This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. The global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over a least the last 2,000 years. For example, temperatures during the most recent decade (2011–2020) exceed those of the most recent multi-century warm period, around 6,500 years ago, the report indicates. According to NASA, the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.
Meanwhile, global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900, than over any preceding century in at least the last 3,000 years. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.
An international research team including scientists from ETH Zurich has shown that almost all the world’s glaciers are becoming thinner and losing mass’ and that these changes are picking up pace. Between 2000 and 2019, the world’s glaciers lost a total of 267 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of ice per year on average — an amount that could have submerged the entire surface area of Switzerland under six metres of water every year. Among the fastest melting glaciers are those in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps. The situation is also having a profound effect on mountain glaciers in the Pamir mountains, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas.
The IPC 2021 document shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming between 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of heating. In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide were higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
The atmosphere contains gases such as water vapour and carbon dioxide that are relatively transparent to the sun’s shortwave radiation, but absorb some of the longwave radiation that is re-radiated from the earth’s surface. This causes the average temperature on earth to be about 33°C warmer than it would be if there were no atmospheric ‘blanket’. The changes to atmospheric composition through human activity is the main factor thought to be causing the climate to shift from its natural state.
Evidence that CO2 emissions are the cause of global warming is very robust. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity derive mainly from combustion of fossil fuels, with additional significant contributions from industrial processes, agriculture, and land use change. Changes in levels of black carbon particulates, snow albedo, and atmospheric pollutants have small additional impacts on global warming.
In a world with thousands of coal-fired power plants, nearly 2 billion cars and trucks, and billions of tons of coal, oil, and natural gas mined and combusted, it is no surprise that some 40 billion metric tons of CO2 are discharged into the atmosphere annually. The oceans and the world’s plants absorb some, yet concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere inexorably rise year by year, climbing in 2016 past 400 parts per million, compared to 280 before the Industrial Revolution.
The world’s leading climate scientists warn that we have a dozen years to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.
As of now, the coronavirus has hit energy companies hard and slowed innovation spending. Even as the recession produces a short-term dip in emissions, it could delay longer-term decarbonization, which would only make the eventual task more difficult.
Technology Solutions to Climate Change
Climate mitigation is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long–term risk and hazard of climate change to human life. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines mitigation as: “An anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases” The most important GHG is carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Other important GHGs are methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050 to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would lock in many of the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The clear goal is net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a target around which much of the world is coalescing. The term “net-zero emissions” means that for every ton of carbon released from the geosphere into the atmosphere (through mining, drilling, and burning of fossil fuels), one ton must be returned from the atmosphere to the geosphere, either through natural means like absorption in oceans, soil, and plants, or through industrial carbon capture and sequestration. Getting to net zero means reducing emissions as much as humanly possible and burying enough carbon to account for emissions that can’t be eliminated.
In order to ensure proper protection of the environment, it is necessary to operate in two ways: by means of pollution prevention techniques and by means of control techniques. Prevention technologies act upstream, that is, before the pollutant is formed and by means of appropriate measures aim at its non-formation. Pollution control technologies (also called end of pipe technologies) act downstream of the process, that is, when the pollutant is now formed: these technologies provide specific techniques or processes for the removal of the pollutant generated
Technology-driven solutions to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change have become increasingly significant. At present, nation-states and tech firms alike are deliberating the use of emerging technologies to respond to rising temperatures, unusual rainfall patterns, depleting water tables, and extreme weather conditions.
In order to avoid the ongoing and potential impacts of climate change, mitigation technologies have been developed in order to adapt to the issue, each invention belonging to one of four specific groups of effort. These groups include energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy (RE), nuclear power/energy (NE), and carbon capture storage (CCS). These scientific advances improve technological innovation for climate change mitigation.
The Negative Emissions Technologies
The negative emissions technologies (NET) are able to absorb the CO2 at low concentration present into the atmosphere.
- Forestation, afforestation and reforestation would involve planting forests on unused land. Soil Carbon Management, agricultural land management practices such as reduced
tilling, cover crops and certain grazing practices increase organic carbon levels in soils;
- Ocean Fertilization, involves adding nutrients to the ocean in order to stimulate the
growth of planktonic algae and other microscopic plants that take up CO2;
- Augmented Ocean Disposal (“ocean liming”), uses lime in oceans to trap CO2 in a
stable, dissolved inorganic form;
There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Swiss scientists while reporting in the journal Science said that even with existing cities and farmland, there’s enough space for new trees to cover 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers), area roughly the size of the United States. The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 830 billion tons (750 billion metric tons) of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed in the past 25 years.
Much of that benefit will come quickly because trees remove more carbon from the air when they are younger, the study authors said. The potential for removing the most carbon is in the tropics. “This is by far—by thousands of times—the cheapest climate change solution” and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Six nations with the most room for new trees are Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.
In their report, the IPCC was keen to identify different pathways for addressing climate change. The IPCC went so far as to name a preferred technological breakthrough: bioenergy with CO2 capture and storage, or BECCS for short. These facilities resemble coal-fired power plants, but use recently grown energy crops rather than fossilized swamp plants as fuel and capture the CO2 from combustion. Since the crops, such as fast-growing trees and switchgrass, had to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere in order to grow, such power plants could suck CO2 out of the sky rather than adding long-buried carbon as coal does.
After all, forests on land and at sea help pull CO2 out of the air and incorporate it into trees, kelp, and even microscopic diatoms. Even better, new genetic techniques or other manipulations may enable scientists to enhance photosynthesis itself, allowing plants to capture more CO2 as well as yield more food, fiber, or fuel.
Management system technology
This kind of technology tries to reduce pollutants upstream, before their formation adapting the way operations are handled. This is generally achieved through monitoring, reporting of pollution events and employee training programs to raise awareness of climate change issues.
Space Technology to Protect Against Climate Change
According to the European Space Agency “Space technologies have led to several inventions that benefit the environment and save energy. Satellite-based systems are reducing vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions, remote-sensing technology is making wind turbines more efficient, and information from weather satellites is helping solar cells to produce more energy.”
UK Space Agency will collaborate with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) on a new review of existing activity on climate action through the use of space technologies. According to the UK Space Agency, the aim of the partnership is to map existing work, such as using satellites to measure carbon emissions, monitor deforestation and improve climate models, and investigate what more can be done to strengthen the space sector’s contribution to tackling climate change.
The latest science warns that the window for preventing the most catastrophic global warming is closing fast. A seemingly small difference — just half a degree Celsius — can intensify the effects. Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways we have right now to slow the rate of climate change. But tracking these invisible emissions can be hard. That’s the idea behind MethaneSAT, a compact new satellite designed specifically to pinpoint the location and magnitude of methane emissions virtually anywhere on Earth.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Human-made methane emissions account for a quarter of today’s global warming. The oil and gas industry is a leading source. From remote wellheads to gas utility lines, companies release at least 75 million metric tons a year — enough gas to produce electricity for all of Africa twice over. Extensive research led by EDF suggests that oil and gas methane emissions in the U.S. are 60% higher than official EPA estimates.
To fully understand the problem — and drive the solutions — we need more and better data about: How large methane emissions are, Where they’re coming from, The biggest potential reductions, and Progress of those reductions over time.
MethaneSAT, being developed by EDF affiliate MethaneSAT LLC, will provide global high-resolution coverage, exceeding anything in orbit or on the drawing board today. Data from MethaneSAT, which will be available free for anyone to use, will help both companies and policymakers spot problems, identify solutions and track progress reducing emissions. The purpose of MethaneSAT is to serve as a critical resource for realizing our goal of reducing methane emissions from a diversity of sources, especially global oil and gas. A 45 percent reduction in oil and gas methane emissions by 2025 would deliver the same 20-year climate benefit as closing one-third of the world’s coal-fired power plants. Cutting these emissions is the fastest, cheapest thing we can do to slow the rate of warming today, even as we continue to attack carbon dioxide emissions.
The U.K. Space Agency is looking for project ideas, to be delivered through U.K. aid, that use the data collected by satellites to improve decision-making for disaster risk reduction, ocean monitoring, mangrove mapping, and maritime management. This will also see Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, work with the U.K. Space Agency and invite U.K. organizations and other international partners to work with them to scope projects designed to deliver sustainable benefits to Small Island Developing States in the Pacific.
The work will build on those systems already under way to help prevent and plan for disasters that are a consequence of rising sea levels and climate change. This follows a recent statement of intent between the UK Space Agency and Australian Space Agency to establish a “Space Bridge” to increase strategic collaboration and lay the foundations for swift negotiations for space-related opportunities under any potential future trading arrangements.
Energy Efficiency Improvements
Energy efficiency is a concept used to define the focus of tackling climate change by creating energy efficient technologies and products (they are meant to use less energy to provide the same service). Energy efficiency is an important tool for climate adaptation because it preserves and extends resources in the long-run. It also minimizes the costs for the state in adapting the energy sector for climate change.
In recent years, there has been a continuous energy consumption increase due to various activities. Reducing and decarbonizing energy consumption, especially with actions aimed at the most energy sectors (industry, buildings, and mobility) is, therefore, a way to go in order to reach “eco-sustainable” community.
Considering that cities are responsible for a large part of energy consumption (from which about 80% of carbon emissions derive) greening urban areas can also make a difference. In this case, it is necessary to intervene both in the reduction in emissions for energy consumption (due, for example, to domestic heating) and on emissions due to transport
Chinese, U.S. scientists develop new refrigeration technology by unwinding fibers
The refrigeration and air conditioning consume about 20 percent of global electrical energy, according to the International Institute of Refrigeration. They also release gases that significantly contribute to global warming.
An international team led by Chinese, American researchers have developed a new refrigeration method based on twisting and untwisting fibers. The study published in Oct 2019 in the journal Science described the new strategy that can substantially increase the freezing efficiency, which is better than that of traditional air compressors.
The “twist fridge” works due to the fact that twisting rubber fibers and then release the twist resulted in surface temperature cooling, according to the study. Researchers from China’s Nankai University and the University of Texas at Dallas stretched rubber fibers, then twisted them until they supercoiled. Releasing both the twist and the stretch produced the cooling of 16.4 degrees Celsius at certain point, according to the study.
The cooling caused by untwisting worked for fishing line as well. They found that stretching the coiled fiber caused heating, while stretch release produced a maximum surface cooling of 5.1 degrees Celsius. Also, the researchers removed twist from nickel titanium wires. Unplying a four-wire bundle produced the cooling of 20.8 degrees Celsius at certain point, according to the study.
The researchers placed a three-ply nickel titanium wire cable in a device that cooled a stream of water by up to 7.7 degrees Celsius when the cable was untwisted. The heat engine efficiency of conventional refrigerators is less than 60 percent while the new method efficiency could achieve 67 percent, Liu Zunfeng, the paper’s co-corresponding author and a professor with Nankai University, told Xinhua.
Green Energy and Renewable Energy (RE)
The first challenge is eliminating the burning of coal, oil and, eventually, natural gas. Oil is the lubricant of the global economy, hidden inside such ubiquitous items as plastic and corn, and fundamental to the transportation of both consumers and goods. Coal is the substrate, supplying roughly half of the electricity used in the U.S. and nearly that much worldwide—a percentage that is likely to grow, according to the International Energy Agency.
Green energy is renewable energy from natural sources like sunlight, wind, and water. Renewable technologies function from resources that vary from solar power, wind power, to hydroelectricity and are constantly renewed. When compared to petroleum and other fossil fuels, renewable energy sources are better for the planet because they create a lot less greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. Already, technological advances are making clean energy sources such as solar and wind more efficient and cheaper, leading to steady growth in their deployment.
Other alternatives are plant-derived plastics, biodiesel, and nuclear power. We already know that nuclear power is a way of producing electricity free of carbon emissions, but we have yet to harness it in a way that is truly safe and cost-effective.
Many energy experts believe that nuclear fusion is the only real ‘solution’ to global warming that is capable of producing unlimited supplies of cheap, clean, safe and sustainable electricity. The reactor’s fuel is limitless, hydrogen the element used to create the fusion reaction is the most abundant atom in the universe and could be sourced from seawater, and the lithium found in the Earth’s crust. Fusion reactors are also safe (they produce less radiation than we live with every day), clean (there’s no combustion, so there’s no pollution) and will create less waste than fission reactors.
Canadian company General Fusion aims to be the first in the world to create a commercially viable nuclear-fusion-energy power plant. “Fusion produces zero greenhouse gas emissions, emitting only helium as exhaust. It also requires less land than other renewable technologies,” says the company. “Fusion energy is inherently safe, with zero possibility of a meltdown scenario and no long-lived waste, and there is enough fusion fuel to power the planet for hundreds of millions of years.”
A critical prerequisite for the success of many climate technologies—including green methanol and green hydrogen, other synthetic fuels, green steel, and carbon capture—is the buildout of capacity to generate and store renewable electricity. Access to resources other than renewable energy can also constrain the pace at which climate technologies scale up: for instance, batteries for electric vehicles and utility-scale energy storage systems require steady inputs of hard-to-find materials, such as cobalt and nickel.
The global capacity of long-duration energy storage, which supports the use of renewable energy, must increase by a factor of 400 by 2040 to help the power sector achieve net zero by that year, according to one study.
Take long-duration energy storage. This technology suite includes four main categories: chemical, electrochemical, mechanical, and thermal. Each category comprises multiple technologies, and each of them has reached a different level of maturity and market readiness.
Carbon Capture Storage (CCS)
Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and its levels have increased from human activity, promoting incidents such as fossil fuel combustion. One of the main technologies meant for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is carbon capture storage (CCS). This involves the absorption of carbon dioxide to prevent it from entering the atmosphere from emitting sources, such as natural gas processing plants or power plants. Carbon capture storage is a technology that can capture up to 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions that result from the use of fossil fuels in generating electricity or industrial processes.
Carbon capture storage involves a three-step process of acquiring the carbon dioxide, transporting it, and securely storing it away. First, the technology separates the carbon dioxide from the gases produced in the electricity generation or industrial processes in methods of pre-combustion captures, post combustion capture, or oxy-fuel combustion. Then, the separated carbon dioxide is transported for safe storage via either pipeline or ship. The carbon dioxide is stored carefully in depleted natural gas fields or selected geologic rock formations underground, that are usually located a few kilometres underneath the earth’s surface.
Transport represents 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. But the demand for transport is only going to increase.
One way to dramatically curtail transportation fuel needs is to move closer to work, use mass transit, or switch to walking, cycling or some other mode of transport that does not require anything other than human energy. There is also the option of working from home and telecommuting several days a week.
We have already found alternative ways of powering vehicles, such as with electricity, but in order to do it on a wide scale, we need much more efficient batteries and much more efficient battery-charging technology.
Green methanol, for example, is considered the most technically advanced available fuel to power green shipping—methanol engines for ships are already on the market. One form of green methanol, e-methanol, can be made by combining green hydrogen with biogenic CO2 (CO2 derived from biomass). In the near term, expanding production of green methanol is thus likely to involve scaling up carbon capture for industrial sources of biogenic CO2
Biofuels may prove an adequate solution for aviation, but present a host of problems when applied to the challenge of nearly 2 billion vehicles worldwide. Artificial photosynthesis or other CO2-to-fuel technologies could close the carbon loop for transportation, but remain a long way from escaping the science lab. Electric cars and trucks — which are already on the road and perhaps could eventually be of the self-driving variety — may prove the key to eliminating oil use in transportation.
Some crop plants such as corn and sugarcane are already more efficient at capturing CO2 than others such as wheat or rice. Simply enhancing all crops’ ability to take in CO2 and make use of it could help remedy the CO2 challenge, as would increasing the amount of carbon in the world’s fertile soils or buried beneath the sea. Research projects along these lines are being pursued at university and government labs in many countries. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, has developed the PETRO program, which stands for “plants engineered to replace oil.”
Researchers at the University of Surrey say they have made a scientific breakthrough in this regard. They say they have discovered new materials offering an alternative to battery power and proven to be between 1,000-10,000 times more powerful than the existing battery alternative, a supercapacitor.
“The new technology is believed to have the potential for electric cars to travel to similar distances as petrol cars without the need to stop for lengthy recharging breaks of between 6 and 8 hours, and instead recharge fully in the time it takes to fill a regular car with petrol,” says the university.
Cutting down on long-distance travel would also help, most notably airplane flights, which are one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and a source that arguably releases such emissions in the worst possible spot (higher in the atmosphere).
Of course, that requires generating electricity from sources that don’t emit CO2, such as the wind, sun, hot rocks beneath the ground, or the fission of radioactive elements like uranium and thorium. But making a wind turbine or a nuclear power plant still requires plastics, steel, and concrete, all of which currently require CO2 emissions to manufacture. So the world needs to find CO2-free ways of making steel and concrete.
That leaves the world in need of another potential technology savior: machines to suck CO2 out of the air, a kind of artificial tree. Such machines exist and have been demonstrated from the mountains of Switzerland to the dry desert air of Phoenix and the forested hillsides of British Columbia, but many more of them would be required. In fact, it would take on the order of 100 million artificial trees to counteract the 40 billion metric tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere each year. For comparison, automakers currently manufacture around 80 million cars per year.
Engineering biology techniques could accelerate the ability to develop sustainable options to many of the current climate challenges, Steve Bates, CEO of the UK’s BioIndustry Association (BIA), said. These include fabric made from spider silk, meat alternatives, engineered drugs and genetically engineered microbes to capture micropollutants in water.
About a quarter of all global emissions come from feeding the world’s 7 billion people, and part of that comes from the consumption of meat. “There is no way to produce enough meat for 9 billion people,” said Bill Gates in a 2013 blog post.
Corn grown in the U.S. requires barrels of oil for the fertilizer to grow it and the diesel fuel to harvest and transport it. Some grocery stores stock organic produce that do not require such fertilizers, but it is often shipped from halfway across the globe. And meat, whether beef, chicken or pork, requires pounds of feed to produce a pound of protein.
One of the alternatives is to start producing lab-grown meat, and to produce meat substitutes that look, taste and feel like the real thing. It might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but companies and investors alike are taking it very seriously. The company Beyond Meat, already supported by Bill Gates, has created the world’s first meat burger that is entirely plant based. It’s made mostly from vegetable protein found in peas.
Microalgae for BIO-Fixation
The use of microalgae to actively bio fix CO2 is an activity strictly related with the growing factor of these microorganisms. Microalgae to successfully perform photosynthesis needs CO2, in fact it was reported that microalgae cells contain about 50% carbon, in which 1.8 kg of carbon dioxide are fixed by producing 1 kg of microalgae biomass.
Using photosynthesis process the CO2 is fixed by microalgae cells to support their growth by using the carbon to produce carbohydrate and consequently, the carbohydrates are used to build proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. Because of their simple cell structure and fast growth rate, microalgae are expected to have a 10 to 50 times higher CO2 bio fixation efficiency than terrestrial plants.
This aspect related to the microalgae metabolism could be usefully considered for carbon capture mitigation when the microalgae were cultivated on a high efficiency system that is strongly integrated with an industrial plant. In this scenario, the CO2 is provided by an existing industrial
stream, as well as for the nutrient elements. There has been increasing interests on the use of microalgae growing technology for both bio fixation of carbon dioxide from flue gases and removal of nutrients from wastewater.
Cyanobacteria make raw materials from carbon dioxide and sunlight
Producing the raw materials that comprise the things in our everyday lives create a huge burden on the planet. In the US, the manufacturing sector is the third largest producer of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These molecules trap heat and make the planet warmer. But what if we could not only remove carbon dioxide from the air, but also use it to produce valuable materials? Two biotechnology companies, Photanol and Phytonix, are leveraging the photosynthetic powers of cyanobacteria to do just that.
“We turn carbon dioxide into chemicals with sunlight. And in this way, we can provide a fully sustainable alternative for oil-derived products. Our cyanobacteria can do this more efficiently than agricultural platforms,” says Photanol CEO Veronique de Bruijn in an interview with Chemport Europe. “Our first three products will be organic acids for the production of polymers, among other things. And we may add terpenes, which have an even higher value.”
Both companies are actively testing the technological and economic viability of their respective production platforms. Phytonix CEO Bruce Dannenberg tells SynBioBeta, “We expect Phytonix’s solar chemicals and fuels to be cost leadership products which will be produced at less than half the cost of fossil incumbent producer products. This creates a dramatic profit incentive for utilizing our carbon negative technology to eliminate waste CO2 emissions via conversion to biobased fuels and chemicals, displacing and eventually replacing their fossil counterparts.”
“We are currently working collaboratively with two multi-national corporate strategic partners (a large power utility and energy company based in Europe and a large industrial manufacturing company based in the southeastern USA) to deploy our carbon dioxide utilization (CDU) technology to capture their waste CO2 emissions and convert them to low cost solar chemicals and fuels. These would initially be pilot scale installations with rapid expansion to commercial scale. We expect initial outdoor pilot scale deployment in 2020.”
From food waste to renewable chemicals
Alternatively, Visolis utilizes an anaerobic microbe that feeds on CO2, food waste and agricultural residues to produce renewable chemicals. These chemicals are currently used in high-end cosmetic products. The company hopes to help taper off the manufacturing industry’s reliance on petroleum by producing renewable chemicals with various applications.
At the 2019 Houston Innovation Day, Vice President of Sales Paul Peterson described Visolis’ competitive advantage, “The key to our success is our ability to identify these platform molecules with large downstream addressable markets. And then target those molecules for production via a combination of synthetic biology and chemical catalysis. We support this approach with a back end of high-throughput screening and machine learning in order to identify the key products and deliver a complete technology package to our partners across the world.”
Making the things we use every day puts an enormous strain on the climate – about 30% of emissions come from industry.
Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down. Timber harvesting in the tropics alone contributes 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. That represents 20 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and a source that could be avoided relatively easily.
Improved agricultural practices along with paper recycling and forest management—balancing the amount of wood taken out with the amount of new trees growing—could quickly eliminate this significant chunk of emissions.
Direct Air Capture, refers to industrial methods for removing carbon dioxide from the air by putting the air in contact with a chemical sorbent that are able to absorb the carbon dioxide. An example of this are the “Artificial Trees” technology: this is a technology that mimics the processes by plant life to withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere;
Carbon Engineering is a Canadian start-up is working on taking carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and then using it to produce fuel. According to the company, “direct air capture can remove far more CO2 per acre of land footprint than trees and plants”. The company is already running a demonstration plant in Squamish, British Columbia, that is removing one ton of CO2 from the air every day.
Smart Sustainable Cities
Part of the answer is to build smarter cities. Cities, which account for more than 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and 60 to 80 per cent of energy consumption, can be made smarter and more energy-efficient through the use of ICTs. For example, ‘smart meters’ in buildings can provide real-time data that would optimize energy supply, improving buildings’ energy performance. Smart sensors can also be implemented to detect air and water quality alike, providing vital data for city stockholders to make the necessary adjustments.
The obvious benefits of environmental monitoring include pollution reduction, occupational disease reduction, and also minimizing the impact of human activities. There are several current areas of focus for environmental sensors, including the monitoring of air pollution in urban areas, water pollution monitoring, solid and hazardous waste monitoring, and industrial emissions monitoring.
Nitrogen and volatile organic compound emissions are the main contributors to the ground-level ozone, which causes a negative impact on both human health and nature. Sensors are being used in communities worldwide to measure and assess their air pollution problem. It will also have an overall impact of reducing global warming through monitoring and understanding air pollutants. Most notably, environmental sensors will revolutionize the way we manage methane levels in the atmosphere.
One of the biggest contributors to the levels of methane in the atmosphere is leakage from natural gas systems. In fact, it’s estimated that a huge nine million metric tons were leaked from these systems into the atmosphere back in 2014.
Environmental sensors are stepping in to provide a solution to the problem, a solution that will have a significant impact in reducing the levels of methane in the atmosphere, and therefore reducing global warming. IBM has teamed up with natural gas producers to use sensors to create an intelligent methane monitoring system. The project is part of the ARPA-E Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions (MONITOR) program.
It’s envisioned that the sensors would use silicon photonics, technology with the capability to use light to transfer data. The sensors could be fixed to the ground, within infrastructure, or they could even be air bound through the attachment to drones. The sensors would have the ability to build complex environmental models, allowing scientists to locate the origin of where pollutants are entering the atmosphere as it happens in real-time. It’s predicted that this major leap in sensor technology will be working in the real world in roughly five years time. The advent of these kinds of sensors will be a breakthrough in managing global warming through environmental sensing.
Harnessing AI, Big Data and reducing e-waste
Emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data are the underlying technologies behind data-driven solutions for climate change. ICT-driven early warning systems are analyzing real-time data to send out warning signals on impending natural disasters to citizens. Affected communities are alerted via their mobile phones and are given advanced warning and other information on disaster-stricken areas.
That’s what a company called Sidewalk Labs (which is part of Alphabet Inc, the parent of Google) is doing, harnessing digital technologies to solve today’s pressing urban problems. One of their current projects involves looking at how traffic flows through a city and how hotspots of congestion might be solved. This could dramatically reduce air pollution in our cities.
ICTs are also helping mitigate the impact of climate change on people and animals. For example, satellite imagery is tracking environmental changes in temperature, sea level or land use. In addition, submarine Internet Cables are being refitted to capture data about the sea floor.
However the ICT industry must also look inwards, for instance, at ways of reducing ICT energy use and electronic waste (e-waste). The rise of digital platforms and data-driven applications have contributed to an explosive growth in data traffic. The downside is that, in the growing information society, the ICT sector is a net contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN Climate Change.
The emerging technology of quantum computing could revolutionize the fight against climate change, transforming the economics of decarbonization and becoming a major factor in limiting global warming to the target temperature of 1.5°C (see sidebar “What is quantum computing?”).
The computational power of a full-blown quantum computer will be transformative in ways that are hardly imaginable. It will allow us to process much more information and much faster, thus allowing us to understand for instance the complex data originating from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the prospects of preparing us better for the next pandemic. Also, being able to process and analyse all climate data will provide valuable insights into the origins of the climate changes which we are currently undergoing, and provide insights that will help us to mitigate these changes and bring the planet back to a stable equilibrium.
Quantum computing could help reduce emissions in some of the most challenging or emissions-intensive areas, such as agriculture or direct-air capture, and could accelerate improvements in technologies required at great scale, such as solar panels or batteries.
The energy sector is also likely to be transformed by emerging quantum technologies. For instance, quantum computers will be capable of optimizing power grids and predict the environmental effect of various energy-producing and transportation methods. Of course, the much higher efficiency of a quantum-based calculation device will make the energy consumption significantly smaller than if using conventional computers for the same tasks. Also, quantum computation is likely to be superior in predicting material properties, as relevant for instance in the exploration of more efficient materials for batteries or photovoltaics, where the interaction between the light and the material is indeed quantum in nature.
Recent research3 has shown that quantum computing will be able to simulate the chemistry of batteries in ways that can’t be achieved now. Quantum computing could allow breakthroughs by providing a better understanding of electrolyte complex formation, by helping to find a replacement material for cathode/anode with the same properties and/or by eliminating the battery separator.
Niels Bohr also said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. However, quantum-based technologies are likely to make predictions easier and to transform important sections. For these reasons, it is important that we, researchers, industry, politicians, and foundations in unison push strongly to realize the quantum transition.
Solar cells based on perovskite crystal structures, which have a theoretical efficiency of up to 40 percent, could be a better alternative. They present challenges, however, because they lack long-term stability and could, in some varieties, be more toxic. Furthermore, the technology has not been mass produced yet.
Quantum computing could help tackle these challenges by allowing for precise simulation of perovskite structures in all combinations using different base atoms and doping, thereby identifying higher efficiency, higher durability, and nontoxic solutions. If the theoretical efficiency increase can be reached, the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) would decrease by 50 percent.
Quantum computers can be used with other emerging technologies like AI and machine learning to improve evidence-based decision-making. They can run a high number of simulations in parallel that allows for swift testing, comparison, error correction, and deployment of a product or a service. For instance, many nations in the European Union are opting for cleaner fuel by replacing coal with liquified natural gas (LNG) which emits 40 percent less GHGs compared to black coal. However, most of the European states have to import LNG which poses challenges around finding the most optimal route, frequency of shipments, and employing the best possible ways that reduce transportation losses. Since classical computing is faced with limitations, tech giants like IBM have stepped in to assist oil and gas conglomerates like ExxonMobil to work on quantum computing-based decisions. This will save many natural resources and cut down on losses that otherwise are detrimental to the environment.
IEA says Many technologies needed to solve the climate crisis are nowhere near ready
The IEA begins by determining how ready current clean energy technologies are to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which would reach global net-zero emissions by 2070 and stabilize global temperature rise at 1.8°C (along with meeting several other sustainable development goals).
In the energy sector, IEA identifies four key approaches to decarbonization that are lagging technologically:
Electrification of end uses, particularly heating and transportation
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)
Low-carbon hydrogen and hydrogen fuels
Within those four approaches, IEA assesses more than 400 separate technologies. What is remarkable, and disheartening, is how few of them are on track to meet the SDS goals.
As you can see on the left, many zero-carbon power generation technologies are either mature (blue) or in early adoption (green) and scaling up. But electricity infrastructure (center column) is lagging and electrification of heavy industry (middle of the right column) is practically nowhere near. Nonetheless, electrification is probably the best of the four approaches. Here’s CCUS:
Altogether, “around 35% of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions needed to shift to a sustainable path come from technologies currently at the prototype or demonstration phase,” the report says. “A further 40% of the reductions rely on technologies not yet commercially deployed on a mass-market scale.”
Overreliance on promises of new technology to solve climate change is enabling delay, say researchers from Lancaster University.
Researchers Duncan McLaren and Nils Markusson from Lancaster Environment Centre say that: “For forty years, climate action has been delayed by technological promises. Contemporary promises are equally dangerous. The researchers argue that the targets, models and technologies have co-evolved in ways that enable delay: “Each novel promise not only competes with existing ideas, but also downplays any sense of urgency, enabling the repeated deferral of political deadlines for climate action and undermining societal commitment to meaningful responses. They conclude: “Putting our hopes in yet more new technologies is unwise. Instead, cultural, social and political transformation is essential to enable widespread deployment of both behavioural and technological responses to climate change.”
Russian Scientists Have a Mammoth Plan to Fight Arctic Warming
Emissions of greenhouse gases from Russia’s thawing Arctic permafrost represent a giant climate threat for the planet. A pair of Russian scientists say the solution may lie in grazing a huge number of animals there, and possibly even a mammoth one – the woolly sort.
Loss of Arctic permafrost could release as much as 240 billion tonnes of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2100, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a 2019 study.
The Zimovs’ theory is that animals tramping snow into the ground in winter will slow or stop permafrost melting, while protecting soil that allows grass to grow in summer. The grass reflects sunlight, helping cool temperatures and support the herds, while emissions from grazing so many animals are more than offset by the positive impact on the ecosystem, according to Nikita Zimov.
The company uses gene-editing technologies to insert mammoth DNA into the genome of Asian elephant cells. The long-term goal is to produce a herd of mammoth large enough to aid in rewilding of the Arctic tundra starting with Siberia, Lamm said.