This cool new tech could hold the secret to solving the climate crisis

As of 2019, 84% of all the world’s energy came from fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas. But humanity’s over-exploitation of these non-renewable, carbon dioxide releasing resources is pushing us deeper into a climate emergency: the increase in average global temperatures triggering extreme weather events and mass extinctions.  

There’s no doubt about it – we need to act fast to preserve the planet for future generations

By 2050, many governments have promised to switch their countries to carbon-neutral and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectricity. But this change alone is unlikely to be enough to reverse the damage that’s already been done. 

But as tough as this state of affairs may seem, it’s not all doom and gloom! Scientists around the world have teamed up to focus their efforts on building innovative solutions to the crisis, and their progress has been awe-inspiring. In this blog post, the Save My Exams Physics Team have each picked one new climate-tech solution that they’re super excited about, and they’re sharing it with you! Read on to find out exactly how science is coming to the planet’s rescue

Carbon neutral jet fuel

Catching a flight is one of the most environmentally-damaging activities the average human regularly participates in. It’s very unlikely that humans will stop air travel altogether, but what if there was a way to make the whole affair greener? 

A team of researchers at the University of Oxford may have found a way to do just that, thanks to carbon neutral jet fuel. 

Their method involves using CO^{2} captured from the air, which is converted with hydrogen (H^{2} ) using a process called hydrogenation and a catalyst made from a compound of iron, manganese and potassium to produce specific hydrocarbons

The Oxford University team said the new process is “more economical and environmentally acceptable” than traditional jet fuel production methods. 

So it’s good news for travel-lovers – perhaps soon we’ll all be able to head off to the airport without the excess baggage of climate guilt?

Floating solar power

From cars to hairdryers and mobile phones, we depend on electricity for almost everything we do. And with almost 8 billion people in the world, the demand isn’t going anywhere.

The sun is a huge, largely untapped source of clean electricity, but it’s historically been expensive and inefficient to harvest and store solar energy.  However, thanks to recent investment and advancement, new high-efficiency solar panels have been developed that have  the potential to power 25% of the world by 2050 if placed in the right places. 

It turns out that the vast expanse of the ocean is the best location for floating solar farms, and a whole host of them have been springing up in recent years. The construction of the world’s largest offshore solar farm, off the coast of Batam Island in Indonesia, is due to begin in 2022 and is expected to be completed in 2024.

A portion of the energy generated from the floating solar farm will be used in the City of Batam, which has a population of nearly 1.2 million. The rest could be exported to Singapore via a subsea cable.

The project will offset more than 1.8 million metric tons of emissions annually – the equivalent of 400,000 cars’ worth of emissions per year (source: eletrek)

Cow-free dairy products

We all love lattes, ice-cream and cheese, but did you know that dairy farming emits over 1.7 billion tonnes of CO^{2}  equivalent a year, more than five times the global aviation industry? 

This methane primarily comes from burping cattle, due to how cows digest food – fermenting it in their stomachs where the sugars are converted into simpler molecules that can be absorbed by the body.

One solution is changing what we feed the cows: scientists have discovered that a red seaweed which grows in the tropics can reduce methane emissions by 80% in cows when it is added as a supplement to cattle feed.

However, scientists at the startup Better Dairy have gone one step further. They are busy developing completely animal-free dairy products that are molecularly identical to traditional dairy, using a similar process to beer brewing. 

Removing animals from dairy production isn’t only great for animals and the environment, but gives consumers better food options and food manufacturers better ingredients!

Banishing dark clouds

A team of scientists at Cambridge University are currently exploring how a very cool technique called Marine Cloud Brightening (MCB) can be used to slow the rate of temperature increase on Earth. 

MCB is a solar geoengineering technique that aims to create whiter clouds in order to reflect more sunlight back to space. The brightening of the clouds can theoretically be achieved by enhancing the concentration of smaller cloud droplets – for example, by shooting large amounts of tiny particles, such as sea salt aerosols, into marine clouds. Molecules of water vapour gather around these particles to form tiny cloud droplets, and these bright clouds could reflect solar energy back into space. 

However, it’s worth noting that, like all solar geoengineering techniques, MCB could have impacts on weather patterns and potentially calamitous ecological impacts on entire regions! (source: Geoengineering Monitor).

We agree that it’s sometimes tough to feel optimistic about the future of the planet. However, as this small snapshot of the climate-tech sector has proved, some seriously impressive efforts are going into building a greener future for humanity. Science is coming to the rescue, as long as we all play our parts too. 

Have you heard about a great piece of climate tech that you think Save My Exams’ students need to know about? Share it with us by sending a DM on social media, @savemyexams !

And remember, climate change is a key part of the syllabus in GCSE, IGCSE, A Level and IB Physics.  If you’re preparing for your exams, head to our teacher-written Revision Notes to brush up on your knowledge. 

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