Impact Tech Insights

Dec 1, 2021 3:55:44 PM
Editorial Team

Why innovation, collaboration and awareness will be key to Australia achieving net zero

By: Dr James Hooper, Dr Daniel Rojas, Tom Ross and Miranda Siu from Edge Environment

 

With the excitement of the federal government’s recent announcement on committing Australia to reach net zero by 2050, it is abundantly clear this requires further investment in innovative solutions.

With no clear additional funding forthcoming, meeting net zero will be best served through collaboration across industries, research bodies and government. Spreading the word and building awareness on potential solutions can assist in developing the connections for collaboration and funding. That is why events like Impact X can be vital to progress. While Australia already committed to net zero by 2050 in 2015 under the Paris Agreement at COP 21, this year’s COP 26 will be focussed on accelerating decarbonisation by 2030.

Under the goals of the Paris Agreement, 191 countries signed a legally-binding agreement to limit global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with the aim to achieve a 1.5 degree Celsius limit. Signatories must aim to peak emissions as soon as possible and seek to achieve a net zero emissions scenario by 2050.

 

What is net zero?

Net zero emissions refers to achieving a balance between emissions released and emissions removed from the atmosphere to ensure that no additional emissions are added to further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. Under a net zero emissions scenario, organisations and governments use a range of measures to both directly reduce their emissions and to ensure that all residual emissions are neutralised by removing emitted Carbon from the atmosphere.

 

carbon neutralFigure 1 - The process of carbon neutral from Climate Active standard

 

Critical to the achievement of net zero goals is the rollout of new technologies that either directly reduce operational and embodied emissions (e.g. renewable energy), or otherwise facilitate lower emissions through interaction with zero emissions technologies (e.g. electric vehicles). A recent report released by Climate Works Australia, argues that mature and demonstrated technologies already exist across key emissions industries such as electricity, buildings, transport, and agriculture that can drastically reduce direct emissions.

As the report states, the transport sector is one of Australia’s largest source of emissions. The report suggests electrification of the nation’s road fleet is a solution that is ready to be deployed now.

With approximately 20%, or 8 billion tonnes, of global annual CO2 emissions, the transport sector is one of the most important to activate to achieve net zero. Political leaders are setting targets for phasing out the sale of the internal combustion engine in personal vehicles and are joined by commitments from vehicle manufacturers.

 

"Critical to the achievement of net zero goals is the rollout of new technologies that either directly reduce operational and embodied emissions or otherwise facilitate lower emissions through interaction with zero emissions technologies."

 

As the technology to electrify road transport becomes more mature to encompass buses, vans, taxis and delivery bikes, it is possible to imagine that soon all passenger ground transport and local-freight could be predominantly de-carbonised and affordable, removing up to 75% of all transport emissions.

It is the remaining emissions of long-distance heavy road freight, aviation and shipping, that are more difficult to eliminate. The potential specifically in aviation and shipping is substantial and we will explore this further below. Each accounts for 10 – 12% of annual transport emissions globally with commercially available solutions. This is where research and development (R&D) investment and collaboration across industry, sectors and government is required to accelerate the availability of technology solutions in Australia.

While there is consumer demand for these solutions, it can be challenging for an individual investor to discover and fund the technologies to help close the funding gap. This is where events like Impact X can help spread awareness and connect the dots.

 

Developments in Aviation

Developments in the aviation industry currently point to a divergence of fuel sources between short and long-haul routes. While hydrogen is likely to become the preferred fuel source for long-haul wide-body jets, electric motors are more readily adopted in the short haul market. For example, Avinor, Norway’s public airport operator is aiming to reach full electrification of the country’s short-haul fleet by 2040, with tests on commercial routes beginning as early as 2025.

Australian companies are also making strides in the decarbonisation of the aviation sector. South Australia-based Eyre to There Aviation set a number of electric aircraft records during 2021, including for endurance and speed. Qantas became one of the first airlines worldwide to announce a net-zero emissions target for 2050 and has committed to capping emissions at or below 2019 levels.

Given Australia’s deep reliance on aviation for travel, electric flights could be used for regional and interstate short flights.

 

New Technologies in Shipping

Water taxis, ferries and commercial shipping are all witnessing the introduction of new technologies that could help radically re-shape both inland and offshore vessels. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions have been developing self-driving electric “Roboats” which will now undergo testing on the Dutch capital’s waterways. A company called PortLiner has developed battery-powered and crew-less barges to transport freight around the canals of Belgium and the Netherlands, removing around 23,000 diesel trucks from the roads. With the conversion and manufacture of electric ferries, it is possible that this could be implemented in Sydney. This could impact water taxis, freight between the City and Paramatta, and ferry services around the harbour.

 

Creating Action

While these emerging transport technologies are adopted commercially internationally, it seems that Australia is slower to adopt. Electrification of systems reliant on fossil fuels, such as the transport modes discussed above, paired with an overall grid decarbonisation hold the key to meeting net zero targets.

Key next steps for Australia involve:

  • Greater R&D to improve and adapt the existing and emerging solutions
  • Collaboration across society (public empowerment), academic research bodies, government support and industry innovation
  • Innovation funds (public and private) to allow the above to occur.

Understanding the science and how to adapt (strategise) these solutions to Australia will make the pathway to net zero more effective. Developing awareness through storytelling of emerging technologies will help to better engage and create buy-in with relevant stakeholders so that they are more open to investing in innovative solutions.

 

***

 

This article is written by Dr James Hooper (Sustainability Consultant), Dr Daniel Rojas (Senior Sustainability Consultant), Tom Ross (Senior Sustainability Consultant) and Miranda Siu (Senior Sustainability Consultant) from Edge Environment. To learn more, visit the Edge Environment website here. 

 

 

 

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