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Ultimate guide to climate tech
The climate challenge visualized
Today, the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the world add up to 59 gigatons (Gt). One gigaton is one billion tons. Just how much emissions is that?
Here’s two ways to try and contextualize it:
These GHG emissions are produced by most activities of our economy: how we live, move around, eat, make things, and create power — there’s no escaping producing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, we must halve our emissions in the next decade to have a chance of staying between two degrees of global warming.
To do this, we need to reinvent many wheels of our economy, presenting one of the largest challenges — and opportunities — of our time. That said, we are already well on our way in certain aspects.
We wrote this guide to help you understand where exactly our economy is at in terms of the GHG emissions problem and the climate tech solutions.
Where do our GHG emissions take place and what are the major causes of these emissions? What climate technologies are helping us solve our emissions?
We’ll break down the problem into pieces, and show you solutions for each piece.
We focus on where emissions are physically generated: the car that burns the gas, a power plant that burns the coal, a cow that emits the methane, a factory that burns gas to melt something.
All emissions take place in one of five sectors that together encompass the entire problem: Energy Production, Industry, Food & Land Use, Transport, and Buildings. We’ll explain the main causes of GHG emissions in each vertical and what technologies can mitigate them.
That’s not all that we must do to get to net zero though. There are two sectors that do not emit GHG emissions themselves but play a key role in getting to net zero — like removing CO2 from the sky or developing software that makes it easier to adopt climate tech in the first place. We’ll call these sectors ‘Carbon Control’ and ‘Enablers’.
Three notes: (1) This is a high-level overview. Many of the sectors and subsectors are more nuanced than discussed here. We will address those details in deep-dives per sector over time in separate articles. (2) This guide to net zero is done through a climate tech lens, showing how novel technologies can get us to net zero GHG emissions. However, governments, corporations and consumers also play an important role in getting to net zero. (3) All percentages of the problem (sectors and subsectors) are stated as the percentage of the total global 2019 GHG emissions
What is net zero?
Before we dive into the problems, and the solutions, let’s discuss where we want to get to.
At Carbon Equity we use the term ‘net zero’. Yes, some may use this term to greenwash, but we think if used correctly, it’s the most realistic way to halt climate change.
So what does net zero mean?
Net zero means getting to a state where the same amount of CO2 is emitted as is recaptured.
Our (and the IPCC) net zero framework contain two components that both need to increase dramatically to solve the problem of rising temperatures. The first is to limit releasing GHG emissions as much as possible — by adopting low and no carbon technologies. The second is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using carbon removal.
The net zero moment comes when GHG emissions are decreased to the same level as carbon removal is increased, aka when the same amount of GHG emissions are released as captured.
All the technologies, tools and ideas we know of can reduce a huge (roughly 80-90%) of all GHG emissions. But some complicated and expensive-to-abate emissions will remain — like some from cattle and other fossil fuel use cases. The most feasible way to ‘remove’ these emissions is to offset them with carbon removal, or taking carbon out of the sky, not buying forest conservation credits.
If we are able to strike this balance of carbon release and removal, we can create a healthier planet for generations to come.
Alright, now let’s get into the sectors, and their subsectors, to discover the exciting innovations leading us towards a net zero future.
Energy Production (33%)
We use a lot of energy (electricity and fossil fuels) in our world: to power our cars, light our homes, make the things we use, and farm our lands. We typically burn energy (and create carbon emissions) to make this energy ready for use. In fact, 33% of all GHG emissions are created in the Energy Production sector during the production of the energy and electricity we use.
Most energy that we use is made from fossil fuels: oil, coal and gas. We dig fossil fuels up and refine them: oil into gasoline that we burn in our cars, and coal and gas that we burn to produce electricity.
Even though more and more electricity has become “green” (about 29% today*) we still have a long way to go. The majority of the electricity we use is still “gray” or “brown” electricity, which is produced by burning gas and coal respectively. Together, these are responsible for 23% of global carbon emissions. Another 8% of global emissions come from getting fossil fuels ready for use, like digging up coal and refining oil.
When we talk about solutions, we will focus on the electricity part because phasing out fossil fuels means the GHG created to produce them will also go down. For every use case where we can replace fossil fuels with electricity we are one step closer to net zero, because it’s easier to create green electricity than green fuel. These emissions will go down as electricity and green fuels replace their fossil fuel alternatives.
Note: The last 2% of global GHG emissions from the energy production system arise because some electricity gets lost during production, and when transporting it from the producer to the end user. Once all electricity is green, the emissions caused by lost electricity will marginally be 0. However, when you take the whole lifecycle into consideration it’s not — this part is covered in the Industry and Transport sectors.
How do we get energy production to net zero?
While some zero-carbon energy technologies (like solar and wind) are already quite mature, cheap and easy to implement, further innovation like advanced nuclear hydrogen and energy storage, needs to happen in order to increase usage and resiliency.
To understand how we can solve the energy transition, let’s break it down into sub-sectors.
Other energy (10%)
Sub-sector #1: Electricity (23% of global GHG emissions)
As mentioned above, historically, all electricity (aka power) was produced from fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil. In fact, our industrial revolution came about in large part due to the steam engine, and our ability to produce electricity en masse.
Today, while nearly one third of the electricity we use is already green, the rest is still fossil-fuel based. As so, we still dig up and burn massive amounts of coal, oil and gas to create all the electricity used in the world.
One ‘complication’ with electricity is that we not only need to displace all the gray and brown electricity we use today, but that we will need a whole lot more electricity to get to net zero. Because renewable power is so easy to produce, the easiest way for many kinds od processes to become carbon-free is to electrify them.
To get our power system to net zero, we need to do three things: (1) save electricity use where we can, (2) generate all the remaining power we need without creating emissions and (3) create enough electricity storage as renewable power is intermittent. We will discuss all three below.
What innovative solutions are solving electricity?
The general principle of the energy transition is: reduce all the energy usage we can because everything we save we don’t have to find a new solution for. Then, find green alternatives for whatever we can’t reduce.
All energy efficiency technologies and measures fall within this sub-sector because no matter where the electricity is saved, its impact is less oil, gas and coal burned to produce that electricity.
Together, the savings potential of energy efficiency is 12-14% of global GHG emissions.** This is based on all cost-effective energy efficiency solutions like building insulation, more efficient electric vehicles and heat recovery in industrial processes being adopted widely.
For more details on these solutions, we direct you to the Industry and Buildings sectors — where you can see electrification being used to create energy efficiency and savings.
Did you know: Renewable power has by now become the cheapest form of energy we have, with solar even the cheapest electricity the world has ever had.*
Humans are pretty ingenious — we’ve figured out how to make electricity from sunlight. The most common method is photovoltaic (PV) electricity. Today, 3.1% of all electricity is generated with solar PV.* By 2050, this could be as much as 50%, which would bring its total GHG reduction potential to 7-11% of the global problem.* Innovation today centers around putting solar on more surfaces, like windows, open water and curved areas.
Next to solar PV, there’s a second way to get energy from the sun. This is called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and creates both heat and electricity from the sun. While it is a very impressive technology to see, scientists aren’t sure if it will ever reach cost parity with gray electricity. Still, many people believe CSP could mitigate 1-2% of global GHG emissions.
What innovative solutions are transforming solar power?
Leading Edge: produces solar wafers (a component of PV panels) ~40% cheaper less than current alternatives, and with higher efficiency
mPower Technology: portable, flexible and lower weight solar film to provide power for high tech applications like space
Ubiquitous: turns windows into surfaces that capture solar energy using a coating with semiconducting materials to convert sunlight into electricity
Floating Solar: builds rotating, floating solar fields as a means to find a sustainable solution to generating solar power form aquatic systems
Heliogen: claims its CSP plant is equipped to handle 1000 degrees Celsius, which is high enough to utilize in industrial processes such as cement and steel
Solar canals use the surface area above canals to generate electricity while protecting the water from evaporating and making climate adoption easier, like this one being built in California
Today, the world produces more wind than solar power. However, its growth is expected to be smaller, with solar eventually ending up on par with wind or even overtaking it. The reason for that is there are limited amounts of locations where there’s enough wind to make it economically viable to implement wind power technologies.
That said, wind energy still has the potential to displace 5-9% of global GHG emissions.***
Did you know: the first wind turbine had a capacity of 0.5 megawatts (MW), a single offshore wind turbine can produce almost 20x as much electricity today.
What innovative solutions are transforming wind power?
Agile Wind Power: developer of the first large, economically scalable vertical-axis wind turbine for commercial power generation
Hydro Wind Energy: opens up the ability to capture offshore wind power and store it directly, creating on-demand dispatchable wind power
Kitepower: develops alternatives to existing wind turbines by using kites to generate electricity which have the potential to be cost-competitive
Flower Turbines: makes an innovative, small wind turbine inspired by tulips, ideal for urban and off-the-grid applications
Nuclear power is carbon-free. But it is also inflexible, expensive and risky by creating a lot of radioactive waste (at least the current ones do). Today, 11% of the world’s electricity produced is nuclear. To get to net zero, many believe that nuclear electricity production will need to increase to 14–19%.* That increase could abate more GHG emissions and play an important role in providing a part of the electricity baseload.
Currently, to produce nuclear power we do what is called nuclear fission. There are challenges in flexibility and cost here, which is why scientists have been working on the next generations of nuclear energy, like advanced nuclear and nuclear fusion, for a long time.
We will dive into these technologies when we launch our deep dive into Energy Production. In the meantime, please reach out to us if you are curious about the details. We’d be happy to discuss them with you.
What innovative solutions are transforming nuclear power?
NuScale: develops an advanced nuclear reactor technology and plans to be the first advanced nuclear company to go public
Zap Energy: is developing a low-cost, compact, and scalable nuclear fusion energy system, which just had a successful test of its prototype fusion reactor — an important engineering milestone. (Invest in Zap Energy through our Decarbonization Fund I)
Today, large-scale hydropower is the largest source of renewable power. In 2020, hydropower generated more renewable power than all other renewable technologies combined. However, as the technology is quite mature and most good spots are already being used, it will not be the largest renewable power source in the future. For net zero, a 3% annual growth rate between 2020 and 2030 is needed.*
Small-scale hydropower still has some room for innovation and additional emissions reduction potential of 0.2% of global GHG emissions.* In addition, some next generation innovations like using temperature differences or the tides to generate power could lead to additional GHG mitigation.
What innovative solutions are transforming hydropower?
Natel Energy: designs and develops thermal exchangers that exploit the temperature difference between cold and warm ocean water to produce electricity
Minesto: produces electricity from slow tidal stream and ocean currents by sweeping a small turbine across a large ocean area
While wind, solar and hydropower electricity sources are expected to account for more than 80% of the electricity generation by 2050, and nuclear another 10%*, there are some innovative solutions to keep an eye on for the other 10%. 👀
Blue power from mixing salty and sweet water like REDstack
The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow, but we will always need to be able to use electricity. Plus, with electricity demand increasing, we need to transport more electricity than our electricity grid often can handle.
These are two of the bigger limiting factors (for now) facing renewable power. We can already produce renewable power for the same price as fossil power but we still need to make massive investments in further deploying these new technologies. This is where the importance of electricity storage comes in.
We need electricity storage for hourly, multi-day and seasonal usage in order to manage peak-demand moments and ensure electricity is always available. Storage of electricity isn’t easy as electrons love to move around — but some inspiring innovations show effective ways to solve electricity storage.
The most mature technology to store electricity is pumped hydro, e.g. pumping water up and down, but as we don’t always have the required height differences, there are many other innovations under development.
What innovative solutions are transforming electricity storage?
Form Energy: uses its iron-air technology that is optimized to store electricity for 100 hours at costs competitive with legacy power plants (Invest in Form Energy through our Decarbonization Fund I)
Hydrostor: develops Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) to enable utility-scale, long-duration energy (hundreds of MWs for 8-24+ hours)
We Drive Solar: uses bi-directional charging (car batteries that can feed electricity back to the grid) to relieve congested electricity grid on a city level
Sub-sector #2: Other energy (10% of global GHG emissions)
To make fossil fuels ready for use we have to dig it up, ship it halfway across the globe, and use energy to refine it. In that process, we actually burn a lot of energy. In fact, just extracting and refining the oil, coal and gas we use are responsible for 10% of global emissions every year.
What innovative solutions are transforming fuels?
Biomass, -gas and -fuels
Organic waste, like household and agricultural waste, manure, and sewage water all release methane as they decompose. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (25x more potent than CO2).* However, if we control biomass’ decomposition, we can transform it into biogas and fertilizers to reduce the impact of methane while getting productive energy and materials from these waste streams.
AMP Americas: turns cow poop into renewable natural gas on-farm to fuel major trucking fleets, such as the big American shipping company UPS
Hydrogen is likely to play many roles in the net zero transition, including: electricity storage, high temperature applications, replacing oil and gas as a feedstock for certain chemicals and potentially even replacing natural gas in our existing pipelines.
That said, some use cases for hydrogen are underwritten by most experts (e.g. electricity storage and industry), while others are more hotly debated (e.g. hydrogen in transportation*) — making its total reduction potential hard to quantify.
Today, hydrogen is mainly used as a feedstock for ammonia production (e.g. fertilizers). To be successful across a wider spectrum of solutions, hydrogen will have to overcome two major challenges.
The first challenge for green hydrogen is cost. McKinsey estimates that the current price for green hydrogen of €5 per kilogram today may drop to €2 per kilogram by 2030 and €1.5 per kilogram by 2050.* The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) subsidizes green hydrogen up to $3 per kilogram — making investments more attractive and creating in a potential ultra-low-cost green hydrogen future.
The second challenge is storage.
Hydrogen molecules are so small that they tend to leak out of pretty much everything, making salt domes the best way to store hydrogen. However, new innovations are underway to ship and store hydrogen without leaking, making it more usable in transportation and in industrial processes.
What innovative solutions are happening in hydrogen?
C-Zero: removes the carbon from natural gas to convert it into hydrogen, providing low cost, low-CO2 energy while permanently sequestering the carbon
Transportation and storage
H2Site: produces membrane reactors able to work with different feedstocks (i.e. ammonia), enabling a cheaper way to move hydrogen
Hydrogenious: uses its Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) technology to bond hydrogen to a non-toxic, non-flammable liquid, making it suitable for transportation and distribution
Universal Hydrogen: makes modular fuel capsules that enable regional flights to be hydrogen-powered without requiring any new airport infrastructure
Everything we manufacture, including the cement in our buildings, the steel in our cars, the clothes we wear, and the plastic we use, accounts for nearly a fourth of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Industry is a notoriously hard sector to solve emissions because it requires high-temperature heat, which is hard to electrify. Plus, oil and gas are the main ingredients in making chemicals like plastic and fertilizers.
The major emitters within industry are: steel and other metals (5% of global GHG emissions), concrete (5-7%), chemicals such as plastics and fertilizer (4%), and waste handling (4%, including the burning of waste plastic). Next to that, there are many smaller emitters like car building, food processing and clothing manufacturing.
How to get to net zero?
While it is of course more complex, we want to make it tangible how to get industry to net zero. So, we’ve broken it down into four major actions:
We should reduce what we can. Reduce demand where possible and make production processes more efficient in terms of materials and energy usage.
We should shift the energy sources we use to renewables, especially for the heat that’s used in industrial processes.
We should re-use all the materials we can, and develop innovative materials with lower GHG footprint: from plastic to bioplastic, from cement and steel to wood-based buildings, etc.
Carbon control can help us in the short term to make sure that the emissions we create from all the processes we haven’t changed don’t end up in the atmosphere. You can explore that sector here.
To understand how we can solve the industry sector, let’s break it down into sub-sectors.
Sub-sector #1: Steel
Steel is everywhere around you: in cars, buildings, bridges, refrigerators, washing machines, cargo ships, surgical scalpels and much more. It’s one of the most manufactured materials in the world, with more than 1.6 billion tons produced annually.
The steel making process requires a lot of heat, which now primarily comes from burning coal. First, iron is made by heating iron ore to remove oxygen and other impurities. Then, iron (either virgin or scrap steel) is heated and combined with carbon, recycled steel and small amounts of other elements. After that, the steel can be shaped as we need it.
In total, steel emits ~5% of global GHG emissions, making it an important sub-sector to solve.
What innovative solutions are solving steel emissions?
Did you know: Steel is very reusable. It’s one of the world’s most-recycled materials, with a recycling rate of over 60% globally. Recycled steel has a footprint up to 75% lower because it skips the first step of the making process.*
Hydrogen- or electricity-based steel making
Boston Metal: uses clean electricity instead of fossil fuels to refine iron ore, opening a path to scalable green steel (Invest in Boston Metal through our Decarbonization Fund I)
H2 Green Steel: has a hydrogen-based solution for iron ore refinement leading to 95% lower CO2 emissions compared to traditional steelmaking
LEKO LABS: develops strong, sustainable wood-based materials to replace highly polluting concrete and steel in walls and floors of buildings (Part of our Built Environment Fund)
Concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water.* Worldwide, 30 billion tons of concrete are used each year — and the demand for concrete is growing more steeply than that for steel or wood.*
Concrete is made by mixing cement, sand and gravel. Making the cement is the most carbon-intensive part for two reasons. First, it involves using fossil fuels to heat a mixture of limestone and clay to more than 1,400 °C in a kiln. Second, when limestone (calcium carbonate) is heated with clays, a chemical process happens which releases CO2.
In terms of emissions, it’s about 50/50: 50% from heat and 50% from the chemical reaction.
Opinions vary on the exact footprint of concrete, but it is between 5-7%** of total GHG emissions, making it an important sub-sector to decarbonize.
Did you know: Roughly 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide is released for every ton of cement produced.*
What innovative solutions are solving cement and concrete emissions?
Innovative ways to produce cement
Sublime Systems: develops low-carbon cement by using ambient temperature electrochemistry instead of combustion-driven kilns (Invest in Sublime Systems through our Decarbonization Fund I)
Biomason: leverages bacteria to make cement without creating CO2 emissions (Part of our Built Environment Fund)
Carbon Cure: manufactures a technology for the concrete industry that introduces recycled CO2 into fresh concrete, which actually makes it light and stronger (Part of our Built Environment Fund)
Minimize concrete use
Smarter designs can already save up to 20%, or we can replace cement with wood-based or other sustainable building materials:
LEKO LABS: develops strong, sustainable wood composite to replace highly polluting concrete and steel in walls and floors of buildings up to 80 meters high (Part of our Built Environment Fund)
Alternative ingredients can allow us to create more cement with less and build stronger cement for a lower carbon footprint:
Carbon Upcycling: creates a low-GHG cement replacement from industrial byproducts and waste materials (i.e. from coal plants, steel mills and more) while improving the performance of concrete
Sub-sector #3: Plastics
Global plastic production reached 368 million metric tons in 2019 — and demand is expected to double or triple by 2050.*
Not only are plastics made from oil (using about 6% of global oil as a raw material today), but their production is energy intensive. The production of plastic is responsible for more than 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.* Further emissions are created because a lot of the plastic we use we burn after finishing using it.
To fix the plastics issue we can:
Reduce the world’s plastic usage
Optimize plastic recycling
Substitute conventional plastics with bioplastics
Did you know: More than 60 percent of all plastic is used just once, and then discarded.*
What innovative solutions are solving plastic emissions?
Reduce single use plastics
Vytal: offers a reusable system for takeaway food containers
Algramo: provides refilling stations for everyday products from cleaning supplies to rice
Loop: collects used packaging from consumers and retailers and returns hygienically cleaned packaging to manufacturers for refill
Did you know: The European Union is banning the top-10 most used types of single-use plastics.*
RoadRunner: accurately predicts volumes of materials generated across industries to match supply and demand and to optimize plastic waste/recycling streams
PureCycle: converts waste plastic into virgin-like plastic to offer high-quality, sustainable plastic at scale
Notpla: makes seaweed-based packaging materials to replace single-use plastics with its material that is fully biodegradable and even edible
Mi Terro: makes biomaterials from agricultural waste to replace single-use plastics while also being home-compostable (Invest in Mi Terro through our Decarbonization Fund I)
Circe: uses microbes to turn CO2 and hydrogen into bioplastics and biodegradable polyesters
In the early 1900s, scientists invented a process to mass-produce a nitrogen-containing compound, ammonia, that plants can absorb from the soil to grow faster. Today, ammonia is the second-most produced chemical in the world, used in huge quantities as a very effective fertilizer.
Ammonia manufacturing today creates 1% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.* To eliminate these emissions, we must reduce fertilizer usage (discussed in the Food & Land Use sector) and turn to renewable powered fertilizer production.
What innovative solutions are solving ammonia production?
Nitricity: offers ultra-low-cost, solar-powered plasma cells that produce green) fertilizer on-site and on-demand (Invest in Nitricity through our Decarbonization Fund I)
For more emissions information on how to displace artificial fertilizers (which of course means less ammonia), we direct you to the fertilizer application sub-sector in Food & Land Use.
Food & Land Use (22%)
What we eat, how we grow it, and where we grow it have an immense impact on our global GHG emissions footprint — 22% to be specific.
Our food and land use are heavily intertwined in their emissions. To highlight this, let’s take a look at the conversion factor (the amount of food an animal eats versus the food that they produce) of some of our main food sources: chickens are about 3x, pigs 4-5x and beef is typically above 10x.*
That means we feed a cow 10 times as much food as it yields, which means we have to produce 10x as much food to produce one unit of soy-fed beef vs eating the soy directly. That means 10x as much land use, 10x as much machinery use, 10x as much transportation.
The GHG impacts of our food system will continue to increase with our growing population, calorie consumption, meat consumption and food waste.
Currently, 25–30% of total food produced is lost or wasted!*
Unlike in other sectors, the greenhouse gas emissions in food and land use don’t primarily come from CO2. They actually come from two other greenhouse gasses (GHG) that are much more potent: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
Did you know: Methane’s damage is short but big — it sets the pace for near-term warming. Methane has >80 times the warming power of CO2 in the first 20 years of reaching the atmosphere.* Over a hundred year horizon, Methane’s impact is 25x as much as CO2 because it only stays in the atmosphere for a decade. Nitrous oxide is almost 300x worse than CO2, both on the short-term and over a hundred year horizon.
How to get to net zero?
While most GHG emissions come from raising meat and dairy (methane emissions), other emissions come from fertilizer application (which can lead to nitrous oxide emissions) and fertilizers used to work the land are made from fossil fuels. We will need to bring these emissions to net zero while still meeting the growing global demand for food.
This will require us to make significant changes to the ways we farm and eat.
To understand how we can solve the food and land use sector, let’s break it down into sub-sectors.
Land use change and cattle
Sub-sector #1: Land use change and cattle
As mentioned above, what we eat, how we grow it and where we grow it, have an immense impact on our global GHG emissions footprint. Together, land use change and methane are responsible for 16% of the world’s total GHG emissions.* 👀
Did you know: If we add all cows, other hoofed grass-eating friends and human bodies together, our burps (and farts) are responsible for 5% of global GHG emissions.
What innovative solutions can solve land use change and methane emissions?
Reduce food waste
Like in all sectors, whatever we reduce we don’t have to change. This is the case for food as much as any, with 25-30% of all food that is produced wasted. Drawdown estimates that food waste can be reduced to the point that it saves 6-8% of GHG due to lower production volumes.*
Did you know: On a global scale, molds, toxins, and pests lead to an estimated 500 million tons of supply chain food waste, worth nearly $250 billion, and are responsible for approximately 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Clean Crop Tech: uses electricity to remove food contaminants like mold, pests, or toxics to reduce food waste
Divert: supports supermarkets with advanced technology and sustainable infrastructure to eliminate food waste and turn whatever cannot be salvaged into green fuels
Fresh Flow: provides AI to allow grocers to order the right amounts of fresh products everyday
Apeel: uses an organic coating to make fruit and veg last 2-3x longer
Developing and scaling low-GHG proteins are considered a key strategy to reduce GHG emissions in Food and Land Use as food consumption increases with growing populations and protein consumption increases with higher standards of living.
Eating animal products, especially from cows, has a much bigger GHG footprint than eating plant-based proteins. Drawdown estimates that switching to a plant-based diet (eating 25-50% of current meat volumes per person) could save 6.5-7.5% of global GHG emissions, even when taking population growth into account.*
There are many different approaches to making plant-based proteins, like using fermentation to make plant-based ingredients into something that closely resembles animal proteins. We’ll break these processes down in more detail in our future Food & Land Use sector deep dive, but for now, let’s focus on the innovative solutions.
Cultivated meat, or lab-grown meat, makes ‘real’ meat by growing animal-based cells in petri dishes. There is uncertainty whether it will ever reach cost-parity and hence scale, mostly because the risk of contaminants is so big. You can read more on cultivated meat here.
Mosa Meat: a Dutch startup offering lab-grown burgers
Feed additives for cattle
How can we feed cows to make them more sustainable and less methane-y? One way to do that is to make their high-fiber diet easier to digest, so scientists are turning to feed supplements for this purpose. It sounds simple but finding an affordable and nutritious additive has proved difficult. Scientists are continually looking for what to scale here.
Improving cattle feed can save 1% of global GHG emissions according to Drawdown.*
Did you know: Adding 1% seaweed to a cow’s diets can reduce its methane emissions up to 30%.*
Mootral: makes a natural feed supplement that reduces methane emissions from cows by 30% — plus it’s free for farmers because its revenues come from selling carbon credits
Cattle manure, or cow poop, when left out will ferment and release more methane. Manue is responsible for 0.7% of all GHG emissions.*
By reducing storage time through daily manue applications (more suitable for small-scale farms), farms can reduce methane emissions while introducing nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients that benefit crops. Alternatively, by adding impermeable anaerobic lagoon coverings, it’s possible to capture the methane gas produced and utilize it as fuel:
AMP Americas: turns cow poop into renewable natural gas on-farm to fuel major trucking fleets, such as the big American shipping company UPS
Sub-sector #2: Soil management
Soils can both capture and release CO2.
Scientists estimate that at least 50 percent of the carbon in Earth’s soils has been released into the atmosphere over the past centuries.* Bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is a key opportunity to reduce CO2 concentrations in the air. Plus, it will simultaneously increase profitability of farms by increasing yield while reducing handling costs.*
One way to do this is called no-till farming. Tillage farming breaks up the land and the ground cover before the farmer plants their crops for the season. As the soil is broken up, organic content and carbon is raised to the surface. With this massive release of carbon to the soil’s surface, it’s exposed to the oxygen in the atmosphere, it becomes carbon dioxide.
Another agricultural practice that requires better soil management is at rice paddies. Flooded rice paddies are responsible for 1.7% of global GHG emissions because they emit a lot of methane. Improved management techniques, including alternate wetting and drying, can reduce methane emissions by more than 60%.*
What innovative solutions are solving soil management emissions?
ReGrow helps measure the climate impact of better irrigation, nutrient and soil health management on rice fields
AgriCapture: unlocks additional revenue streams for climate-friendly land management and climate-conscious corporations
Climate Farmers: builds the necessary infrastructure to scale regenerative agriculture and de-risks farm transitions to regenerative systems in Europe
Sub-sector #3: Fertilizer application
Nitrogen fertilizers used in agriculture have undoubtedly increased the growth and yield of crops over the past century. However, the nitrogen that the plants don’t use is converted by bacteria into nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.
Drawdown estimates that using alternative fertilizers can reduce 0.3-0.7% of global GHG emissions.*
Farmers can reduce these emissions by using them more precisely (i.e. matching fertilizer application with plant needs and not applying in excess). Reducing fertilizer application will also abate emissions associated with its production, which we discussed in Industry.
What innovative solutions are solving fertilizer application?
Precision agriculture leads to less fertilizer use and optimizes crop management, which means less energy used and less nitrogen oxide (N2O) leaking into the air.
Vivent: captures and decodes electromagnetic signals in plants to understand crop health and needs in real-time
Ceres Imaging: reveals highly accurate, real-time information of the water and nutrient status of every plant in a field
Use other types of fertilizers
Top BV: deactivates the harmful bacteria from manure and turns manure into a safe fertilizer safe for export within the EU
Carbo Culture: creates large-scale CO2 removal by turning woody waste from agriculture and forests into biochar, which, when put in soil, makes it more fertile
Pivot Bio: uses microbes to make soil more fertile, replacing synthetic fertilizers
Aphea.Bio: develops microorganism-based biopesticides and biostimulants to establish more sustainable agriculture and reduce fertilizer and pesticide use
Sub-sector #4: Machinery
A large majority of the heavy equipment used in farming (i.e. tractors, food processors, etc.) still run on fossil fuels. We’ve got awesome technologies changing that!
What innovative solutions are solving machinery emissions?
Monarch Tractor: makes sustainable farming economically superior with the world’s first fully electric, driver-optional and data-driven tractor
Agrointelli: combines AI, machine vision and robotics into automated farming processes to enable higher output and effectiveness
AirForestry: uses electric drones to create sustainable, long-term, and efficient forestry of the future
Transportation has changed our lives and our world.
Our lives: we can live much further from our work, go on holiday to Asia, order stuff from wherever we want, and eat anything the world has to offer
Our world: everything is much more connected, business relationships across the globe have tightened, more goods are exchanged and there is more global interdependency
However, the way we drive, ship, and fly heavily depends on fossil fuels — and transport demands will continue to increase making decarbonization even more challenging.
For example, the latest IPCC report stated that as demand for goods and travel grows (mostly in the developing world), transportation emissions could go up by 50% by 2050, if left unchecked.*
How to get to net zero?
We need electric vehicles and low-carbon fuels to change the way we move goods and people around the world. New modes of public transport and platforms that make public transport more accessible also have a role to play. And innovative technologies, like 3D printing, to produce things locally so that we don’t have to ship them halfway across the globe.
Next to changing the energy sources of all modes of transportation, the principle of efficiency again applies—much can be gained from optimizing the travel routes of people and goods.
To understand how we can solve the transportation sector, let’s break it down into sub-sectors.
Reminder: All percentages of the problem (sectors and subsectors) are stated as the percentage of the total global 2019 GHG emissions.
Sub-sector #1: Road transport (10%)
Today, certain parts of transport are rapidly decarbonizing: globally, hybrid and electric vehicle sales reached 8.3% of the total market in 2021 (see image below).
One challenge is that the batteries of electric cars consist of a lot of energy critical elements (ECEs), like lithium and cobalt, and that mining and shipping them causes a lot of GHG emissions. As such, shifting people’s journeys to public transportation as much as we can and sharing cars as much as we can, is still incredibly important.
In the short term, the greatest obstacles to continued strong EV sales are soaring prices for some energy critical elements essential for battery manufacturing, as well as supply chain disruptions caused by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and the continued Covid-19 lockdowns in some parts of China.
In the longer term, innovations in how we mine and ship the minerals for EV batteries are needed, plus a roll out of a charging infrastructure to service the expected growth in electric car sales.
Did you know: The EU is banning the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2035.
What innovative solutions are transforming road transport?
Electric passenger cars
Lightyear: produces the first solar-powered car, which enables drivers to travel for up to seven months without plugging into a household outlet or charging station
C-motive: is reinventing the electric motor for high torque at low speeds, which could enable bigger wind turbines and ultra-efficient vehicles
Boston Materials: manufactures advanced, lightweight materials that deliver increased performance and circular solutions for electric vehicles and aerospace
Unagi: offers premium electric scooters for sale or through a subscription model in regions where these are likely to displace passenger cars
Dance: offers a subscription electric mobility service (electric bike and electric moped)
Proterra: designs and manufactures electric buses, built with their own battery and charging technology
Ebusco: electrifies public transport with innovative zero-emission city and regional buses
Volta Trucks: offers a full-electric medium duty truck for urban logistics and provides services to help fleet managers electrify their vehicles
ClearFlame: replaces the diesel from diesel engines by making them compatible with renewable fuels like biogas
XLFleet: offers a comprehensive suite of trucking fleet electrification solutions to accelerate EV adoption
Take a look at how Germany is using overhead catenary wires on the highway so electric trucks can pull power directly from the grid:
Lithium-ion batteries are what we put in pretty much all electrified road transport — meaning we need vastly more lithium than ever before. While worldwide reserves stand at about 22 million tons (i.e. more than enough for all the EVs that we need), only a small part of reserves can be mined effectively now. Lithium demand could triple between 2020 and 2025*, and luckily we have innovations underway to mine more and create a more circular lithium economy:
Lilac Solutions: developed an ion exchange technology to extract lithium from salt brines without the need for evaporation ponds, allowing lithium mining in more locations while protecting the environment
Nth Cycle: has created a low-cost and highly effective process to recycle lithium-ion batteries
Excel X Way: builds residential and commercial EV charging infrastructure and the software for communication between EVs and the power grid to enable grid balancing
We Drive Solar: combines electric car sharing with innovative chargers that can also give back to the grid
Vulog: builds the technology solutions that power some of the most successful shared mobility services around the world
Sub-sector #2: Aviation (2% of emissions)
The electrification of marine and air sectors is presently many years behind the electric vehicle (EV) transition.
Why? The sheer power and energy requirements of airplanes and ships are orders of magnitude greater than heavy trucks, buses or passenger vehicles, which has made it a harder-to-decarbonize sub-sector.
Despite many promising technologies under development, it’s still undetermined what the winning solutions will be to decarbonize aviation and shipping.
It might be:
Electrification for short distances with more efficient and lightweight batteries
Hydrogen for long distances if we figure out how to make the notoriously hard to store, storable
Advanced biofuels for long distances compensating them with sufficient carbon removal
Likely it will be a mix of all of the above.
What innovative solutions are solving aviation?
ZeroAvia: enables scalable, sustainable aviation by replacing conventional engines with hydrogen-electric powertrains
Lilium: develops the world’s first fully electric vertical take-off and landing jet for high-speed, regional mobility
Universal Hydrogen: makes modular fuel capsules that enable regional flights to be hydrogen-powered and doesn’t require any new airport infrastructure
Sub-sector #3: Shipping (1.5%)
What innovative solutions are solving shipping?
Airseas: attaches a 1000-square-meter kite to boats, which can reduce fuel usage between 10% to 40%
Deepsea: accelerates marine fleet’s routing with voyage optimizations powered by AI, thus reducing fuel usage with
Value Maritime: captures CO2 from a vessel’s exhaust and uses the CO2 to charge a CO2 battery, which can then be used in other CO2 use cases
The remaining 1.5% of global GHG emissions from transportation includes 0.5% from railways that still run on coal or diesel, which can be electrified with existing mature tech (including hydrogen trains).
For this breakdown, the emissions footprint starts at the activities where fossil fuels are burned in or around buildings, which includes things like the:
Generators fired during building construction
Fossil fuels burned to heat our homes and take hot showers
Fossil fuels burned to cook food in our homes and gardens
Altogether, the emissions produced by buildings equal 6% of global GHG emissions.*
The rest of the GHG emissions that happen offsite (producing building materials and generating the electricity that we use) are accounted for in the Energy Production and Industry sector.
If you count the emissions associated with making the building materials and the electricity, the footprint of the Buildings sector increases to 21% of global GHG emissions*. This is why you may run into varying numbers for this sector.
How to get to net zero?
Decarbonizing buildings faces multiple obstacles. Here are three examples:
Buildings are highly heterogeneous with many different types, sizes and uses. This increases the difficulty in standardizing insulation practices across buildings so that it can scale more rapidly.
Rental properties have the principal/agent problem, where the tenant benefits from the decarbonization investment made by the landlord.
Homeowners must make up-front investments to make energy savings down the road, which many people don’t have the financial means for
According to the IPCC, building energy codes is the main regulatory instrument to reduce emissions from both new and existing buildings.* Policy packages that combine ambitious sufficiency, efficiency, and renewable energy measures could grasp the full mitigation potential of the global building stock.*
Policies, combined with cost-competitive and easy to implement technologies are critical for getting Buildings to net zero.
To understand how we can solve Buildings emissions, let’s break it down into sub-sectors.
Fossil fuel usage
Sub-sector #1: Energy efficiency
Within energy savings there are four main technologies that can improve the GHG footprint of buildings: insulation, cooling, smart buildings, and more efficient appliances.
Most of the buildings we’ll have in 2050 have already been built, and many of them are not well insulated. Current estimates the global adoption of insulation is at 30 percent.* At the same time, basic insulation steps can make homes up to 20% more energy efficient and more advanced insulation can reduce energy usage up to 75%.**
On the cooling side of things, alternative refrigerants can save 3-4% of global GHG emissions.*
Plus, today, air conditioners and electric fans use about 20% of all electricity in the world, which is expected to increase dramatically as developing countries get richer, and countries get hotter due to global warming. The IEA predicts that the total amount of air conditioning units will grow by 3x by 2050 to 5.6 billion units, nearly half of which will be installed in China and India.*
Making buildings smart consists of: (1) automated control systems that regulate a building’s heating, cooling, lighting, and more to optimize energy efficiency, and (2) smart thermostats that use algorithms and sensors to boost energy efficiency and lower emissions.
Building automation systems can increase heating and cooling efficiency by more than 20% and reduce energy use by 8%.* In total, smart thermostats can reduce global GHG emissions up to 1.5%.*
Lower electricity appliances can also make a big difference within a building. For example, LED lighting on a global scale can save 1-1.4% of GHG emissions.
What innovative solutions are transforming energy efficiency?
Aeroseal: offers a proprietary duct and air sealing technology for residential and commercial buildings (part of our Built Environment Fund)
Tynt: develops dynamic windows that can rapidly switch from clear to completely black, delivering energy savings at affordable cost.
Sealed: modernizes houses with the latest HVAC and weatherproofing solutions to reduce home energy waste—plus it covers the up-front costs measures and lets people pay these costs back via their utility bill savings
Turntide: helps equipment manufacturers make more efficient and data-enabled HVAC pumps
Sense: uses AI to detect excess energy usage to help homeowners to be more energy efficient and save on their energy bill
Gradient: replaces conventional window AC units with a quiet design that delivers year-round cooling (and heating) while using 30% less energy
Blue Frontier: offers commercial air conditioning units that reduce energy consumption by at least 60% (and up to 90%), avoid the use of harmful refrigerants and serve as an in-house energy storage system
Sub-sector #2: Fossil fuel usage
Heating residential and commercial building space requires a significant amount of the world’s energy use.* This energy tends to come from onsite fuel combustion sources like gas furnaces.
By replacing gas, coal or oil-based heating with high-efficiency heat pumps, we could reduce global GHG emissions by about 0.5%.*
We could also turn to green energy sources for our heating needs like geothermal power, which could be used without creating GHG emissions.
Another improvement opportunity is called district heating, where the heating of multiple buildings comes from a centralized, renewably powered plant. While this only makes sense in areas with high residential density, district heating can solve 0.6% of GHG emissions according to Drawdown.*
Another area of improvement is cooking. Most GHG emissions from cooking arise in large parts of the world where people still cook on open fires.
Did you know: As of 2020, an estimated 43 percent of families in low- and middle-income countries mainly use cookstoves fueled by traditional wood or coal stoves for cooking.
By bringing clean cooking improvements to these individuals, we could save significant amounts of global GHG emissions. Clean cookstoves can reduce pollution from burning wood or coal in traditional stoves, reducing CO2 emissions, deforestation and protecting human health.
The final energy improvement comes from energy usage and efficiency in building construction. Diesel generators can be replaced with electric batteries and building project inefficiencies can be improved with software.
What innovative solutions are transforming fossil fuel usage?
GA Drilling: developed the first drilling equipment specifically designed to enable geothermal energy production at scale
Fervo: uses drilling technology (and the workforce) of the oil and gas industry to extract geothermal energy from the earth, providing clean, reliable energy
Thermondo: offers streamlined installation services for modern, electric heating systems
Ennatuurlijk: operates a district heating network to supply heat from a biomass plant to for an entire city
Greenway Appliances: enables clean cooking for rural household by replacing traditional mud stoves with modern stoves that work on solid biomass
Powerstove: converts wood and agricultural by products into biomass pellets, which are then used to fuel an affordable, fuel efficient and smokeless cook-stove
Energy use during construction
Ampd Energy: combines battery technology with smart grid connections to make urban construction sites emissions-free (part of our Built Environment Fund)
While the goal should be to reduce as much GHG emissions as possible in each sector, we’re likely to overshoot our total carbon budget. Also, some sub-sectors will (still) be too hard to decarbonize. We will need to capture this carbon as it is produced or directly from the sky to limit the CO2 concentration in our sky, and thus global warming as much as possible.
Sub-sector #1: Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)
Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) captures carbon dioxide (CO2) at the point of it being released, and then either uses it or stores it permanently. For example, CCS could take place at a smokestack from a gas-fired power plant or a cement factory, and then sequesters that carbon in the ground. Processes that capture carbon dioxide and use it as a feedstock for plastic, fertilizer, proteins, synthetic fuels or many of the other things we need are known as carbon capture and use.
CCUS encompasses both. What CCUS doesn’t include is carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which captures CO2 from the atmosphere. We discuss more about CDR below.
Although CCUS has been named as a solution for decades, its deployment remains low.
Targeted policy support for lower-cost and less complex industrial CCUS applications, along with greater investment in CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, could unlock significant near-term emissions reductions.*
Did you know: The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes we need to capture 1 gigaton (Gt) of CO2 by 2030, or 2% of the global problem.*
What innovative solutions are solving carbon capture, utilization and storage?
Carbon Clean: offers a modular, cost-effective carbon capture technology at the point of emissions for the Industry sector
Twelve: replaces petrochemicals in products and supply chains with its CO2Made® chemicals, materials and fuels, eliminating emissions from many everyday products
Remora: captures at least 80% of a semi-truck’s carbon emissions directly from the tailpipe with its device
Sub-sector #2: Carbon Dioxide Removal
We need to suck the ‘overshoot’ GHG emissions out of the air and compensate for remaining emitting activities. We can do this by using Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), a wide set of technologies, both organic and mechanical, that all focus on capturing CO2 out of the air and storing it for at least 100 years.
Limiting warming to 1.5°C is pretty much no longer feasible even if we started doing everything we can today, which is why our trajectory shifted to at least 2°C by 2050, and that is including managing to scale CDR quickly and effectively*.
And the science is clear:
In all recognized modeled pathways that limit global warming to well below 2°C or to 1.5°C, we need to reduce the concentrations of CO2 already in the air by directly sucking it out and capturing it somewhere for a long time to come.*
Yes, emissions reduction is still the main way to adhere to a 2°C pathway and net zero by 2050—but this alone is not enough:
Net zero is not zero emissions.
In most decarbonization pathways, some GHG emissions will remain post-2050—estimates vary (between 5% and 20%).
Likely, those emissions will come from hard-to-abate sectors, like long-haul aviation and cattle. We must continue to capture the equivalent to be net zero.
We are currently on a trajectory in which it’s extremely likely that we’ll overuse our carbon budget. CDR will allow us to compensate for this emissions ‘overshoot’ so we can be net-negative after 2050.
Note: we need to stop emitting whatever we can, and then capture as much as we can out of the air (there’s a great bathtub metaphor for thishere).
There are three types of technologies to do carbon removal at scale: natural climate solutions (NCS), biomass with carbon removal and storage and engineered solutions (DACCS). NCS is the most mature technology (because trees), biomass with carbon removal and storage second, and DACCS are the up-in-coming innovations.
NCS are natural-based solutions. Some types, like reforestation, you can already buy carbon offset credits. Other types, like growing and sinking seaweed, are novel forms of NCS which have the potential of lower costs, less space requirements and/or longer term carbon storage.
They include a diverse set of restoration and land management activities (i.e. planting trees) that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in soils and other elements of the biosphere. However the duration of CO2 storage for this tech is contested (is it really 100 years?), which is where new nature-based solutions like Vesta Earth, Running Tide and Ecoera come in.
Biomass as a way to store CO2 consists of two main technologies: biochar and BECCS.
Biochar is made by burning organic waste without oxygen, creating energy in the process. The end-product, biochar (i.e. charcoal) can contain CO2 for hundreds of years and can be added to soil to improve fertility.
BECCS technologies involve growing plants (which capture CO2) and using their biomass as an energy source in the production of power, fuels or other industrial products. The burning of this biomass is combined with carbon capture, creating a net-negative process in which the captured CO2 can be utilized or stored like in geological storage.
Engineered solutions are the technologies directly capturing CO2 from ambient air with advanced technologies and use the CO2 in a way that it is not re-released (e.g. as an input for long-term usage materials or storing the resulting CO2 stream in geological storage). The main reason the potential for these is at about 2% and not higher is because DACCS require large amounts of green electricity.* Example companies: Carbon Engineering, Climeworks, Verdox and Carbyon.
Once fully deployed, each can provide at least 1 Gt of GHG removal while considering strict economic and environmental sustainability filters.* The potential of these solutions though are way higher: 👀👇
The specific amounts of removal per solution is certainly debatable, but these numbers fall within the range of most predictions and clearly represent the high impact potential (together about 10% of the total net zero solution).
Next to transforming products and production processes away from fossil fuels, we also need software that supports us in making the best decisions and tools to make climate solutions as efficient and accessible as possible.
For example, you can’t manage what you can’t measure, which is critical for companies that need carbon accounting tech to make (climate) decisions. Also, we need a lot of software to get to net zero: to manage and secure our electricity grid better, to create markets for carbon removal credits and to match supply and demand better in pretty much every market.
Climate tech enablers (software) can help in many ways:
Optimizing the performance of climate tech hardware
Atos: using machine learning and AI to improve performance and predict maintenance of windmills
Fibersail: monitors and controls blade deflections to reduce the cost of wind energy
Span: ensures all electric appliances in a house, including solar panels, backup batteries, electric vehicle chargers and electric heaters work together smoothly
Making hardware climate tech more accessible and affordable (fintech and marketplaces)
Greenlight Solar: solar lamps (which replace kerosene lamps) which customers in Africa can get under a ‘pay as you go’ payment plan
Zolar: provides a comparison tool for solar panels and installers to help customers find their best solar energy options
Arcadia: unlocks and standardizes energy data to make energy cleaner and smarter and help customers easily connect to renewable energy sources
Matching supply and demand
Roadrunner: accurately predicts volumes of materials generated by different industries to optimize waste and recycling streams
Trove: a shopping software provider that helps commerce brands launch their own second hand line on their own website
Sympower: helps industrial players match their electricity demand with (renewable) electricity supply, helping balance the grid and save them their power bill
Enabling decision making and behavioral changes
Normative: a carbon accounting platform to help companies measure its GHG emissions, plus identify hotspots and opportunities to reduce their footprint (part of our Built Environment Fund)
Watershed: a platform that calculates companies’ carbon footprint, analyzes sources of GHG emissions and helps identify meaningful GHG reduction opportunities
This is by no means an all-encompassing list. We’d love to hear what enablers you are most excited about!
Invest in line with your values while reaching your financial goals
It’s so cool what the human minds and hands can create — as you can see, we have many different technologies working towards fighting climate change.
The key to figuring out which ones will get us to net zero?
We need to bet on all of these technologies to find the winners as soon as possible and scale them as quickly as possible — so we can reach net zero as fast as possible.
To find the winners and scale them fast, it will require trillions in investments.
With Carbon Equity, you can invest alongside the world’s top climate investing experts — otherwise known as private equity and venture capital fund managers.
We offer curated investment opportunities where you can choose between funding a specific sector or diversify your funding across all of the sectors mentioned above.
By investing in climate tech companies, you have the opportunity to build your financial future on a liveable planet, while benefiting from the economic opportunity that this massive transformation has created.
All percentages of the problem (e.g. sectors and subsectors) are stated as percentages of 2019 GHG emissions, as presented in the IPCC AR6 report. Percentages of how much solutions can contribute to get to net zero are percentages of what share of cumulative emissions they can avoid up until net zero, given a carbon budget of 1.5-2 degrees average global warming. This means that a technology that we can adopt quickly and will save emissions for more years weighs more heavily in this percentage.
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