They represent three generations of engineers in energy and industry. But how did we get from heavy crude oil and coal to carbon capture and climate anxiety?
Jens Eirik Nilsen (71) started studying engineering in 1970. Alert Holtman (41) took up chemical engineering in 1996. Tore Aunevik (25) is a new graduate in his very first permanent position.
Common to them all is that they work in industry and energy. But the business has developed a great deal in the course of three generations.
“Climate crisis was not a word. You didn’t talk about carbon emissions,” says Jens Eirik.
In the 1950s, industry went from using coal to using heavy crude oil in boilers. In 1974, the oil crisis emerged and oil prices skyrocketed. Suddenly, everyone had to go back to using coal.
“I was project manager on several conversion projects. They called me Coal Nilsen in those days. But the industrial adventure came to an abrupt end. You could stop coal particles by means of filters and the local environment looked fine. But the CO₂ went right through.”
Christiania Portland Cement factory, circa 1955. The factory in Slemmestad was among the top oil consumers in Norway. When the oil crisis hit in 1974, production costs increased. After the oil crisis, many went back to using coal. Photo: Ragge Strand.
In 1987, the Brundtland report was published and sustainability became the talk of the town. The authorities became aware of the challenges resulting from sulphur and nitrogen oxides, which made their mark on the 1990s. Climate protection was brewing in society.
Jens Eirik recalls the time before authorities started laying down requirements for industrial plants.
“Think about how the Drammenselva River and the Oslo Fjord used to be. As a kid, I went swimming there and I don’t want to think about all the filth that drifted past us in the water.”
Acid rain on Europe
In 1996, Alert Holtman joined the chemical engineering programme in the Netherlands. He wanted to contribute to reducing emissions from industry. That proved useful, because the 1990s saw the spotlight being directed to acid rain.
“Nitrogen oxides (NOX) in the air destroyed stone monuments in cities and vulnerable nature areas. It became a huge problem. The Netherlands introduced nitrogen quotas to force companies to cut their emissions,” says Alert.
Official requirements and lower profits
Alert remembers how the authorities started changing their requirements in the 1990s.
“For the first time, proper reporting requirements were introduced. The industry had to implement responsible procedures.”