12 December 2015 will go down in history as the day the world agreed to do something about climate change. The impact of countries around the world reaching such an agreement cannot be ignored. However, for us to actually achieve the targets set in Paris we need to act now.
Chemical engineers have been working for some time to find and implement ways to combat climate change.
Here are just ten of the ways that chemical engineers can save the world from the impact of climate change:
Chemical engineering makes its professional contribution by understanding how whole systems work, and generating engineered system solutions to meet desired targets. The ideology and discussion behind climate change solutions is in place, but it needs a chemical engineering, systems thinking approach to apply the technical solutions.
2. Energy efficiency
Becoming more energy efficient is the obvious easy win (at least for chemical engineers). The 2012 Global Energy Assessment stated that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. The chemicals sector is the most energy intensive industry, but current internal rates of return stand at just 12-19 per cent. Chemical engineers can change this and make energy efficiency the number one priority
Nuclear power is already playing a vital role in decarbonising the global energy economy. Its capacity to provide base load power makes it a stable and low-carbon energy supply.
Nuclear power provides approximately 11 per cent of the world’s energy. In the UK, nuclear power generation makes up 19 per cent of the energy landscape. The proportion is much higher in France, at 75 per cent.
However, there are still significant public concerns over the safety and environmental impacts of nuclear power, and the legacy issues of waste. These concerns mean there is often very little support for new nuclear power plants.
As we move to a low carbon future nuclear, new build will have to play an even bigger part in the energy strategies of many governments, because nuclear doesn’t emit carbon dioxide during power generation.
The COP21 talks in Paris came to a turning-point on Saturday, as an update to the draft agreement was released. Finance appears to be the over-riding issue as we settle in to the second week of the conference – but what about the solutions?
Did you know that more than half of the world’s annual carbon emissions could be prevented over the next 50 years by using sustainable bioenergy?
According to research by Pacala and Socolow, outlined by the IChemE Energy Centre, 25 billion tonnes of carbon emissions can be prevented from entering the atmosphere – simply by switching from fossil-based petroleum to bioethanol as our primary transportation fuel.
So why aren’t we using it already?
The raw materials used in bioenergy production – food crops like maize and sugarcane – come with a lot of associated challenges. Food crops are by no means guaranteed; a bad season could have a detrimental effect, particularly in developing countries who rely on their crops as a means of livelihood. Concerns about the economical implications for developing countries have already been raised in Paris – and could be a deal-breaker for alternative fuels like bioenergy.
The world’s population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. With this growth there will be an increasing demand for energy.
As it stands, fossil fuels provide more than 85 per cent of the world’s energy. And despite significant global efforts to shift to renewable energy generation, renewable sources only accounted for 2 per cent of the global energy supply in 2014.
It is therefore logical and reasonable to believe that fossil fuels will remain an indispensable part of the world’s energy landscape until at least the end of this century.
At COP21, representatives from over 190 countries will try to reach an agreement to limit global warming to the two degrees target, and this will involve stabilising atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level of 450 parts per million (ppm).
So what does this mean? For fossil fuels, it means we need to decarbonise electricity production; and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a readily deployable technology solution to do this.
The first is energy efficiency, a central part of ensuring we maximise the energy we produce to reduce both waste and harmful emissions.
The need to improve energy efficiency is perhaps one of the easiest topics to get a consensus on, and it will form an imperative part of an effective agreement at the Paris climate talks over the next week.
The numbers speak for themselves. The 2012 Global Energy Assessment revealed that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. For the chemical process industries and the chemical engineering sector, the implications of this statistic are huge.
This week saw the start of the 21st Conference of Parties, COP21. More than 190 countries and 150 global leaders have gathered in Paris, France, to discuss a new global agreement on climate change.
The United Nations (UN) event will host around 40,000 people and runs right through until the end of next week (11 December).
The future of the natural world, and the animals and plant life that call it home, depends on the outcome of this conference. If we don’t limit global warming to 2 degrees, the consequences will be catastrophic.
Whilst we cannot accurately predict the scale of any potential impacts now, what we do know for certain is that climate change is happening, and we have a responsibility to reduce any further damage.
Chemical engineers are part of the solution, and the IChemE Energy Centre has identified five priority areas where technology can be deployed now to help mitigate climate change.