Emerging technologies in the food, transport and energy sectors can help counter the effects of climate change

the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – to which one of us (Arunima) contributed – underlined the need for huge change if we are to stay within the 1.5 warming limit ℃.

This objective of the Paris Agreement is currently beyond our reach. Achieving this would require drastic reductions in emissions across all sectors and at all scales.

Here are some emerging technologies in the food, transport and energy sectors with great potential to address the climate challenge.

1. Alternative Protein Sources

the IPCC report highlights the potential of plant-based diets, not only to reduce emissions, but also to improve our collective well-being more generally.

Plant-based protein sources, including “fake meat” products, are increasingly being produced to mimic the look, flavor and texture of animal meat.

Read more: How much meat do we eat? New figures show 6 countries peaked

Traditionally, alternative proteins such as tofu were made from simple coagulation of soy milk. A few decades ago, we saw the emergence of mycoproteinwhich is derived from fungus (and was popularized by the Quorn brand).

Newer protein alternatives require advanced extrusion techniques and artificial colors and flavors to mimic the texture and flavor of animal protein.

Then there are cell-based meat alternatives, also known as “lab-grown”, “cultured” or “in vitro” meats. These are made using advanced bioengineering techniques to grow meat cells from a sample (starter cells) extracted from an animal, inside a device called a “bioreactor”. “.

Cellular meat is an emerging technology. It went on sale for the first time in 2020, in Singapore. It is not yet commercially available in Australia, but according to to reports work has begun In the wings.

Compared to livestock meat, vegetable meats produce 30-90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 40-98% less land, 70-80% less water, and releases 85-94% less reactive nitrogen (which can lead to a algae growth which deprives marine life of oxygen).

Australia is the third fastest growing vegan market in the world. Australia’s leading industry research body, CSIRO, believes the sustainable food market here alone will be worth 25 billion Australian dollars by 2030.

In addition, alternative proteins represent the second largest market potential of all categories in the food and agri-food sector. They are expected to generate some A$5.4 billion in carbon and water savings by 2030.

2. Edible and biodegradable packaging

As the name suggests, edible or biodegradable food wraps are designed to be consumed or biodegrade efficiently. Edible wrappers are made of natural polymers extracted from plant sources, which can be made into various films and coatings. Some examples are:

In addition to being environmentally friendly, edible packaging could improve the nutritional value packaged foods, by incorporating compounds called “nutraceuticals” that can improve the nutritional composition of packaged foods. Adding antioxidants and antimicrobials to packaging can also increase the shelf life of foods.

Much work remains to be done to generalize edible packaging, but it has proven to be a good alternative to plastic bottles for marathon runners.

In 2020, Australia only recycled 16% of plastics. Globally, only approximately 17% of plastics were recycled in 2015. The rest ended up in landfills, oceans and rivers – damaging land and marine systems – or generated carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions during incineration.

Fossil fuel-based plastics can take 20-500 years decompose, whereas biodegradable packaging decomposes into three to six months depending on the material.

Global Biodegradable Packaging Market is estimated to grow by 17% annually and will be valued at $12.06 billion by 2025.

Australia has set a target of 70% of plastic packaging be recycled or composted by 2025, and to phase out single-use plastics by 2025. Innovation in edible and biodegradable packaging could go a long way towards supporting these reduction goals.

The latest IPCC report is clear in its message: the decisions we make today will shape tomorrow.

3. Electric vehicles

Although they have been a hot topic for some time now, electric vehicles cannot be overlooked.

the IPCC identified electric vehicles as having the greatest decarbonization potential for ground transportation. Why? Because the increased adoption of electric vehicles, facilitated by falling costs, has already enabled emission reductions. And the market shares of electric vehicles have triple in two years.

In Australia, the energy and transport sectors represent more than 50% of carbon emissions. To research shows that electric vehicles could transform the transport sector, if combined with a 100% renewable electricity system where all the energy used is produced from renewable sources.

Furthermore, if all vehicles were electric and we had a 100% renewable electricity grid, consumers could expect to safeguard approximately AU$1,000-2,000 per year (based on petrol prices of AU$1.40-2.00 per litre).

Electric vehicles need to be charged, but this may or may not be controlled. Uncontrolled charging allows the user to charge their vehicle at any time of the day, while controlled charging relies on maximize benefits by charging during the day, for example, when there is abundant sunlight. Rolling around 16 million electric vehicles on Australian roads would require 205 gigawatts of installed capacity supply the electricity needed for recharging, if it is based on a 100% renewable electricity system.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 23,000 electric vehicles registered in Australia in 2021, out of approximately 20 million vehicles in total. Australia is falling behind other developed countries in the race to adopt this technology.

Read more: Government assumes 90% of new car sales in Australia will be electric by 2050. But that’s a destination with no route

4. The vast potential of hydrogen

Solar and wind power are well-established and feasible options for reducing emissions – and are even cheaper than non-renewable sources.

But at the same time, both are variable energy sources that depend on weather, season, geography, and time of day. This can lead to supply shortages, for which alternative sources should be considered.

Hydrogen, which produces no carbon emissions when burned, is a potential option. It can be produced by separating water using electricity from wind and solar sources. It also provides a way to store renewable energy for later use.

With the falling cost of renewables and the scaling up of hydrogen deployment, hydrogen production costs are expected to fall by 30% by 2030. The increase in hydrogen energy storage technologies could lead to other reductions in the cost of variable renewable electricity systems.

the IPCC report also points to the potential of hydrogen in achieving emission reductions in the aviation sector, but notes that this will first require technology improvements and cost reductions.

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