How can chemical engineers help in the global fight to combat climate change?
In today’s blog Mark Apsey, who is leading an energy and resource efficiency (ERE) task group for the IChemE Energy Centre, explores the important contribution of ERE by chemical engineers in the worldwide efforts to reduce the impact of global warming.
Climate change is high on the agenda of world leaders this week, as they come together in Poland at the Conference of Parties 24 (COP24) to discuss how they are working to reduce emissions and achieve the global 1.5 degree target.
Reaching a consensus on how to reduce the environmental impact of human activity is challenging, but the desire to bring about change is gathering momentum across the world, and especially in the chemical engineering community.
Today, along with many others across the globe, we’re celebrating Earth Day. The Earth Day Network leads this campaign on 22 April each year with their mission to diversify, educate and activate a worldwide environmental movement.
A brilliant piece of news hit our desks this morning, and chemical engineering is at it’s heart. London-based start-up Bio-Bean have teamed up with Costa and Shell, to power London buses with bio-fuel derived from coffee waste.
Bio-Bean has a number of products in it’s growing portfolio, but it is it’s B20 biodiesel that has been hitting headlines, and powering London buses from today.
Our energy system is ever-evolving. Over the past 200 years, we’ve seen a huge shift in our energy consumption and production. From the start of the industrial revolution, where coal was the central cog keeping the world ticking, to now where renewable and alternative energy is taking the world by storm.
Matthias Schnellmann chairs a group of other early-career professionals from across the energy sector, known as IChemE’s Future Energy Leaders. Together, they help to support the IChemE Energy Centre, engaging with policy debates, responding to consultations and producing original research and position papers. The group also lead on public engagement activities that support the centre’s priorities.
In October, Matthias and his colleagues represented the IChemE Energy Centre at New Scientist Live – one of the UK’s largest scientific festivals. With interactive presentations and posters, they gave other engineers, scientists and students visiting the four-day event at ExCeL London just a glimpse into the complexity of our energy systems.
Last week (Thursday 12 January), the IChemE Energy Centre welcomed participants both online and in person to discuss the outcomes of ‘COP22 – what next?’.
Hosted by Chair of the IChemE Energy Centre, Professor Stefaan Simons, at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK, participants first heard from Board members Dr Rachael Hall, Model Site Lead – Severn Trent Innovation Team, and Mark Apsey, Technical Services Director – Ameresco Limited, about their experience at COP22 in Marrakech.
Yesterday the UN’s 22nd session of the Conference of Parties (COP22) commenced in Marrakesh, Morocco. 20,000 delegates from 196 countries are expected to attend and discuss how to turn the COP21 Paris Agreement into action.
What happened at COP21?
COP21 was arguably one of the most historic meetings in terms of mitigating climate change. On 12 December 2015 the world united in an agreement to take action, and 197 countries signed the Paris Agreement which made each country take responsibility for recognising and combating climate change.
The central aim was to limit global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C over pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.
And we were there too! The IChemE Energy Centre published its Climate Communique and Supporting Statement in October 2015, identfying five priority areas where technology should be deployed to help mitigate climate change:
The Paris talks concluded that 197 countries had adopted the Agreement, but the real commitment would be shown through ratification. The Agreement was opened for ratification on 22 April 2016 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Parties representing 55% of the global greenhouse gas emissions needed to be accounted for in order to make the Agreement ‘entered into force’.
The biggest emitters of CO2, including China and USA ratified at the beginning of September, causing a number of other countries to follow.
Last month the threshold was achieved, and on Friday 4 November, it was confirmed that the Paris Agreement had officially been entered into force. This means that it is now down to each country to start planning and implementing actions to reach the agreed targets.
The UK is still yet to ratify, despite the European Union making an official admission on 5 October. Currently 100 out of the 197 parties who adopted the Agreement have ratified.
What is happening at COP22?
Positioned as the ‘bridge’ between decision and action, COP22 will define the mechanism for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This covers funding, climate change policy, and technology deployment.
The ratification of the Agreement is incredibly timely, and encourages this Conference to concentrate on the emissions targets and goal of achieving a zero carbon economy by 2050.
The idea is to spend the conference working out a clear work plan for achieving the targets, and the UN has set a target of 2018 to have this finalised. This will involve some ‘fleshing out’ of the Agreement’s fine print, including financial support which will have a massive impact on developing nations.
Not going to be there in person? The event will be live-streamed on YouTube, so head over at 11:30 – 14:00 (WET) on Monday 14 November.
We’ll also have a stand at the exhibition, to help raise the profile of chemical engineers and advocate their role in mitigating climate change. Working with the IChemE Energy Centre, we will be spreading the word about how chemical engineers will help to deploy the technologies needed to meet the global targets.
Come and visit us at our stand.
You can also follow all the action on Twitter, just search #InvestPlanet.
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.
Day 362, four blogs to go. Four more opportunities to highlight chemical engineering in action.
In the Christian tradition, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are the harbingers of the end of the world.
Other faiths offer different views, but for the purposes of this blog post I’m taking a look at four big challenges that present a serious threat to life on earth: water scarcity; increasing energy demand; food security; and climate change. What are chemical engineers doing to tackle these issues and avert the apocalypse?
I have previously observed that we run the risk of sleep-walking towards climate catastrophe. But it’s more complicated than that. The water, energy, food and climate change challenges are interrelated.The former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, Sir John Beddington, used the term Perfect Storm to describe this phenomenon arguing that climate change will intensify pressure on resources further, adding to the vulnerability of both ecosystems and people.
Chemical engineering can provide shelter from John’s ‘Perfect storm’. Here are some examples.
Last week I was fortunate to attend a meeting of the IChemE London and South East Member Group to discuss the need to transform the technologies and fuels we use, and make smarter use of our resources.
Tom posed a big question: “Can we improve equality of life for 10 billion people and tackle climate change?” A lively debate ensued and I suddenly found myself in a room full of people trying to save the world.
I have always believed that its the job of the chemical engineer to improve quality of life for all and to do it sustainably. However, in recent times I have concluded that we are sleepwalking into a catastrophic climate change future. Serious effort is needed to avert this.
The Global Calculator offers a way to test out our theories and apply solutions to combat climate change.
Climate change and water scarcity are issues that we all need to keep talking about. But I recognise that perhaps we need to talk about them in more interesting ways than just lecturing.
You could say that the reality of climate change and water scarcity hasn’t hit home with the general public because the effects aren’t immediate and felt on their doorstep. The data, facts and figures are there but the urgency of action isn’t.
As a chemical engineer, I can talk about the issues, I can lecture, I can discuss at length with my peers and even the media, but it is easy for my voice and others to get drowned out.
One interesting way to engage the public about such issues is through immersive theatre.
You might think that engineering and theatre couldn’t be further apart, but a theatre production called New Atlantis by LAStheatre, held in London, UK, has provided an entertaining way to bring key messages and solutions of the future to a willing audience.
If you had to sit down in front of the three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world – China (29 per cent), USA (15 per cent), and the European Union (10 per cent) – and persuade them to scale back their use of fossil fuels what would you say?
Would you take the emotive approach and appeal to their sense of humanity by highlighting the risks they are storing up for our children and grandchildren in the future?
Or would you lead with the science articulated so determinedly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in its Synthesis Report at the start of this month?
Either way, it does seem that nations – and even within nations – the world’s biggest game of poker is underway.
Our leaders are literally gambling with our planet, and the odds are getting worse if you agree with the IPCC.
This game of cards moved on recently when China and the US unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.
US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 per cent-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.
China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.
Two projects have caught my eye recently that may give some hints about where we might build some of our power stations and processing facilities in the future.
Quite rightly, land-based power stations and industrial units are subject to careful scrutiny before planning permission is given. The fact they are so visible and close to communities means the opinions of thousands of people may need to be considered.
Even offshore facilities like fixed wind farms, visible from coastlines, bear the scars of public consultation.
But what if we generated our power or processed raw materials further out into our seas and oceans, beyond the horizon. Would that offer a new solution?
A common image of mankind’s influence on our planet is to show its impact on nature and wildlife.
In relation to climate change, the plight of the polar bear is often highlighted. But should that image now include humans?
By the end of the century it may be a reality – certainly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) think so.
In my role as a professor of energy engineering and my previous stern warnings about our dangerously low rate of progress in reducing carbon emissions, you can imagine that I had been eagerly anticipating last Sunday’s release of the IPCC’s Synthesis Report.
‘Red tape’ is always a hot topic in business and political circles. Governments talk about it and set targets in their manifesto pledges to win votes. Big business spends a lot of time and money lobbying to avoid it. Regulators spend their time trying to impose it (and remove it).
The issue of red tape can lead to some strange and unusual headlines. Recently, apparent ‘red tape’ came under the spotlight in the news in relation to a European Union directive on vacuum cleaners. Sadly, the headlines missed the point.
Some regulations and legislation, however painful to business, are necessary and show the right leadership.
There has been a great deal of reflection over the past few weeks about the Scottish Independence Referendum.
With 97 per cent of the electorate in Scotland registering to vote, and an eventual turnout of 85 per cent, it was a triumph for democracy and public engagement.
At the same time, it was a major wake-up call to many politicians who have rarely experienced the huge level of interest in their ‘day jobs’. In fact, arguably, many politicians were shown how to do their jobs better.
If you’ve encountered the concept of organisational memory loss, you’ll know how frustrating and costly it can be.
We often use the concept in relation to process safety when we fail to learn the lessons of the past to catastrophic effect.
A few days ago I wrote a blog called No time to wait in relation to climate change.
I thought I’d return again quickly to the same topic to show how the knowledge, lessons and messages from the past can easily slip away into inaction – especially as the United Nation’s Climate Change Summit is being held tomorrow in New York.
Whether we like it or not, energy from fossil fuels is going to be needed for around another two generations.
It is not a comforting thought to think that our descendants born in 30 or 40 years time may be left with the legacy of not acting now to mitigate the effects of climate change.
We need to press ahead with building capacity for renewable energy. There’s also no time to waste to implement carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for the hundreds of fossil fuel power stations that will still need to be constructed in the meantime. Without CCS, it is unlikely we’ll get anywhere near the Kyoto targets.
When most people think of aerosols they think of spray cans.
Coverage by the media in the 1980s and 1990s of aerosols damaging the ozone layer drove this thinking. However, it is just one type of aerosol or “atmospheric particulate”, cholorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that was causing this damage.
Walk up to any typical man or woman in the street and ask them where their energy comes from to power their homes, cook their food, keep the cold out and fuel their cars and you’ll probably get a very long list of answers.
If you posed the question, what power source has more energy in it than all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together, only a few are likely to get the right answer.
In fact the answer is gas hydrates – the lesser known hydrocarbon. Otherwise known as fire ice and more loosely termed methane hydrate, the gas presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas (and other gases) locked inside.
It helps to have thick skin if you’re involved in the energy sector. Although demonised may be too strong a word, large chunks of the energy sector does seem to be dogged by negativity, fear and distrust.
Shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ invokes worries about earth tremors and contaminated water supplies. Nuclear energy attracts concerns over cost and safety. Renewable energy infrastructure like tall wind turbines are on the receiving end of vociferous community lobby groups. Energy production is inextricably linked to climate change. All these issues are regular frequenters in the media’s column inches.
How inventive are chemical engineers and how could you measure their inventiveness? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question and one that probably doesn’t need an answer, but it did cross my mind the other day when I received an email from IChemE promoting a Webinar about microalga Dunaliella by the University of Greenwich in the UK.
The University are leading a €10m international project, called the ‘D-Factory,’ to build a biorefinery to develop the microalga Dunaliella as a sustainable raw material and turn every part of the alga into something useful.
In fact, they are looking at potential products including food, pharmaceuticals, plastic and fuel. This is unlikely to be a surprise to anyone who is part of the chemical engineering ‘family’, but probably something relatively unknown in the wider world.