Lots of low-cost ways to halt global warming

The unit costs of solar energy have dropped 85% in a decade.

Not only do we have the tools to slash emissions and curb global warming by 2030, but half of available carbon-cutting options are cost-free or very cheap, UN climate experts say.

There is no silver bullet, but a mosaic of actions—from ramping up solar and wind technology, to economy-wide energy efficiencies—were identified by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as low hanging fruit.

The IPCC said humanity has less than three years to halt the rise of planet-warming , and less than a decade to slash them by 43 percent from 2019 levels to give us a shot at capping at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But current policies support continued fossil fuel use and are taking the world in the wrong direction, the IPCC said, in a flagship report on how to avoid catastrophic warming, published on Monday.

Despite the tight timeline, the IPCC said the existing carbon-cutting potential across sectors “is sufficient to reduce to half of the current level or less”.

While this requires taking action across a wide range of options, the report said that measures that are low-cost “make up more than half of this potential and are available for all sectors”.

“The market benefits of some options exceed their costs,” it added.

Wind and solar

In 2019, were 59 billion tonnes, or gigatonnes, of CO2 or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.

The range of options identified would enable a reduction in emissions of 31 to 44 gigatonnes by 2030.

There are four key areas where the total potential for carbon reduction is highest between now and the end of the decade—solar and , reductions in deforestation, and restoration of forests and other ecosystems.

Of those, solar and wind are also among the cheapest options available thanks to the steep drop in the unit costs of these technologies—down 85 and 55 percent respectively between 2010 and 2019, according to the report.

This “demonstrates that with the right policy incentives and economic frameworks, can be financed at scale and relatively quickly,” said Michael Wilkins, head of the Centre For Climate Finance And Investment at Imperial College Business School.

More investment in solar could see an emissions reduction of between two and seven gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. Wind energy could save between 2.1 and 5.6 gigatonnes.

Most of that potential, according to the report, would have essentially negative lifetime costs because they are cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.

The reduction of methane emissions in the production of fossil energies is also mostly low cost.

Other energy generation options have a lower overall potential, with a higher cost, such as and hydroelectricity.

Increasing wind power could a chunk off emissions at no cost.

Food and forests

Protecting and restoring natural habitats is the second most significant area for reducing CO2 emissions.

Forests are crucial for absorbing CO2 generated by human activities, and the IPCC found that limiting deforestation and the destruction of grasslands could reduce net emissions between three and almost eight gigatonnes, largely at a low cost.

Restoring these types of ecosystems would save one to five gigatonnes. But action in this category would be at the more expensive end of the range considered by the IPCC.

Shifting to “sustainable” diets and reducing waste food could save more than two gigatonnes, the IPCC said, but it did not give a cost estimate because of wide global variability and a lack of data.

‘Fair balance’

The transport sector is notable for the fact that no single option has a particularly large potential to reduce emissions.

But almost all of the potential measures—switching to public transport and bicycles, fuel efficiency in road vehicles, shipping and aviation—are associated with negative costs.

In the , reduction in and efficiencies in things like lighting are seen as the lowest cost options, albeit with limited potential.

The construction of new highly energy efficient buildings have the greatest potential (between less than one and more than two gigatonnes), although costs are towards the higher end.

In industry, meanwhile, most of the options—beyond improving energy efficiency and cutting other greenhouse gas emissions—are associated with .

But the sector still has significant potential for reducing emissions, in particular the switch to less carbon-intensive sources.

“The costs of climate protection are economically absolutely feasible when examined on a global scale and over generations,” said Elmar Kriegler, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who was one of the IPCC authors.

But, he said, costs vary significantly from region to region, with developing countries facing a relatively higher price tag to move away from fossil fuels.

“That is why a fair balance is crucial, not only within individual countries but also internationally. Because one thing is clear: The benefits of climate protection clearly exceed its costs,” he added.

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Simulations show iron catalyzes corrosion in ‘inert’ carbon dioxide

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Iron (blue) can react with trace amounts of water to produce corrosive chemicals despite being bathed in “inert” supercritical fluids of carbon dioxide. Atomistic simulations carried out at Rice University show how this reaction happens. Credit: Evgeni Penev/Rice University

Iron that rusts in water theoretically shouldn’t corrode in contact with an “inert” supercritical fluid of carbon dioxide. But it does.

The reason has eluded to now, but a team at Rice University has a theory that could contribute to new strategies to protect iron from the environment.

Materials theorist Boris Yakobson and his colleagues at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering found through atom-level simulations that iron itself plays a role in its own corrosion when exposed to supercritical CO2 (sCO2) and trace amounts of water by promoting the formation of reactive species in the fluid that come back to attack it.

In their research, published in the Cell Press journal Matter, they conclude that thin hydrophobic layers of 2D materials like graphene or could be employed as a barrier between and the reactive elements of sCO2.

Rice graduate student Qin-Kun Li and research scientist Alex Kutana are co-lead authors of the paper. Rice assistant research professor Evgeni Penev is a co-author.

Supercritical fluids are materials at a temperature and pressure that keeps them roughly between phases—say, not all liquid, but not yet all gas. The properties of sCO2 make it an ideal working fluid because, according to the researchers, it is “essentially inert,” noncorrosive and low-cost.

“Eliminating corrosion is a constant challenge, and it’s on a lot of people’s minds right now as the government prepares to invest heavily in infrastructure,” said Yakobson, the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering and a professor of chemistry. “Iron is a pillar of infrastructure from ancient times, but only now are we able to get an atomistic understanding of how it corrodes.”

The Rice lab’s simulations reveal the devil’s in the details. Previous studies have attributed corrosion to the presence of bulk water and other contaminants in the superfluid, but that isn’t necessarily the case, Yakobson said.

“Water, as the primary impurity in sCO2, provides a hydrogen bond network to trigger interfacial reactions with CO2 and other impurities like and to form corrosive acid detrimental to iron,” Li said.

The simulations also showed that the iron itself acts as a catalyst, lowering the reaction energy barriers at the interface between iron and sCO2, ultimately leading to the formation of a host of corrosive species: oxygen, hydroxide, carboxylic acid and nitrous acid.

To the researchers, the study illustrates the power of theoretical modeling to solve complicated chemistry problems, in this case predicting thermodynamic reactions and estimates of corrosion rates at the interface between and sCO2. They also showed all bets are off if there’s more than a trace of water in the superfluid, accelerating corrosion.

More information:
Qin-Kun Li et al, Iron corrosion in the “inert” supercritical CO2, ab initio dynamics insights: How impurities matter, Matter (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.matt.2021.12.019

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