Net Zero by 2050: Technology for a Changing Climate

Book. Net Zero by 2050: Technology for a Changing Climate

Ordering Information

This book is under development. The information provided here is taken from the current draft.


The phrase ‘Net Zero by 2050’ has been adopted by many organizations: governments, companies and non-profits. It means that the organization in question aims to have net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2050.It also describes the technologies that are used to achieve this difficult goal.

The emphasis throughout the book is on what can be realistically achieved, given short amount of time available and the huge investments of time, money and resources that will be required. For this reason each chapter includes a section entitled ‘Realities’. Each chapter also includes an assessment of that technology’s status using a simple Phase-Gate diagram.

The book is organized into the following eighteen chapters.

Chapter 1: Net Zero

Th first chapter describes the concept of ‘Net Zero’ — what it is and why it matters.

Governments around the world are failing to meet the ambitious goals that they have set for themselves. However, the situation does provide an opportunity for companies, including those in the energy and process industries, to provide much-needed leadership.

The chapter shows that climate change is not an isolated issue — it links in complex ways to many other issues, including resource depletion, population increase and excess debt.

The chapter describes the structure of this book. Each chapter provides a detailed description of an energy technology, or of means of mitigating the effects of climate change. It also provides an introduction to the ‘Path Forward’ — a topic that is described in greater detail in Chapter 18.

The Dilemma and the Opportunity  
The Climate Crisis
Government Responses
The Business Opportunity
Example — Scale-Up of Nuclear Power   
Book Structure
A Clunky Sentence 
   The IPCC
   Net Zero by 2050  
   Not Just CO2
   The Paris Agreement   
   2030 Goals    
   Response to Paris
   After 2050 
An Age of Limits
   Economic Growth 
   Limits to Growth
   Jevons’ Paradox  
   Predicaments, Not Problems 
Peak Oil
   Shale Oil
   Impact on Climate Change
No Plan(et) B 
   Modeling Limitations
   The Exponential Function 
   Scientific Reticence 
   Tipping Points 
   Unanticipated Events
The Business Opportunity
   Distributed Thinking   
   Avoiding the Kodak Moment    
Numbers and Terminology
   Units of Measurement 
   Very Large Numbers   
   Energy and Power 
Further Information   

Chapter 2: Energy and Technology

None of the technologies described in this book “solve” the problem of climate change. At best they slow down the pace of change or mitigate the impacts. This chapter shows provides examples of responses that are good in principle, but that took a long time to implement. The chapter also discusses the “carbon pulse” — the fact that implementing new technologies on a world-wide scale will require the use of immense amounts of fossil fuels, which will add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. If we are to come up with effective responses, we must face these realities.

There is, however, the possibility of a disruptive technology that “changes everything”. By definition, it is not possible to define such technologies ahead of time. However, whatever it is it will have to be one that does not use fossil fuel energy.

The Energy Industries  
Evaluation of Energy Sources 
   Energy Type
   Energy Density
   Global Scope 
   Infrastructure Expansion
   Time Available
Example — Steam to Diesel
   Non-Financial Resources
Energy Returned on Energy Invested
Energy Properties  
The Energy Grid    
Alternative Energy
   The Renewables Paradox 
   Disruptive Technologies    
   Carbon Capture / Geoengineering
   Not Just Transportation   
   Going First Subsidy
Transition Cost
Project Management   
   Phase I — Concept
   Phase II — Demonstrate
   Phase III — Commercialize   
   Phase IV — Implement  
Example — Electric Vehicles 

Chapter 3: Biofuels

The first alternative fuel to be considered is biofuel. One reason for going with it first is that we have used biofuels for many years — they are well established and well understood.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid
   Project Phase
Algae Biofuels
Plastics to Oil
Artificial Leaves 

Chapter 4: Solar

Solar energy can be used in one of two ways. Its heat can be used directly, for example to heat water, or it can generate electricity in photo-voltaic cells.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Shockley-Queisser Limit 
Location and Seasonality
Space and Water Heating
Solar Cells
   Photovoltaic Effect
   Solar Power System
   Storing Power 
Big Dish Solar 
Raw Materials 
Toxic Waste  

Chapter 5: Wind

Like solar, wind power is a proven source of energy that is commercially established.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
The Betz Limit   
Offshore Wind Power  
   Capital Costs
Vortex Power

Chapter 6: Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the ultimate clean fuel. When it burns in air it creates just water vapor (along with trace amounts of nitrogen oxides). When compressed or liquefied it also has a high energy density. It is widely used as a chemical feedstock in industry, particularly refineries and chemical plants. Its use as a fuel to date has been limited, mostly due to difficulties with its handling and storage and its expense. 

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Safety Management
Manufacture of Hydrogen 
   Colors of Hydrogen
   Steam Reforming  
   Methane Pyrolysis 
   Alkaline Electrolysis
   Proton-Exchange Membrane    
   Solid Oxidizer Electrolyzer Cells
Storage and Industrial Use  
Hydrogen as a Fuel  
   Fuel Cells  
   Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers

Chapter 7: Ammonia

Ammonia is an important industrial chemical that is vital to the functioning of modern economies. It is widely used as a fertilizer, a refrigerant, for pollution control, and as a building block for many other chemicals, including explosives. 

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Manufacture of Ammonia  
   Gen 0 — Traditional Process 
   Gen 1 — Blue Ammonia 
   Gen 2 — Green Ammonia 
   Gen 3 — Direct Manufacture 
Storage and Transmission 
Hydrogen vs. Ammonia
The Nitrogen Cycle

Chapter 8: Nuclear

Nuclear power is a topic that arouses strong emotions in many people. The fact that nuclear energy was first used for military purposes is one reason for this reaction. People are particularly fearful of the long-term consequences to do with disposal of nuclear waste. After all, the fossil fuels are hydrocarbons. They had their origin in living organisms and their combustion products will eventually become part of the Earth’s overall life cycle. Such is not the case with nuclear technology. It is mysterious and difficult to understand. 

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Nuclear Power (Fission) 
   Unrealized Hopes 
Risk and Nuclear Safety
Four Generations of Technology
   Gen II  
   Reactor Types 
   Negative Learning Curve
Gen III   
Gen IV  
   Molten Salt Reactors   
   Small Modular Reactors  
   Thorium Reactors 
Nuclear / Renewables  
Nuclear Fusion   

Chapter 9: Hydroelectric / Ocean

In many ways hydroelectric power is an ideal source of energy. Water is stored behind a dam wall and then released in a controlled manner through a power plant. Once the facility is built, there are no emissions. Moreover, the power that it supplies is ‘always on’ — it is not intermittent.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Hydroelectric Power
Wave Motion  
Vortex Energy    
Tidal Power    
Ocean Currents
Thermal Energy

Chapter 10: Geothermal

The earth beneath our feet contains plenty of energy. Two means of extracting this energy are discussed in this chapter. The first is the use of geothermal systems that tap into the high temperatures to be found deep in the Earth’s crust. The second is the use of heat pumps that extract energy from the ground adjacent to buildings.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Geothermal Systems 
   Natural Geothermal Systems
   Enhanced Geothermal Systems
Heat Pumps  
Closed Loop Systems  
Steam / Binary  

Chapter 11: Energy Storage

If society is to achieve the ‘Net Zero by 2050’ goal then wind and solar are going to make up a large fraction of the total energy supply mix. As has been frequently pointed out, attractive though these energy sources may be, they have important limitations. In particular, they have a low energy density, and they are intermittent. Given that the sun is not always shining, nor the wind blowing, these two sources supply energy only about 35% of the time, and that they may not supply that energy at the time that it is most needed.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Types of Energy Storage
   Pumped Hydro   
   Underground Storage    
Compressed Air  
Liquid Air   
Thermal Energy Storage   
   Molten Salt  
   Pumped Heat Electrical Storage
Batteries — Utility Scale  
   Lithium-ion Batteries
   Solid State Batteries
   Liquid Metal Batteries 
Thermal Energy 
Thermochemical Energy 

Chapter 12: Carbon Capture and Sequestration

The previous chapters have described means of generating energy without creating greenhouse gas emissions. Given the urgency of the climate crisis just switching to alternative energy sources is insufficient. It will also be necessary to implement carbon capture and sequestration (CC&S) technologies. These can either remove CO2 at the point of combustion or they can extract CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. The removed CO2 is then sequestered, i.e., stored in underground formations for the indefinite future. 

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Natural Carbon Capture & Sequestration  
   Nature’s CC&S   
   Rebound Effects  
CC&S Strategies  
Biological Carbon Capture 
   Burning Biomass   
   Ocean Fertilization  
Point Capture   
   Allam Power Cycle   
Direct Air Capture   
   Liquid Solvent  
   Solid Absorbent  
Synthetic Fuels 
   Oil Wells 
   Salt Caverns 
   Ocean Storage
   Transportation of CO2   
Products from CO2 
EOR Oil Recovery 
Commercial Applications  
   Carbon Engineering   
   Blue Planet Systems   
   Global Thermostat   
New Technology 

Chapter 13: Geoengineering

If our efforts to contain global warming are ineffective there will be increased interest in efforts to contain the damage. One of these efforts — carbon capture and sequestration — is already being applied on a small scale. Other options, such as putting reflectors in space, could have many unanticipated consequences. They also raise profound social and ethical concerns.

   Reality Check
   Energy Grid   
   Project Phase
Unanticipated Consequences   
Risks and Concerns   
   Ocean Acidification   
   Regional Impact 
   Air Quality   
   On-Going Commitment   
Solar Radiation Management   
Space Reflectors   
Surface Reflectors   
   Ground-Level Reflection   
   Ocean Mirror   
Stratospheric Aerosol Injection   
   Marine Cloud Brightening   
   Cloud Thinning  
Ocean Seeding   
Ocean Fertilization

Chapter 14: Transportation

Transportation — shipping, air travel, rail, roads — consumes about 28% of the energy used in the United States. Other activities such as cement and fertilizer production make major contributions to CO2 emissions but have a much lower profile. Therefore, it is useful to consider transportation as its own category because that is what the public sees. Transportation is the public face of Net Zero programs.

Liquid Fuels
   Wind Power
   High Speed Rail 
   Trams / Streetcars
   Trolley Buses
   Battery Electric Vehicles
   Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles
   Refueling Stations 

Chapter 15: Industry

Developing new sources of energy has ramifications throughout all parts of industry, not just in the direct generation of electrical and motive power.


Chapter 16 — Implementing A Net Zero Program

A Small Business  
   The Challenge  
   Company Structure  
Net Zero Scopes  
   Scope 1 — Direct Emissions  
   Scope 2 — Indirect Emissions  
   Scope 3 — Supply Chain   
   Scope 4 — Avoided Emissions 
   Dividing Lines 
A Management Program    
Step 1: Current Emissions 
   Scope 1    
   Scope 2    
   Scope 3  
   A Dashboard   
Step 2: Actions  
Step 3: Carbon Capture
Step 4: Financial Impact 
Step 5: Operations  
Step 6: Risk 
Large Organizations
Example — The Shipping Industry
Psychological Hurdles 

Chapter 17: The Net Zero Professional

This chapter provides some thoughts as to how individuals can adopt a career path for a rapidly changing world.

​​​​​​​A Sense of Exile
Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE)
Survival of the Adaptable
Personality Profile
Professional Attributes   
   Basic Needs   
   Systems Thinking   
   Social Impact   
   Handling Uncertainty   
   Liberal Arts 
   Generalists and Experts 
Choice of Specialty  
   Project Management   
   Electrical Engineering 
   Chemical Engineering 
   Nuclear Engineering 
Standards and Regulations

Chapter 18: The Path Forward

There are no easy answers to the climate change dilemma. Indeed, there may be no effective answers at all. We are entering a new world. We cannot return to the early 1950s — that world is in the rearview mirror. However, we must do our best to find ways of slowing down climate change and minimizing its impacts. This chapter provides some suggestions as to how individuals and organizations can respond.

​​​​​​​Evaluating the Alternatives  
   Global Scope
   Ammonia (fuel)
   Nuclear Fission
   Nuclear Fusion
   Ocean Energy
   Carbon Capture and Sequestration 
   Energy storage
   Capital Cost 
   Energy Returned
   Carbon Tax
Incremental Progress
Energy Grid of the Future
The Energy Companies
Stranded Assets
Non-Technology Responses
   The Core Questions
   Personal / Community
   Political / Organizational 
Redundancy and Resilience
Professional Societies / Regulators
Planning for the Worst Case

Author: Ian Sutton


  1. Net Zero
       Reality Check
       Project Phase
  2. Energy and Technology
  3. Biofuels
  4. Solar
  5. Wind
  6. Hydrogen
  7. Ammonia
  8. Nuclear
  9. Hydroelectric
  10. Geothermal
  11. Petrochemicals
  12. Carbon Capture and Sequestration
  13. Geoengineering
  14. Energy Storage
  15. Transportation
  16. Implementing a Net Zero Program
  17. The Net Zero Professional
  18. The Path Forward