Five new green technologies that will help us tackle global warming
According to The Guardian, over the last 20 years there have been 1.2 million granted patents and published patent applications on the clean tech, also known as green tech, patenting site CleanTech PatentEdge. This means a huge amount of innovation in technologies that could help us tackle climate change. In reality, though, most of these ideas may never see the light of day and cannot be practically produced on a mass scale. So we’re left with the few, rare ideas that have a real shot at impacting our lives and climate problem. In this article, we’ll look at five technologies that are worth following, according to The Guardian.
Transparent solar cells
“Imagine a phone or building or car being able to harness energy through its glass,” writes the Guardian. The “glass” which is actually more of a film, selectively captures and converts ultraviolet and near-infrared light into electricity to power a mobile device and extend its battery life. Speaking to the Guardian, display specialist Bob Raikes says the technology is not yet ready to take over from batteries, but it “could significantly raise the time between charges.”
Here are some sobering facts about batteries and recycling: 22,000 tons of household batteries end up in landfills every year, according to Recycle More. And recycling rates are at around 10 percent. We really need batteries that are more efficient, biodegradable, or at least made of sustainable materials.
Enter “aerogel,” “a squishy wood-based foam substance” that was recently developed into a battery by American and Swede scientists. Mostly made from pulp, the battery is lightweight, elastic and high-capacity.
While this is an exciting development, the Guardian warns, “But these technologies are unlikely to transform the home battery market just yet. Both are still early stage (at least 5-10 years away from commercial market) and still expensive to produce on a mass scale.”
In the meantime, we have Energizer’s EcoAdvantage, introduced into the market in February. Four percent of the battery is made from recycled parts but its maker aims to increase this number to 40 percent by 2025.
Induction charging cars
Google’s driverless cars and Elon Musk’s Tesla have gotten all the attention, leaving out the slightly important matter of charging said cars. What technologies are in development to make this more sustainable?
If plugging in your electric vehicle (EV) every evening doesn’t sound sexy, we understand. Imagine an EV that charges while it runs. Qualcomm Halo, along with BMW and Volkswagen, have been busy exploring the development of wireless electric vehicle charging (WEVC).
“Trials have already been held in London and according to Anthony Thomson, the vice president of Qualcomm Technologies, “’the future of urban mobility is electric and wireless – and wireless EV charging holds the key to mass adoption of EVs,’” writes the Guardian.
Related Story: Why are businesses investing in green technology?
Hydrogen fuel cells
If only we could find a suitable replacement for oil to power our automobiles…Actually, Toyota and Hyundai are turning the leaf with commercial releases of hydrogen-fuelled cars.
Intelligent Energy is one of the companies behind the recent advance in hydrogen fuel cells. CEO Henri Winand has declared that “the hydrogen age has arrived” and it isn’t just cars where he plans to put his cells.
Quoted in the Guardian he’s said, “We are deploying fuel cells to replace small diesel back-up generators in India on a landmark scale…and the rollout of our charger Upp in Apple stores in the UK brings us a step closer to consumer electronics.”
When contemplating a new technology to solve an important problem, like climate change. Economics are always fundamental. The technology must be affordable or it won’t fly even if we’re choking in smog. Fortunately, some of the technology we need is becoming accessible and practical. Just look at the increase in solar panel installation in the last year. What about a technology for the domestic boiler?
British company Flow claims to have heeded the call “with the launch this year of a domestic gas boiler that generates electricity while it heats the home,” reports the Guardian. Flow also claims that it also reduces emissions by 20 percent.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere