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Environmental Innovations

Sean Kim

A mere 1.5-degree increase in global temperature would hypothetically correlate to an exponentially higher chance of food shortages, flooding, wildfires, and other extreme natural disasters. Based on a study done by Climate Central report, approximately 510 million people worldwide would be affected by only a 1.5-degree increase due to the rising sea levels that are mainly caused by global warming. Just to put it into perspective, the United States alone hosts a population of around 336 million people as of 2023.

At a three-degree increase in global temperature, over 800 million people will be flooded with many coastlines, specifically, the Asian Pacific Area such as Indonesia, Japan, and China, being large potential targets. People from all over would be displaced by only a three-degree global temperature and despite the minuscule changes of global temperature that might be brushed off as nothing, it is the differentiating factor between the world we live in now and the possibly destructive world we have yet to succumb to. Additionally, global temperatures have already risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius and are projected to maintain their progression to 1.5 degrees by 2050, even if every country in this world goes net zero. In a less optimal scenario, it is projected that the world’s global temperature will reach three degrees increase by the early 2060s and late 2070s if the world does nothing about greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.  However, despite all of these downsides, there is still hope as technology is still progressing every day.  Technology such as wind power, solar panels, and hydroelectric dams help prevent the usage of fossil fuels as a main energy source. But these technologies still have their downsides and new technology is vital. Some of the upcoming technologies include plant-based meat, smart grids, carbon capture, and nuclear fusion.

 Starting, we have plant-based meat. Although meat is a luxury product that is sold throughout the world, it is one of the most environmentally damaging products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. To begin with, in the USA, 41% of the land is dedicated to raising livestock and an additional 32.5 percent of the 391.5 million acres that are dedicated to crop production, are focused on food for the animals. This high demand for space forces countries to resort to deforestation to clear up space for animals, which releases carbon pollution. Additionally, since the crops for animals are in such high demand due to the abundance of animals, crops are splattered with pesticides and other harmful chemicals that release into the neighboring environments. Not only is space a problem, all of the transportation and additional services that are required to maintain animals release harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. As the cherry on top, all of the animal's farts and burps add up, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide and deadly methane into the atmosphere. In contrast to the entire transportation sector which is responsible for around 14% of emissions, the meat industry contributes 14.5%-18% of greenhouse emissions alone. However, plant-based meat is an alternative that’s been tested and perfected to taste exactly like real meat, without producing the same negative impact on the world. For starters, plant-based meat requires up to 99% less land and water in contrast to its animal counterpart and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. Without the need for thousands of acres of land for hosting animals, creating animal food, deforestation and the loss of biodiversity from the meat industry is hardly any of a concern. The concern about other maintenance-related issues such as transportation are also reduced as less maintenance is required for smaller herds of animals. However, there remains an anxious underlying feeling about plant-based meat as it can only replace 27% of the meat industry  and only supports certain types of nutrients for the human body. Nevertheless, plant-based meat remains an environmentally-friendly way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to save the world.

The next environmental innovation is smart grids. Smart grids are the next-level electrical networks that utilize information and communication technologies (ICT) to send real-time data to all network operators to enhance and create a sustainable power system. Unlike traditional grids that use only one-way distribution from the producer to the consumer, smart grids are capable of supporting a 2-dimensional distribution system by sharing real-time data that is used by sensors, software, and other technologies to successfully balance electrical supply and demand to avoid network overloads. Smart grids essentially lessen the environmental impact of wasted while maximizing system capabilities. Another reason that smart grids are vital is that the world’s electrical demand is constantly rising as electricity supports many daily appliances including phones, air conditioning, fridges, lights, electric cars, etc. Furthermore, a reliable demand for electricity is needed for people who work remotely. The list goes on forever and to alleviate this issue, the use of smart grid technology regarding real-time data exchange and the use of smart meters to direct energy traffic between suppliers and grid operators can answer this demand while also reducing power costs and greenhouse gas emissions over time, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. Lastly, while the world is slowly moving towards renewable energy, it is important to note that most renewable energy sources are not constantly active, therefore not creating energy 24/7. This causes more stress on renewable energy sources to create more power by entailing more wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and solar panels to compensate for the lost power. Using smart grids is an efficient way to support this transition as it’ll provide a reliable overview of the supply and demand of electricity and properly allocate required amounts to not waste any energy provided. Additionally, instead of spending more money on expensive grid infrastructure, smart grids provide cost-efficient prices that can create a reliable electrical grid. Overall, smart grids provide an efficient way to manage a secure power system and help the environment. Carbon capture is the next reliable innovation that is planning on being a main contributor to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that carbon capture technology can reduce a total of 14% of global greenhouse emissions by 2050 and capture more than 90% of carbon dioxide produced by power plants and industrial factories. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is the method of capturing CO2 from industries that produce a concentrated amount of carbon being compressed and shipped into many distribution centers to be used in builds or sent off into d geological formations or saline aquifers for clean use. This process can help reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere and is perfect for tackling carbon emissions from industries that are forced to produce massive amounts of carbon such as cement factories, steel industries, or chemical producing facilities. Overall, carbon capture is targeted toward unavoidable carbon emissions. CCUS development as of now has reached a stage of over 500 projects across the nation with an additional 50 new facilities being created and operated by 2030. Despite its positive benefits for the environment, carbon capture technology has made slow progress due to a lack of funding and other policies that could potentially help fund carbon capture technology. The lack of funding, which causes fewer capture facilities to be made, is the sole reason carbon capture is not as efficient as it is projected to be with carbon capture facilities only helping 1.2 GT CO2 per year which is estimated to be a mere third of the total required by the Net Zero Emissions by 2050.

Lastly, nuclear fusion is the last environmental technology that is a type of renewable energy that is expected to make tons of energy with little environmental damage or nuclear waste. Nuclear fusion, the direct opposite of nuclear fission, is the process of two atomic nuclei merging to create one single heavier nucleus while releasing monstrous amounts of energy. For fusion to happen, it needs to take place in the form of matter known as plasma in high temperatures of up to 10 million degrees Celsius. The form of energy is the same as how the sun produces immense amounts of energy; the sun hosts the right temperature and gravity conditions for fusion to take place. Unlike nuclear fission, which creates long-lasting unstable nuclei and radioactive conditions that can last for millions of years, nuclear fusion does not create any permanent waste. Nuclear fusion takes in tritium which cannot produce any serious damage as its half-life is short and produces helium, which does not affect the Earth’s atmosphere. Nuclear fusion is also free from any major nuclear accident as the plasma that must be kept at high temperatures would immediately cool down and the reactor would essentially stop without any further implosion. It is estimated that nuclear fusion can create four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than fission and up to four million times more energy than the burning of fossil fuels and coal. 

 As of now, Nuclear fusion technology has been developed in more than 50 countries, and fusion reactions have gone successfully, producing an energy profit. However, the future of nuclear fusion relies on several aspects such as standards, good practices, required infrastructure, etc. ITER, the world’s largest international fusion facility which was commenced in 2020, is a project that is aimed to advance the future of nuclear fusion technology across the globe and provides potential concepts and fusion power plant designs called DEMOs globally. Nuclear fusion’s future paves the way for a promising source of clean and renewable energy and with the help of ITER, by 2036, full-power experiments are planned to commence and hopefully change the future of nuclear fusion technology. To wrap everything up, today's technologies are booming and providing chances for environmental change. To save climate change and prevent the 1.5 and 3.0 global temperature change, it’s important to explore all possibilities regarding technology and compromise the existing world for an environmentally positive one. The technologies mentioned in this article are only a few among the many innovations today and it is important to stay informed about the new and upcoming technologies that will soon shape the world. 

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