The path to net zero represents a complete de-carbonization of energy from the way we use it today. Ultimately we may also need to consider net-negative emissions, such as Direct Air Capture, to avoid the worst predictions for future climate. To reach either goal it is necessary to pass through the goals established by the Paris Accord, a 60% reduction by 2050. World-wide the world emits about 33 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, and by 2050 that number needs to be reduced to 13 gigatonnes. The decline in emissions needs to be steeper than the growth in emissions over the preceding 30 years, and this presents a major technical challenge. As the world continues to develop, more energy is used every year. In fact, by 2050 the world is projected to be using about 30-40% more energy than it does today. Renewable energy is expected to be about 35% of the world total use in 2050, and the use of coal, oil, and natural gas will be effectively unchanged. With current use of hydrocarbons unchanged, carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS, aka EOR) become important for achieving national goals.
Countries are changing their emissions; The USA (13.4% of world emissions), the EU (7.6%) are both projected to drop emissions by ~35% by 2050, however, China (26.1%) will continue to grow emissions until about 2030 and then decline to 2020 levels by 2050, India will continue to grow its emissions at the same rate through 2050, and some countries like the Russian Federation (5.6%) and Japan (2.6%) are expected to stay at 2020 levels through 2050. Without drastic changes the world stands little chance to meet even the Paris accord goals in the 27 years that remain to avert a predicted 1.5o C change in average world temperature. If the EU and the US achieve net zero in that time, world-wide emissions will have dropped by about 30%, or half the Paris Accord world-wide goal. This is a significant challenge, much of the world can’t or won’t spend the money necessary to make significant reductions.
This problem requires an engineering approach, focusing on solutions that we can work today, using understood and readily available technologies. Time is too short to wait for science solutions such as fusion and grid-scale batteries which are needed to allow full utilization of renewables, though those may well become engineering solutions in the future. Critical things to understand are the roles of strategic minerals, the needed growth in mining industries to enable technologies of today, and the very significant infrastructure challenges to completely change energy as humanity continues to develop. Geopolitics also can play a very significant role in all related issues. It is not possible to pick a single solution which will address CO2, in the 27 years we have to do it in. Rather a mix of solutions that include carbon capture and storage, increases in efficiency, continued growth in renewables, switching of liquid fuels to biofuels and hydrogen generated from methane, an increased adoption of nuclear power, and ultimately some adaptation to climate changes. All content contained within this webinar is copyrighted by Robert Balch and its use and/or reproduction outside the portal requires express permission from Robert Balch.