• Question: *Star question* Do you think that carbon neutral or carbon zero is possible? - MalaikaQ, live chat

    Asked by modlucia on 14 Jul 2020.
    • Photo: Doogie Kenyon

      Doogie Kenyon answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      Absolutely. Big strides are being made to get us carbon neutral already. Power supply using natural sources is becoming more and more efficient, and I think nuclear power isn’t finished quite yet.

      I could envisage carbon neutral in most of the developed world by 2040.

    • Photo: Joe York-Fisher

      Joe York-Fisher answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      I am still rather new to engineering, and I am by no means an expert within renewable energy, but personally I believe it is possible to be carbon neural/zero just not very probable within the near future.

      I think the key to reach that goal will be achieved through a combination of Science, Engineering, and (most importantly) cultural advancements. It will not be possible without improvements to all three of those areas.

      Clean energy will be achieved either via a combination of greater advancements in renewable energy (such as wind, solar, tidal etc.), and better storage of that energy, or by cracking the monumental challenge of Fusion energy that would effectively produce unlimited energy with no carbon production as a consequence. But even if we had a singular fusion reactor up and running getting that energy from one place to another is not an easy task, it would require advancements in super-conductor material science to allow transfer of energy without energy loss along the way.

      Culturally we need to move away from consumerism (the act of buying a new thing to replace an old thing) and move towards an era of building things to be renewed and reused.
      Ideally, the best way for humanity to live in harmony with this planet is to have a world wide CIRCULAR ECONOMY.

      A circular economy is beyond the basic recycling we do now, in fact recycling is the last step in the renewable cycle, as every item is designed and built to be upgraded/reused. But a true circular economy would be something that is very hard for our current society to adapt to, as it requires a radical change of perspective.

    • Photo: James Mitchell

      James Mitchell answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      The current target for many countries around the world is to reach net zero carbon emmisions by 2050. The UK is one of the countries aiming to do this. I believe that this is a very challenging target to meet, but with the backing of our government it is achievable. We must have a diverse energy network that utlilises a variety of energy technologies such as solar, wind and nuclear power. In addition to this, battery systems and fuel cells will be an important development to replace car engines to reduce carbon emmisions from vehicles.

      Batteries can also be used to store energy from unreliable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. For example when it is extremely windy, wind farms can produce a lot of electricity. The batteries can store this energy and then slowly release it so energy is also available when it is not windy.

      Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of a fuel (usually hydrogen) to electricity – the only emission is water. Lots of hydrogen will be required for this, so there are many projects looking into how we can produce hydrogen with very few emissions. The company I work for are involved in one of these projects, which produces hydrogen from natural gas. All carbon produced in this process is captured so it is not released into the atmosphere. The hydrogen can then be used to fuel cars or be sent to houses around the country to power them.

      The government can help by providing money for projects that develop green / renewable energy sources and taxing technologies that produce lots of carbon.

      Overall, it is a very complex issue with many technologies and projects required to acheive net zero carbon emmisions. However, there are lots of people working on it and by working together we can do it! Hopefully one day you can help contribute too 🙂

    • Photo: Matt Coates

      Matt Coates answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      I think it will be a challenge but one that we are more than capable of achieving. The energy industry has already made huge strides through increased proportion of electricity provided by renewable energy but to ensure the lights stay on, an energy mix will always be required. Hydrogen is the big opportunity for this and many companies are looking at developing solutions together to make hydrogen a suitable fuel source to replace natural gas. This needs investment in technology such as carbon capture and storage.
      Net zero will not just come from the energy industry though; transport, industry and housing all need to reduce emissions to meet a net zero target, These industries need to look at the energy industry as an example of what can be done in a very short period of time.
      Everything links together so developments need to be completed together, and it will not be cheap!

    • Photo: Marcus Kay

      Marcus Kay answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      Achieving carbon neutral/carbon zero is definitely possible – it’ll just take a huge amount of sacrifice for not just the construction business but for general day to day life. It might not happen by the proposed date of 2050, but if the correct sustainable steps are taken, it can be achieved.

    • Photo: Kaya Patel

      Kaya Patel answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      Although it seems like a monumental task, I believe it is something we can achieve, but only if each and every sector ops to moving innovation in a direction that goes against some of the core ideas that drive most things. The UK have made their commitment to try and reach net zero carbon emissions but 2050 – if we hit it I do not know but I think we will be making huge steps towards it that will help create the circular economy that is so important for maintaining the world for future generations.

    • Photo: Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla

      Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla answered on 14 Jul 2020:


      This question has lots of angles to explore and to account, as well as lots of opinions and views.

      Huge efforts have been done to decrease the carbon emissions already and there is good awareness about the importance of renewables. Countries are investing in green technologies and people in general would like to have more sustainable views.

      However, I have my doubts about “zero”, specially in transport. There is an eager on electric vehicles as their “zero emissions” help with the targets but to extract minerals for batteries requires very intensive mining with sometimes inadequate practices involving lots of pollution. A study from UoB mentions how the UK should invest in battery recycling centres if electric cars become massive. Also if you’re burning coal to produce electricity to plug an electric car, the car is not totally zero emissions.

      Air travel (now partially halted by the COVID) would also require serious adjustments.

    • Photo: David Linsell

      David Linsell answered on 17 Jul 2020:


      Before answering the question directly I think it would be useful to understand how and where our energy comes from and how we use it. A pictorial presentation is given in the annual UK Government Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics (DUKES) report. The report is long but buried within it is the Energy Sankey Diagram: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/818151/Energy_Flow_Chart_2018.pdf
      The left-hand side of the page is where does our energy come from. The right-hand side is what do we use it for do we use it. The bottom of the page shows energy exports and losses. The 2018 picture can also be compared with other years, to see how things are changing. See the 2012 DUKES Sankey Diagram at:
      https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/224122/energy_flow_chart_2012.PDF (scroll down to page 3)
      If we want to progress towards Carbon Neutrality, which implicitly means reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, the steps we can consider are:
      • Reduce demand for energy. This includes using less fuel by reducing the miles we drive each year, not flying off on holiday, reducing the use of central heating in homes.
      • Increasing our ability to create/acquire fossil fuel substitutes, e.g.:
      o Electricity from wind
      o Electricity from solar
      o Electricity from Nuclear
      o Heat from solar
      o Heat from Nuclear
      o Methane gas from anaerobic digestion of human waste, food waste and agricultural wastes
      • Improving the process efficiency of existing fossil fuel energy conversion processes (more miles per gallon of fuel)
      • Carbon Capture from fossil fuel combustion.
      All of the above are possible, some are easier and cheaper than others. Each has its own pros and cons. Wind farms are a good Carbon Free source of generation; not everyone wants to see them dotted across the landscape.
      Carbon Capture, which sounds easy, is hard to achieve right now. Just running the Carbon Capture system increases the energy demand to make the process work, so the finite fossil fuel resources would be depleted faster.
      So, for me, while the desire in society is for rapid progress towards Carbon Neutrality is a series of questions:
      • Technical
      o Is there sufficient alternative energy available to make up for the present fossil fuel consumption
      • Socio-economic
      o To what extent are we as individuals prepared to give up on the ready access to energy?
      o How will the work to take us to carbon Neutrality be paid for? How much are we as individuals prepared to pay?

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