How Office Owners are Achieving Net Zero Goals

Both tenants and investors are increasingly focusing on office building’s carbon footprints when considering new deals.

By: Patricia Kirk
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As the push to become carbon neutral accelerates globally, there is increasing pressure on office building owners to implement changes to accommodate those goals, including by making their buildings more energy efficient, using sustainable building materials, reducing waste and improving water systems. Some 105 big companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, Unilever, and BlackRock among others, have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, with additional firms promising to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. More than 100 countries, including the U.S., have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“A future where businesses are taxed on their carbon emissions could be close at hand,” said Drew Shula, founder and CEO of The Verdical Group, a Los Angeles-based green-building consulting firm.

California has already passed legislation requiring new and significantly renovated commercial buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030. Additionally, New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) includes Local Law 97, which impacts all buildings over 25,000 sq. ft. and calculates carbon intensity for buildings on a per square foot basis, assigning limits to intensity beginning in 2024. Buildings that exceed that limit will be fined $268 per ton of carbon, notes Meadow Hackett, manager for sustainability and KPI services at consulting firm Deloitte.

She notes that many office REITs are planning carbon neutrality strategies to avoid penalties at their New York City properties, and companies are making capital allocation decisions around energy efficiency based on penalty avoidance.

Green building experts acknowledge that a net zero mandate would present a challenge for office building owners/investors, but note that it may not be as daunting as they might perceive.

“Any existing building’s carbon emissions can be reduced, and the first step is to understand its current level of performance,” says Elizabeth Beardsley, senior policy counsel for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). She adds that this requires metering and reviewing utility bills and any other available building performance data that can help identify areas in need of increased operational efficiency and performance.

Once this assessment is completed, existing building owners and operators should develop a strategic action plan aimed at reducing annual building greenhouse gas emissions, Beardsley says. “The action plan can help owners to develop an ‘optimal path’ forward via the evaluation of alternative scenarios to assess opportunities for system upgrades, efficiency improvements, renewable energy generation and/or procurement, and calculate associated costs for each scenario.”

According to Rielle Green, manager of energy & sustainability with CBRE Property Management, which manages 2.7 billion sq. ft. of commercial real estate globally, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for getting to net zero. “Every property is uniquely built with different operating systems and located in different areas with different climates.”

CBRE property managers work with clients to determine which solutions make sense, which may include installing solar panels to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption, smart building technology to monitor energy usage, LED lighting or green roofs.

Beardsley adds that owners could lower a building’s carbon footprint by encouraging tenants to commute by walking, biking, public transport, ride-sharing and carpools. This might involve providing a shared bicycle system or membership in a micro-mobility fleet; contributions for public transportation passes; car-sharing memberships; and on-site electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

Beardsley also notes that conservation and recycling are other important elements for reducing a building’s carbon footprint. “Reducing a building’s water consumption reduces associated energy loads for water provision and wastewater management, as potable water treatment, distribution and use are highly energy-intensive,” she says. 

She offers case studies to illustrate how existing buildings achieved LEED Zero certifications.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, for example, began reducing the footprint of its 17-story, 55-year-old, all-electric John Ferro Building in 2013 with a suite of energy efficiency measures, including lighting retrofits, chiller and fan system upgrades that earned the building’s initial LEED certification in 2015. The following year, the building, which houses LADWP’s 11,000 employees, recertified LEED Gold and in September 2019, it became the first building in California to achieve LEED Net Zero Energy.

Another example is the historic headquarters of Entegrity Partners, a sustainability and energy services company specializing in the implementation of energy conservation and renewable energy projects, which became the first LEED Zero-certified project in the U.S. in 2019 and the second in the world. The building, which achieved LEED Platinum for New Construction, was also awarded Zero Energy certification by the International Living Future Institute.

Entegrity began devising a plan to retrofit its 13,342-sq. ft. Darragh Building to net zero energy in 2016. Initial strategies employed included all-LED lighting, dynamic self-tinting glass, operable windows and doors for natural ventilation in the summertime, and occupancy sensors. The renovation also used locally-sourced materials when possible; preserved daylighting; and installed lighting controls, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, and native landscaping.

Office buildings with high performing environmental improvements also command a rent premium, according to Beardsley, and trade at higher values than traditional buildings because they offer savings in operational costs. She cites research that indicates tenant were willing to pay $0.75 per sq. ft. for space in a LEED-certified office building compared to a non-LEED certified one.

Additionally, the U.S General Services Administration (GSA) released a 2018 study on the impact of high-performance buildings that quantified their benefits compared to their legacy building counterparts in the GSA’s portfolio. The study found that the upgraded buildings delivered greater cost savings and tenant satisfaction were deemed, therefore, a less risky investment than traditional buildings.

Shula suggests that Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, is a great example of this preference for more environmentally sustainable building. The firm committed to net zero for its own operations and is making being carbon neutral the central focus for its more than $8 trillion in assets under management.

Hackett, notes that sustainable swaps and building retrofits are already common in existing buildings to meet carbon neutrality goals. Landlords are deploying more efficient technology, such as occupancy light sensors, LED lighting, and power management software to control HVAC systems.

“Investors are more in tune with how their buildings are performing when it comes to sustainability and ESG today than a decade ago,” adds Green. She notes that sustainability has definitely become a selling point because potential tenants want to know how their buildings are performing in comparison to other buildings in the market.

Meanwhile, “[Institutional] investors are placing ESG, and climate change in particular, central to their investment strategies.”

Hackett notes, for example, that members of Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, which represent roughly $5 trillion in assets under management, have pledged to transition their investment portfolios to net zero emissions by 2050.

The cost for upgrading existing buildings to achieve net zero depends on many factors, but the building’s age and relative inefficiency are key determinants, Beardsley says. She also notes that the building’s size, shape, and location may limit its capacity to generate on-site renewable energy.

However, “You don’t need to get to zero carbon all at once,” says Shula. “Create a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, then work backward to today to determine what steps to take first.”

For example, as building equipment reaches end-of-life, it should be replaced with more efficient, all-electric equipment and appliances to enable the reduction of the carbon footprint, he notes.

Getting ground-up buildings to net zero, on the other hand, adds a cost premium of zero to 1 percent when designed and developed as a high-performance building from the start, according to a 2019 USGBC report, The study also noted that operational savings recoup any incremental costs for getting to net zero in a relatively short time, with return on investment for both existing and new office buildings beginning in as little as a year.

Emma Hughes, a LEED project manager with USGBC, notes that with today’s tools, technology and knowledge all new buildings can be designed and constructed to highly efficient standards and achieve net zero energy during the construction process via integration of renewable energy generation and/or procurement.

Calculating the Costs of Moving to Net Zero

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will affect real estate investors. The question is how much?

By: Beth Mattson-Teig
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In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a harrowing report that concluded that nations had waited too long to curb fossil fuel emissions and there is no longer a way to stop global warming from intensifying over the next 20 years.

That has put renewed pressure on countries to cut emissions to avoid an even worse trajectory. In the U.S., many cities and states are enacting net zero legislation with Boston becoming the latest city to pass an ordinance that sets emissions performance standards on existing buildings with the goal of decarbonizing the city’s large building stock by 2050.

That will mean upfront costs to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions even as the toll of unchecked climate change is already having massive financial impacts in the form of disasters that are increasing in frequency and intensity. As of early October, the U.S. had experienced 18 different weather/climate disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damages, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The cumulative costs for these events is north of $100 billion on the year, putting 2021 on pace to the third most expensive year since 1980.

What’s less clear is who will bear the brunt of the costs associated with the implementation of net zero strategies and how this will affect real estate investors’ returns. That’s what Green Street set out to answer with a recent report assessing the potential costs of net zero across 17 property sectors. It’s a particularly relevant question given that the operation and construction of buildings account for an estimated 40 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the report.

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a harrowing report that concluded that nations had waited too long to curb fossil fuel emissions and there is no longer a way to stop global warming from intensifying over the next 20 years.

That has put renewed pressure on countries to cut emissions to avoid an even worse trajectory. In the U.S., many cities and states are enacting net zero legislation with Boston becoming the latest city to pass an ordinance that sets emissions performance standards on existing buildings with the goal of decarbonizing the city’s large building stock by 2050.

That will mean upfront costs to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions even as the toll of unchecked climate change is already having massive financial impacts in the form of disasters that are increasing in frequency and intensity. As of early October, the U.S. had experienced 18 different weather/climate disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damages, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The cumulative costs for these events is north of $100 billion on the year, putting 2021 on pace to the third most expensive year since 1980.

What’s less clear is who will bear the brunt of the costs associated with the implementation of net zero strategies and how this will affect real estate investors’ returns. That’s what Green Street set out to answer with a recent report assessing the potential costs of net zero across 17 property sectors. It’s a particularly relevant question given that the operation and construction of buildings account for an estimated 40 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the report.

“That’s why we looked at it more as a cost, because we think this is something that building owners will do more reactively to the pressure that they are feeling or the pressure that they expect to feel,” notes Dave Bragg, co-head of Strategic Research at Green Street.

The Green Street analysis starts with a tally of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per square foot for a portfolio of REIT-quality operating real estate assets. Total emissions per square foot data is translated into a hypothetical total potential cost by multiplying a landlord’s owned square footage by an assumed carbon price. The data set is amalgamated from REIT and tenant disclosure, landlord surveys and meetings with ESG experts.

There are three main buckets for classifying emissions.

According to the report, “Scope 1 emissions are released into the atmosphere as a direct result of activities occurring in the building, like natural gas combusted in the boiler. Scope 2 emissions are reported for electricity, heat, steam, or cooling generated elsewhere but consumed at the properties and paid for by the landlord. REIT reporting on scope 1 and 2 is rather clear and consistent.”

One of the key takeaways from the analysis is that the movement towards net zero appears likely to result in a drag on property prices, property owners will have to invest in things such as more energy efficient systems, on-site solar and the purchase of green power purchase agreements. Ultimately, those costs will be offset, at least partly, by higher rents and/or lower operating expenses. However, there is still the cap-ex spending to consider. “The way that we think about it is that this will be a net cost and a net drag on property pricing,” says Bragg. “So, there is going to be an impact here that needs to be assessed by real estate investors and something that deserves implementing in an underwriting framework.”

 second notable finding is that the impact will be unevenly distributed across property types with some sectors better positioned than others. Those property sectors that are expected to experience a “big” impact of a 5 percent or greater reduction to warranted value are data centers, lodging and cold storage. Those likely to see a “moderate” hit of 2 percent to 5 percent are office, retail and industrial. Sectors with low levels of emissions that should feel a negligible impact to value of 0 to 2 percent are multifamily, student housing, storage, labs and gaming.

“The impact on warranted values equates to about one-third of the hypothetical total potential cost of emissions, which makes sense when considering that the cost will be borne in part by landlords and over a long period of time,” according to the report.

Is there a business case for net zero?

While much of the push for net zero is coming from external forces, real estate owners and operators are assessing the business case for adopting these strategies. Are they only a net cost or are their ways moving to net zero can improve the bottom line? Potential economic incentives include higher rents, reduced costs stemming from energy efficiency and after-tax savings or accelerated depreciation.

Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Greenprint Center for Building Performance at the Urban Land Institute, argues that this is the case.

“What we’re seeing is that there is growing momentum for real estate owners and developers to work towards net zero, first and foremost because there is a financial business case,” Schantz says.

When operators reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency it translates to lower costs, higher net operating income and higher asset value. “So, there is a direct correlation to reduced energy consumption,” she says.

But Anthony M. Graziano, MAI, CRE, CEO of Integra Realty Resources, a commercial real estate valuation and advisory firm, says it is unlikely the market as a whole, absent regulatory pushes, would move fast enough to meet 2050 climate goals under a “Good Samaritan” theory of economics. “The primary driver has to be economic incentive–feasibility,” he says.

Regulatory pressure is already coming down as more municipalities pass ordinances on building-level carbon emissions that are tied to fines for those that don’t comply. For example, the first tranche of fines for New York City Local Law 97 will go into effect in 2024. In Boston, meanwhile, buildings that do not comply with emissions reporting requirements will eventually face fines of between $150 and $300 per day based on their size. And ones that do not reach the emissions standards could see fines of up to $1,000 per day. In addition, owners that do not accurately report emissions could see fines of up to $5,000. 

One of the challenges in the net zero business case is that it is still early in terms of developing quantifiable metrics. There are not enough buildings or portfolios that have achieved net zero goals to be able to offer data on how the strategies impact rents, occupancies and building values.

“There is certainly a component of the market that will sell the qualitative benefits, but we will not see measurable differences until we can quantify the economics,” says Graziano. Companies that are promoting qualitative benefits without economic realization are actually harming real efforts, because investors get poor returns and are discouraged from making changes across their entire portfolio, he says. “Other market makers are watching and seeking quantification, and the fuzzy math perpetuates more inaction,” he adds.

The CRE industry is working to create some metrics and benchmarks around the business case for net zero, but there is a long way to go. Traditional data points, such as building age, building operating cost analysis, market rent and tenant demand, are all primary current proxies for ESG, but are not explicitly derived indicators of ESG value, notes Graziano. One example of explicit indicators would be Platinum and Gold LEED buildings and their relationship to tenant demand and higher rents achieved in the market. For instance, mandates from GSA and others that a certain percentage of building leases must be for Platinum or Gold LEED buildings drives tenants to a limited stock of buildings. Theoretically, those buildings are then in higher demand and can command higher rents, he adds. 

 Cushman & Wakefield released a new study that compared rents at LEED-certified buildings delivered between 2010 and 2020 and compared them to non-certified buildings. The study found that, since 2015, rents for LEED-certified buildings averaged $4.13 or 11.1 percent higher rent than non-LEED-certified buildings.

“It is not inexpensive to achieve net zero overnight. Over time you can certainly do it in a more measured way. But the value and ROI in decarbonizing and reaching net zero is about more than increased rents and decreased operating expenses,” says Schantz. “There are a lot of different qualitative pieces, and more and more owners are seeing that.” And those qualitative factors, such as attracting and retaining tenants, future-proofing buildings and brand reputation are big drivers in the market these days, she adds.

New recycling techniques set to make electric vehicles greener

By Pratima Desai
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A technician unpacks a completely burned Lithium-ion car battery before its dismantling by the German recycling firm Accurec in Krefeld, Germany, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
A used Lithium-ion car battery is opened before its dismantling by an employee of the German recycling firm Accurec in Krefeld, Germany, November 16, 2017. Picture taken November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) – Researchers in Britain and the United States have found ways to recycle electric vehicle batteries that can drastically cut costs and carbon emissions, shoring up sustainable supplies for an expected surge in demand.

The techniques, which involve retrieving parts of the battery so they can be reused, would help the auto industry tackle criticism that even though EVs reduce emissions over their lifetime, they start out with a heavy carbon footprint of mined materials.

As national governments and regions race to secure supplies for an expected acceleration in EV demand, the breakthroughs could make valuable supplies of materials such as cobalt and nickel go further. They would also reduce dependence on China and difficult mining jurisdictions.

“We can’t recycle complex products like batteries the way we recycle other metals. Shredding, mixing up the components of a battery and pyrometallurgy destroy value,” Gavin Harper, a research fellow at the government-backed Faraday Institution in Britain, said.

Pyrometallurgy refers to the extraction of metals using high heat in blast furnaces, which analysts say is not economic.

Current recycling methods also rely on shredding the batteries into very small pieces, known as black mass, which is then processed into metals such as cobalt and nickel.

A switch to a practice known as direct recycling, which would preserve components such as the cathode and anode, could drastically reduce energy waste and manufacturing costs.

Researchers from the University of Leicester and the University of Birmingham working on the Faraday Institution’s ReLib project have found a way to use ultrasonic waves to recycle the cathode and anode without shredding and have applied for a patent.

The technology recovers the cathode powder made up of cobalt, nickel and manganese from the aluminium sheet, to which it is glued in the battery manufacture. The anode powder, which would typically be graphite, is separated from the copper sheet.

Andy Abbott, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Leicester said separation using ultrasonic waves would result in cost savings of 60% compared with the cost of virgin material.

Compared with more conventional technology, based on hydrometallurgy, which uses liquids, such as sulphuric acid and water to extract materials, he said ultrasonic technology can process 100 times more battery material over the same period.

Abbott’s team has separated battery cells manually to test the process, but ReLib is working on a project to use robots to separate batteries and packs more efficiently.

As supplies and scrap levels take time to accrue, Abbott said he expected the technology to initially use scrap from battery manufacturing facilities as the feedstock and the recycled material would be fed back into battery production.

PROFITABLE RECYCLING

In the United States, a government-sponsored project at the Department of Energy called ReCell is in the final stages of demonstrating different, but also promising recycling technologies that refurbish battery cathode to make it into new cathode.

ReCell, headed by Jeff Spangenberger, has studied many different methods, including ultrasonics, but focused on thermal and solvent based methods.

“The U.S. doesn’t make much cathode domestically, so if we use hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy we have to send the recycled materials to other countries to be turned into cathode and shipped back to us,” Spangenberger said.

“To make lithium-ion battery recycling profitable, without requiring a disposal fee to consumers, and to encourage growth in the recycling industry, new methods that generate higher profit margins for recyclers need to be developed.”

There are challenges for direct recycling, including continuously evolving chemistries, Spangenberger said. “ReCell is working on separating different cathode chemistries.”

Early electric vehicle battery cells typically used a cathode with equal amounts of nickel, manganese, cobalt or 1-1-1. This has changed in recent years as manufacturers seek to reduce costs and cathode chemistries can be 5-3-2, 6-2-2 or 8-1-1.

The approach at Faraday’s ReLib project is to blend recycled with virgin material to get the required ratios of nickel, manganese and cobalt.

Toyota Might Have Fixed an Underlying Issue With Electric Vehicles

By: Sebastian Toma
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One of the problems with electric vehicles now, on top of the range, charging times, charging infrastructure, and the price is battery capacity degradation. The first owner of the vehicle may not be affected by it, but that might not be the case with the second or third owners. But there is hope.  

Toyota’s upcoming EV, prefaced by the bZ4X Concept, is said to retain 90 percent of its initial battery capacity after a decade. At first, this might be something insignificant, but it means that the vehicle should be able to achieve 90 percent of its initial range after ten years of use.  

The news is great if we look at what other automakers claim regarding battery capacity degradation. Most EVs on the market today are claimed to keep up to 80 percent of their initial capacity after eight years or so. Mind you, this is an average of several offerings in the market and should not be taken for granted.   

Why is battery capacity degradation an issue? Well, just like in smartphones or laptops, over time, batteries will not be as good as they were when they were new. Some people change their smartphones or laptops sooner than others, and they never get to experience a battery that lost a significant amount of its initial capacity.  

Replacing the battery of a smartphone or a laptop, for that matter, is technically possible for most, if not all, devices on the market today. The cost of a new battery is not that substantial, and it can bring new life to the device in question.  

However, in the case of electric vehicles of yesteryear, the price of a new battery is in the range of several thousand (euros or dollars), and that can mean half or more than half of their resale value today.  

With older model electric vehicles, owners are facing two issues before purchase, and a third looms in the background. The first two refer to the rather low range when they were new, along with current range after battery degradation, and the third is the cost of a replacement battery that looms in the not-too-distant future.   

This is especially true for the first series of electric vehicles found on the market today, which did not excel when the range was concerned. The third issue I am referring to has to do with the drop in range due to the inevitable degradation of the battery, and the cost of a replacement unit. 

People who buy those vehicles risk getting stuck with an electric vehicle that lost more than half of its initial battery capacity, which makes the range a pressing issue.  

Why do I say getting stuck? Well, those customers bought second-hand electric vehicles to avoid the upfront cost of a new electric automobile. Unfortunately, they might have to pay more than those cars are worth on the used car market to replace their batteries and restore their initial range. 

That might sound like a non-issue, but it is a genuine one, since a used mass-market electric vehicle can cost a couple of thousand dollars (or euros, for that matter), and its replacement battery is almost as expensive as the car.  

Will that make the vehicle worth twice on the used car market? No, it will not. At best, it will be worth more than comparable examples without a replaced battery, but the person who pays for the battery replacement will lose the most money out of the entire thing.  

Fortunately for those seemingly stuck in this situation, there is the option of going to an independent shop that replaces individual battery cells. It is still pricey, as the parts themselves and the knowledge of replacing them safely do not come cheap, but it will bring new life to an old battery at a fraction of the cost of a new battery. Unfortunately, we are far from the moment when these repair possibilities will be as commonplace as conventional engine repair workshops.  

Enter Toyota and its promise to offer a battery that will keep ninety percent of its initial capacity over ten years of use. Even though the Japanese brand’s officials did not state if this applies with frequent quick charge use or how this durability is achieved, it is the start of a movement that will improve electric vehicles for all.  

Eventually, the market will match Toyota’s battery durability target, and it will be commonplace for an electric vehicle to offer 90 percent of its initial range after a decade of use. That will bring a boost in resale value for used electric cars, along with more trust when purchasing a used electric vehicle.  

Fortunately for everyone, battery capacity can be measured at a certified dealer of the brand in question. So, if you are looking for a used electric vehicle, it is wise to call the nearest dealer to inquire about the cost of a battery inspection, along with a pre-purchase inspection just to be on the safe side.   

In the case of Toyota’s plug-in hybrids, the company estimated a 45 to 50 percent decrease in battery capacity after a decade of use, which improved to a 35 to 40 percent decrease for the second generation of the model. The China-only electric versions of the C-HR/IZOA come with even higher durability, which approaches 75 to 80 percent of initial capacity after a decade.  

Once automakers find ways to make batteries more durable, used electric vehicles will get an extended life without high repair costs for their owners. In time, battery repair shops will become more commonplace, and technicians will learn how to safely diagnose and repair (even by replacement) batteries for electric vehicles. 

A Hydrogen-Powered Boat Is Sailing The World. If Not In Cars, Do Boats Make Sense?

Written By: Brad Templeton
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The Energy Observer, a French solar/hydrogen/wind boat, visits San Francisco
 
BRAD TEMPLETON

Recently the French originated demonstration boat the Energy Observer stopped for a visit to San Francisco, on its way around the world, having come from the Galapagos and on its way to Hawai`i. The boat uses solar power, hydrogen and battery energy storage and a small amount of high-tech wind.

On board are 200 square meters of solar panels, 1500kg of batteries, tanks for 63kg of hydrogen (good for 1MWH of electricity and another 1MWH of heat) along with electric motors, solid computer-controlled “ocean wing” sails and a desalinator and hydrogen generator to refuel the hydrogen tanks. It travels only 5mph without wind, though can do more — and even regenerate electricity — when the winds get strong enough.

Using renewable wind power to move ships is of course a very ancient technique, and it’s well understood and efficient. Sailing ships have issues when becalmed, and in sailing in narrow channels, but otherwise it’s not clear this ship is a better idea than a sailboat with a small motor system. It is more to demonstrate and play with technologies, and the operators are reluctant to give concrete numbers on costs. That’s unfortunate because any story about energy is vastly reduced in meaning without examination of the economics — even if it’s the future promised economics rather than today’s. Indeed, inattention to economics has led to some really stupid renewable energy projects and even some very stupid laws. Nonetheless, the ship is a cool project, even if it doesn’t deliver information as meaningful as it should.

Hydrogen is a controversial energy storage fuel. It’s not an energy source, but rather a competitor for things like lithium batteries. Many had high hopes for it in cars, but for now it has lost the battle to batteries. Toyota sells the Mirai hydrogen vehicle in very small numbers, but with only a few filling stations available, and the hydrogen coming from fossil fuels, it’s not clear why anybody buys one. Hydrogen’s advantages such as weight and refuel time (when there aren’t any stations) aren’t very powerful in a car compared to its disadvantages — higher cost for fuel and fuel cells, offering less than 50% efficiency, having no refueling infrastructure, non-green sourcing, bulky tanks and much more. Some of those can be fixed, but others are difficult.

This has left us to investigate hydrogen in other areas — large vehicles like trucks and buses, aircraft (where weight is hugely important) and now, ships. There is also research on grid storage, though the low efficiency of conversion is a sticking point. The greatest promise is in aircraft. Hydrogen is actually the best fuel around in terms of energy per kg, but at present storing a kg of hydrogen requires 5 to 12kg of tank, which eliminates a lot of that — but even at that poor ratio it still wins in aircraft.

Hydrogen tanks in hulls use 350 atmospheres of pressure.
 
BRAD TEMPLETON

In a ship, the Energy Observer crew believe that batteries would weigh more than 10 tons. While they don’t say the weight of their H2 system, it probably is more in the range of a ton. Weight is not quite as crucial for ships but that much extra weight comes at a cost. In addition, the EO reduces the waste of fuel cells by making use of the excess heat to provide heat on the ship. Normally the total cycle of hydrogen as storage is less than 50% efficient, which is not good when batteries can deliver 90% or more. Heat though, is certainly needed for a passenger vessel at sea. A cargo vessel might not need so much.

The ship uses up the H2 in operation when there is no wind. The H2 recharges the batteries and provides heat, then the batteries run all systems. With enough wind, the solar panels can instead recharge the batteries and make new H2 using desalinated water and electrolysis. Their goal is to not use any net H2 on a typical day, but if winds and sun are poor, they will use it up, but plan their missions to leave with enough H2 to handle such situations. While docked, the panels and shore power build up the H2, or in theory, they might some day find H2 refilling at a “hydrogen marina.” When they left for Hawai`i from San Francisco, they only filled the H2 tank partially because they did not need it all the way full.

Every surface is covered with solar panels. The wing/sails are down, a computer driven motor handles them
 
BRAD TEMPLETON
 

The ship used to be a racing catamaran, but instead of sails it has two “ocean wing” fixed-shape sails. These solid wings can generate as much thrust as cloth sails twice their size. They are small, to not block the sun, but they are also computer controlled, allowing them to be used without much crew effort or requiring any skill. When the wind is really strong, the propellers and motors can spin in reverse to generate electricity to build up more H2. Full sized sails would do better though, and could be put up at night with no risk of blocking the sun. They seem to have shied away from traditional sail and wind power in spite of their well established value. Before they had the ocean wings, they tried installing wind turbines, which failed for obvious reasons.

Life on board is spartan. The catamaran’s cabin is small for a crew of 8. Also on board is a small science sub-crew taking the opportunity to study the oceans and wildlife on such an unusual voyage.

A ship has the space for H2 tanks and the ability to generate it, so this can make sense. I don’t think a future vessel would look like the Energy Observer, but hybrids of electric drive and traditional sail, adding what solar power can be had make sense. Every inch of the deck is solar panels, and there are even panels to get the sunlight reflecting off the water. As panels get cheap this makes sense, though you don’t want to forgo useful sails because of the shade they will cast if the wind will give you more than the sun.

It’s possible to foresee solar/wind/electric recreational boats. Operating recreational boats is highly polluting and expensive. Sailboats are clean and cheap but a lot of work and under many limitations. A hybrid, using electric power, could be an answer there, as well as an answer for the big cargo ships.

What next for Hydrogen?

Hydrogen may not power cars, but it has some chance at other vehicles that want to avoid burning fossil fuel:

  • Aircraft care immensely about weight. Batteries today can give only modest range to electric aircraft. It’s either H2 or synthetic/biofuel hybrid power trains there.
  • One special type of aircraft is quite interesting, the airship. While people have been scared of H2 there since the Hindenberg, it’s important to realize that H2 can be more than a lift gas, it can be the power fuel. It’s the only fuel that has negative weight, and you don’t need to pressurize it with big heavy tanks in an airship.
  • Trucks are looking at H2 because the battery weight for a truck takes up a large part of their 40 ton limit, and trucks have a harder time stopping for long enough to charge it. The 50% energy loss is trouble, but the weight limit is a legal requirement.
  • Grid storage with over 50% loss is a serious problem. But with H2, if you want more capacity, you just need more tanks. Doubling the tanks doesn’t double the cost, but doubling batteries does double the cost.

Other types of energy storage are not standing still, though. There are experiments with newer batteries, flywheels, aluminum, synthetic hydrocarbon fuels and more underway. It’s a space ripe for change.

Why We Need Green Hydrogen

BY:  RENEE CHO
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Green hydrogen has been in the news often lately. President-elect Biden has promised to use renewable energy to produce green hydrogen that costs less than natural gas. The Department of Energy is putting up to $100 million into the research and development of hydrogen and fuel cells. The European Union will invest $430 billion in green hydrogen by 2030 to help achieve the goals of its Green Deal. And Chile, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Australia are all making major investments into green hydrogen.

Photo: Dave Pinter

So, what is green hydrogen? Simply put, it is hydrogen fuel that is created using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. It has the potential to provide clean power for manufacturing, transportation, and more — and its only byproduct is water.

Where does green hydrogen come from?

Hydrogen energy is very versatile, as it can be used in gas or liquid form, be converted into electricity or fuel, and there are many ways of producing it. Approximately 70 million metric tons of hydrogen are already produced globally every year for use in oil refining, ammonia production, steel manufacturing, chemical and fertilizer production, food processing, metallurgy, and more.

There is more hydrogen in the universe than any other element—it’s been estimated that approximately 90 percent of all atoms are hydrogen. But hydrogen atoms do not exist in nature by themselves. To produce hydrogen, its atoms need to be decoupled from other elements with which they occur— in water, plants or fossil fuels. How this decoupling is done determines hydrogen energy’s sustainability.

Most of the hydrogen currently in use is produced through a process called steam methane reforming, which uses a catalyst to react methane and high temperature steam, resulting in hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide. In a subsequent process, the carbon monoxide, steam and a catalyst react to produce more hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Finally the carbon dioxide and impurities are removed, leaving pure hydrogen.  Other fossil fuels, such as propane, gasoline, and coal can also be used in steam reforming to produce hydrogen. This method of production—powered by fossil fuels—results in gray hydrogen as well as 830 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, equal to the emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

When the CO2 produced from the steam methane reforming process is captured and stored elsewhere, the hydrogen produced is called blue hydrogen.

Photo: parent55

Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water, leaving nothing but oxygen as a byproduct. Electrolysis employs an electric current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyzer. If the electricity is produced by renewable power, such as solar or wind, the resulting pollutant-free hydrogen is called green hydrogen. The rapidly declining cost of renewable energy is one reason for the growing interest in green hydrogen.

Why green hydrogen is needed

Most experts agree that green hydrogen will be essential to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, since there are certain portions of the economy whose emissions are difficult to eliminate. In the U.S., the top three sources of climate-warming emissions come from transportation, electricity generation and industry.

Long haul trucking is difficult to decarbonize.
 Photo: raymondclarkimages

Energy efficiency, renewable power, and direct electrification can reduce emissions from electricity production and a portion of transportation; but the last 15 percent or so of the economy, comprising aviation, shipping, long-distance trucking and concrete and steel manufacturing, is difficult to decarbonize because these sectors require high energy density fuel or intense heat. Green hydrogen could meet these needs.

Advantages of green hydrogen

Hydrogen is abundant and its supply is virtually limitless. It can be used where it is produced or transported elsewhere. Unlike batteries that are unable to store large quantities of electricity for extended periods of time, hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored in large amounts for a long time. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as fossil fuels, so less of it is needed to do any work. And a particular advantage of green hydrogen is that it can be produced wherever there is water and electricity to generate more electricity or heat.

Hydrogen has many uses. Green hydrogen can be used in industry and can be stored in existing gas pipelines to power household appliances. It can transport renewable energy when converted into a carrier such as ammonia, a zero-carbon fuel for shipping, for example.

Hydrogen can also be used with fuel cells to power anything that uses electricity, such as electric vehicles and electronic devices. And unlike batteries, hydrogen fuel cells don’t need to be recharged and won’t run down, so long as they have hydrogen fuel.

Fuel cells work like batteries: hydrogen is fed to the anode, oxygen is fed to the cathode; they are separated by a catalyst and an electrolyte membrane that only allows positively charged protons through to the cathode. The catalyst splits off the hydrogen’s negatively charged electrons, allowing the positively charged protons to pass through the electrolyte to the cathode. The electrons, meanwhile, travel via an external circuit—creating electricity that can be put to work—to meet the protons at the cathode, where they react with the oxygen to form water.

Hydrogen Hyundai. Photo: Adam Gautsch

Hydrogen is used to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Because of its energy efficiency, a hydrogen fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine fueled by gas. And a fuel cell electric vehicle’s refueling time averages less than four minutes.

Because they can function independently from the grid, fuel cells can be used in the military field or in disaster zones and work as independent generators of electricity or heat. When fixed in place they can be connected to the grid to generate consistent reliable power.

The challenges of green hydrogen

Its flammability and its lightness mean that hydrogen, like other fuels, needs to be properly handled. Many fuels are flammable. Compared to gasoline, natural gas, and propane, hydrogen is more flammable in the air. However, low concentrations of hydrogen have similar flammability potential as other fuels. Since hydrogen is so light—about 57 times lighter than gasoline fumes—it can quickly disperse into the atmosphere, which is a positive safety feature.

Storing liquid hydrogen. Photo: Jared

Because hydrogen is so much less dense than gasoline, it is difficult to transport. It either needs to be cooled to -253˚C to liquefy it, or it needs to be compressed to 700 times atmospheric pressure so it can be delivered as a compressed gas. Currently, hydrogen is transported through dedicated pipelines, in low-temperature liquid tanker trucks, in tube trailers that carry gaseous hydrogen, or by rail or barge.

Today 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipelines deliver gaseous hydrogen around the U.S., mainly in areas where hydrogen is used in chemical plants and refineries, but that is not enough infrastructure to accommodate widespread use of hydrogen.

Natural gas pipelines are sometimes used to transport only a limited amount of hydrogen because hydrogen can make steel pipes and welds brittle, causing cracks. When less than 5 to 10 percent of it is blended with the natural gas, hydrogen can be safely distributed via the natural gas infrastructure. To distribute pure hydrogen, natural gas pipelines would require major alterations to avoid potential embrittlement of the metal pipes, or completely separate hydrogen pipelines would need to be constructed.

Fuel cell technology has been constrained by the high cost of fuel cells because platinum, which is expensive, is used at the anode and cathode as a catalyst to split hydrogen. Research is ongoing to improve the performance of fuel cells and to find more efficient and less costly materials.

A challenge for fuel cell electric vehicles has been how to store enough hydrogen—five to 13 kilograms of compressed hydrogen gas—in the vehicle to achieve the conventional driving range of 300 miles.

The fuel cell electric vehicle market has also been hampered by the scarcity of refueling stations. As of August, there were only 46 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., 43 of them in California; and hydrogen costs about $8 per pound, compared to $3.18 for a gallon of gas in California.

Hydrogen gas pump.
Photo: Bob n Renee

It all comes down to cost

The various obstacles green hydrogen faces can actually be reduced to just one: cost. Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, believes the only real challenge of green hydrogen is its price. The fact that 70 million tons of hydrogen are produced every year and that it is shipped in pipelines around the U.S. shows that the technical issues of distributing and using hydrogen are “straightforward, and reasonably well understood,” he said.

The problem is that green hydrogen currently costs three times as much as natural gas in the U.S. And producing green hydrogen is much more expensive than producing gray or blue hydrogen because electrolysis is expensive, although prices of electrolyzers are coming down as manufacturing scales up. Currently, gray hydrogen costs about €1.50 euros ($1.84 USD) per kilogram, blue costs €2 to €3 per kilogram, and green costs €3.50 to €6 per kilogram, according to a recent study.

Friedmann detailed three strategies that are key to bringing down the price of green hydrogen so that more people will buy it:

  1. Support for innovation into novel hydrogen production and use. He noted that the stimulus bill Congress just passed providing this support will help cut the cost of fuel cells and green hydrogen production in years to come.
  2. Price supports for hydrogen, such as an investment tax credit or production tax credit similar to those established for wind and solar that helped drive their prices down.
  3. A regulatory standard to limit emissions. For example, half the ammonia used today goes into fertilizer production. “If we said, ‘we have an emission standard for low carbon ammonia,’ then people would start using low carbon hydrogen to make ammonia, which they’re not today, because it costs more,” said Friedmann. “But if you have a regulation that says you have to, then it makes it easier to do.” Another regulatory option is that the government could decide to procure green hydrogen and require all military fuels to be made with a certain percentage of green hydrogen.
The California National Guard designed hydrogen fuel cells that use solar energy for electrolysis to make green hydrogen. Photo: US Army Environmental Command

Green hydrogen’s future

A McKinsey study estimated that by 2030, the U.S. hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion and support 700,000 jobs.

Friedmann believes there will be substantial use of green hydrogen over the next five to ten years, especially in Europe and Japan. However, he thinks the limits of the existing infrastructure will be reached very quickly—both pipeline infrastructure as well as transmission lines, because making green hydrogen will require about 300 percent more electricity capacity than we now have. “We will hit limits of manufacturing of electrolyzers, of electricity infrastructure, of ports’ ability to make and ship the stuff, of the speed at which we could retrofit industries,” he said. “We don’t have the human capital, and we don’t have the infrastructure. It’ll take a while to do these things.”

Many experts predict it will be 10 years before we see widespread green hydrogen adoption; Friedmann, however, maintains that this 10-year projection is based on a number of assumptions. “It’s premised on mass manufacturing of electrolyzers, which has not happened anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s premised on a bunch of policy changes that have not been made that would support the markets. It’s premised on a set of infrastructure changes that are driven by those markets.”

Researchers on working on hydrogen storage, hydrogen safety, catalyst development, and fuel cells. Photo: Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

There are a number of green energy projects in the U.S. and around the world attempting to address these challenges and promote hydrogen adoption. Here are a few examples.

California will invest $230 million on hydrogen projects before 2023; and the world’s largest green hydrogen project is being built in Lancaster, CA by energy company SGH2. This innovative plant will use waste gasification, combusting 42,000 tons of recycled paper waste annually to produce green hydrogen. Because it does not use electrolysis and renewable energy, its hydrogen will be cost-competitive with gray hydrogen.

A new Western States Hydrogen Alliance, made up of leaders in the heavy-duty hydrogen and fuel cell industry, are pushing to develop and deploy fuel cell technology and infrastructure in 13 western states.

Hydrogen Europe Industry, a leading association promoting hydrogen, is developing a process to produce pure hydrogen from the gasification of biomass from crop and forest residue. Because biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, the association maintains that it produces relatively few net carbon emissions.

Breakthrough Energy, co-founded by Bill Gates, is investing in a new green hydrogen research and development venture called the European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Center. It aims to close the price gap between current fossil fuel technologies and green hydrogen. Breakthrough Energy has also invested in ZeroAvia, a company developing hydrogen-fueled aviation.

In December, the U.N. launched the Green Hydrogen Catapult Initiative, bringing together seven of the biggest global green hydrogen project developers with the goal of cutting the cost of green hydrogen to below $2 per kilogram and increasing the production of green hydrogen 50-fold by 2027.

Ultimately, whether or not green hydrogen fulfills its promise and potential depends on how much carmakers, fueling station developers, energy companies, and governments are willing to invest in it over the next number of years.

But because doing nothing about global warming is not an option, green hydrogen has a great deal of potential, and Friedmann is optimistic about its future. “Green hydrogen is exciting,” he said. “It’s exciting because we can use it in every sector. It’s exciting because it tackles the hardest parts of the problem—industry and heavy transportation. It’s interesting, because the costs are coming down. And there’s lots of ways to make zero-carbon hydrogen, blue and green. We can even make negative carbon hydrogen with biohydrogen. Twenty years ago, we didn’t really have the technology or the wherewithal to do it. And now we do.”

U.S. Electric Vehicle Market Poised for Record Sales in 2021, According to Edmunds

Experts say 2021 could be a pivotal year for EV adoption thanks to greater selection of EV offerings, rising consumer interest
NEWS PROVIDED BY EDMONDS
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SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Electric vehicle sales are poised to hit their highest level on record in 2021, according to the car shopping experts at Edmunds. Edmunds data shows that EV sales made up 1.9% of retail sales in the United States in 2020; Edmunds analysts expect this number to grow to 2.5% this year.

“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. “We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences. And given that the new presidential administration has pledged its support for electrification, the U.S. is likely to see incentive programs targeted at fostering the growth of this technology further.”

“2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector” – Jessica Caldwell, analyst, Edmunds

Edmunds analysts anticipate that 30 EVs from 21 brands will become available for sale this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020. Notably, this will be the first year that these offerings represent all three major vehicle categories: Consumers will have the choice among 11 cars, 13 SUVs and six trucks in 2021, whereas only 10 cars and seven SUVs were available last year. For the full list of EVs expected to come to market in 2021, please see the table below.

This diverse spread of EV offerings should help encourage stronger loyalty among EV owners, which has dwindled over the years as shoppers have gravitated toward larger vehicles. According to Edmunds data, 71% of EV owners who didn’t buy another EV traded in their vehicle for a truck or SUV in 2020, compared to 60% in 2019 and 34% in 2015.

“Americans have a love affair with trucks and SUVs, to the detriment of EVs, which have until recently been mostly passenger cars,” said Caldwell. “Automakers should have a much better shot of recapturing some of the EV buyers who they’ve lost now that they can offer larger, more utilitarian electric vehicles.”

Edmunds analysts note that this infusion of fresh new products comes at a time where the market is also seeing a positive shift in consumer interest in EVs. According to Google Trends data, consumer searches for electric trucks and SUVs have recently hit a high point after trending upward for years.

“Besides affordability, one of the biggest barriers to increased EV sales has simply been tepid consumer reception — it’s been tough for companies that aren’t Tesla to crack the code of how to get shoppers hyped up for these vehicles,” said Caldwell. “But in the past year we’ve seen automakers throw huge advertising dollars behind their EV launches in an attempt to drum up some buzz, and it’s promising that consumers seem to at least be more aware of the options out there.”

As more consumers look to EVs as a possibility for their next car purchase, Edmunds experts emphasize that shoppers should take extra time to consider their alternatives and do their research.

“Buying an EV is an entirely different beast than a traditional car purchase, so extra research and diligence are key,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of insights. “Range and weather conditions play a huge factor in determining whether certain EVs make sense for your everyday needs, and whether you own a home with a garage or rent an apartment could affect your charging situation. Federal and state tax incentives are at play with these purchases. And with a number of manufacturers following Tesla’s direct sale model, there might not be opportunities to take a test drive, or even to trade in your current vehicle, like you would at a traditional dealership.”

To help consumers, the Edmunds experts have put together a comprehensive analysis of the true cost of powering an EV, and they also maintain an authoritative EV rankings page that highlights the best electric vehicles currently in production.

Electric Vehicles Expected to be Available for Sale in 2021

Model YearMakeModelVehicle Category
2021AtlisXTlarge truck
2021Audie-tronluxury midsize SUV
2021Audie-tron Sportbackluxury midsize SUV
2021BMWi3luxury subcompact car
2021ChevroletBolt EVsubcompact car
2021FordMustang Mach-Emidsize SUV
2021HerculesAlphalarge truck
2021HondaClaritymidsize car
2021HyundaiIoniq Electriccompact car
2021HyundaiKona Electricsubcompact SUV
2021KiaNiro EVsubcompact SUV
2021Lordstown MotorsEndurancelarge truck
2021LucidAirluxury large car
2021Mercedes-BenzEQCluxury compact SUV
2021MiniHardtop 2 Doorsports car
2021NissanLeafcompact car
2021Polestar2luxury midsize car
2021PorscheTaycanluxury large car
2021RivianR1Sluxury large SUV
2021RivianR1Tmidsize truck
2021TeslaCybertrucklarge truck
2021TeslaModel 3luxury compact car
2021TeslaModel Sluxury large car
2021TeslaModel Xluxury large SUV
2021TeslaModel Yluxury compact SUV
2021VolvoXC40 Rechargeluxury subcompact SUV
2021VWID.4compact SUV
2022ChevroletBolt EUVcompact SUV
2022GMCHummer EV SUVlarge truck
2022NissanAriyacompact SUV


Are Electric Cars Truly Better for the Environment?

Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.

Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.
Written By: David M. Kuchta
View the original article here.

Are electric vehicles truly better than gas cars for the environment? Not in all facets or in all regions of the world, but overall, unquestionably, yes—and as time goes on, only more so.

While much clickbait has been written questioning the environmental superiority of EVs, the cumulative science confirms that in almost every part of the world, driving an EV produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than a gas-powered car. The internal combustion engine is a mature technology that has seen only incremental changes for the past half-century. By contrast, electric vehicles are still an emerging technology witnessing continual improvements in efficiency and sustainability, while dramatic changes in how the world produces electricity will only make electric vehicles cleaner.

“We still have a long way to go, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting,” said David Reichmuth of the Union of Concern Scientists in a recent interview with Treehugger.1

The transportation sector generates 24% around the world and 29% of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in the United States—the largest single contributor in the U.S.2 According to the EPA, the typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year at an average of 404 grams per mile.3 Beyond carbon emissions, road traffic from gas-powered vehicles generates fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, the adverse health effects of which—from asthma and heart disease to cancer and pregnancy disorders—have been well demonstrated and disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.4 EVs can’t solve all those problems, but they can make our world a more livable place.

Life-Cycle Analysis

The key to comparing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones is life-cycle analysis, which accounts for the entire environmental impact of vehicles from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing of vehicles, the actual driving, the consumption of fuel, and their end-of-life disposal.

The most significant areas of difference are in the upstream processes (raw materials and manufacturing), during driving, and in fuel sources. Gas-powered vehicles are currently superior when it comes to resources and manufacturing. EVs are superior when it comes to driving, while the issue of fuel consumption depends on the source of the electricity that fuels EVs. Where the electricity supply is relatively clean, EVs provide a major benefit over gas-powered cars. Where the electricity is predominantly coal—the dirtiest of the fossil fuels—gas-powered cars are less polluting than electric vehicles.

But coal is less of a major source of electricity around the world, and the future favors EVs fueled by clean energy. In two comprehensive life-cycle studies published in 2020, the environmental superiority of gas-powered vehicles applied to no more than 5% of the world’s transport.5 In all other cases, the negative impacts of upstream processes and energy production were outweighed by the benefits of a lifetime of emissions-free driving.

In the United States, given the decreasing reliance on coal in the electricity grid, “driving the average EV is responsible for fewer global warming emissions than the average new gasoline car everywhere in the US,” according to Reichmuth’s recent life-cycle analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

As Nikolas Hill, co-author of a major 2020 study for the European Commission, told the podcast How to Save a Planet: “It’s very clear from our findings, and actually a range of other studies in this area, electric vehicles, be they fully electric vehicles, petrol-electric, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, are unquestionably better for our climate than conventional cars. There should be absolutely no doubt about that, looking from a full life-cycle analysis.”

Raw Materials and Manufacturing

Currently, creating an EV has a more negative environmental impact than producing a gas-powered vehicle. This is, in large part, a result of battery manufacturing, which requires the mining, transportation, and processing of raw materials, often extracted in unsustainable and polluting ways.6 Battery manufacturing also requires high energy intensity, which can lead to increased GHG emissions.7

In China, for example, the raw materials and manufacturing process of a single gasoline car produces 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, while it takes 13 tonnes of CO2 to produce an electric vehicle.8 Equally, a recent Vancouver study of comparable electric and gas-powered cars found that the manufacture of an electric vehicle uses nearly twice as much energy as manufacturing a gas-powered vehicle.9

But the differences in manufacturing, including raw materials extraction, need to be placed in the context of the entire life cycle of the vehicles. The majority of a gas vehicle’s emissions come not in the manufacturing process but in the cumulative time the vehicle is on the road. By comparison, raw materials and manufacturing play a larger role in the total life-cycle emissions of electric vehicles.10

On average, roughly one-third of total emissions for EVs come from the production process, three times that of a gas vehicle.11 However, in countries like France, which rely on low-carbon energy sources for their electricity production, the manufacturing process can constitute 75% to nearly 100% of a vehicle’s life-cycle GHG emissions.12 Once the vehicle is produced, in many countries emissions drop precipitously.

So while EV manufacturing produces higher emissions than the production of a gas-powered car does, a lifetime of low- to zero-emissions driving leads EVs to have greater environmental benefits. While, as we saw, manufacturing emissions are higher in China for EVs than for gas-powered cars, over the lifetime of the vehicles, EV emissions in China are 18% lower than fossil-fueled cars.13 Likewise, the Vancouver study cited above found that over their lifetimes, electric vehicles emit roughly half the greenhouse gases of comparable gasoline cars.14 And the benefits of EV driving come quickly after manufacturing: according to one study, “an electric vehicle’s higher emissions during the manufacturing stage are paid off after only two years.”15

Driving

The longer an EV is on the road, the less its manufacturing impact makes a difference. Driving conditions and driving behavior, however, do play a role in vehicle emissions. Auxiliary energy consumption (that is, energy not used to propel the car forward or backward, such as heating and cooling) contributes roughly one-third of vehicle emissions in any type of vehicle.16 Heating in a gas-powered car is provided by waste engine heat, while cabin heat in an EV needs to be generated using energy from the battery, increasing its environmental impact.17

Driving behavior and patterns, though less quantifiable, also matter. For example, EVs are far more efficient than gas-powered vehicles in city traffic, where an internal combustion engine continues to burn fuel while idling, while in the same situation the electric motor truly is idle. This is why EPA mileage estimates are higher for EVs in city driving than on highways, while the reverse is true for gasoline cars. More research needs to be done beyond specific case studies on the different driving behavior and patterns between drivers of EVs compared to gas-powered vehicles.18

Traffic Pollution

While most studies of the benefits of electric vehicles are understandably related to greenhouse gas emissions, the wider environmental impacts of non-exhaust emissions due to traffic are also a consideration in the life-cycle analysis.

The negative health consequences of particulate matter (PM) from road traffic are well-documented.19 Road traffic generates PM from resuspension of road dust back into the air, and from the wear-and-tear of tires and brake pads, with resuspension representing some 60% of all non-exhaust emissions.20 Due to the weight of the battery, electric vehicles are on average 17% to 24% heavier than comparable gas-powered ones, leading to higher particulate matter emissions from re-suspension and tire wear.21

Braking comparisons, however, favor EVs. Fine particles from braking are the source of approximately 20% of traffic-related PM 2.5 pollution.22 Gas-powered vehicles rely on the friction from disc brakes for deceleration and stopping, while regenerative braking allows EV drivers to use the kinetic force of the motor to slow the vehicle down. By reducing the use of disc brakes, particularly in stop-and-go traffic, regenerative braking can reduce brake wear by 50% and 95% (depending on the study) compared to gas-powered vehicles.23 Overall, studies show that the comparatively greater non-exhaust emissions from EVs due to weight are roughly equal to the comparatively lower particulate emissions from regenerative braking.24

Fueling

Beyond manufacturing, differences in fuel and its consumption are “one of the main drivers for life-cycle environmental impacts of EVs.”25 Some of that impact is determined by the fuel efficiency of the vehicle itself. An electric vehicle on average converts 77% of the electricity stored in its battery toward moving the car forward, while a gas-powered car converts from 12% to 30% of the energy stored in gasoline; much of the rest is wasted as heat.26

The efficiency of a battery in storing and discharging energy is also a factor. Both gas-powered cars and EVs lose fuel efficiency as they age. For gasoline cars, this means they burn more gasoline and emit more pollutants the longer they are on the road. An EV loses fuel efficiency when its battery becomes less efficient in the charging and discharging of energy, and thus uses more electricity. While a battery’s charge-discharge efficiency is 98% when new, it can drop to 80% efficiency in five to ten years, depending on environmental and driving conditions.27

Overall, however, the fuel efficiency of a gas-powered engine decreases more quickly than the efficiency of an electric motor, so the gap in fuel efficiency between EVs and gas-powered cars increases over time. A Consumer Reports study found that an owner of a five- to seven-year-old EV saves two to three times more in fuel costs than the owner of a new EV saves compared to similar gas-powered vehicles.28

Cleaning the Electricity Grid

Yet the extent of the benefits of an electric vehicle depends on factors beyond the vehicle’s control: the energy source of the electricity that fuels it. Because EVs run on standard grid electricity, their emissions level depends on how clean the electricity is going into their batteries. As the electricity grid gets cleaner, the cleanliness gap between EVs and ICE vehicles will grow only wider.

In China, for example, due to a large reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, electric vehicles were projected to improve from 18% fewer GHG emissions than gasoline cars in 2015 to 36% fewer in 2020.13 In the United States, annual greenhouse gas emissions from an electric vehicle can range from 8.5 kg in Vermont and 2570.9 kg in Indiana, depending on the sources of electricity on the grid.29 The cleaner the grid, the cleaner the car.

On grids supplied exclusively by coal, electric vehicles can produce more GHG than gas-powered vehicles.30 A 2017 comparison of EVs and ICE vehicles in Denmark found BEVs “were not found to be effective in reducing environmental impacts,” in part because the Danish electricity grid consumes a large share of coal.31 By contrast, in Belgium, where a large share of the electricity mix comes from nuclear energy, EVs have lower life-cycle emissions than gas or diesel cars.32 In Europe as a whole, while the average EV “produces 50% less life-cycle greenhouse gases over the first 150,000 kilometers of driving,” that number can vary from 28% to 72%, depending on local electricity production.15

There can also be a trade-off between addressing climate change and addressing local air pollution. In parts of Pennsylvania where the electricity is supplied by a high share of coal-fired plants, electric vehicles may increase local air pollution even while they lower greenhouse gas emissions.33 While electric vehicles provide the highest co-benefits for combating both air pollution and climate change across the United States, in specific regions plug-in hybrid vehicles provide greater benefits than both gas-powered and electric vehicles.34

How Clean Is Your Grid?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator allows users to calculate the greenhouse emissions of an electric or hybrid vehicle based on the energy mix of the electricity grid in their area.

Charging Behavior

If EV drivers currently have little control over the energy mix of their electricity grid, their charging behavior does influence the environmental impact of their vehicles, especially in places where the fuel mix of electricity generation changes throughout the course of the day.35

Portugal, for example, has a high share (55%) of renewable power during peak hours, but increases its reliance on coal (up to 84%) during off-peak hours, when most EV owners charge their vehicles, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.”36 In countries with a higher reliance on solar energy, such as Germany, midday charging has the greatest environmental benefit, whereas charging during hours of peak electricity demand (usually in the early evening) draws energy from a grid that relies more heavily on fossil fuels.30

Modifying EV charging behavior means “we can use EVs to benefit the grid,” as David Reichmuth told Treehugger. “EVs can be part of a smarter grid,” where EV owners can work with utilities so that their vehicles are charged when demand on the grid is low and the sources of electricity are clean. With pilot programs already underway, he said, “we’ll soon see the flexibility inherent in EV charging being used to enable a cleaner grid.”

In the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations, the success of efforts to increase the environmental benefit of EVs will also rely on charging stations that use clean or low-carbon energy sources. High-speed DC charging can put demands on the electricity grid, especially during hours of peak electricity demand. This can require utilities to rely more heavily on natural gas “peaker” plants.

Reichmuth noted that many charging stations with DC Fast Charging are installing battery storage to cut their utility costs and also reduce reliance on high-carbon power plants. Charging their batteries with solar-generated electricity and discharging them during peak demand hours allows charging stations to support EV adoption at the same time that they promote solar energy even when the sun isn’t shining.37

End of Life

What happens to electric vehicles when they’ve reached their end of life? As with gas-powered vehicles, scrap yards can recycle or re-sell the metals, electronic waste, tires, and other elements of an electric vehicle. The main difference, of course, is the battery. In gas-powered vehicles, over 98% of the materials by mass in lead-acid batteries are successfully recycled.38 EV battery recycling is still in its infancy since most electric vehicles have only been on the road for fewer than five years. When those vehicles do reach their end of life, there could be some 200,00 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries that need to be disposed. A successful battery recycling program needs to be developed to avoid decreasing the relative benefits of EVs.39

It Only Gets Better

Periods in the life cycle of an electric vehicle can be more environmentally harmful than in similar periods of a gas-powered car, and in areas where the electricity supply is dominated by coal, EVs produce more air pollution and greenhouse gases than gas-powered cars. But those areas are far outweighed by the overall benefits of EV—and the benefits can only improve as EV manufacturing evolves and as electricity grids get cleaner.

Were half of the cars on the road electric, global carbon emissions could be reduced by as much as 1.5 gigatons—equivalent to the current admissions of Russia.40 By 2050, electrification of the transport sector can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 93%, nitrogen oxide emissions by 96%, and sulfur oxide emissions by 99%, compared to 2020 levels, and lead to the prevention of 90,000 premature deaths.41

The electric vehicle industry is young, yet it is already producing cars that are environmentally more beneficial than their gas-powered equivalents. As the industry matures, those benefits can only increase.

8 trends that will shape sustainability in 2021

By Hannah Alcoseba Fernandez and Tim Ha
View the original article here

From banks weaning off dirty energy to green jobs, Eco-Business spotlights the trends that could reshape society and business as the world moves into the post-Covid era.

Solar panels are installed on a rooftop in Shanghai, China. Image: The Climate Group, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

As Covid-19 raged across the globe this year, policymakers and businesses ripped up more and more of their initial projections and expectations for the year. Memes on social media reflected the new reality of transformed workplaces and confinement to one’s homes. 

But not all projections were inaccurate. Covid-19 has accelerated certain trends such as the growth of plant-based protein and the shift to low-carbon energy. 

As more countries gear up for mass vaccination exercises, what will 2021 bring? Which impacts of Covid-19 will be enduring, and which will be fleeting?

Here are the trends that we believe will shape sustainability in the year ahead.

1. More lenders will walk away from fossil fuels—and not just coal

The capital flight from dirty energy will not only accelerate in 2021—it will go beyond coal to hit oil and natural gas.

Data by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows more than 150 major global financial institutions now have coal exit policies in place, with 65 banks committing to tighter lending guidelines this year alone. The future looks gloomy for the world’s filthiest fossil fuel. The outlook for oil and gas isn’t hunky-dory either.

Covid-19 has raised fears that oil demand could soon be in terminal decline, leading to cuts in long-term price forecasts. Meanwhile, mounting evidence of the tremendous amounts of climate-wrecking methane emitted by the gas industry has been a wake-up call for financial markets.

All major North American banks have ruled out support for Arctic drilling and 53 lenders worldwide have pledged to align their operations with the Paris climate deal. This month, New York State, with a US$226 billion financial portfolio, became the biggest pension fund anywhere to divest from fossil fuels. It should not come as a surprise that oil majors like BP and ExxonMobil have lost nearly half their market value this year.

Tim Buckley, IEEFA director of energy finance studies, said: “At the start of 2020, everyone talked about thermal coal becoming unbankable. At the end of the year, that is almost a given now. Financial markets are acknowledging that the capital flight from fossil fuels is accelerating, and its broadening into oil and gas will be the next big thing.”

2. Will Big Tech become the new Big Oil?

Not that long ago, oil powers ruled the economy and influenced world events.

But waning demand for fossil fuels in recent years and the crushing blow of the pandemic are some of the sweeping changes that have been ushering out the age of Big Oil, and heralding the Big Tech era. 

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American documentary from Netflix that portrays the rise of social media and how it can inflict damage to society. Image: The Social Dilemma Facebook page

“With the dominance of big tech players like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and rise of China-based tech companies, the privacy side of security will be put into focus in the coming year,” said Thomas Milburn, director of United Kingdom-based sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship. 

Deep tech’s ability to automatically create fake news, the impact of social media on young people, and the overuse of tech devices are particularly worrying, said Milburn.

Just this week, Facebook declared it is shifting its privacy policy for UK users from stricter European Union protections to US regulations, stoking fears that British users will be subject to less stringent data privacy and be more easily subjected to surveillance by US intelligence agencies or data requests from law enforcement.

There has been rising concern about ethics and how tech should be used for the good and well-being of humanity, and more regulation is needed in the coming year, Milburn said. 

3. More ‘green-collar’ workers for the post-Covid economy

Although many governments fell short of using stimulus dollars for a green recovery from Covid-19, there have been signs of a transition to green jobs. 

As part of its Green New Deal unveiled in May, South Korea will establish a Regional Energy Transition Centre to support workers as they switch to more sustainable sectors. An initial parliamentary proposal calls for an investment of US$10.5 billion over the next two years, with the focus on the creation of 133,000 jobs. The plan includes remodelling public buildings, creating urban forests, recycling, establishing a foundation for new and renewable energy, and creating low-carbon industrial complexes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Singapore is also trying to develop jobs in the field of sustainability. Its sustainability and environment minister Grace Fu said in August that climate scientists, engineers, technicians and food scientists will be needed as the city-state increases its capabilities in climate mitigation and adaptation. 

Elsewhere in the world, the United Kingdom pledged to invest over US$5 billion in creating 250,000 new green jobs as part of its net-zero plan.

4. A more climate-conscious Belt and Road Initiative 

This year, China pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, bringing the world closer to its goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world’s biggest emitter keeps driving up emissions through its activities overseas even as it shrinks its carbon footprint at home, the nation wouldn’t exactly present itself as a shining model at next year’s climate negotiations in Glasgow.

Once the pandemic is under control, China is expected to revive its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure project spreading across nearly 70 countries from Asia to Europe. Following recent warnings that the initiative could lead to 3 degrees Celsius of warming, the greening of projects launched under the scheme will be a key theme in 2021.

As energy security becomes more important, why would you build power plants that burn imported fossil fuels when there are plenty of cheap local wind and solar resources available?

Tim Buckley, director, energy finance studies, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

There are signs that China’s activities beyond its borders are already changing. In Myanmar, for instance, Chinese companies dominated the nation’s first solar auction. In Egypt, a Chinese-backed coal power plant—the second-largest on the planet—was shelved indefinitely last April, three months after a Chinese corporation clinched a contract to build a 500-megawatt solar facility in the country. In November, a Chinese bank pulled out of a proposed coal project in Kenya, casting doubts on the venture’s viability.

“China’s ambitions to go global will resume after the pandemic,” said IEEFA’s Buckley. “But the BRI has been tarnished, so Beijing will need to make it friendlier towards recipient countries. And as energy security becomes more important, why would you build power plants that burn imported fossil fuels when there are plenty of cheap local wind and solar resources available?” 

5. Work from home is here to stay

The coronavirus pandemic forced many firms to adopt flexible and remote working arrangements earlier this year. Having invested in remote work tools, many companies in insurance, financial services, technology, and media may not return to the old way of working anytime soon, even when a vaccine makes sending employees back to offices less risky.

Memes on social media reflected the new reality of transformed workplaces and confinement to one’s homes.

More corporate leaders have realised that working from home works, and employees won’t be itching to leave the comfort of their homes and spend hours on crowded trains and buses each day. What will this mean for the transport and buildings sectors?

Many offices could be converted to other uses in the coming years as governments seek to address housing shortages, while shared spaces and meeting rooms will replace the traditional workplace. Fewer long commutes also mean a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

From cost-efficiency to sustainable procurement methods, healthcare is increasingly leading the way towards sustainability.

Paeng Lopez, sustainable health in procurement project coordinator, Health Care Without Harm

6. Has sustainable healthcare’s time finally arrived?

The healthcare sector is showing signs of greater eco-consciousness.

“From cost-efficiency to sustainable procurement methods, healthcare is increasingly leading the way towards sustainability. This is the kind of meaningful participation to address global problems that will go viral in 2021 and beyond,” said Paeng Lopez of Health Care Without Harm, a group which works to reduce the environmental footprint of healthcare worldwide.  

Lopez said there has been a rise in healthcare facilities with solar rooftops. Healthcare facilities are some of the largest energy consumers, yet more than one billion people worldwide do not have access to health facilities with a reliable power supply, putting basic care at risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

Lopez noted that hospitals will also introduce more solutions to manage and limit medical waste, which is estimated to have added 1,000 tonnes of litter per day in Southeast Asia. 

Even small health facilities in the region are adopting scalable waste reduction solutions, he said.

St Paul’s Hospital in Ilo-Ilo, Philippines is manufacturing its own reusable personal protective equipment to minimise waste, while Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan has designed a sealed barrier that features a pair of rubber gloves, allowing health care workers to safely perform countless nasal swab tests with less single-use equipment, as recommended by the WHO.

 A clinician in Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan conducts a nasal swab using a low cost medical device that hospital officials say has reduced waste by 45 to 59 per cent per testing. Image: Health Care Without Harm

7. The great tourism reset

Covid-19 has upended travel and tourism this year, costing the industry more than 120 million jobs, according to some estimates. The silver lining is that it has given popular destinations a much-needed breather.

As countries seek to restart travel in 2021, tourism operators must heed lessons from the crisis and promote environmental and business resilience, as well as biodiversity conservation. The concept of regenerative tourism is growing.

Communities traditionally overrun by visitors can embrace local food sources, renewables, clean transport, green buildings, and better waste management, while travellers must be more mindful of their impact on local culture and the environment. This could mean paying a premium for a more responsible experience.

With the pandemic still raging across the globe, businesses will need to reopen responsibly. This could mean sticking to “travel bubbles” where visitors follow pre-determined itineraries and follow strict health protocols to prevent another wave of infections.

China and Korea have put in place the first travel bubble in the Asia Pacific region. Singapore, whose travel bubble with Hong Kong is postponed, has unilaterally opened up to Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan. Australia and New Zealand have announced a quarantine-free travel bubble agreement to start in the first quarter of 2021.  

8. Will deep-sea miners wreck the planet’s last frontier?

Needed for solar panels and batteries, precious metals such as cobalt, nickel, and copper are essential for a low-carbon future. Some mining firms are arguing that this justifies the environmental damage caused by extractive activities.

One place they have been eyeing is the ocean floor, and there are negotiations underway that could pave the way for just that. As early as 2021, the International Seabed Authority could greenlight ocean mining in international waters.

But environmentalists have warned that mining of the deep sea could destroy entire habitats. They maintain that there are sufficient resources on land, especially as companies explore ways to recover metals from clean energy waste streams, reducing the need for raw materials.

The coming year will tell whether miners will get their way, or whether green groups can dissuade nations from exploiting one of nature’s last frontiers.

Why a sustainable blue recovery is needed

By Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General, Dona Bertarelli, UNCTAD Special Adviser for the Blue Economy
View the original article here

A woman repairs fishing nets in Thailand / ©tong2530

The world’s seventh largest economy based on GDP doesn’t belong to a single country, and isn’t even on land, yet it’s valued at around $3 trillion annually, and supports the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people.

It’s the ocean.

Worryingly, the ocean and the blue economy it supports are not only in severe decline, the current mode of operating is no longer sustainable.

We all rely on the ocean, which covers two-thirds of our planet, to regulate our climate, provide us with food, medicine, energy and even the very air we breathe. Put simply, without a healthy ocean, there is no life on Earth.

But the natural assets that the blue economy depends on are fast eroding under the pressure of human activities.

For example, 34% of all fish stocks are exploited at unsustainable biological levels or overexploited, while 60% are maximally sustainably fished or managed.

This means that we have reached a celling, as 94% of all wild stocks are already being fully utilized, with about one-third exploited in an unsustainable manner.

Further, the ocean is becoming acidic due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by it. Rising water temperatures have killed up to half of the world’s coral reefs, and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Most of the more than 3 billion people who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods live in developing countries. About 90% of all fishers live in these countries too.

Also, 80% of the world’s goods are transported via maritime routes. And between 30% and 50% of the GDP of most small island developing states (SIDS) depends on ocean-based tourism.

Ocean health equals human health and wealth

We are at a crossroads in history. We can’t afford to continue mismanaging this important global resource whose health is intimately tied to ours. Investing in biodiversity, conservation and sustainable practices is key for a peaceful and prosperous future.

A regenerative and equitable blue economy that is sustainable must be a vital part of the world’s social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will help cushion us against future global crises by enhancing the resilience of ecosystems and thus livelihoods.

Thankfully, implementing a blue economic approach is possible under the guidance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNCTAD has identified the pillars of such an approach: economic growth, conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, inclusive social development, science and innovation, as well as sound ocean governance.

Towards a deep blue vision

We envision a blue economy that derives value from the ocean, seas and coastal areas, while protecting the health of the ocean ecosystem and enabling its sustainable use.

We need to diversify towards economic activities that will have a lower impact on ecosystems, while sustaining livelihoods and stimulating job creation.

New areas of opportunity include marine bioprospecting, ocean science, sustainable aquaculture, renewable energy, low-carbon shipping, blue finance as well as ecotourism and blue carbon.

The total “asset” base of the ocean is estimated at $24 trillion, excluding intangible assets such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation, the production of oxygen, temperature stabilization of our planet, or the spiritual and cultural services the ocean provides.

Instead of focusing only on the returns from harvesting and extracting the ocean’s resources, we need to realize the monetary value of conserving marine life.

For example, economists from the International Monetary Fund estimate that a great whale is worth $2 million alive, but just $80,000 once dead, as it absorbs the equivalent in carbon dioxide of 30,000 trees each year.

All hands on deck

Governments around the world can set a new course. We know the overwhelming cost benefit of nature-based solutions. It’s possible to combine production from the ocean while protecting its economic, social and environmental value for the future.

Coastal countries must prioritize ocean, marine and coastal resources and ecosystems in their strategies for trade, the environment and climate change as well as in their actions to promote sustainable development.

Countries such as the Seychelles are walking the talk. It has declared 30% of its waters protected areas, well beyond the 10% target set by SDG14, restricting activities in the protected area to balance economic needs with environmental protection.

Other nations rising to the challenge are Vanuatu, which is producing and consuming renewable energy from wind turbines and coconut oil, as well as Fiji, which banned single-use plastic this year to stem the pollution of its waters.

Science needs to drive these efforts and inform policymaking and regulations. The UN Decade of Ocean Science, which starts next year, will be an opportunity to maximise the benefits of effective science-based management of our ocean space and resources.

Regulation is key

Regulation is of prime importance for food security and to ensure harvesting and trade in marine resources is transparent, traceable, certified, sustainable and safe, to meet consumers’ growing need for sustainably sourced products and services.

Sustainable biodiversity-based value chains, products and services in ocean-based sectors should adhere to internationally agreed criteria of sustainability, such as the blue BioTrade principles.

As part of this effort, UNCTAD and the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea are launching the first-ever oceans economy and trade strategy in Costa Rica.

In addition, a pilot blue BioTrade project to make the queen conch value chain more sustainable in the eastern Caribbean region is on the cards.

Ending harmful fisheries subsidies

Harmful fisheries subsidies must end, and governments need to shift the allocation of public funds to fish stock management and ecosystem restoration, instead of fuelling overcapacity, overexploitation, inequalities, human and wildlife trafficking.

UNCTAD has been supporting negotiations on fish subsidies at the World Trade Organisation by providing a safe platform for dialogue and targeted research on key options and alternatives for a multilateral outcome.

Binding measures to be taken by governments include finalizing negotiations of the High Seas Treaty to enable the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Decarbonizing shipping

International shipping and coastal transport can reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by investing in low-carbon technologies and operations, reducing pollution and promoting greater digitalization for better monitoring, energy efficiency and lower emissions.

New technologies and satellite data can combine data sources that are enabling unprecedented insights into the ocean, in terms of mapping, surveillance and enforcement.

Such transparency is uncovering more than illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. We now have insights into the economics of fishing on the high seas, the relationship between IUU fishing and bonded labour and where to best establish marine reserves, and the capacity to provide data for enforcement.

Deploying blue finance and marine-based research

Innovative financial instruments such as blue bonds and blended financing are needed to fund the shift towards more sustainable ocean sectors. For instance, in 2019, Morgan Stanley, working with the World Bank, sold $10 million worth of blue bonds with of the aim solving the challenge of plastic waste pollution in oceans.

Investment in applied marine-based research, development and knowledge sharing should also be increased. To this end, UNCTAD has established regional centers of excellence with partner institutions in Vietnam and Mauritius, enabling the sharing of experiences, technical knowledge and fisheries’ inputs. 

SIDS and coastal communities are vital to preserving the ocean and will need global support to conserve and develop a blue economy that benefits not only local populations but humanity as a whole.

Longer-term, countries around the world need to expand ocean and sustainable blue economy literacy, especially among vulnerable populations, and increase understanding of gender considerations.

We need more individual and collective action if we are to build a sustainable blue economy that leads to prosperity for all.