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Low-Carbon Solutions Set to Change the World

– Contributed content –

Concentrated solar array

Concentrated solar array (Heliogen)

21 Nov. 2019. In the last few years, climate change has become a hot topic all across the globe and for good reason. Our failure to help mitigate the rise in greenhouse emissions could lead to a number of big ecological disasters here on planet Earth that are set to negatively impact us all.

While many people are backing a change of lifestyle or diet to help save the planet, more and more scientists and economists are seeking more immediate natural and technological solutions that could help to save us.

The current projection for greenhouse gas emissions overshoots the targets agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. The result of failing to meet the carbon emission targets set out in the agreement could be anything from extreme weather to life-threatening food shortages. The lack of action from world governments is worrying and could see us facing these catastrophic issues much sooner than we all think.

On the bright side, there have been some groundbreaking ideas and developments that could significantly help us move to a more stable and decarbonized world. New policies have been set out and new technologies have emerged that give us a significant amount of hope for the future of our planet. All is not lost and while the solution to climate change is complex and multi-faceted, there are some solutions that are far more impactful than others.

Here are the top three low-carbon solutions that might just save the world.

Natural carbon capture

One of the best ways to mitigate the issue of climate change could be a completely natural solution. Humans have spent the better half of a century tearing down and destroying natural areas of biodiversity for precious resources such as oil, gas, and coal. It’s thought that restoring our natural areas around the globe could be a fast track to decarbonization. By capturing carbon naturally, it’s thought that we could substantially mitigate the effects of global warming in a safe and effective way.

The ocean, for example, absorbs 90% of the heat we generate and captures nearly a quarter of all carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere each year. Therefore, restoring natural areas such as coral reefs and coastal habitats could play an integral role in our fight against climate change. Coral reefs all around the world are currently under threat and dying due to overfishing, mining, pollution, and poor management. Similarly, coastal habitats are also disappearing due to logging, dredging, draining of wetlands and coastal developments.

The benefits of a natural climate solution like carbon capture could have multiple benefits for our planet and species including biodiversity conservation, proper ocean management, and sustainable communities. Rectifying the issue with natural climate solutions could fast track us back to a stable and sustainable planet far quicker than any other idea we have.

Concentrated solar power heat

A new project in which concentrated solar technology converts sunlight to heat that exceeds 1000C is being funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. It is thought the new technology could revolutionize global industrial processes and eventually help replace fossil fuels.

The company leading the innovative venture is Heliogen, a clean energy company determined to remove the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. Heliogen are specifically focused on their concentrated solar power technology which they say can significantly decarbonize the manufacture cement, lime, steel, and coke. All are carbon-intensive industries and some of the biggest polluters on the planet.

Heliogen’s CEO and Founder, Bill Gross, believes that his company with the backing of Bill Gates, and other powerful investors, can take a huge technological leap forward in helping the fight against climate change by decarbonizing the industry and transport sectors. Bill Gates, who is actively investing claims “Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions,”

The groundbreaking technology uses sensors to align a large number of small mirrors that reflect sunlight onto one focused area, usually a transmission pipe. This creates a large source of intense heat that could potentially reach 1,500C. It could be said that this new technology works a bit like a death ray from a sci-fi movie.

Prior to Heliogen’s technology, other solar concentrated technology could only reach temperatures of 565C, which is way short of the heat needed to generate power.

In regards to existing industrial operations, Gross said “They already have a power source/burner that is variable, based on the flow rate of materials, and is servo-controlled to have the correct airflow exit temperature, so when we add heat (when the sun is out) the fossil fuel burner just automatically gets scaled back like a thermostat on a room heater (albeit at much higher temperature). So it’s a seamless control integration.”

Concentrated solar power is no new technology, it is well-known throughout the energy world but it has yet to be applied in the way Heliogen has. Their new application using AI, computer vision, hi-res cameras, sensing, and accurate positioning has allowed them to develop such groundbreaking technology capable of extreme heat.

One useful application is the ability to create cement without the use of fossil fuels such as oil and petroleum. Cement accounts for nearly a third of the world’s emissions behind oil and coal. Production of cement is predicted to continue to grow rapidly as developing countries continue to benefit from economic growth and further urbanize their country.

Another potential revolutionary application for Heliogen’s solar technology is the production of steel. Its 1000C+ capability allows manufacturers to melt steel without the need for fossil fuel-intensive technology. Nearly 1.7 billion metric tons of crude steel was produced in 2017 which comes at a hefty cost for the environment in the form of carbon emissions, around 7-9% of all emissions from fossil fuels comes from steel production.

This new solar technology could also one day heat our homes and power our cars using the extreme heat to separate hydrogen from water. Hydrogen has been discussed extensively as an alternative fuel but the required fossil fuels needed to produce it has kept it from any real progress. That could now change.

Pricing carbon

Many scientists and economists will tell you that climate change is the failure of our economy. Perpetual economic growth which promotes rapid construction and mass consumerism has led us to this nightmare predicament. It is therefore only logical that one of the main solutions to the problem is an economic solution.

Pricing carbon could be the answer we’re looking for. By charging companies a carbon tax, we force them to invest in and discover low-carbon solutions. Companies speak one language, the language of money. By putting a price tag on climate change you demand change. Over the last 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the amount of carbon pricing mechanisms. In 2019, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition reports that over 46 national jurisdictions are putting carbon tax and emission trading systems in place. This covers approximately 20% of all current global GHG emissions.

Companies are now planning for carbon pricing as a result of such mechanisms being put in place. This means large organizations are already looking for innovative ways to decarbonize and are already factoring in the costs of a carbon tax. China has already launched a carbon trading scheme back in 2017, once fully established this will be the largest carbon market on the planet.

Pricing carbon effectively opens the door to cost-effective low-carbon solutions that all companies and industries can benefit from. Proper carbon pricing forces the hands of large organizations to set the pathway for low-carbon operations which will be critical in helping mitigate the impending ecological dangers of climate change.

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