At the time of this writing, COP26 is underway in Glasgow, Scotland. COP26 is the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since the start of the first COP in 1995, climate change has evolved into a more urgent global priority. In 2015, a milestone was reached at COP21 when over 190 countries adopted the Paris Agreement and committed to lower greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2°C (with a target of 1.5°C), above pre-industrial temperatures. At that time, countries agreed to update their plans every five years — which, due to a pandemic delay, is this year.
And while progress has been made, according to the organizers of COP26, the world is currently not on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, and much more must be done to avoid the continued escalation of catastrophic weather events.
Greenhouse gases (GHG) are so-named because they trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Of the four most-concerning ones — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases — focus has been given to reducing CO2 and CH4. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; www.epa.gov), CO2 accounted for about 80% of all anthropogenic U.S. GHG emissions in 2019.
And while CH4 emissions accounted for only 10% of those emissions, methane is more efficient at trapping radiation and is estimated to have about a 25 times higher impact than CO2 on a weight basis over a 100-yr period. The Global Methane Pledge, first proposed in September and strengthened by an announcement of a global partnership at COP26, aims to reduce CH4 emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Over 100 countries have signed the pledge.
The chemical process industries (CPI) have been increasingly committed to ambitious climate-change goals. And with policies supporting such goals, more opportunities for technological advances are expected. Most recently, ExxonMobil stated that it plans to invest more than $15 billion over the next six years to lower GHG emissions. The company cites carbon capture and storage as a key technology to help reach net zero emissions goals by 2050. It also cites biofuels and hydrogen as areas with opportunities for significant emissions reductions.
And while many are working on an economical pathway to “green” hydrogen via electrolysis, advances to increase energy efficiency in the traditional steam-methane reforming process to reduce CO2 emissions are also being pursued. Two such advances are detailed on p. 5 of this issue.
Countless activities supporting emissions reductions are underway in the scientific community. Challenges and advances in column use for carbon capture, for example, are outlined in our Newsfront on p. 13. A technique for combustion-free abatement of methane emissions was described in our November issue’s Chementator section (p. 5).
As policies and company goals continue to point toward a sustainable future, innovation and sound engineering will help to make those goals a reality. We will continue to cover those advances in these pages, on our website and at our events. ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director