Low Carbon Technology: Paving the Way to a Sustainable Future

Low Carbon Technology: Paving the Way to a Sustainable Future

The 21st century has witnessed a growing level of recognition towards the crucial need to address climate change by primarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The vigorous use of fossil fuels for daily industrial processes and regular human activities has resulted in a significant increase of excessive emissions of anthropogenic CO2 into the atmosphere. The urgency of addressing climate change cannot be overstated. Officially, atmospheric CO2 has passed the 400 ppm (parts per million) threshold since late 2016, according to Climate Central. Being a greenhouse gas, this exceedingly high concentration of atmospheric CO2 has led to to a series of fatal consequences for our Earth’s natural climate system. Therefore, low carbon technology, a broad category covering multiple innovations and practices, has emerged as a growing weapon with a purpose to alleviate the impacts of global warming. An abundant number of resources have been dedicated to tackle the CO2 problem by substituting fossil fuels with carbon-neutral energy resources. To simplify the message of this paper, low carbon technology and its various forms and applications holds the potential for creating a sustainable future, but there are various challenges which obstruct its adoption.

Solar power is a sustainable substitute to fossil fuel

One of the main technologies that opens the doors towards renewable energy is solar technology. Solar energy, harnessed from the Sun’s radiant rays, is a transformative force in the global energy landscape. Solar technology offers a reliable energy alternative to fossil fuels by harnessing an abundant and domestically available resource. Additionally, it generates electricity without emitting greenhouse gases and provides businesses and communities with lower energy bills. Solar energy is captured and converted into direct current (DC) electricity through the use of photovoltaic (PV) cells, more commonly known as solar panels. The PV cells are semiconductor devices that absorb sunlight and release electrons, inducing a direct current, which is then converted to alternating current (AC) using inverters, so it is compatible with most electrical appliances. Overall, it partially reduces the dependence on fossil fuels, which directly enhances energy security and stability because it provides electricity without depleting limited resources, contributing to economic and social growth especially in rural areas.

Despite its countless advantages, solar energy is still filled with flaws when it comes to intermittency because solar energy production is dependent on its exposure to sunlight so effective energy solutions are needed to provide consistent power supply. However, advancements in battery technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, are increasing the capacity and efficiency of energy storage systems, boosting the solar power’s reliability. We can see the true effectiveness of this technology as China, the global leader in renewable energy production, boasts the world’s largest solar farm and aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The future of solar energy is promising as long it continues on its path of evolution by addressing its challenges, such as grid integration, solar innovation and government policies.‌‌

An electric-powered vehicle charging, an environmental alternative to refuelling gas

On the other hand, the global transportation sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse emissions, presenting itself as a prime target to shift efforts to combat climate change. The typical everyday passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year (www.epa.gov), assuming the vehicle runs on 22.2 miles per gallons and drives around 11,500 miles per year. To respond to this dilemma, low carbon vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are constructed to reduce these extreme emissions. First of all, low carbon vehicles are designed to emit less tailpipe emissions compared to combustion engines vehicles. In particular, electric vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions contributing to reduced air pollution. Furthermore, electrical vehicles are more energy efficient than their gasoline or diesel counterpart, as they convert a higher percentage of the chemical energy from their power source into kinetic energy. Another advantage of low carbon vehicles is that it reduces a nation’s dependence on imported oil, reducing vulnerability to global oil price fluctuations which western nations like USA and the UK are suffering from, maintaining both economic and energy security. A true benefit of these vehicles is the convenience because it offers the ability to be charged at home or public charging stations rather than at a petrol station.

However, expanding charging infrastructure is essential to support its worldwide adoption and its limited driving range may cause range anxiety due to the lack of charging stations in the user’s area. Moreover, in spite of its environmental benefits, the reduction of carbon emissions heavily relies on the source of electricity; renewables are vital for the success of the technology. Notably, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles use hydrogen gas as a fuel source and produces only water vapour as emissions. While hydrogen vehicles offer a rapid charging time the cons outweigh the pros, as its infrastructure is not as developed as EV charging networks because storing, transporting and producing hydrogen may be more energy consuming that energy saving. Ultimately, the use of low carbon vehicles may seem more accessible and fashionable to consumers, but its benefits still heavily rely on the source of electricity and its technology is nothing close to perfection, giving it a huge room for its evolution.

A simplified diagram depicting how greenhouse gases can potentially be reused as consumer and industrial goods

As modern-day human activities have resulted in increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, using CO2 as a raw material is one of the many directions for emission reduction and carbon neutrality. Therefore, developing efficient technologies that enables the use of CO2 as a starting material for chemical synthesis is one of the biggest and significant scientific challenges in our time. For that reason, carbon fixing by the use of CO2 as the primary building block to replace petrochemical feedstock is a clear yet difficult target, because it can reduce the demand of fossil fuels.

Carbon fixation is the process by which inorganic carbon is converted into organic compounds by the use of living organism like plants or organisms known as autotrophs. Although carbon is primarily fixed through photosynthesis, these organisms use a process called chemosynthesis which can be artificially recreated for our own purposes. CO2 can act as a C1-feedstock (one-carbon compound) with an untapped potential of becoming a valuable renewable resource for the chemical industry. According to Stanford News, Stanford engineers created a ‘catalyst that can turn carbon dioxide into gasoline 1,000 times more efficiently’. Furthermore, a new catalyst invented by Matteo Cargnello, who is an assistant professor of chemical engineering, helped produce 1,000 times more butane than a standard catalyst would. However, the main challenge Cargnello and his team had was that the bonding between carbon to carbon required a very high temperature and pressure to break the covalent bonds, which is very expensive to maintain and energy consuming, so the longer the hydrocarbon chain the harder it is to produce. Nonetheless, the discovery of the new catalyst and its ability to produce gasoline is significant due to its liquid form at room temperature, which is easier to contain than shorter chain hydrocarbons like methane and ethane. They would have to build a higher-pressure reactor, but a substantial amount of money and resources seems to be the only obstruction in their advance to a clean carbon-neutral world.

In conclusion, low carbon technology is not just a technological innovation; it is a paradigm shift in the way we approach energy, transportation and agriculture. It represents the best chance to combat climate change and pollution while stimulating economic growth. The path forward primarily involves significant investments in infrastructure, government policy support and technological innovation. The need for the adoption of low carbon technology is more than significant than it ever has been, encouraging industries and governments to dedicate resources towards clean energy and technology, ensuring that a low carbon future will be ready for people today and generations to come.