Rethinking air conditioning amid climate change

Rethinking air conditioning amid climate change

Enlarge (credit: Jupiter Images | Getty)

It was a monumental day for the environmental movement more than 30 years ago when all 198 countries in the world agreed on something for the first and only time ever. They signed on to the Montreal Protocol, making a pact to phase out a roster of chemicals that damage the Earth’s ozone layer. Chief among these were the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used by the cooling and refrigeration industry. Alternatives, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), were quickly found.

But in recent years, scientists have come to realize that the Montreal Protocol of 1987 might have traded an immediate problem for a long-term one. Though HFCs don’t cause the same damage to the ozone layer as CFCs do, the chemicals have warming potentials hundreds to thousands of times higher than that of CO2—making their growing global use a cause for concern.

The 20th-century industrial revolution saw a major boom in the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry in Europe and North America. Now, as developing nations boost their economies, countries such as China, India, and Nigeria are seeing skyrocketing demand for these appliances.

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#air-conditioning, #climate-change, #emissions, #features, #policy, #science

Discs vs. data: Are we helping the environment by streaming?

Image of a pile of DVDs

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Earth Day was April 22nd, and its usual message—take care of our planet—has been given added urgency by the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars is taking a look at the technologies we normally cover, from cars to chipmaking, and finding out how we can boost their sustainability and minimize their climate impact.

Gone are the days of going to Blockbuster to pick out a film for a night in. Physical media like CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, Sony’s weird PlayStation Portable UMDs, and countless other formats have been thoroughly dethroned thanks to a barrage of streaming services like Netflix—itself ailing at the moment—Amazon Prime, and Spotify.

For the first time in the past 17 years, CDs saw an increase in sales—of 1.1 percent, or 40.59 million units in 2021, compared to 40.16 million units the year prior. In 2021, people purchased 1.2 billion pieces of physical video media, compared to 6.1 billion a decade prior. Meanwhile, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, revenue from music streaming grew 13.4 percent to $10.1 billion in 2020.

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#carbon, #cds, #climate, #data, #dvds, #emissions, #engineering, #film, #life-cycle-analysis, #movies, #music, #science, #tv

Can semiconductor makers meet surging demands sustainably?

Can semiconductor makers meet surging demands sustainably?

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Earth Day was April 22, and its usual message—take care of our planet—has been given added urgency by the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars is taking a look at the technologies we normally cover, from cars to chipmaking, and finding out how we can boost their sustainability and minimize their climate impact.

While chips have been in short supply lately, there has also been growing concern about their environmental impact. Droughts and COVID caused factory (or fab) shutdowns just as the pandemic fueled a surge in demand for medical devices, tele-everything, and all the other gadgets to help people remain productive and less isolated. But the demand for chips has been growing for some time, making it important to ask whether meeting these demands is compatible with climate and sustainability goals.

The answer is that it’s a work in progress. Semiconductor manufacturers are building new facilities in Taiwan, the US, Europe, and elsewhere, providing an opportunity for the industry to incorporate sustainability from the very start. Doing so will help leading chip manufacturers meet voluntary pledges, such as reaching net-zero emissions by 2040 and 2050. These promises are encouraging, but they’re still shy of the urgent action needed, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. And pledging doesn’t guarantee delivery—but contributions from researchers, external regulators, and consumers can help with that.

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#climate, #emissions, #science, #technology

Increased smoke pollution on the horizon for Pacific Northwest

Firefighters from Stockton, California, put out flames off of Hidden Valley Rd. while fighting a wildfire, Friday, May 3, 2013 in Hidden Valley.

Enlarge / Firefighters from Stockton, California, put out flames off of Hidden Valley Rd. while fighting a wildfire, Friday, May 3, 2013 in Hidden Valley. (credit: Daria Devyatkina / Flickr)

In the western United States, summer 2018 was a bad time for wildfires. In all, according to the government of California, 7,948 separate fires saw 1,975,086 acres burnt to a crisp, 24,226 structures destroyed or damaged, and 100 confirmed deaths. In the following summers, things didn’t improve.

New research from a team assembled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and various universities suggests that, if climate mitigation efforts don’t go far enough, summer wildfires will only get worse. In a worst-case scenario, the research said that the problems caused by fires in the Pacific Northwest could result in a tripling of air pollution.

“This is the pathway we want to avoid at any cost,” Meiyun Lin, one of the authors of the paper and a NOAA researcher, told Ars.

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#carbon, #climate, #climate-change, #emissions, #science, #smoke, #wildfires

This software aims to make your flight smoother—and help the planet

So many airplanes are in line on the runway waiting for take off. These Air Force planes are part of Operation stop service to transport in Covid-19 situation.

Enlarge / So many airplanes are in line on the runway waiting for take off. These Air Force planes are part of Operation stop service to transport in Covid-19 situation. (credit: Naruecha Jenthaisong | Getty Images)

Fastening the seat belt buckle and knowing your flight is on its way to its destination: Nice. Getting stuck in a tarmac traffic jam and waiting for your flight to take off: Not so nice. Turns out the wait is also not nice for the planet.

Flying in an airplane is already one of the most emissions-intensive things you can do. Globally, aviation produced over 1 billion tons of carbon emissions in 2019, more than 2 percent of all human-generated emissions—more than either shipping or rail. Aircraft engines also emit nitrogen oxides, soot particles, and water vapor, which also contribute to warming the planet.

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#airplanes, #climate-change, #emissions, #faa, #jet-engines, #nasa, #policy, #science

International climate pledges may be on the right track—maybe

Image of a protest march.

Enlarge / Protesters call for action on climate change in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. (credit: Barcroft Media / Getty Images)

After Joe Biden won the US presidential election, he pledged that the country would cut emissions by 50 percent by 2030. And the US is hardly alone in this ambition. According to new research by Climate Analytics—part of the Climate Action Tracker consortium—131 countries are either discussing, have announced, or are implementing net-zero targets. The paper notes that, if fully implemented, these would cut 72 percent of global emissions.

The extent to which national climate goals can help realize the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5º C is an open question. But according to Matthew Gidden, one of the recent paper’s authors, these climate goals are having (and could indeed continue to have) a marked impact on the climate of the future.

“The clear message from my point of view is that the window has not closed,” he told Ars. “However, it needs significant and real action, especially by the developed countries of the world and the largest emitters in the world, to really make movement.”

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#carbon, #climate, #emission-reductions, #emissions, #greenhouse-gases, #science

It’s time to rethink personal carbon allowances, research suggests

Outdoor signage advertises an electric vehicle charging station.

Enlarge / Having personal limits on carbon emissions might motivate more people to transition to lower carbon options. (credit: Mike Kemp / Getty Images)

In 2008, the United Kingdom’s government evaluated the idea of a personal carbon allowance (PCA) to help reduce emissions. In short, the effort would put caps on the amount of carbon each person could use as they heat their homes, purchase food, or travel to work. The government decided not to implement it, and since then, this climate strategy has largely fallen off the radar.

“[A]t the time, it was considered an idea ahead of its time. [PCAs] were considered as radical, and also not implementable due to cost and a few other hassles,” Francesco Fuso-Nerini, director of the Climate Action Centre at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, told Ars.

However, Fuso-Nerini and a team of researchers performed a meta-analysis of existing literature about PCAs and considered both climate change and the social and technological changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Arecent paper by the team suggests that it might be time to revisit the concept.

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#carbon, #climate-change, #climate-policy, #emissions, #personal-carbon-allowance, #science, #tax

44.01 secures $5M to turn billions of tons of carbon dioxide to stone

Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is an important goal, but another challenge awaits: lowering the levels of CO2 and other substances already in the atmosphere. One promising approach turns the gas into an ordinary mineral through entirely natural processes; 44.01 hopes to perform this process at scale using vast deposits of precursor materials and a $5M seed round to get the ball rolling.

The process of mineralizing CO2 is well known among geologists and climate scientists. A naturally occurring stone called peridotite reacts with the gas and water to produce calcite, another common and harmless mineral. In fact this has occurred at enormous scales throughout history, as witnessed by large streaks of calcite piercing peridotite deposits.

Peridotite is normally found miles below sea level, but on the easternmost tip of the Arabian peninsula, specifically the northern coast of Oman, tectonic action has raised hundreds of square miles of the stuff to the surface.

Talal Hasan was working in Oman’s sovereign investment arm when he read bout the country’s coast having the largest “dead zone” in the world, a major contributor to which was CO2 emissions being absorbed by the sea and gathering there. Hasan, born into a family of environmentalists, looked into it and found that, amazingly, the problem and the solution were literally right next to each other: the country’s mountains of peridotite, which theoretically could hold billions of tons of CO2.

Around that time, in fact, the New York Times ran a photo essay about Oman’s potential miracle mineral, highlighting the research of Peter Kelemen and Jeurg Matter into its potential. As the Times’ Henry Fountain wrote at the time:

If this natural process, called carbon mineralization, could be harnessed, accelerated and applied inexpensively on a huge scale — admittedly some very big “ifs” — it could help fight climate change.

That’s broadly speaking the plan proposed by Hasan and, actually, both Kelemen and Matter, who make up the startup’s “scientific committee.” 44.01 (the molecular weight of carbon dioxide, if you were wondering) aims to accomplish mineralization economically and safely with a few novel ideas.

First is the basic process of accelerating the natural reaction of the materials. It normally occurs over years as CO2 and water vapor interact with the rock — no energy needs to be applied to make the change, since the reaction actually results in a lower energy state.

“We’re speeding it up by injecting a higher CO2 content than you would get in the atmosphere,” said Hasan. “We have to drill an engineered borehole that’s targeted for mineralization and injection.”

Diagram showing how carbon can be sequestered as a mineral.

Image Credits: 44.01

The holes would maximize surface area, and highly carbonated water would be pumped in cyclically until the drilled peridotite is saturated. Importantly, there’s no catalyst or toxic additive, it’s just fizzy water, and if some were to leak or escape, it’s just a puff of CO2, like what you get when you open a bottle of soda.

Second is achieving this without negating the entire endeavor by having giant trucks and heavy machinery pumping out new CO2 as fast as they can pump in the old stuff. To that end Hasan said the company is working hard at the logistics side to create a biodiesel-based supply line (with Wakud) to truck in the raw material and power the machines at night, while solar would offset that fuel cost at night.

It sounds like a lot to build up, but Hasan points out that a lot of this is already done by the oil industry, which as you might guess is fairly ubiquitous in the region. “It’s similar to how they drill and explore, so there’s a lot of existing infrastructure for this,” he said, “but rather than pulling the hydrocarbon out, we’re pumping it back in.” Other mineralization efforts have broken ground on the concept, so to speak, such as a basalt-injection scheme up in Iceland, so it isn’t without precedent.

Third is sourcing the CO2 itself. The atmosphere is full of it, sure, but it’s not trivial to capture and compress enough to mineralize at industrial scales. So 44.01 is partnering with Climeworks and other carbon capture companies to provide an end point for their CO2 sequestration efforts.

Plenty of companies are working on direct capture of emissions, be they at the point of emission or elsewhere, but once they have a couple million tons of CO2, it’s not obvious what to do next. “We want to facilitate carbon capture companies, so we’re building the CO2 sinks here and operating a plug and play model. They come to our site, plug in, and using power on site, we can start taking it,” said Hasan.

How it would be paid for is a bit of an open question in the exact particulars, but what’s clear is a global corporate appetite for carbon offsetting. There’s a large voluntary market for carbon credits beyond the traditional and rather outdated carbon credits. 44.01 can sell large quantities of verified carbon removal, which is a step up from temporary sequestration or capture — though the financial instruments to do so are still being worked out. (DroneSeed is another company offering a service beyond offsets that hopes to take advantage of a new generation of emissions futures and other systems. It’s an evolving and highly complex overlapping area of international regulations, taxes, and corporate policy.)

For now, however, the goal is simply to prove that the system works as expected at the scales hoped for. The seed money is nowhere near what would be needed to build the operation necessary, just a step in that direction to get the permits, studies, and equipment necessary to properly perform demonstrations.

“We tried to get like minded investors on board, people genuinely doing this for climate change,” said Hasan. “It makes things a lot easier on us when we’re measured on impact rather than financials.” (No doubt all startups hope for such understanding backers.)

Apollo Projects, a early stage investment fund from Max and Sam Altman, led the round, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures participated. (Not listed in the press release but important to note, Hasan said, were small investments from families in Oman and environmental organizations in Europe.)

Oman may be the starting point, but Hasan hinted that another location would host the first commercial operations. While he declined to be specific, one glance at a map shows that the peridotite deposits spill over the northern border of Oman and into the eastern tip of the UAE, which no doubt is also interested in this budding industry and, of course, has more than enough money to finance it. We’ll know more once 44.01 completes its pilot work.

#44-01, #carbon-capture, #carbon-credits, #carbon-dioxide, #carbon-removal, #carbon-sequestration, #co2, #emissions, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gases, #greentech, #oman, #recent-funding, #science, #startups

Trump admin. finally kills off Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions

A natural gas flare from an offshore oil drilling rig in Cook Inlet, Alaska.

Enlarge / A natural gas flare from an offshore oil drilling rig in Cook Inlet, Alaska. (credit: Paul Souders | Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency this week finalized a rule that kills off Obama-era limitations on how much methane, a potent greenhouse gas, oil and natural gas producers are allowed to emit into the atmosphere—even though industry leaders didn’t want the changes.

The changes to the rules, known as the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), remove some segments of the industry from being covered under the existing standards at all, and these changes also lift the methane caps on other segments, the EPA announced on Thursday.

The oil and gas industry basically splits into three big buckets of activity: upstream, meaning the actual drilling for oil or gas; midstream, which is the world of storage and pipelines; and downstream, that last mile where products are refined and sold. The current changes apply to the downstream and midstream segments, as the EPA broke down in a graphic (PDF).

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