Aviation industry’s net zero goals could be undermined
Hello friends of the Climate Protocol. Today we are talking about clouds. We’ll explore the best way to reduce contrails and their sneaky impact on the climate, as well as the most and least carbon-intensive places to locate data centers. Float with us!
A strange trick to solve the climate problem of aviation
Trails. They look so harmless up there, their puffy little tendrils stretching across the sky. But they have a dark climate secret, but with a simple solution that could have immediate benefits for our overheated world.
Contrails have a surprisingly large impact on the climate. Clouds of ice crystals that form in the wake of an aircraft are responsible for more than 50% of the climate impact of flights and up to 2% of total global warming.
- The impact of contrails on the climate depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, temperature, an aircraft’s altitude, and other factors.
- During the day, they generally reflect more solar radiation, essentially acting as a shield for the planet. This has a net cooling effect.
- These same contrails, however, could lead to warming a few hours later at night when this solar radiation is absent. Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, likens it to throwing a blanket over the planet.
Airlines have been focused on reducing carbon dioxide, but solving the contrails could be a quick fix. Despite contrails’ outsized climate impact, they have flown largely under the radar (aviation joke) outside of academic circles.
- Being able to accurately and consistently measure the impact of contrails on the climate would be enormous simply because their impact is significant.
- A 2020 study found that changing flight altitude by just a few thousand feet on less than 2% of all scheduled flights could reduce climate damage for the entire aviation industry by up to 59%. %.
- “We could solve the contrail problem in a few years, while achieving carbon-free aviation fuel is still a long way off,” Caldeira said.
Some airlines and technology companies are beginning to explore options for killing contrails. The first step is to measure how and when they form. “There’s no good way to count them yet, but it’s progressing,” said Sola Zheng, aviation researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation.
- Efforts are underway at Google to factor the climate impact of contrails into the flight emissions estimates it provides to users, according to people familiar with the research.
- Airbus UpNext recently announced a flight test program to study the contrails produced by hydrogen combustion engines as part of the company’s zero emissions roadmap.
- Etihad Airways and Boeing have also pledged to tackle contrails.
Ultimately, reducing contrails could give us some climatic respite as the world scrambles to reduce carbon emissions. Indeed, contrails can dissipate in a few hours while carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries. So there’s no reason not to tackle it.
Learn more about aviation’s dirty secret here.
— Michelle Ma
Carbon cleaning on cloud 9
Data centers have long been energy hogs, but the amount of carbon pollution associated with their energy consumption is often an open question. A new report, however, clarifies which data centers are the most – and the least – carbon-intensive. The results highlight the challenges that are preventing the sector from reducing carbon emissions, as well as the ways in which technology companies can mitigate the climate consequences of their cloud computing demands.
Renewables are good, but they don’t guarantee a clean cloud. The report, released by cloud management platform Cirrus Nexus on Thursday, looked at carbon intensity in regions that host data center clusters. Carbon intensity is a measure of the carbon dioxide emitted per unit of electricity produced.
- While the regions most dependent on solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power tend to have the lowest carbon intensity, this measure fluctuates widely due to the intermittency of renewables when the sun is not shining or that the wind does not blow.
- In the United States, data centers in the Midwest were consistently among the most carbon-intensive due to the network’s heavy reliance on coal and methane.
- Texas, by comparison, depends on both wind and gas. That leaves it a cut above the Midwest but worse than the Northwest, where hydropower plays a major role in power generation.
- The report highlights the importance of increasing energy storage to smooth carbon intensity and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Carbon management will be key to keeping the cloud cool. Chris Noble, CEO and co-founder of Cirrus Nexus, said that while there is “no simple answer” for enterprises wondering where to locate their workloads to minimize their impact on the climate, there are some best practices.
- “Companies should also focus on optimizing their operations to reduce total emissions, not just using carbon credits to offset,” he said.
- This includes considering the carbon intensity of the electrical grid to which cloud providers are connected.
- Noble said companies buying cloud services, however, have always had a blind spot for emissions related to data center operations. And ultimately, he said the carbon intensity of cloud operations is a function of customer demand.
Still, if cloud customers begin to demand more climate-friendly IT, it could have a major influence on the industry and even have a surprising impact on the network.
Click here to learn more about this impact and learn more about the report.
—Lisa Martine Jenkins
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make it rain
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Coat, a carbon capture startup, received a $2 million investment led by MIT spin-off The Engine. The company uses molten salts that absorb carbon dioxide in hot environments like boilers and furnaces, used in the notoriously difficult to decarbonize industrial sector.
In the news of financing beyond the world of venture capital, volkswagen Executives said the auto giant plans to take stakes in Canadian mining companies to ensure it has enough raw materials for the batteries of its growing electric vehicle business.
California has put another nail in the coffin of the internal combustion engine. The state is set to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. More than a dozen states could follow its lead, further kickstarting the electric vehicle revolution.
Google Maps could make our lives easier and help the climate. The service already offers low-emission driving routes. But it could go even further by giving users the option of linking cycling and public transport into a single trip.
You can get paid to turn your truck into a battery. That’s what a new smart-charging program from Duke Energy and Ford utilities is offering lucky F-150 Lightning drivers who sign up to boost the grid.
No line should have all this power. Or maybe it should. Phil Anschutz, the billionaire owner of the Coachella music festival and the Los Angeles Kings, wants to build a power line from Wyoming to California to carry clean energy.
The New Cold War Could Warm the Planet as China and the United States suspend climate talks. Here are five things to know about the future of the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters.
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