Is climate tech the key to reaching net zero?

To reach the global goal of net zero we need to be cutting emissions by at least half each decade until 2050. The IPCC has stated that ‘The net-zero challenge calls for a step change in technology innovation…’. Climate tech will play a vital role in addressing emissions reductions.

While some many think that climate tech is a buzzword referring to future potential, we already have the technology available to reach net zero. However, it needs to be made affordable, equally distributed and implemented on a large scale. The current energy crisis is the perfect opportunity to decarbonise with renewables to create affordable, clean energy for present and future generations.

Climate tech can be used to provide a more direct and reliable path to development. The UN Environment Programme has created a Technology Facilitation Mechanism where developed countries which are responsible for most historical emissions begin decarbonisation and provide tech to less developed countries. This enables them to leapfrog less efficient or effective technologies: for example skipping landline phones and going straight to mobile.

London Climate Technology Show

On 19th and 20th October, the Grain team visited the London Climate Technology Show at Olympia. Part of the event was an exhibition of various climate tech companies, where we enjoyed learning about cutting-edge initiatives. Stallholders included NEBOair with sustainable aircraft, various carbon accounting platforms such as Normative and Compare Your Footprint, and resilience tech company Dryad who have created a network of sensors able to detect and prevent wildfires.

The conference part of the event involved talks from various industry leaders, foundation members and start-ups discussing the climate technologies needed for net zero. These included debates on scaling up the use of hydrogen and its potential as a clean fuel. While green hydrogen has potential to decarbonise large sectors, there are currently issues about the cost required to produce it via zero-emission electrolysis. Furthermore, hydrogen is highly combustible.

Another largely debated topic was the transition to electric vehicles (EVs). Though the emissions produced in the construction of EVs and charging points are currently fairly high, this is balanced out by years of fossil-fuel-free driving. The UK government has banned sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and scientists are also currently looking at the potential of under-road wireless charging as vehicles move along ‘smart roads’. Oslo is leading the way to the world’s first fully electric public transport network in 2023, but there is still work to be done in creating charging networks for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Other noteworthy topics covered included the new European CSRD carbon accounting legislation, the use of fossil-free steel in decarbonising the construction industry, aeroponics as a form of vertical farming, and the role of heat pumps in reaching the UK’s 2050 net zero target.

Speakers on a panel at the London Climate Technology Show

Looking to nature

Alongside the role of technology, various speakers at the show reminded us that we also need to look to nature for solutions. Among discussions on the feasibility of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a speaker from Tilhill put forth that woodland creation should be a priority as it is the most reliable form of carbon capture, with timber currently being the most sustainable building material on the planet.

Graphjet also proposes a nature-based solution: using the waste product of palm kernel shells in Malaysia to create graphene, a sustainable graphite alternative that conducts heat and electricity, with potential use in electronics.

The role of technology

Technology plays a key role in saving our planet. There is no doubt that climate technology represents a massive opportunity and benefit for our society, however it is evident that it needs to be accessible and not just for those who can afford it. We need to see investments into innovation but accept these may take some time to become widely implemented. Crucially, climate tech should not be relied on solely to solve the environmental crisis, but as a tool and facilitator for emissions reductions and for carbon capture and storage.

Header image: NEBOair’s sustainable airplane

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