Photo sourced from LinkedIn Neha Patankar, an assistant professor in systems science and industrial engineering, was one of the researchers behind the proposal.

Researchers have created a proposal to eliminate the need for Russian natural gas in Europe.

The research focused on solutions to Europe’s current energy shortfall. In response to sanctions from the European Union (EU) following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government significantly reduced natural gas exports to other European countries, according to the New York Times. The researchers’ article, titled “Europe’s Way Out: Tools to rapidly eliminate imports of Russian natural gas,” was published in Joule, an alternative energy journal, on Sept. 15.

Neha Patankar, a researcher in the project and an assistant professor in systems science and industrial engineering, described the process behind starting the proposal.

“I was working as a research scholar at Princeton [University] then,” Patankar said. “We were all sitting in our lab, and we got to know that this had happened. As soon as my lab got the news of the Russian invasion, our immediate reaction was that energy is going to play the biggest role in this conflict, and it’s going to act as one big lever for political gains.”

Along with Patankar, the research team included Princeton University faculty members Michael Lau, a second-year doctoral candidate in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Wilson Ricks, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering and Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

Patankar also explained the results of the research based on the REpowerEU plan, which aims to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian natural gas.

“There are four main levers that Europe can use, and Europe has already started using a few of those levers to reduce pressure on energy supply systems,” Patankar said. “First is the use of non-Russian liquefied natural gas, and they have started doing that. They should introduce flexible gas storage targets. The second lever is that they need to have more coal generation. Europe has also started doing that. The last thing, which is something Europe is not doing, is that they were supposed to reduce natural gas use because expenses are very high, but they ended up increasing natural gas use.”

There are several reasons why this target has not been met yet, according to Patankar, which includes Europe’s “very severely reduced nuclear capacity,” drought and Europe’s low hydropower capacity. The drought poses other problems for energy alternatives, according to the New York Times. In Germany, the Rhine River’s tides are too low to transport coal in some places, making it difficult to find alternatives to natural gas. In France, rivers have warmed due to a combination of low water volume and high heat, making it difficult to flush out nuclear reactors.

Benjamin Wolpow, a senior majoring in environmental science, weighed in on the research with what he had learned in his classes.

“I think this research is important because, in an ever-increasingly politically dominated world, exploring alternate energy pathways could be vital in changing supply chains — which, if done correctly, could reduce our carbon footprint or maintain it while we are in a transitional period of obtaining energy from a new resource,” Wolpow said.

According to the research team’s article, increasing coal use would not necessarily increase carbon emissions. As demand for energy should continue to go down due to price increases from a decline in natural gas supply, overall output would be low enough that increased coal would not increase fossil fuel output, according to the research. However, since coal has been shut down in recent years, starting up the coal supply chain again will take significant time and resources, as will mobilizing labor. Patankar expressed hope that these areas will get more attention in the future.

Future research goals also include examining practicality issues, according to Patankar. Patankar explained that the proposal did not look at cost and supply chain issues, both of which are going to impact the feasibility of the plan.

Nicole Barrett, a senior majoring in chemistry who works in sustainable energy research, drew connections between her own work and the research conducted in the article.

“While my research is targeting the dream of alleviating the need for fossil fuels altogether, it also has some pretty interesting potential geopolitical implications that do relate to this pretty well,” Barrett said. “I think that one important thing that people often don’t consider about clean energy solutions is that, generally, they require very little globalization to work once initiated.”