Net Zero by 2050: Scale Up

Although Net Zero goals are commendable and deserve our support it is vital that they be evaluated realistically. This article is one in a series to do with difficulties that might be encountered as companies implement these programs. Other articles on this theme are:

  • Net Zero by 2050: The Reality
    This article shows how greenhouse gas emissions have risen over the course of the last seven decades. Reducing those emissions to their original level in just three decades will be a huge challenge.
  • The Renewable Energy Paradox
    Discusses the apparent contradiction that, although wind and solar are growing faster than other sources of energy, their fraction of the overall energy supply is declining.
  • Report: “Net Zero 2050” A Dangerous Illusion
    This is a review of a third party report that is critical of Net Zero programs.

In this article we look at the issue of scale-up.

Engineers and Project Managers

Project management for Net Zero projects
Project Managers Wanted
Credit: Shutterstock

When it comes to climate change — a complex and difficult topic — we often hear people say that “we need to listen to the scientists”. The reasoning behind this statement is that, if people were to have a full grasp of the predicaments that we face, then they would urge politicians and corporate leaders to reorganize their institutions. These people would also adjust their own lifestyle so as to reduce their personal impact on the climate and biosphere.

While listening to the scientists continues to be important, it is getting late in the day. There is an urgent need to move beyond simple awareness to actually doing something. And that means that we now need to listen to the engineers and project managers, not least because the scope of work ahead of us is phenomenal. 

Carbon Capture Example

The deployment of carbon capture technology provides an example to do with the engineering and project management challenges that we face over the course of the next three decades.

World-wide emissions of CO2 are about 40 gigatons per annum. One of the leading companies in the carbon capture business is Climeworks. Their largest project (located in Norway) is scheduled for the year 2026 and will remove 250,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually. (The CO2 will be used to create biofuels, which will be burned, thus generating CO2. Therefore this is not a Carbon Capture and Sequestration project.) If we assume that CC&S technology will remove say 25% of the emitted CO2 then 40,000 carbon capture plants of this size will be needed to prevent further increases in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. (In addition to the carbon capture plant itself, an equal number of facilities to generate the needed renewable energy will also be needed.)

It is likely that future carbon capture facilities will have a greater capacity. Nevertheless, it is evident that projects to install this number of plants in such a short time frame will require a massive commitment of engineering, financial and management resources.

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