Carbon: The Final Frontier

June 12, 2017 |

By Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech

As our planet approaches a 1.5C temperature raise, decarbonizing our economy has become a central topic of discussion from governments to board rooms to the popular press. To successfully decarbonize, we must change the way we use carbon and focus on preserving every bit of our carbon budget for essential uses. Fortunately, we are already seeing a revolution in the power sector. With recent prices of renewables at <$0.04/KWh, it is no longer a question of if but rather a continual march to a day when we fully decarbonize power production. The same cannot be said of liquid fuels, especially for aviation, or chemicals. These still require carbon and we now have a choice as to where that carbon comes from.

Today there is an abundance of carbon in all the wrong places with plumes of carbon based particulates polluting our major cities. We currently recycle metals, plastics and paper, so why not recycle carbon and using the principles of the circular economy, convert it into useful products? Imagine a “carbon smart” world where you could capture waste emissions from a factory and recycle them into chemicals to make plastic piping for your home, make fibers for your running shoes or make low carbon fuel for your next flight abroad? This world is possible now.

ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading steel and mining company, and LanzaTech, are the epitome of “carbon smart.” Both founding members of the forward-thinking global initiative, below50, the companies are constructing a 64,000-ton ethanol/annum carbon capture and utilization (CCU) project, in Belgium, that takes waste gases from steelmaking and ferments them with a microbe to produce low carbon fuel and chemicals.

To avoid the expected risks and costs of climate change, we need to deploy all means to stretch our carbon budget throughout and beyond the next 50 years. Technologies exist today that meet sustainability criteria and show GHG reductions, much like the steel project above, but new technologies often challenge the status quo. It takes time to gain acceptance for new ideas and it is imperative that there is a level playing field for all sustainable technologies to contribute, regardless of feedstock or technology. The focus must be on decarbonizing and meeting sustainability criteria not how this outcome is achieved. Indeed, today in Europe there is an opportunity to broaden the scope of the Renewable Energy Directive to include all sustainable technologies that can contribute to the fuel pool while delivering carbon reductions. Without inclusion, there is no market for these fuels and with no market, there is no investment.

As long as legislation favors one approach over another, we all lose.

By opening policies up to new (and of course sustainable) pathways, we will enable investment. As technologies scale, the cost of future facilities will also decrease. Inclusion today will mean that we will have more technologies ready to deliver meaningful quantities of fuel by 2021. If we wait until 2021 or beyond to debate how to treat new technologies and approaches, it will be too late.

We need to find a way to maximize our existing resources and carbon recycling can play a significant role in this. It is no coincidence both LanzaTech and ArcelorMittal are founding members of below50. This organization was created by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), with representatives from technologies and end users. The goal? To promote all sustainable fuels that can achieve significant carbon reductions (of 50% or more), and scale up their development and use.
below50 will hold a series of talks at the upcoming EU Sustainable Energy Week in Brussels, a week which celebrates the commitment of the EU to decarbonize the economy.

The European Commission (EC) especially DG Energy, DG Clima and DG Grow have been instrumental in supporting new technologies, through funding programs for innovation as well as assessing how novel carbon reduction technologies would fit under existing or future EU Energy regulations, but to achieve change on a global scale, there is more work to be done. below50 is a step in the right direction bringing together stake-holders across the supply chain. While decarbonizing is the challenge of our times, the problem isn’t bigger than we are and we are certain that innovation, government regulations and commitment will create the future we are seeking.

How we source, utilize and dispose of carbon will define our generation. Indeed, carbon is our final frontier.


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Category: Thought Leadership

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