With CO2 emissions continually increasing it is looks more and more likely a solution of huge scope will be the only way to help stop climate change. Is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) the solution and is big oil in a unique position to meet these needs?
If you’re reading this blog the chances are you are pretty up to date with the pressing threat of climate change due to human GHG emissions.
You’ll probably be aware of the succesful implementation of renewable energies across the globe to decrease GHG emissions from the energy sector.
But energy production is one part of a larger problem.
the EPA estimate in 2018 energy production accounted for 27% of global GHG emissions. So over 70% of global emissions are essentially unnaffected by the renewable revolution and require their own solution.
Some climate scientists believe that long term the only solution to reducing global emissions has to, in some form come from CCS and the IPCC stated in their 2018 report, to achieve an average global temperature increase of less than 1.5C some form of CCS is essential.
Carbon Sequestration is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. It comes in numerous forms, but here I am going to highlight the main Carbon Sequestration techniques available today.
Point source capture unfortunately suffers from the fact that it can’t result in negative carbon. It is only employed in systems where they are burning fossil fuels in the first place so all it does is reduce the emissions being released. It also suffers from a high running costs and drops the efficiency of the fuel it is being used with as it is a very energy intensive process.
You might be asking why I haven’t listed the other most obvious form of carbon sequestration? Planting trees! Well ideally yes , planting trees is a great form of carbon sequestration. However it suffers from two problems. Firstly it recquires a large ammount of land, and secondly the average time for a tree to reach maturity is around 10-20 years so unfortunately it is not something we can use to directly tackle carbon at this very instant. Ideally it can be used in conjuction with other CCS technologies for a long term carbon reduction plan.
So is it with DAC and BeCCS we must put our faith in for a succesful CCS technology?
Both technlogies can promise net negative carbon emissions and can have an instant impact. However both suffer from one major drawback. They are costly, and suffer from scaling issues.
Big oil are uniquely positioned in this issue. They are some of the main global contributers to GHG emissions globally. Yet they have an infrastructure of specialist engineers and scientists and the money to scale these technologies.
Carbon Engineering is a DAC company backed by numuerous large investors including Bill Gates and Shell.
They have created a proof of concept factory that captures as much carbon as nearly 40million trees. They estimate if 40,000 DAC plants were created globally that would be enough in itself to reduce carbon emissions to net zero. Is that a lot? Well to put it into perspective there are over 38,000 McDonalds globally.
It’s a lot, but it’s possible.
However it would recquire a scale of production that is unprecedented. Imagine the capabilities Big Oil could have to help change the world if they were united in a shared vision of a green future. Since 1990 just the top 4 Big Oil companies have totalled profits of nearly $2tn and employ 280,000 people, including engineers and scientists in the UK alone. If they were comitted to helping the world become carbon neutral the power they could wield would be incredible. However currently there is not enough incentives for them to do this.
Ultimately Big Oil is driven by profit and the only way they will ever make big change is if there is financial incentive to do so. It is down to governments to apply pressure on them to reduce their emissions and hopefully encourage them to invest in technologies such as DAC or BeCCS to help with this.
Just a disclaimer….
This article isn’t an endorsement for Big Oil. They have consistently been some of the worlds biggest offenders in CO2 emissions and with companies such as ExxonMobil predicting their emissions to increase by 17% by 2025 they are certainly not on course to reaching carbon neutrality.
It’s more of a what if…
Anyway, just some food for thought.
The supply chain of food has numerous holes where a vast amount of food slips through. Food waste accounts for around 6% of global emissions, in context this is three times more CO2e than world aviation. Around 66% of the food waste is attributed to cultivation techniques, processing or transportation wastage. The other third comes from retailers and consumers.
This wasted food has to be grown, cultivated, processed, packaged and transported. Then sent straight to landfill, no questions asked. Trees are cut down to make room for this food that is never consumed. Rivers are polluted for this food that is never consumed. Animals are killed for this food that is never consumed.
As always world data should always be subjected to a regional review, as statistics can often be flawed on the “earth scale”. Small is beautiful. Therefore taking WRAP’s study of 2019 we can evaluate if the UK food waste is a problem. It is. In 2018 25 million tonnes of CO2e were related to food waste, which would be equal to 5.57% of UK’s total emissions. Food waste as a CO2e figure would include indirect emissions from agricultural inputs of imported food which would not be included in total UK emissions.
Post farm-gate, households are responsible for 70% of this waste, meaning there is no burden shifting that can happen in the UK on food waste. It is on us, the consumers. Our eyes are just to big for our stomachs.
My childhood was spent watching my mother tear of the mouldy parts of the bread and subsequently scrape the burnt bits into the bin when they were cremated in the toaster. Certainly not ideal, the point remains that food waste solutions are by nature simple. It entails thinking about how much food we buy and if we can feasibly use it within a given timeframe. Done right, this can lead to your food waste footprint disappearing. However, inevitably there will always be some wastage and there can be some really good ways of dealing with this. These apps are all on my phone and that I can testify will reduce the amount of food that you waste.
1. Olio: A food waste app which states on its website it has saved 6.5 million “portions” of food. It involves uploading a photo of your wasted items and then a user will request to take them off your hands. Completely free to us and you get the added kick of brightening someone’s day which is certain to give you good Karma!
2. Too Good to Go: A friend once told me a saying that has stuck with me for a long time, “however rich I get I will still love a deal”. Restaurants and supermarkets put on food that is left over at a vastly reduced price compared to standard menu items. It can be a post breakfast bagel, a lunch time burrito or a night-time curry, I have found such good quality meals for around £3. Imagine eat out to help out 24/7.
3. Out of Milk: This is a bit of a curve ball but bear with me. This is a shopping list app that is a dream to use. You can put your go-to meals in, or a full list of everything you need for the week and fly round Aldi. Taking minuets out of your week to plan what you eat will really help the amount you throw out.
If none of these apps tickle your fancy, your local food bank will be sure to take whatever food you have. Take one minuet to find your local foodbank here through The Trussell Trust.
Twelve months ago if you told me I would be sitting writing an article on the potential damage that face masks could do to the environment, I would have had a couple of questions. Uncertainty remains on how long this unprecedented time will last, but the regulation on face masks and social distances looks set in place for the foreseeable future.
I now look at old photos and watch TV from ‘Pre-Covid’ and a neuron fires somewhere in the cerebellum that tells me something is off. A sudden alarm when Noel Feilding hugs the bread weeks star baker in last year’s series or Kevin McCloud’s handshake as he visits the incredibly airy living space in the converted 2012 castle of the now divorced and broke man.
I am no social scientist but it is of my best intuitions that this knee jerk reaction means there is a deep rooted nature in this change. Or maybe it’s just me. Mad. Alone.
Disposable masks are not yet recyclable through current methods and with the surge in demand continuing the question is how bad could this be for the environment? A recent study at UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub on a scenario based forecast for the environmental impacts of different face masks has been released, with guidance being presented on preferable outcomes.
If the UK’s population is to use a disposable mask every day, then 2.47 billion masks will be made, used and sent to land fill each year, equating to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2e. Per mask this makes the figure 0.006kgCO2e. The majority of this CO2e comes from the air freighting. It is unclear after the initial PPE shortage how many of these masks are still being air freighted but the UCL report assumes 100%.
If we compare footprints of disposable masks to a renewable mask company, such as YTA masks which we have been working with here at Tyndall Sustainability, we can calculate the burden to the environment saved by choosing reusable.
YTA’s footprint from every mark is 0.68kgCO2e. Although being higher per mask than standard disposable masks, these are meant to last. It would therefore take 11 days of wearing a YTA mask to equal the CO2e of a disposable and thereafter you are saving emissions. If we scale these values up over a year (assuming 6 reusable masks/person/year) we reach a saving of 1.2 million tonnes CO2e compared to a scenario of the UK population wearing disposable masks. The same as driving a car to and from the sun…15 times.
The emission saving of owning a reusable mask is only part of the environmental benefit. Disposable masks being found in huge number, in rural and urban areas worldwide. Photos are emerging of ecology suffering as a consequence of incorrect disposal techniques, although the scale is unknown, it again proves how quickly the impact of human activities is seen within nature.
As masks become added to the age old “key, wallet, phone” checklist, it is paramount that we choose the right way of covering our faces. It is rare that something comes along that is, more stylish, more environmentally friendly and cheaper all in one go.
To view the Whole UCL report click here
We’ve decided to use this space to keep people updated on what’s going on in the world of sustainability, so make sure to come back next month to keep up to date with the latest in the world of sustainability.
Let's start with a big one first. Last week a countdown clock mysteriously appeared in times square NYC with little explanation. Over the past week it has been revealed to be a countdown clock or ‘doomsday’ clock for the earth. But should we be worried?
The number they have used is based on a report by the MCC on how long we have until average global temperatures increase by 1.5°C since pre industrial levels.
The reason 1.5°C has been chosen as this deadline number, as the effects from stopping global warming at 1.5°C compared to letting it increase to 2°C are vast. The IPCC released a report highlighting these impacts. They predict a 2°C could cause:
Unfortunately it’s not a good outlook.
However it’s not all doom and gloom. The clock’s number isn’t a be all and end all. It’s based on estimates around taken from current emissions and it’s never too late to change. If big companies and governments start drastically reducing their emissions, and everyday people reduce their own footprint, we can reduce emissions and give the earth more time.
So take the clock as a call to arms. It’s time to change the way we live - as a society. The earth is hurting and it’s down to us to save it.
Brewdog announced a couple of weeks back that they have now committed to carbon negativity. What does this mean exactly?
Brewdog have agreed to offset double the amount of carbon they release into the atmosphere! Meaning they will ‘take in’ twice from what they put out!
This equates to 140,000 tonnes of CO2 offset.
To put that into perspective, if an average car drove 2500 miles it would release 1 tonne of co2 emissions.
That means 140,000 tonnes equates to 350 million miles driven in a car.
That’s almost enough distance to drive to the sun and back - twice!
Hopefully more companies will follow in Brewdog’s footsteps to work for a better future. Good on you Brewdog.
Read more about Brewdog’s paper.
China, the world's largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions stated this week they aim to be carbon neutral by 2060. However there’s a couple of questions I have. Firstly, how? Secondly - do they really mean it?
Firstly let’s look into how you can become carbon neutral in the first place. There’s only really two ways to become carbon neutral in today’s world.
Reducing CO2 emissions is the first port of call. In 2019 over 80'% of China’s electricity was produced through non renewable energy sources (coal, oil and gas) meaning less than 20% of this is renewable. To put that into perspective over 50% of the UK’s energy sources are from either renewables or nuclear and in 2020 the UK went over 2 months without burning any coal for energy production. Nearly 60% of China’s energy production comes from coal. By reducing the amount of fossil fuels burnt for electricity China could massively reduce their overall CO2 emissions.
It’s hard to believe the largest producer of greenhouse emissions would commit to become carbon neutral - risking damage to their industry-heavy economy, but only time will tell if they are serious about their pledge. However , one thing can be said. At least they are aware of the issue are attempting to address it. Worryingly in 2017 Donald Trump stated the US is set to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation and it is encouraging to see the USA’s main competitor stepping up to take responsibility for their impact on the environment.
We have been working with the Bristolian zero waste store Smaller Footprints to help calculate the carbon footprints of each product for sale.
Smaller Footprints focuses on decreasing single use packaging by wholesale bulk orders. This means that their packaging footprint is remarkably small. Summated across all 103 products analysed the total CO2e amounts to 1.38% of the total CO2e breakdown. In context, Tesco’s latest report outlines their packaging contribution to be 7% of the stores carbon footprint (20,860 tonnes CO2e).
Due to the storage and product type, food waste is negligible at Smaller Footprints. Food waste by retailers and consumers is estimated to be 9% total food emissions. This is slightly higher than all off the emissions from aviation! This mean if we could reduce our waste it would be the same as taking all the planes out of the air!
Supporting local shops like Smaller Footprints really does help put a dent in these waste and packaging statistics. The big factor is an ever environmentally conscious consumer will mean the big supermarkets battle to gain the headlines in terms of sustainability. Headline such as, “Tesco committing to eliminate 67 million pieces of plastic weighing 350 tonnes a year” and “Sainsburys becoming carbon neutral by 2040”. Although these numbers and claims need improvement the ball has started rolling to get the big players on board. We all need to push for detailed plans on how these claims will be met and evidence that they are completing them. So far the plans are hard to find and vague.
If you would like to read the full report on the work completed at smaller footprints, click here
Its Coffee week. The worldwide favourite, second to water.
In the UK it is estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are disposed to landfill each year. This number was based on a 2011 estimate and current predictions go as high as 5 billion. To make the plastic cups heat and leakproof a Plastic lining is used. This plastic lining makes recycling of the cup hard, with only the cups disposed of in the big stores getting recycled. Even this is questionable, as I am well aware from working for a large corporation the burden of this recycling scheme will fall on an employee (probably at the end of a long hard shift) where the thought of digging through bins is far outweighed by bed.
How bad are these cups?
A paper from the VTT Technical Research Centre has estimated the carbon footprint for a standard Coffee. Packaging generally represents 5% of the total footprint, 80% growing and processing of the ingredients and 15% by transport.
The Total CO2e (a measure of the green house gas emissions) is 8.1g for a non-recycled standard paper cup and lid. A plastic reusable cup is around 20 times this value. Therefore to make your plastic reusable cup worthwhile, you need to use it! A steel made reusable cup needs to be used 130 times…you need to really use it!
8.1gCO2e × 5 billion = 40.5 thousand tonnes CO2e
If all the cups were made with a plant lining and recycled this number would decrease to 14 thousand tonnes. A saving equivalent as 28,000 people flying to new York from London. Big.
The bottom line:
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee “Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups”
Huhtamaki report: “Taking a closer look at paper cups for coffee” via VTT Technical Research Centre