What can we do about all this CO2?

In order to prevent catastrophic results, we must reduce our emissions – of both CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We must replace the processes that generate them with sustainable, carbon-free or carbon-neutral processes. At the same time, we must look for ways to remove CO2 and other gases from the atmosphere. Here are a few practical solutions.

5 ways to reduce CO2 emissions

There are many ways to reduce our CO2 emissions. Here are just a few.

  1. Product designers should increase the energy efficiency of our things. The average electronic gadget in your home is horribly inefficient. If you clean your house with a modern vacuum cleaner for one hour, you will be using the same amount of energy it would take to lift a car to the top of the Eiffel tower. We need to design for efficiency – and use the Internet of Things to help us both minimize their use and maximize their service life.
  2. Companies and individuals should look for innovate ways to recycle goods and materials, and to make things more durable the first time. The energy bill for producing new goods – from furniture, white goods, plastic articles, and clothing to cars, infrastructure and buildings – is substantial. Including the transportation of these things, it amounts to about 60 kWh/day and person in EU countries alone. By recycling and re-using things and materials, and by creating more durable products, we could save massive amounts of energy.
  3. Install more heat pumps in homes and businesses. Heat pumps reduce the annual amount of CO2 emissions by 9.16 million tons in the EU. According to IEA, heat pumps could save 50% of the building sector’s CO2 emissions, and 5% of the industrial sector's. This means that 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year could be saved by heat pumps. Heat pumps could also be used to harness heat as low as 60 degrees Celsius, would further increase their impact.
  4. Make our cities more sustainable. Sustainable cities can reduce energy consumption in dozens of ways. They offer efficient traffic and public transport solutions and have efficient wastewater treatment and waste handling/recycling. They also offer effective energy management like district heating, and they make their infrastructure part of the solution – like by placing solar cells on rooftops. Here are just a few positive and inspiring examples from major cities around the world that save energy, create jobs, and increase well being.
  5. Reduce meat consumption. The food industry is a significant energy consumer. Food, farming and fertilizers for an average EU citizen require roughly 15 kWh/day. While an individual could cut his or her carbon footprint by 7% by eating locally, up to 83% of CO2 emissions come from food production. On an energy scale, beef is most expensive to produce. Poultry and fish have a significantly lower CO2 footprint. This chart puts things into perspective.

7 ways to replace CO2 polluters

We have no choice but to replace the sources of CO2 with carbon-free energy sources like heat, wind, and solar power. We must also look at carbon-neutral solutions like biomass combustion.

  1. Install heat power. Heat power is the sleeping giant of the energy system. 50% of all waste heat could be converted to electricity, but is squandered today.
    Low-grade heat (between 70-100 degrees Celsius) is available in many regions throughout the world from geothermal sources. This clean energy is capable of providing a base load, or a 24/7 electricity supply – making it worthy of large-scale government funding.
    Waste heat in the 120 – 200 degree Celsius range can be converted into electricity, but increased use of the technology requires dedicated government support in the form of loans, feed-in tariffs or other instruments. For industrial applications, such as in the steel and cement sector, external financing will probably be required as power production is not their core business.
  2. Expand wind and solar power
    The rapid expansion of wind and solar energy should be strongly encouraged by government loans, government investments where needed, and fast-track permissions. Some R&D / pilot grants will be helpful to further optimise the available technology and reduce costs. The more we invest now, the lower the risk that we exceed the temperature increases which climate models predict.
  3. Using biomass as fuel
    Biomass combustion in CHP units (Combined Heat and Power) is CO2-neutral and highly efficient and deserves further market penetration. One of the attractive features of combined heat and power plants is the capability to provide flexible and baseload (24/7) electricity and heat storage – which in turn enables electricity production from heat (90 degrees Celsius) upon demand.
  4. Expand storage and improve battery technology
    With increasing intermittent energy like from solar and wind, we will need better grid connections and storage. The industrial capacity for hydrogen production from excess renewable energy and its conversion to liquid fuels needs to be built up rapidly. Power can also be stored in chemical form for district heating and/or for electricity production, or in the form of various gases or fuels. The technologies are available, but require larger scale testing.
  5. Capturing and scrubbing carbon
    CO2 can be captured or scrubbed (absorbed) from flu gasses. However, capturing carbon uses quite a bit of additional fuel, according to How Stuff Works: “New coal plants fitted with carbon capture may use 24-40% more fuel than those not fitted with the technology, while retrofitted coal plants may use up to 77% more! However, even taking into account its own energy usage and emissions, CO2 scrubbing still removes a net amount of 80-90% of the CO2 from flue gas.”
  6. Burying CO2
    Once captured, carbon can buried, making fossil fuels carbon-neutral. While this process makes sure that the CO2 emissions do not reach the atmosphere, the technology is still somewhat new. There is a risk of leakage, but perhaps a greater concern about how much underground real estate can be dedicated to storing carbon.
  7. Creating fuel out of CO2
    Still a new technology, this is where Bill Gates is putting his money.

No way to remove CO2

Probably since the formation of our planet, the soil and oceans have absorbed CO2 and trees and plants have consumed it. Today none of these processes is keeping up with the amount of CO2 we’re putting into the atmosphere and the technology does not currently exist to remove it on a large scale. If you can figure something out, contact Richard Branson to receive your $25 million dollars here.

“Only a handful of CCS and pilot negative-emission plants are running anywhere in the world, and debate still rages over which, if any, technologies should be employed.”  - The Guardian