In recent years, global carbon emissions have been rising despite many countries’ concerted efforts to limit them. Despite all the downsides of the current pandemic, the imposed lockdowns have brought some good news: Daily global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped by 17% in April 2020, reaching 2006 levels.
Of course, without changes to the way humanity produces energy, transports food and goods, as well as our personal shopping and travel habits, things will eventually return to the old CO2 emission levels. CarbonBrief.org reports that, unless we reduce emissions an average of 7.5% a year over the next decade, the Earth will cross the 1.5-degrees Celsius threshold that signals irreversible climate damage.
The question now is whether any of the energy-saving behavior we have adopted will last, even as we return to “normal.” While the forecasts aren’t optimistic, some innovative companies are working on new eco-technologies that could help. These eco-tech solutions could be the key to ensuring we don’t go back to pre-COVID CO2 levels.
Proactive Strategies for CO2 Reduction
Despite the ever-growing appetite for renewable energy, some experts believe that alternative sources need to be complemented by efforts to reduce the cumulative amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. That’s why we see the growing popularity of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) solutions. Removing excess carbon from the atmosphere may be our only way past the immediate climate crisis.
CCUS carbon capture encompasses methods and technologies that aim to capture CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes, recycle the CO2 for further use, or determine the safest permanent storage options. For example, startups like Cemvita Factory have developed biomimicking technologies and custom-engineered microorganisms to reduce CO2 and also use it as a feedstock to produce products like polymers. According to a UN IPCC report, technologies like this could lead to the removal of up to 90% of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.
While the energy sector struggles to make a decisive move away from fossil fuels, carbon capture could seem to be the ideal solution. That’s why the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would provide $20 million in federal funds to further develop this technology. However, there’s a clear drawback to making fossil fuels more environmentally friendly. According to the Center for International Environmental Law, CCUS could slow down the transition to renewables and ultimately harm long-term efforts against climate change.
A Novel Twist to Renewable Energies
Various green technologies have already disrupted the energy market — but only a few have seen novel applications. One of those is floating solar energy, a field that is expected to grow in demand by an average of 22% year-over-year by 2024. Floating solar is a particularly interesting option for countries with extremely expensive land, little land availability, or those eager to meet ambitious renewable energy goals.
While floating solar has seen higher costs than the traditional solar ground setup, as the technology advances and the size of the projects increase, the costs are likely to stabilize. For now, Asian countries have been responsible for the biggest share, with South Korea and Taiwan being the key pioneers.
Another renewable energy innovation showing lots of promise is green hydrogen. The industry could potentially reach the scale of oil and gas, but with low emissions and notable value for electricity grids by diversifying renewable energy sources. Apart from these benefits, green hydrogen could support the decarbonization of industrial processes, gas heating, and heavy transport. However, in terms of development, the technology is still in its infancy. Its end-to-end efficiency is deemed to be around 30%.
When it comes to consumer-oriented solutions, there have been advances in the storage of energy from renewable sources, mainly solar. Innovative technologies even allow consumers to sell their renewable energy surplus directly to other stakeholders, thereby avoiding the pricing standards of the grid. This serves as a powerful incentive for renewables, bringing ease and effectiveness at the same time.
Negative Emission Technology – in Aviation and Beyond
In 2019, aviation was responsible for about 2.5% of the world’s CO2 emissions. And this number is poised to grow significantly once normal levels of travel resume. Concerns about these emissions gave birth to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a global carbon credit program.
CORSIA offers airlines significant flexibility to choose how to cut CO2. They can make their aircraft more efficient, use technologies to optimize flight paths and reduce delays, use sustainable lower-carbon fuels, or invest in emissions offsets outside of the aviation sector. Such an initiative could catalyze a global carbon market that drives investment in low-carbon fuels and negative emission technologies (NET) — a goldmine for those developing technology to cut emissions. Should this happen, the impacts of the progress could spill into other industries, bringing benefits well beyond aviation.
Eco-Tech for a More Sustainable Future
While many of these eco-tech innovations still have a long way to go, they outline a future that’s much more sustainable. To achieve it, we require a clear commitment at the consumer, commercial, and governmental levels. And as the pandemic has shown, there has perhaps never been a better time to act than now.
About the Author
Branislav Safarik is COO at FUERGY, a solutions provider to help optimize energy consumption and maximize the efficiency of renewable energy sources. Prior to joining FUERGY, Branislav was managing director of TESLA Labs, the research and development center of the TESLA Industries Group.
This post was originally published on July 15, 2020.