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The climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges we are currently facing. For years, global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have treated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as waste that is polluting the atmosphere. As these emissions stem primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage is being explored as a possible solution. But what if there was a way to also use that carbon as a resource?
New technologies now allow us to take CO2 and transform it into next-generation fuels, chemicals, and other useful products. With the right collaboration, support, and policy frameworks, we can create a world made from air, in which the economy is circular.
Many climate solutions begin with reframing the problem. Rather than viewing CO2 as waste that needs to be captured and permanently stored below ground, at Twelve, we see it as a resource to address the climate crisis.
Our carbon transformation technology uses CO2, renewable electricity, and water rather than petroleum feedstocks to create a host of products that we use every day including plastic car parts, sunglass lenses, and E-Jet fuel - our sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Using this pathway, the SAF would have up to 90% lifecycle GHG emissions reduction compared to conventional, petroleum-based aviation fuels.
In 2022, member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set the goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal will require significant action, innovation, and investment. With aviation responsible for approximately 3% of annual emissions, a wide variety of solutions are needed to decarbonize aviation.
Clean hydrogen and batteries can contribute to reduced emissions in the aviation sector, but they face significant limitations as they do not currently offer the necessary density offered by jet fuel. While these systems can handle shorter-range flights, travel and supply chains nevertheless depend on long-haul flights operating under current capacity for range and weight. SAF, therefore, has a large role to play in decarbonizing aviation.
Harnessing “waste” CO2 that is abundantly available can help eliminate such feedstock-related barriers to accelerated SAF production, and thereby contribute to the decarbonisation of aviation.
One of the challenges to the widespread adoption of SAF is that the supply of dominant feedstocks in use today (the so-called FOGs – fats, oils and greases) is limited over the long term. But harnessing “waste” CO2 that is abundantly available can help eliminate such feedstock-related barriers to accelerated SAF production, and thereby contribute to the decarbonisation of aviation.
However, the aviation industry is not the only stakeholder with an important role to play. Governments can also help catalyse innovative solutions to the climate crisis. For example, as it is currently structured, the United States’ section 45Q tax credit for carbon sequestration provides companies with a larger financial incentive to sequester their carbon underground than to use it.
Also on the Forum Network: Encouraging a Market for Climate Solutions: Re-envisioning the voluntary carbon market by Nat Keohane, President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Hundreds of billions of dollars of capital are needed annually over the next decade to address the climate crisis, so how do we reach that scale?
If policy incentives value sequestration above utilisation, this can distort the market and disincentivise innovative climate solutions, such as carbon transformation. While it is important to reduce the quantity of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere, it is equally important to allow new and innovative solutions for managing it. A key example of government policy incentivising emissions reductions comes from the US Inflation Reduction Act’s tax credits, which help support the production of clean fuels (such as SAF) and open the door for novel, cutting-edge ways of addressing the climate crisis.
Rather than viewing CO2 as a waste by-product and simply sequestering it, the process of carbon transformation uses it to create useful products, displaces fossil inputs, reforms the traditional manufacturing cycle, and helps close the loop on CO2 emissions. It will take all of us, from governments establishing the necessary regulatory frameworks and incentives, airlines and airports working to incorporate low-emission fuels, and researchers and innovators like Twelve creating climate solutions out of emissions. On this Earth Day, our message is simple: join us.
Climate action could be more efficient and effective if focused on systems as a whole, so that – by design – systems require less energy and materials, and produce less emissions, while achieving wider well-being outcomes. The OECD has developed a process - systems innovation for net zero - to help governments achieve such transformational change. Learn more!
And read also the OECD report on Driving low-carbon innovations for climate neutrality
The transition to climate neutrality requires cost reductions in existing clean technologies to enable rapid deployment on a large scale, as well as the development of emerging technologies such as green hydrogen. This policy paper argues that science, technology, innovation, and industrial (STI&I) policies focusing on developing and deploying low-carbon technologies are crucial to achieving carbon neutrality.
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