Sustainable Tech Solutions: Saving the Planet with Innovation

sustainable tech solutions

Introduction – Sustainable Tech Solutions

The global average temperature has risen by about 1.2°C since the pre-industrial era, and that we are on track to exceed the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement by 2030. More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and that water scarcity could affect up to 5.7 billion people by 2050. 

Thanks to the rapid advancement of science and technology, we have the potential to create innovative sustainable tech solutions that can help us control and solve these problems, and create a more sustainable future for ourselves and the planet. we generate about 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, and that only 19% of it is recycled.

tech solutions

In this blog post, we will explore some of the sustainaible tech solutions that are transforming the fields of climate change and environmental protection, and how they can contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We will focus on three key areas: Renewable Energy, Carbon Capture and Storage, Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy. We will also discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that these technologies present, and how we can get involved and support them.

Related: Read out our full article on cutting edge emerging technologies

Emerging Tech solutions for Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most pressing and complex issues of our time. It affects every aspect of our lives, from our health and well-being, to our economy and security, to our natural and cultural heritage.

To address this challenge, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, enhance our resilience to climate impacts, and support low-carbon development. Here are some of the technologies that can help us achieve these goals.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy that comes from natural sources that are constantly replenished, such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass. It has many benefits, such as reducing GHG emissions, diversifying energy sources, creating jobs, and improving energy access and security. It is one of most promising sustainable tech solutions to meet energy resources

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable energy accounted for 26.4% of global electricity generation in 2019, and could reach 86% by 2050, if we accelerate the deployment of renewable technologies.

Some of the sustainable tech solutions and innovations in renewable energy include:

– Solar power

Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). Solar power is one of the fastest-growing and cheapest sources of renewable energy, with the global installed capacity reaching 583.5 GW in 2019.

Some of the innovations in solar power include: perovskite solar cells, which have the potential to achieve higher efficiency and lower cost than conventional silicon-based cells; floating solar farms, which can be installed on water bodies to save land and water, and increase efficiency; and solar windows, which can generate electricity from transparent glass or plastic.

Related: Read out our full article on Plastic Cup Alternatives – 5 Best Eco-Friendly solutions

– Wind power

Wind power is one of the most widely used and mature sources of renewable energy, with the global installed capacity reaching 651 GW in 2019. Some of the innovations in wind power include: offshore wind farms, which can harness stronger and more consistent winds over the sea, and have less environmental and social impact than onshore ones; airborne wind energy systems, which can capture high-altitude winds using kites, drones, or balloons, and have lower material and installation costs than conventional wind turbines; and wind-solar hybrid systems, which can combine the complementary strengths of wind and solar power, and improve the reliability and stability of the grid.

renewable tech solutions

– Geothermal power

Geothermal power is the conversion of heat from the earth’s crust into electricity, using steam or hot water. Geothermal power is one of the most reliable and baseload sources of renewable energy, with the global installed capacity reaching 13.9 GW in 2019 (reference).

Some of the innovations in geothermal power include: Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), which can create artificial reservoirs of hot water or steam by injecting water into deep wells, and expand the potential of geothermal power beyond conventional sites; and Geothermal Heat Pumps, which can use the stable temperature of the ground to provide heating and cooling for buildings, and reduce energy consumption and emissions.

In addition to these sources, there are also other emerging and promising sources of renewable energy, such as tidal power, wave power, ocean thermal energy conversion, and hydrogen. However, these sources face some technical, economic, and environmental challenges, and require further research and development to become more viable and scalable.

One of the main challenges of renewable energy is its variability and intermittency, which means that it is not always available or predictable, and can cause fluctuations and imbalances in the power grid. To overcome this challenge, we need to develop and deploy innovations in energy storage and grid integration, such as:

– Energy storage

Energy storage is the process of capturing and storing excess energy from renewable sources, and releasing it when needed. Energy storage can help balance supply and demand, improve grid stability and reliability, and reduce curtailment and waste of renewable energy. Energy storage in the form of battries (chemical form), pumped hydro storage and thermal energy storage.

According to IRENA, the global energy storage capacity reached 180 GW in 2019, and could reach 1,095 GW by 2030, if we accelerate the deployment of energy storage technologies.

– Grid integration

Grid integration is the process of connecting and coordinating renewable energy sources with the existing power grid, and ensuring that they operate efficiently and securely. Grid integration can help optimize the use of renewable energy, reduce grid congestion and losses, and enhance grid flexibility and resilience.

Smart grid and micro grids are the examples of good grid integration when network of intelligent devices and systems that can monitor, control, and communicate with the grid, and enable demand response, load management, and distributed generation.

Related: Read out our full article on Artificial Raining (Cloud Seeding)

Real world Examples of Succesful Renewable Energy Projects

1. Morocco

Morocco is a leader in renewable energy in Africa and the Middle East, with a target of achieving 52% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Morocco has invested heavily in solar power, especially in the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex, which is the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, with a capacity of 580 MW, and can provide electricity for over 1 million people. Morocco also has significant potential in wind power, with a capacity of 1.2 GW in 2019, and plans to expand it to 3 GW by 2030.

2. Denmark

Denmark is a pioneer in wind power, with a target of achieving 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources by 2030. Denmark has the highest share of wind power in its electricity mix, reaching 47% in 2019. Denmark also has the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the Horns Rev 3, which has a capacity of 407 MW, and can provide electricity for 425,000 households. Denmark also has a strong focus on energy efficiency, smart grid, and interconnection with neighboring countries, such as Germany, Norway, and Sweden.

sustainable tech solutions

3. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a champion in renewable energy in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Costa Rica has achieved 99% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2019, mainly from hydropower, which accounts for 67.5%, followed by wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar. Costa Rica also has plans to increase its geothermal capacity, which is currently 207 MW, and to develop its untapped potential in solar and wind power.

Carbon Capture & Storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that can capture, transport, and store CO2 emissions from industrial processes and power plants, and prevent them from entering the atmosphere. It is also an interesting sustainable tech solution but quite expensive and faces various acceptance issues.

CCS can help reduce GHG emissions, especially from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, such as cement, steel, and chemicals, and from fossil fuel-based power generation, which still accounts for 63% of global electricity in 2019. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), CCS could contribute to 15% of the cumulative emissions reductions needed by 2070 to limit global warming to 1.5°C (reference).

Some of the different approaches and innovations in CCS include:

1. Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions are the use of natural ecosystems, such as forests, wetlands, and soils, to capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere. Nature-based solutions can provide multiple benefits, such as enhancing biodiversity, improving water quality, and supporting livelihoods. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), nature-based solutions could provide up to 37% of the cost-effective mitigation needed by 2030 to limit global warming to 2°C.

2. Direct Air Capture

Direct air capture is the process of capturing CO2 directly from the ambient air, using chemical or physical processes, such as sorbents, membranes, or electrochemical cells. Direct air capture can remove CO2 from any location, regardless of the source or concentration, and can be combined with storage or utilization options. According to the IEA, direct air capture could capture up to 10 Gt of CO2 per year by 2070 (reference), if the costs and energy requirements are reduced significantly.

3. Carbon Capture and Utilization

Carbon capture and utilization is the process of converting captured CO2 into useful products or services, such as fuels, chemicals, building materials, or enhanced oil recovery. Carbon capture and utilization can create economic value and incentives for CO2 capture, and reduce the demand for fossil fuels or virgin materials. However, the net emissions reduction depends on the life cycle analysis and the displacement effect of the products or services.

carbon capture and storage

Some of the challenges and risks of CCS include:

– Cost and Scalability: CCS is still a relatively expensive and immature technology, compared to other mitigation options, and requires significant investment and support to scale up and deploy. According to the IEA, the global CO2 capture capacity was only 40 Mt in 2019, and needs to increase to 800 Mt by 2030, and 5,600 Mt by 2070, to meet the 1.5°C scenario (reference). 

– Public Perception and Acceptance: CCS faces some public skepticism and opposition, due to the perceived risks and uncertainties associated with CO2 leakage, storage site selection, and long-term monitoring and liability. CCS also faces some ethical and moral dilemmas, such as the potential trade-offs between mitigation and adaptation, the distribution of costs and benefits, and the moral hazard of delaying or avoiding emission reductions. 

Real world examples of successful implementation of CCS

1. Boundary Dam

Boundary Dam is the world’s first large-scale CCS project integrated with a coal-fired power plant, located in Saskatchewan, Canada. The project captures about 1 Mt of CO2 per year from a 110 MW unit of the power plant, and transports it by pipeline to two sites: one for enhanced oil recovery, and one for geological storage. The project has been operating since 2014, and has reduced the CO2 emissions from the power plant by 90% (reference).

2. Sleipner

Sleipner is the world’s first offshore CCS project, located in the North Sea, Norway. The project captures about 0.9 Mt of CO2 per year from the natural gas production platform, and injects it into a saline aquifer about 800 m below the seabed. The project has been operating since 1996, and has stored over 20 Mt of CO2 so far, with no signs of leakage or adverse effects.

3. Quest

Quest is the world’s first large-scale CCS project integrated with an oil sands operation, located in Alberta, Canada. The project captures about 1 Mt of CO2 per year from the hydrogen production units of the oil sands upgrader, and transports it by pipeline to a geological storage site about 65 km away. The project has been operating since 2015, and has stored over 6 Mt of CO2 so far, with a 99.9% storage efficiency (reference).

Sustainable Tech Solutions for Environmental Challenges

Environmental challenges are the threats and impacts that human activities have on the natural environment, such as pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity. These challenges not only affect the health and well-being of humans and other species, but also the functioning and resilience of ecosystems and the services they provide.

To address these challenges, we need to reduce our environmental footprint, conserve and restore our natural resources, and enhance our environmental awareness and stewardship. Here are some of the tech solutions that can help us achieve these goals.

Resource Efficiency & Circular Economy

Resource efficiency is the process of using natural resources more wisely and sparingly, and minimizing the waste and emissions generated from their extraction, processing, and consumption. Resource efficiency can help reduce environmental pressures, save costs, and improve competitiveness and innovation. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), improving resource efficiency by 30% by 2030 could reduce global GHG emissions by 25%, and boost global GDP by 1%.

Circular Economy is a system that aims to eliminate waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible, by designing products and processes that are durable, repairable, reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable. Circular economy can help decouple economic growth from resource consumption, create new business opportunities and jobs, and enhance social and environmental well-being. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shifting to a circular economy could generate $4.5 trillion of additional economic output by 2030, and reduce global GHG emissions by 45% by 2050 (reference).

circular economy

Some of the innovations and initiatives in resource efficiency and circular economy include:

– Recycling

Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new products or raw materials, and reducing the need for virgin materials and the associated environmental impacts. Recycling can be done mechanically, by sorting, shredding, and melting the waste materials, or chemically, by breaking down the waste materials into their molecular components. Some of the materials that can be recycled include metals, plastics, paper, glass, and textiles.

– Upcycling

Upcycling is the process of transforming waste materials into products of higher value or quality, and adding creativity and functionality to the waste materials. Upcycling can be done by individuals, communities, or businesses, and can create unique and customized products, such as furniture, art, jewelry, and clothing. Some of the materials that can be upcycled include wood, pallets, bottles, cans, and tires.

– Resource Extraction

Resource extraction is the process of obtaining natural resources from the environment, such as minerals, metals, oil, gas, and water. Therefore, resource extraction needs to be done more efficiently and responsibly, by using technologies such as: Satellite Imagery and Remote Sensing, which can provide accurate and timely information on the location, quantity, and quality of the resources; Drones and Robots, which can perform hazardous and difficult tasks, such as exploration, mapping, and monitoring; and biotechnology and nanotechnology, which can enhance the extraction and processing of the resources, and reduce the waste and emissions.

Examples of Successful Circular Economy Initiatives 

1. TerraCycle

TerraCycle is a global company that specializes in recycling hard-to-recycle materials, such as cigarette butts, coffee capsules, toothbrushes, and pens. TerraCycle partners with various brands, retailers, and organizations, and collects the waste materials from consumers, schools, and businesses, and converts them into new products or raw materials. TerraCycle also operates a platform called Loop, which offers reusable packaging and delivery service for everyday products, such as food, beverages, and personal care.

2. Fairphone

Fairphone is a social enterprise that produces and sells ethical smartphones, which are designed to be modular, repairable, and recyclable. Fairphone sources its materials from conflict-free and fair-trade suppliers, and ensures that its workers are paid and treated fairly. Fairphone also encourages its customers to use their phones for as long as possible, and offers spare parts, repair guides, and recycling programs.

3. Patagonia

Patagonia is a clothing company that is committed to environmental and social responsibility, and follows the principles of reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle. Patagonia uses organic, recycled, or renewable materials for its products, and minimizes the use of harmful chemicals and water. Patagonia also offers a lifetime warranty and repair service for its products, and encourages its customers to buy only what they need, and to trade, resell, or donate their unwanted products. Patagonia also supports various environmental and social causes, and donates 1% of its sales to grassroots organizations.

Conclusion

The sustainable tech solutions that are transforming the fields of climate change and environmental protection, and how they can contribute to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have focused on four key areas: renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, resource efficiency and circular economy, and sustainable agriculture and food production. We have also discussed some of the challenges and opportunities that these technologies present, and how we can get involved and support them.

We also need to remember that technology is not a silver bullet, and that it can have both positive and negative effects, depending on how it is developed, deployed, and used. Therefore, we need to ensure that technology is aligned with the principles and values of sustainability, and that it is inclusive, accessible, affordable, and equitable, and that it respects the rights and interests of all stakeholders, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Finally, we need to recognize that technology is not only a tool, but also a driver and an enabler of change, and that it can empower and inspire us to take action and make a difference. Therefore, we need to embrace and harness the power and potential of technology, and use it as a force for good, and for creating a more sustainable future for ourselves and the planet.

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