Presenting the climate solutions of tomorrow

The world must be much more ambitious in meeting climate targets. This is argued in a new UN report co-authored by the UNEP DTU Partnership. Fortunately, there are already technologies that can sharply reduce CO2 emissions.

The world seems to have spent the last decade doing exactly the opposite of what it was supposed to do. Global CO2 emissions are higher now than ever.

This means that CO2 emissions are approximately just as high as predicted ten years ago if measures were not taken to reduce climate change.

It is not that the countries of the world have not taken any action. They have simply not done enough to compensate for an economic growth rate exceeding the rate at which it has been possible to implement measures aimed at curbing emissions of greenhouse gases.

The effects of global warming include: warmer seas, accelerating melting of ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity—including the extinction of several species—as well as more extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, cloudbursts, and floods.

The primary cause of CO2 emissions is human use of fossil resources such as oil, coal, and gas. Together with emissions of other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide, this leads to global warming.

The G20 countries account for at least 75 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. But seven of these countries have not yet implemented policies to honour their current climate promises—which, as mentioned, are not even sufficient to meet the targets in the Paris Agreement—nor do they have any strategies for how they will meet the targets set, says the report.

However, there are positive trends which the governments can choose to exploit. There is currently a widespread willingness in the populations to act in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and an increasing number of cities and companies are taking independent climate action initiatives.

The technological development is also promising. With the technologies we have today, it is—in fact—possible to halve greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, researchers are still working to develop new technologies to deal with the other half. 


CO2 must be captured—and exploited

DTU researchers are developing a mobile plant that can capture CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere. Instead, the undesirable greenhouse gas will be exploited for new products.

The system will initially be tested at a biogas plant.

Biogas is produced by fermenting biomass, and the gas consists primarily of the greenhouse gases methane and CO2. Biogas can be burned to produce heat, but it is also possible to upgrade the biogases to obtain methane—a more valuable product that can be exploited in the natural gas supply. In the upgrading process, the CO2 is separated from the biogas.

Today, CO2 is considered a waste product that is disposed of through release into the environment.

In the BioCO2 project, DTU researchers—together with colleagues, students, and project partners—have explored various ways to streamline the CO2 capturing process. The method has the potential to reduce energy consumption by up to 45 per cent compared with the standard biogas upgrading process used today.

In principle, the technology will also be implementable in other companies or power plants that want to reduce their CO2 emissions.


CO2-neutral liquid fuels

A team of researchers from Stanford University and DTU have found an effective and robust method for converting CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide (CO), which can be exploited as a constituent in sustainable, liquid fuels. Synthetic fuels can play an important role in the green transition, as they can be used in—for example—aeroplanes, ships, and freight trains, which may be difficult to electrify.

CO is produced using CO2 electrolysis, and the researchers have identified a new cerium oxide catalyst for this process. Tests have shown that this catalyst is much more resistant to degradation and does not produce the undesirable solid carbon by-product.

This prolongs the life of the catalyst while also making it possible to convert a larger amount of CO2 to CO.


Greener hydrogen production

Hydrogen is an important constituent in chemical production. However, half of the global hydrogen production is generated with a high consumption of natural gas, which is the ingredient in hydrogen production and is also used to heat large reactors to 900°C.

The high energy consumption contributes to the production emitting large volumes of CO2—quite precisely constituting three per cent of global CO2 emissions.

This can be reduced using a new type of electrically heated reactor developed in a collaboration between DTU, Haldor Topsøe, the Danish Technological Institute, and Sintex.

If the energy for the new reactors comes from renewable energy sources such as solar energy and wind power—and the technology is introduced globally—it could potentially reduce CO2 emissions by one per cent.

However, electrified hydrogen production is only an interim solution. In the long term, hydrogen should not be produced from natural gas, but by means of water electrolysis—to make it completely CO2 free—and DTU is, in fact, engaged in research in this field.


Energy-efficient street lighting in Argentina

The UNEP DTU Partnership’s Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency has collaborated with 38 Argentine municipalities on data collection and performance of technical assessments of urban street lighting. The existing electric fittings are often outdated and ineffective, and the project has shown that energy consumption can be reduced by up to 80 per cent if these fittings are replaced with new LED technology.

This knowledge can potentially give cities access to funding of a large-scale replacement of street lamps.


Climate aid for developing countries

There are already technologies that can stop temperature increases and boost resistance to climate change. But there must also be political will and economic opportunities for using them if the global climate crisis is to be averted.

This is not so simple for many developing countries. Through the so-called Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) project, the UNEP DTU Partnership helps countries choose technologies, develop action plans, and obtain funding.

So far, more than 85 countries have participated in the project, the results of which include the construction of more than 200 dams in Pakistan and the introduction of energy consumption standards for white goods in Ecuador.

In Armenia, there is an ongoing TNA-based project aimed at making existing buildings more energy efficient. The project improves living conditions for the population while also reducing the need for imported fossil fuels. The project can directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million tonnes, it creates green jobs, and it will benefit more than 200,000 people.

In Mongolia, a local bank received funding for a loan programme aimed at helping local businesses reduce their emissions. The project is expected to reduce emissions by nearly 150,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. It will also reduce the energy consumption and thus lower energy prices.

Photo: Getty Images, Colourbox, Artak Petrosyan; Unsplash, Lukas Bischoff, Shutterstock, Arran Smith; Unsplash, Sven Brandsma, Unsplash.

Sources: UNEP DTU Partnership, DMI, Emissions Gap Report 2019.