Climate Protection through Technical Innovation

Achieving climate goals requires a lot to happen on many levels. Peter Schniering has set up a think tank which promotes and co-develops technical innovations for energy-intensive sectors of industry to enable them to reduce their climate-damaging emissions. This career path was by no means predetermined.

At an early stage, DAAD alumnus Dr Peter Schniering (43) was already interested in technological solutions to combat the climate crisis. He initially completed a degree in the interdisciplinary North American Studies Programme at the University of Bonn and was then awarded his doctorate on the topic of ‘Climate Policy and Technology’ in 2007. He then acted as an advisor to bodies like the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, and the International Energy Agency in Paris. He set up the think tank Future Cleantech Architects in 2020. This non-profit limited liability company is based in Remscheid. It funds and conducts research into innovative technologies for reducing harmful emissions. Peter Schniering is a member of the World Economic Forum Advisory Board on Sustainable Energy, and is part of the Responsible Leaders Network of the BMW Foundation.

Dr Schniering, your work involves technical innovations relating to climate protection. Yet your educational background is in North American Studies. What is the connection?

I’ve been involved in environmental protection since my youth. Even then, I felt that climate change would be one of the greatest challenges of the future. This aspect subsequently emerged as my main area of interest during my studies. Fortunately my degree course in Bonn permitted me to combine different disciplines and academic approaches. It was part-funded by the Federal Foreign Office and transatlantic companies. That was very beneficial to my interdisciplinary focus.

You set up Future Cleantech Architects two years ago. What exactly do you do there?

Firstly, we’re a traditional think tank that deals with technical solutions to tackling the climate crisis, and we demonstrate to policymakers where they should set their priorities for research and development in this important area. Secondly, we’re actively involved in research projects dealing with quite specific innovations. So we mainly concentrate on the issue of how industrial sectors causing very high levels of climate-damaging greenhouse gases can more quickly gain access to technologies that can drastically reduce their emissions.

Had you always planned to set up your own organisation?

I had certainly considered setting up a company. Although Future Cleantech Architects is a non-profit limited liability company. That wasn’t part of my plans. My career originally started through climate policy. I was an advisor to bodies like the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, and the International Energy Agency. But the political process is sometimes tough. I believe I can achieve more in terms of climate protection by driving technical innovations.

Can you give us some examples of projects in which you’re currently involved?

Just now, for example, we’re part of a research consortium, which is developing a process for the production of almost emission-free cement. There are to date very few climate-friendly technological alternatives for energy-intensive economic sectors, such as the cement, steel or chemical industries, aviation or shipping. We want to close this gap.

That sounds ambitious. How many people does your organisation employ?

We started with four colleagues, but that will rise to eight or nine by the middle of this year. One of our key levers is the swarm intelligence of international experts. We receive assistance from more than 20 economists, business administrators, engineers or chemists from across Europe.

How do you finance your organisation?

We receive funding for research projects we win, otherwise we mostly finance our activities via donations. There are a number of individual donors, as well as foundations, who support our work. That enables us to remain independent.

You are now working in Remscheid again, in the region where you grew up. Have you ever thought of leaving Germany?

Yes of course, I have also spent time working abroad. But Germany is currently a very good location for me to drive the development of climate technology. Innovative German SMEs and research institutions like the Max Planck Institutes have been providing pioneering work for decades. They are ideal cooperation partners for us.

So you are making a contribution to global climate protection from Germany?

Hopefully in the medium term. But we’re also attracting pioneers from around the world to Germany. We collaborated with three UN organisations to organise an international clean technology competition here in Remscheid in 2021. The applications included projects from 71 countries. The winners were able to present their projects at the climate conference in Glasgow. This year we’re planning a similar event. Again here in Remscheid, of course!

Author: Ulrike Scheffer

What is a non-profit limited liability company?

Future Cleantech Architects is set up as a non-profit limited liability company. This legal form is reserved for companies whose purpose serves the common good, and which do not pursue commercial interests. It includes the likes of museums, hospitals and nurseries. Peter Schniering believes that this business form gives Future Cleantech Architects a high degree of credibility. A non-profit organisation is not permitted to distribute profits to its shareholders, but must use them exclusively for its business purpose. Employee salaries must be within a range that is appropriate to the corporate purpose. A non-profit limited liability company is also not permitted to pay high managerial bonuses, as is common in the free economy.

What do you think?

Can technical innovations help with climate protection, or do we primarily have to reduce our energy consumption?

To the Community

Among the members who contribute to the discussion in the community, we are giving away 5 tickets for free participation in the Cleantech Innovation Festival in Remscheid in June.

Requirement: connection to or high interest in climate protection, cleantech or innovation 

April 2022

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