Biden administration sets goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050

At-a-Glance:

The Biden administration announced a goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050, setting forth a plan to dramatically boost production of fuels made from waste or plants to drive down the environmental cost of flying. The use of what are called sustainable aviation fuels is in its infancy, with a handful of refineries in operation around the world. But airlines are banking on them as a major part of their efforts to cut emissions and become carbon neutral by the middle of the century. To learn more, read, “Biden administration sets goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Aviation accounts for about 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The federal government’s new goal targets annual production of 3 billion gallons of the fuels by 2030 — a level the White House says would enable a 20 percent cut in carbon emissions from flying compared with doing nothing.
  • Currently, the alternative fuels have to be combined with conventional jet fuel, and eliminating fuel made from crude oil would require technological breakthroughs to allow engines to run entirely on the alternatives.
  • In March, members of Airlines for America, a trade group for major carriers, set a 2030 target of producing 2 billion gallons of alternative fuels.
    • In September, Nicholas Calio, the group’s chief executive, said airlines had agreed to the administration’s more ambitious goal.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

Decarbonizing the transportation sector is complex and this will be an ongoing challenge of the energy transition. Although alternative fuels such as hydrogen are gaining in popularity, the ability to produce green hydrogen to scale has not been solved yet. Additionally, the technology to burn engines on pure green hydrogen as well as the ability to transport these types of sustainable alternatives, has not been developed yet. However, there is an ongoing commitment to invest in ways to produce and transport alternative fuels, which is notable progress for the energy transition.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed

At-a-Glance:

In the punishing heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest, about 17,000 electricity customers were without power in Washington state in June. Nearly 20,000 more were enduring blackouts in Idaho, Oregon, California and Nevada. Those aren’t devastating numbers, but they are a reminder that the electrical grid in America is frayed and always operating close to the edge. To learn more, read “The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • A central issue is chronic congestion on transmission lines that bring power from where it’s made to where it’s wanted.
  • In Texas, ERCOT says congestion costs the state about $1 billion a year. In northern Vermont, officials have put a moratorium on new solar and wind projects, because the transmission lines can’t carry any more electricity.
  • A consequence of congestion is that wind and solar equipment is sometimes unable to operate because there is no room on the lines to carry their electricity. For example, in New York state last year, 62 gigawatt-hours of wind power was curtailed.
  • A larger problem is that wind, solar, and other projects can wait years before they get the green light to connect to transmission lines. Currently, the waiting list includes proposed renewable power plants capable of turning out 680 gigawatts.
  • Up to now, much of the country has pursued a market-based approach, with different companies producing, transmitting and distributing power.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Addressing grid capacity will be essential to realizing a 100% zero emission electricity system by 2035. To accommodate the significant amount of renewables to be installed, flexibility in the form of energy storage and carbon neutral flexible gas power plants will be key to balancing the grid. The U.S. will need 410 GW of new battery energy storage by 2035, combined with 116 GW of new flexible gas-fired power capacity operating on renewable bio or synthetic carbon neutral fuels.

 

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Why Hydrogen Is the Hottest Thing in Green Energy

At-a-Glance:

Solar panels and wind turbines can’t clean up everything. Making steel, for instance, calls for higher temperatures than traditional electric furnaces can deliver. That’s why plans for blunting climate change now envision a big role for hydrogen in curbing industrial emissions and for powering cars, trucks and ships. So-called green hydrogen is essentially emissions free, But meeting the ambitious plans being made for it means building a giant industry almost from scratch. To learn more, read “Why Hydrogen Is the Hottest Thing in Green Energy.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Replacing fossil fuels used in furnaces that reach 1,500 degrees Celsius with hydrogen gas could make a big dent in the 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions that come from industry. And some companies are betting that hydrogen-powered fuel cells will be a better choice than batteries for heavy vehicles.
  • The European Union (EU) has set the most ambitious goal for green hydrogen: building electrolyzers that are capable of converting 40 gigawatts of renewable electricity into hydrogen by 2030.
  • China plans to have 1 million vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells on its roads by the end of 2030. The value of its hydrogen production could reach 1 trillion yuan ($155 billion) by 2025.
  • The U.S. had 6,500 fuel cell electric cars on the road in 2019 – the world’s largest fleet – and the Biden administration has set a goal of reducing the cost of renewable hydrogen by 80% by 2030.
  • Royal Dutch Shell Plc is leading a consortium developing a project to produce up to 10 gigawatts of green hydrogen by 2040.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Power generation is undergoing fast transformation towards cleaner energy sources due to low-cost renewables. In addition, rapidly maturing energy storage technologies, together with sector coupling, are for the first time paving a route towards zero-emission electricity generation. The missing piece of the puzzle is viable long-term storage which will be needed to provide megawatts of capacity and megawatt hours of energy during long duration seasonal conditions or unexpected renewable droughts. Hydrogen-based sustainable fuels can be stored in large quantities and for extended periods at power plants for long periods of use, enabling clean capacity to be cost effectively scaled up according to the needs of grids.

 

photo by Dippyaman Nath on Unsplash

Companies bet carbon labels can help the climate. Will consumers catch on?

At-a-Glance:

The world is littered with labels – markers that tell you how many calories are in a candy bar or if a tomato is organic. Now, companies are creating labels to show consumers the environmental costs of their daily habits. To learn more, read “Companies bet carbon labels can help the climate. Will consumers catch on?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Carbon labels estimate a product’s environmental impact from cradle to grave as a carbon equivalent reflecting the greenhouse gas emissions or CO2e spent in its creation, transportation, use and end of life, as measured in grams or kilograms of carbon.
  • Eco-labeling is not entirely new. In 2007, PepsiCo rolled out a carbon label for its popular Walkers Crisps. Weighing at 34.5 grams by mass, the chips came with a 75-gram carbon price tag, including emissions required to grow the potatoes, then dehydrate, deep-fry, and package them.
  • Recently, interest in carbon labeling has skyrocketed.
    • Allbirds, a San Francisco-based shoe brand, began including carbon labels on all its products in April 2020, starting with the Dasher running shoe which clocks in with 9kg carbon emissions.
    • Priscilla Tsai, founder of CocoKind, worked with a third party in 2020 to calculate the carbon emissions of her beauty products. The carbon footprint of CocoKind’s Rosewater Toner – 24.5 grams CO2e – is displayed like a nutrition label on its packaging.
    • Panera Bread partnered with World Resources Institute to create a carbon label that identifies meals that fall below a threshold of 5.38kg of carbon emissions – a number WRI says is needed to cut food-related emissions 25% by 2030.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Countless governments have set ambitious carbon neutral targets. Now, they must adopt clear strategies to drive action, developed in collaboration with all sectors of the economy and setting clear milestones for transformation. Carbon labeling is one strategy that can be used to raise awareness about carbon footprints and rethink how products are manufactured to meet the carbon reduction targets identified in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying.

At-a-Glance:

Amazon, Walmart, General Motors, and now FedEx. The giant delivery company joined more than 50 other major corporations when it announced on March 3 that it too aims to be carbon-neutral by 2040 – an effort to curb climate change. Executives say that a gathering cultural change is fueled by companies responding not only to shareholders but also to the growing urgency of climate change and the concerns of their own employees and customers. To learn more, read “Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • FedEx pledged an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its massive fleet of more than 180,000 vehicles and $100 million for a new Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture.
  • Some of the other companies promising to meet the 2040 carbon-neutral goal and inspire other firms to do the same have signed on to an initiative called the Climate Pledge. These companies include IBM, Microsoft, Unilever, Johnson Controls, Coca-Cola, Uber, and Best Buy.
  • Action by big utilities, refiners, and concrete manufacturers are also essential if countries are going to meet their own economy-wide goals.
  • FedEx’s pledge to Yale is part of an effort to search for novel ways to remove and store more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using nature.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Multiple organizations, utilities and government agencies are setting ambitious clean energy goals and the need to reduce carbon emissions is real. In 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that global emissions would need to reach net-zero (or carbon-neutral) by 2050 to prevent severe climate change impacts. Electricity is a major contributor—electricity generation was responsible for approximately 33% of total CO2 emissions in the U.S. in 2018.

 

Photo by Bannon Morrissy on Unsplash