How Do We Keep Track of Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

You guessed it: This week’s climate story leads us all the way to outer space. But let me back up…

Under the Paris Agreement most countries announced to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. Norway, for example, wants to reduce emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Each country set their own specific target. But is each country on track? How do we know how much greenhouse gas emissions a country is emitting?

To calculate yearly emissions each country completes a complex inventory. It follows a bottom up approach of counting emissions for different sectors such as transportation, farming, industrial sites etc. for each region. The regions and sectors are then added up to understand national emissions. Unfortunately, there are many uncertainties and unknowns with this bottom up approach.

In recent years satellites have been developed to measure emissions from space. This top down approach has also many uncertainties. For example, one big challenge is to separate human made emissions from natural occurring emissions. So how do we best calculate a county’s yearly emissions? Both bottom up and top down approaches have pros and cons, and it looks like a combination is the way to get to the most accurate numbers.

OK, so let’s get back to outer space. Imagine a group of satellites circling the earth and measuring accurate real time emissions. This is what the European Space Agency is planning to do with its new Sentinel satellites. They are planning to launch the satellites in 2025 to map global carbon dioxide emissions. This is how it works:

Different spectrometers measure atmospheric carbon dioxide. The data is then processed to better understand emissions caused by human activities. The goal is to understand small scale regional emissions as well as overall emissions of big cities. This is how ESA puts it:

  • Detect emitting hot spots, such as megacities & power plants
  • Monitor hot spot emissions to assess emission changes
  • Assess emission changes against local reduction targets
  • Assess the national emissions and changes in 5-year time steps

Decarbonizing our economies is an enormous undertaking. To get there in time we need to get all the help we can get. Let’s hope the Sentinel sensors can help us reach and exceed our emission targets and motivate us to substantially reduce emissions.

How Sustainable Air Conditioners Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

I just returned from visiting family in Egypt. We stayed in the desert, and it was hot! One day we were talking about air conditioners and they showed me their new desert cooler. What a fantastic and sustainable way to cool the air!

Traditional air conditioners produce tons of greenhouse gases, mostly during production and disposal of the chemical refrigerants. According to project drawdown, air conditioners, fridges and freezers are the number one solution to address global warming. If 87% of chemical refrigerants can be contained instead of released over the next 30 years, nearly 90 gigatons of emissions can be avoided. Designing sustainable cooling solutions seems not only brilliant but also necessary.

So what is a desert cooler? Also called evaporative cooler or swamp cooler, they cool down air by using fans and water. This is how it works:

Hot air gets blown through an evaporative pad and comes out as cool, moisturized air. Traditionally, materials such a as wood slivers, as shown in the photo above, were used in the evaporative pad. Now companies are experimenting with new materials and structures to get even better water evaporation.

Unlike air conditioners, desert coolers don’t require chemical refrigerants, they don’t heat up the outside air, and they need very little electricity. They cool the air by humidifying it, so they work best in dry areas, such as the south west US or the desert in Egypt.

And as always, I’ll highlight a startup or research team. This week’s team is Quilo, a group of engineers and product designers based in Hong Kong, China and USA. They successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 and are now selling two different evaporative coolers. Having worked for big brands, they started their own company to focus on good design and user friendly product.

Our products are expertly designed to look great while providing energy-efficient performance.

While big home appliance companies seem to dominate the air cooler market, I’m excited to see how this startup develops and continues to innovate climate solutions for our homes.

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Can Sustainable Air Conditioners Stop Global Warming?

A recent report from the Australian think tank Breakthrough evaluates global warming as existential threat to human civilization. The report says it is essential to build a zero emissions system. Global mobilization is needed quickly to reduce the risk. While reading this I got very scared. But then I asked myself if there was good news as well?

I think the good news is that we know how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming. In his fantastic book Drawdown, Paul Hawken and a team of over 70 researchers from all over the world list 100 solutions to address global warming.

On place number 1 is refrigeration management, so your air conditioner, fridge, and freezer. The chemicals used to cool the air are greenhouse gases that do harm during production, servicing, when they leak, and especially during disposal. Out of all 100 solutions, refrigeration management can avoid or remove the most amount of greenhouse gases. So let’s look into this. How can we design air conditioners without harmful chemicals?

This week we are highlighting a team from Singapore. Ernest Chua teamed up with three other researchers from the National University of Singapore. Together they are developing an air conditioner that works without harmful chemicals, in fact, it uses water to cool down the air. Here is how it works:

The first step is to dehumidify the air by directing it though a membrane. A nice side effect is that they are able to capture the water, which is almost as pure as bottled drinking water. After that, the dry hot air goes through a water-based evaporative cooler. The cold air is then released to the room.

I’m happy to report that a totally green air conditioner that is chemical free and does not emit heat to the environment is a possibility.

Ernest Chua at his talk at the World Economic Forum 2019

The sustainable air conditioner consumes 40% less electricity and can cool a space as low as 18 °C (64 °F). Ernest and his coworkers are now working on iterating their working prototype. There is huge market for air conditioners worldwide. Unfortunately, with raising temperatures, more and more air conditioners are needed.

What I like most about this project is that is helps in two ways. First, they don’t heat up the environment and second, they don’t use chemical refrigerants. I’m excited about their next steps and hope they are ready to cool down the world soon!

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