In recent years, the work of climate activists has helped lead to an increase in renewable energy sources. At the same time, the use of fossil fuels has fallen, to the point that the UK and similar countries haven’t needed to burn coal for the power grid in over two months. This has only been possible due to developing technologies, which have come on leaps and bounds in recent years.
Offshore wind has recently seen a resurgence, with countries building wind farms in the sea at a much higher rate in the past few years. It’s easy to see why, as wind power is becoming more and more efficient. Wind power is now at the point that a single rotation of a wind turbine produces enough power to run a house for a full day. When the only emissions stemming from this form of generation are in a turbine’s production, wind power is both clean and effective.
Solar power is an increasingly significant force in any modern power grid, partially because of the versatility of the technology. As solar panels have become more effective at producing energy, the technology has been able to shrink while retaining the same level of output. This means that in even cloudy countries such as the UK, people have been able to produce so much energy that they don’t just run their own homes, but have in the past even been paid for providing power to the network. In comparison to gas and coal power, which require massive buildings, solar power is far more adaptable.
Although not a widely used technology at the moment, tidal pools use the power of ocean tides to generate power. This is an inherently reliable technology. Where the opposite methods of generation rely on sunny or windy weather, the tide is certain to go through consistent cycles which generate tidal energy without any risk of unreliability. While the technology isn’t yet in use in many places, there are plans for these pools to be implemented across the world.
For those that welcome the death of fossil fuels, there are plenty of alternatives and it’s only a matter of time until they’re able to take over on a more permanent basis.
Meet the petrol that’s made from thin air
The move to an ultra low carbon economy might just be a little closer after the ground was broken this June by a plant that will make fuel from thin air.
Well, not quite thin air, but Canadian firm Carbon Engineering’s technology can make petrol, diesel or jet fuel from CO2 captured directly from the air by combining it with hydrogen from water.
The idea of removing CO2 from the air – known as direct air capture – has been around for a while. It’s one of the ways in which scientists hope to be able to tackle some of the effects of climate change: simply reducing global levels of CO2 emissions by the use of renewables as energy sources are unlikely to go far enough.
However, up until now, giving the work done by renewables a little boost with the addition of direct air capture has been considered to be prohibitively expensive. However, by making use of that CO2 by turning it into fuel, Carbon Engineering is potentially creating fuel that won’t add any additional carbon into the atmosphere: carbon-neutral petrol.
This in itself is not going to revolutionise the world, but it is a significant step towards a low-carbon society. It’s especially important as it can reduce the carbon impact of fuelling existing fleets of internal combustion-engined vehicles, reducing the need for wholesale replacement of vehicles with electric or hydrogen-powered cars, trucks, buses and vans, at least in the medium term.
The alchemy magic of Carbon Engineering
Carbon Engineering has been working on a pilot project for creating fuel from carbon scrubbed out of the air since 2015, and the company believes it can eventually produce carbon-neutral fuel at a cost that’s competitive with a barrel of oil. At least, with slightly higher oil prices, and a carbon price factored in, that is. A carbon price is a cost applied to carbon-emitting industries.
The price of clean air
Either way, Carbon Engineering has proven that it can significantly reduce the cost of CO2 capture from the £450 per ton that had previously been the benchmark for the technology.
Once it’s completed in 2021, Carbon Engineering’s plant will be the largest direct air capture facility in the world and will be able to capture a million tons of CO2 per year.