In the last couple of years of writing articles on here, I am often accused of only focusing on occupational health and safety and not enough on environmental and sustainability initiatives I am constantly involved with.
Although I do admit that most of my experience, education and work has been on the health and safety side of things, I have noticed my own interests very much shifting over the last couple of years and sustainability initiatives are one of the areas which are starting to interest me the most.
As the debate about climate change continues, more creative examples, technologies and initiatives of how to fight it are popping up around the world. Over the last decade or so, we have watched many countries and communities significantly reduce their negative impact on the environment by integrating modern technologies and clean energy strategies within their various industries. Not to the mention, of course, the great deal of work that has gone into the field of waste management, recycling, reduction of greenhouse gases, reclamation of precious metals and many more.
Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. Many of the organizations initiating these technologies have gone on to become profitable ventures of their own, a far cry from the old stigma of the last decade that it does not pay to be green. These programs have now also began to attract such interest that has resulted in them building whole new industries, employing hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
I have selected five of the most impressive sustainability initiatives that I believe will go a long way in ensuring a greener world for our future generations:
1. Wind Energy
The most established and probably one of the ones that has been around for a while now. The industry has grown so much in recent years that the role of a “wind turbine technician” has become one of the most popular jobs over the last decade. In the United States alone for example, a country in which 4% of its energy is provided by wind turbines the industry is predicted to employ over 600,000 personnel (Wind Vision Report) by 2050.
Critics have argued that wind energy does not always provide the best cost benefits and as a result cannot compete with fossil fueled generators. While this may be true, advancement in technology in recent years has seen such models become competitive as a result of utilizing lands in more secluded areas and constructing these facilities in offshore locations providing a more consistent wind flow.
A recent report by the Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) suggests that as this trend continues, by 2020 wind power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range.
2. Waste to Energy Initiatives
After this process was initially introduced in Japan and China in the early 2000s, the technology is constantly developing and has now evolved into fully sustainable business models prevalent in many countries and communities across the globe.
As the title suggests, the technology uses waste that is normally consigned for landfill, through a combustion process, to produce electricity, heat or converted to other forms of synthetic fuels.
Sweden as an example has used these initiatives in such an effective way that they have actually ran out of their own waste. In fact, over the past 10 years they have started importing waste from other countries making the enterprises exceptionally profitable.
A win win win situation for the country, nations exporting the waste, and of course, the environment!
3. Solar Energy
The technology is not recent, as I am sure we all remember having a solar powered calculator as early as the 70’s. The idea is impressive and probably one of the cleanest ways of producing energy. The issue in the past had always been obtaining enough space to place high numbers of panels to produce the adequate amount of energy to make the initiative commercially viable.
This has now changed and the technology is constantly evolving. Scientists and tech companies are constantly competing for the best solar panel and PV cell efficiency results enhancing the performance to area ratios of these systems.
Solar panels are even becoming more and more common with individual home owners worldwide providing much lower electricity prices and on many occasions negative power consumptions where the individual home panels have fully satisfied the residential electricity consumption needs and provide power back to the main grid.
On an industrial scale, countries within the middle east and Africa have begun taking notice and many plans and projects are now afoot with goals of utilizing solar energy as the main source of energy by 2050.
In September 2017, the United Kingdom opened the first ever solar power plant that was not subsidized by the government in Bedfordshire proving that sustainable business models could be achieved.
A recent report from January 2018 by the Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) also highlighted that Turning to solar energy for power generation is not only an environmentally conscious decision anymore, it is now, overwhelmingly, a smart economic one.
4. Electrical Vehicle Initiatives
Passenger vehicles are a major pollution contributor, producing significant amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants. In 2013, transportation contributed to more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons emitted into our air.
As well as the environmental impact, health risks of air pollution are extremely serious. Poor air quality increases respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis, heightens the risk of life-threatening conditions like cancer, and burdens our health care systems with substantial medical costs.
Governments worldwide are beginning to recognize the threat and have made a number of bullish commitments to minimize the impact. Theresa May recently in a Zero Emission Vehicle Summit in Birmingham announced a 106 million pound funding boost to help meet a target for UK roads to be free of petrol and diesel cars by 2050. Similar announcements have been made by numerous European countries in recent months.
A recent milestone in the industry saw Europe reach a million electrical vehicle sales in August 2018. As a result, VW have announced plans to build their first plant with a capacity to produce 100,000 electrical cars per year at a time when electric vehicle sales worldwide are rocketing.
Of course, building the vehicles is only half the story, as people must be sufficiently motivated to move away from a technology that has defined our lives for a century. Governments still have a vital role to play through making vehicles affordable and by joining forces with businesses to invest in charge points across transportation routes.
5. Production of Clean Fuels
Although such initiatives, specifically during their production phases, still present a slight concern for the environment in terms of flaring and the creation of greenhouse gases, they do represent a significant upgrade to traditional polluters such as petroleum or coal products.
Realising the necessity to diversify and develop environmentally “friendlier” products, many major worldwide Oil and Gas organizations have moved to produce products such as low sulfur diesel, methanol and bio fuels.
Such options remain highly profitable as in many cases, given some minimum alterations, can replace traditional fossil fuel driven combustion engines. This has seen a rise in technologies such as gas to liquids where natural gas can be converted to clean diesel fuel through a process of air separation, chemical reactions involving a hydrocarbon and various catalysts.
Some of these processes have been around for a number of years now and technologies such as the Fischer-Tropsch reaction first discovered in the 1920s have only been utlised on an industrial scale in the last couple of decades.
The only issue with such processes remain that a hydrocarbon (Carbon Monoxide) is required to yield the final product. Gas remains the cleanest option, although recent technologies in Canada and Germany have seen successful project where Carbon Monoxide has been successfully separated from air on an industrial scale. The process works by sucking air into a modified cooling tower with fans, where it comes into contact with a liquid that reacts with the CO2.
Advancements in such a technology will surely have an astronomical impact on producing cleaner fuels in the future.