggering," Dr Finkel says.

Australia's chief scientist from 2016 to 2020 now advises the government on low emissions technologies in a different role. And Dr Finkel has been appointed a Companion (AC) of the Order of Australia in the 2022 honours list, one of the country's highest accolades.

The neuroscientist, who also has a background in electrical engineering, business and education, was cited for his work across several fields, including energy innovation and COVID-19 response initiatives. The latter relates to Dr Finkel's work in 2020 to quickly increase Australia's supplies of ventilators as the pandemic started to strain health services around the world.

His work has not been without critique; something the 69-year-old says is normal in the fields he works in.

"There are a lot of strong views on everything to do with energy policy, just like there are a lot of strong views on everything to do with public health policy during a pandemic," Dr Finkel says.

Dr Finkel's approach to achieving net zero emissions relies on the expanded use and advances in clean energy, although he retains a role for natural gas-fired electricity, in the interim, to support more solar and wind power generation.

While that approach has riled those seeking an imminent end to fossil fuel use, there are not many who can compete with Dr Finkel's support of electric vehicles, and his growing distaste for gas-guzzlers.

He has been driving electric vehicles for at least eight years, making him an early adopter of the technology. His only concern with what he believes will be the demise of cars powered by fossil fuels is that the jocular term "petrol head" may soon become an outdated expression.

"You are seeing this explosion of interest in electric cars - they are just better than petrol cars."

Australian Associated Press