5 ways chemicals can save the world from climate change
The chemical industry has a vital role to play in developing technological solutions to help save us from climate catastrophe, and could create significant opportunities for global economic development at the same time.
Chemical engineers have been working for some time to find and implement ways to combat climate change.
Here are 5 ways chemicals can save the world from climate change:
Using unconventional gas (for example shale gas or coal seam gas) is a more environmentally friendly option than existing fossil fuels. Switching, for example, from coal to gas can result in around 50 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions being produced in power generation. Chemical engineers work to ensure that extraction of unconventional gases is performed to the highest environmental standards.
Ammonia is used to make fertiliser, and the chemical’s large-scale production was a major break through in efforts to feed a growing global population. The fertiliser industry is still a big energy consumer, and producing ammonia close to renewable energy sources and agricultural production sites rather than in centralised facilities will be an important way of reducing its carbon footprint.
Any sustainable fuel or fertiliser cycle will also have to account for the water supply. Making ammonia (NH?) uses hydrogen, which is present in all high-energy chemicals (fuels) and ultimately requires water for production. The fact that the most solar power can be generated in places where water is scarce is one of the biggest obstacles to a large-scale roll-out of renewables-based fuel – and needs to be addressed.
Electric vehicles (EVs) burn no gasoline and have no tailpipe emissions, but producing the electricity used to charge them does generate global warming emissions. The amount of these emissions, however, varies significantly based on the mix of energy sources used to power a region's electricity grid.
For example, coal-fired power plants produce nearly twice the global warming emissions of natural gas-fired power plants, while renewable sources like wind and solar power produce virtually no emissions at all.
Being more flexible in the way we generate and consume energy will require new energy storage. When we think of storage batteries are what commonly spring to mind, but other ideas include using embodied energy in chemicals as stored energy – to be released on demand via chemical conversions. Effective energy storage is a major part of the climate change solution, and chemical engineers can help.
More than half of the world’s annual carbon emissions could be prevented over the next 50 years by using sustainable bioenergy. However, the raw materials used in bioenergy production – food crops like maize and sugarcane – come with a lot of associated challenges. Chemical engineers have the technology to use these materials efficiently and bioenergy production has the potential to be cost effective.
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