As the climate crisis looms, we can no longer deny the truth: climate change is here to stay.
According to a recent United Nations (UN) report, top climate experts and researchers have a stern warning for humanity: transform now or be at the mercy of an unforgiving world plagued with water and food scarcity, natural disasters, and unlivable global temperatures.
We are almost at the point of no return. Fortunately, there’s still hope. The UN laid out several strategies nations can take to protect the planet from further damage.
In this article, we will explore 4 sectors working on innovative technologies built to help save us from the climate crisis.
1. Clean water treatment
Roughly half of the world’s population already faces severe water scarcity for at least part of the year, and the availability of potable water is becoming less predictable in many places of the world. With increased natural disasters such as flooding, coupled with pollution, fresh water sources and sanitation facilities are threatened with contaminated water. Other regions are expected to experience increased droughts due to warmer temperatures causing less precipitation (rain and snow), threatening water supply, agriculture, transportation, energy, and public health.
Ensuring the global population has access to clean water is a critical climate change mitigation strategy. One company shaping the future of clean water is Puraffinity — a green technology organization focused on designing smart materials for environmental applications, specifically the removal of challenging pollutants (PFAS) from contaminated water and wastewater. They developed a novel adsorbent technology with applications for groundwater treatment, potable water treatment, Point-of-use, industrial manufacturing facilities, and commercial airports.
2. Carbon capture
The UN report concludes that current emission policies put the globe on track for up to 2.7 degrees of warming; well beyond the Paris Agreement target of two degrees.
Getting back on track requires a twofold solution:
- Reduction of carbon emissions
- Carbon-removing technology
Carbon capture and storage is a way of reducing carbon emissions, which may be a key to reducing global warming. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy will be a lengthy process, so accelerating the deployment of carbon capture technology is essential to mitigating some of the emissions coming out of the power plants and industrial plants. As of 2020, there were at least 26 commercial-scale carbon capture projects around the world, with many more in development.
Climeworks is an ETH spin-off company developing a ‘direct air capture’ (DAC) carbon dioxide reclaiming system. Their product extracts carbon dioxide from ambient air and builds three models based on the amount of CO2 extracted. Their first air capture plant launched in 2017, and they have since put 15 more machines in operation, including the world’s largest DAC and storage plant in Iceland in 2021.
3. Clean & renewable energy
Energy drives our economy and sustains our societies, however, it is also a dominant contributor to climate change. Energy usage accounts for approximately 60% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the burning of coal, crude oil, and natural gas which not only contains high carbon content but also produces 81% of the United States’ total energy. Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels has many detrimental effects on our environment including land degradation, water and air pollution, and ocean acidification. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy will be a lengthy process, but according to a think tank report, renewables could push out fossil fuel energy altogether by 2035.
Clean energy is energy coming from renewable, zero emission sources that do not result in the pollution of the atmosphere when used. This can include wind, solar, hydro, tidal, and geothermal power sources. The clean energy sector is booming, and in recent years has been increasingly displacing “dirty” fossil fuels. This expansion of renewables has been happening on large and small scales, ranging from household rooftop solar panels to giant offshore wind farms. Expanding this even further is one of the best ways to curb the dangerous carbon pollution largely contributing to climate change.
mPower technology is an innovative solar cell technology startup based in New Mexico. They have developed a revolutionary innovative technology, called DragonSCALES, which is a completely flexible interconnected mesh of mini solar cells. Their products enable new design options for solar power and remove the constraints of silicon and gallium arsenide solar solutions, enabling their designs to be deployed at an extremely low cost.
4. Climate resistant crops
The world is producing more food every year, thanks to innovative improvements in farming and crop technology. However, climate change has slowly begun decreasing the rate of crop growth.
As global temperatures rise and droughts become the norm, crops and trees will die, leading to increased rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. Currently, 2.3 billion people around the world lack access to consistent food sources, and this number will increase exponentially if swift action isn’t taken.
Phytophorm labs is a biotech company using CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) and machine learning to tackle this feat. They recently received $5.7 million in funding to scale their artificial genome editing technology aimed at developing resilient and sustainable crops. Their mission is to address the dual problem agriculture is facing by cutting down agricultural emissions, and simultaneously adapting crops to the challenges brought on by climate change.
The magnitude of the world’s task to slow climate change is no small feat, but humanity has the tools to do so. The technologies needed to allow the world to produce energy without polluting have been invented and are continuously being improved and innovated upon. The time to act is now. Otherwise, the planet will force a more painful transition.