The Road to Net Zero: Detecting and Measuring Emissions

Grab your hat and mittens, it’s going to be cold outside. Imagine going for a walk on a sunny winter day while your lungs fill with cold and crispy air. This week’s climate story brings us up north, to Canada.

We have been introducing many amazing organizations from around the world that develop solutions towards a low carbon future. Today we are highlighting the Montreal based startup GHGSat.

Countries, cities and organizations have been setting targets for a low carbon future. In order to meet these targets, we need to understand where and what type of emissions occur. Today we measure emissions through reporting, earth based sensors, and satellite based sensors. Back to our story of GHGSat in Montreal. While other satellites measure carbon dioxide emissions GHGSat develops satellites to detect methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas:

Over the course of a century, methane has 34 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.

Some of the biggest sources of methane emissions are coal mining, gas and oil extraction, landfills, and livestock. To get to a low carbon future we need to avoid methane emissions. Where we can’t avoid them we need to capture them. To better understand operational emissions and accidental leaks GHGSat has developed high resolution mapping of methane emissions. This is how it works:

GHGSat detects and measures emissions from industrial sites across the globe. While the satellite orbits the earth spectrometers measure gas concentrations and provide high resolution heat maps of human caused emissions.

Their progress since launching their first satellite in 2016 has been amazing. The high resolution images are getting more and more detailed. Where they detected methane emissions from a coal mine before, they can now map emissions to individual vents.

What I like most is GHGSat’s bold vision to become the global reference for remote sensing of greenhouse gas emissions from any source in the world.

It is inspiring to see how startups all over the world tackle climate change. From drone startups to cultivating seaweed. GHGSat is another example of an amazingly dedicated group of people addressing climate change.

How Drones Help Tackle Climate Change

A while ago I wrote about an amazing project that uses drones to re-grow mangrove trees in Myanmar. The world urgently needs a range of solutions to offset carbon emissions, and trees play a major role. How do trees tackle climate change? Trees capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it in biomass, roots and soil. According to the Trillion Tree Campaign, global reforestation binds at least a quarter of the annual man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

I love the mangrove project in Myanmar! At the same time I have been reading about our yearly tree losses in North America and Europe. That made me wonder: What are we doing to replant trees closer to home? That’s where the Canadian startup Flash Forest comes into play.

Imagine you are walking through a big, green, majestic forest, breathing in the cool, fresh air. Can you hear the sounds of birds and other forest animals? This week’s climate story brings us to a forest in Canada. Actually, for now, it’s land that recently burnt down in a wildfire. With Flash Forest’s help, hopefully, it will be a forest soon. Flash Forest is a reforestation company that uses drones to reforest areas. This is how it works:

First, the land is mapped to identify where and how to grow a mix of native trees. Then drones drop seed pods in the soil. After planting, the drones monitor the progress and replant spots if necessary.

The seed pods are also designed to store moisture, so the seedlings can survive even with months of drought

What I like most about Flash Forest is their focus on offsetting carbon emissions. Their motto is if we automate deforestation, we should automate re-forestation as well.

All over the world, small startups such as Flash Forest are addressing different solutions to tackle climate change. I hope that adding up all these small projects will make a big difference!

How Hydrogen Cars Help with Climate Change

Imagine a zero emissions car that only takes a few minutes to fuel up. That’s what fueling hydrogen cars is like. What are hydrogen cars? They are electric cars, and they generate the electricity they need to drive by mixing hydrogen fuel with oxygen. This is how it works:

Why are no emission cars important to fight climate change? Transportation produces 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to project drawdown, if electric vehicle ownership rises to 16% by 2050, over 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be avoided.

Can you picture beautiful white and pink cherry tree blossoms? Today’s story brings us to Japan and its automotive manufacturer Toyota. They pioneered hybrid cars with the Prius model. Now the company is betting on hydrogen cars. Toyota’s 2015 Mirai model was one of the first ones sold commercially. Now they are releasing a new version:

The latest Mirai has a revamped fuel cell stack that can store more hydrogen.

That will bring up the car’s range from 312 miles (405 km) to over 400 miles (650km). Fueling hydrogen cars works like fueling conventional cars and takes about 3-5 minutes. Hydrogen fuel stations are still rare but they are expanding. Greentech Media writes how countries all over the world move towards a green hydrogen future.

How green is hydrogen fuel? The big plus is that it can be generated locally, without pipelines and transportation emissions. It can be made from natural gas and coal, but more importantly it can be made from renewable energy, industrial waste and even sewage. As with electric cars, we need to make sure the electricity or hydrogen fuels are coming from renewable sources.

Finally, a question you probably have in mind: Is it safe? Fuel cell makers and car makers are designing safe fueling stations and cars that are as safe as gasoline.

What I like most about hydrogen fuel cell technology is that it’s another innovative technology for low emission energy. Rather than competing, we need to bring all innovations and technologies together to address climate change. Toyota’s new Mirai will launch late 2020 in Japan, North America and Europe. Let’s hope it takes off!

Can Our Streets Absorb Greenhouse Gases?

I wrote about driving to work before, wondering if we could cut emissions with sustainable fuels. Now I’m wondering – what about the roads we drive on?

From streets to buildings, concrete is the most widely used material in the world. Concrete is made from sand, crushed rocks, and water and is glued together with cement. Unfortunately, cement factories are some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The emissions come from decarbonizing limestone and the very high temperatures needed to manufacture cement.

Manufacturing a single ton of cement requires the equivalent energy of burning four hundred pounds of coal

Paul Hawken

So, how can we design a more sustainable version of concrete? Imagine a high-tech skyline with remarkable towers and shopping centers. And heat, a lot of heat. This week we are covering an invention from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Kemal Celik, an assistant professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, researches how to make sustainable cement. He explores using by-products from other industries. Basically, making cement from recycled materials.

There are a lot of desalination plants in the United Arab Emirates to produce drinking water from seawater. A by-product of the desalination process is residual brine. Kemal figured out a way to make cement with the leftover brine. This is how it works:

His invention, reactive magnesium oxide cement, is produced at much lower temperatures than traditional cement. And the best thing? It actually absorbs carbon dioxide during the hardening process and long after it has been mixed into the concrete, making it carbon negative.

Roads and buildings made with it could actually absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the years and help combat climate change

Kemal Celik,

Another inspiring innovation. Let’s hope we can all drive on roads made from sustainable concrete sometime soon.

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Can Cactus Reduce Global Warming?

Recent posts from the BBC, Futurism and Fronteras about bioplastic made from cactus caught my eye. So let’s explore this!

How does bioplastic help to fight global warming? Plastic is made out of oil. From extracting the oil to manufacturing plastic, greenhouse gases are emitted. After we use plastic, it ends up in the environment or in landfills, where it degrades over hundreds of years, emitting greenhouse gases. Alternatively, plastic trash is burnt which also releases greenhouse gases. Besides that, it releases toxins, harms our oceans and enters our food chain. Project Drawdown estimates that by replacing half our plastic with bioplastic by 2050, 4.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions can be avoided.

So, how do we switch to bioplastic? Previously I wrote about amazing bioplastic solutions from teams all over the world. I covered Notpla’s seaweed pouches from London, and Cove’s PHA bottles from California. This week’s innovation comes from the hot deserts of Mexico.

Imagine a very, very bright green – that’s what cactus juice looks like. Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a chemical engineering professor from Guadalajara, developed a way to turn this green cactus juice into bioplastic. This is how it works:

She starts by harvesting and peeling cactus leaves. Then she juices and chills the cactus concentrate. After that, the concentrate is mixed with glycerin and wax and finally it is laminated. Sandra has produced bioplastic with different colors, shapes, and flexibility.

What I like most about her approach is that it’s made entirely from renewable resources. She has been researching cactus plastic for over 6 years and says more research needed. Let’s hope we can use her bioplastic one day soon!

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