The Race to Zero Emissions, er, Zero Carbon, er, Negative Carbon, er, Circular Economy, and the whole wacky thing


These days, in the world of carbon policy, you call it the Climate Hoax if you don’t want to do anything, the Climate Crisis if you want to do something that no one could possibly afford. And if you would like to look to the Left you’re doing something, and to the Right as if you’re doing something affordable, you’ll have a Race to [Fill in the Blank], choosing some lofty-sounding nouns from the following list:

Carbon, Circular, Economy, Emissions, Negative, Net, Vehicles, Zero

Electric car enthusiasts talk of the Race to Zero Emissions Vehicles, in the world of electric utilities we hear about Race to Net Zero Carbon, in the bioeconomy we tend to hear about the Race to Negative Carbon, in European capitals it is best to mention the Race to a Circular Economy.  It generally relates back to what the technology (you earn your money off) can do. Bioeconomy technologies can go carbon-negative, wind and solar can go to zero carbon, waste capture and use gets you to a circular economy. Electric vehicles can give you zero emissions at the tailpipe, and as we say in Digestville, 谈论电源并不敏感, “it is insensitive to make references to the actual sources of electric power“.

There’s so many racers out there, reminds one of the 1960s-era Wacky Races cartoon series, which included the Turbo Terrific, inventor Pat Pending’s Convert-A-Car, the Creepy Coupe, and so forth, competing under the kleig lights for a prize of immeasurable value.

Last seen somewhere near EPA headquarters?

The breakout stars of that series were two double crossing do-badders, Dick Dastardly and his sidekick Muttley.  We’ll be thinking of these last two elsewhere in our coverage this week, when we get to the subject of the latest moves on biofuels by the US Emitters Protection Agency. I mean, Environmental Protection Agency, the Oilers from Oklahoma, the Fracktastics, the Friends of Filthy Water, Petroleum’s Pals, what-ever-you-call-’em, we’ve heard it all, the EPA, you know what I mean.

The latest Race(s) updates

Latest in the Race to Net Zero Emissions, we have a new report from Morgan Stanley. They declaim on renewable power, electric vehicles., hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and biofuels on the road from 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon emission today to zero (long before century end), and they estimate that $50 trillion will be needed to be invested over the next 30 years in these five technology sets. Biofuels they see as a gap-filling tech — shorter-term for passenger cars and longer term for aviation, shipping and freight. Clean hydrogen gets a nod by way of a call for 78EJ of hydrogen by 2050, saving 6 gigatonnes of CO2, which is the sector’s entire output. You can download the report here.

Latest in the Race to a Circular Economy is a report called Intentional Design, which notes:

The economic model of our current era is linear. We take resources from nature, make them into a product and then throw the item away when we’re done with it. The result? Overflowing landfills, trash- filled waterways and, too often, toxic waste. This rampant waste of resources poses an existential threat to the world as we know it. 

What is the way forward? The circular economy. A circular economy uses as few resources as possible in product creation; keeps resources in circulation for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use; then recovers and regenerates products and their components at the end of their service life. Embracing circular economy principles is perhaps the most essential initiative we can undertake as a global society.

You can read the entire report here.

What can we do about progressing towards circular economy? The authors say, “Collaboration and innovation. To achieve a circular economy, companies, communities and organizations need to collaborate and rethink their processes. Investors need to reinforce these practices through their investments. For example, a food or consumer product company may need to work with its packaging supplier to minimize waste from spoilage or single-use packaging. Companies engaging in package and product design must consider recycling as part of their supply chain. Product designers need to be familiar with relevant recycling technologies to understand what type of product recycling can work effectively and profitably.4 Designing waste out of the manufacturing process must be cost effective and positive for the profit margins of companies.”

The latest on the Race to Negative Carbon, here’s a TEDx talk worth noting, from Aemetis CEO Eric McAfee.

As you may have seen in Bill Gates’ TED talk entitled “Innovating to Zero”, the goal of reducing the combined carbon emissions from human sources to a net of zero emissions will require significant innovation and invention. However, the achievement of the zero emission goal has a short time frame before global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees and climate change becomes potentially irreversible. So, Eric offers a corollary to Bill Gates’ postulation: “Innovating to Below Zero”.

For the latest on the Race to Zero Emission Vehicles, we have this report on the Tesla Model 3 vs the Honda Accord LX, what’s the more cost-effective ride? 

And we look at Negatonnes, that is, the negative emission vehicle and its amazing hydrogen fuel and electric drive. And we look at a technologically tough path with excellent potential in the economics, in Negatonnes, here.

The Bottom Line

It’s Wacky all right, all these races.

For now, the public is entranced with electric vehicles powered by wind and solar, and that means zero emission vehicles and the Race to Net Zero Carbon. The trickier issues of heavy-duty transport and materials get a lot less attention, and the Race fo Carbon Negative Fuels gets scant attention. There ought to be more attention on Carbon Negative opportunities — as Morgan Stanley notes, we’re talking about $50 trillion in investment, every molecule is going to count in ratcheting that number down. That’s an awful lot of take-out dinners and vacations deferred to pay for the clean-up of a a really good 200-year ride that Western Civiliztion took on the back of fossil fuels and what was, some time ago, clean skies.

The party appears to be over, on numerous fronts. But which race we’re actually going to take to the finish line, is anyone’s guess. One thing is pretty sure, the poor will bear the brunt of any delay in cleaning up the skies, and the middle class will foot the bill. Same as it ever was.

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