Cop 26 included almost all the countries in the world gathered in November 2021, for a conference in Glasgow, which focussed on climate change.  In particular, it centred around measures that must be taken to prevent temperatures rising by 1.5oC by 2030, which scientists had produced a plethora of reports explaining why this was happening.  Failure to achieve this would lead to catastrophic consequences. 

It operated on two levels:

  1. The first were the major pledges on policy changes, such as deforestation, eliminating coal and other fossil fuels and electrifying cars.  These were generally thought to be ambitious, and governments may not be trusted to produce anything significant in the next two decades.  In fact, India was honest enough to say that they would not achieve many of them for 50 years.
  2. On the other hand, there were reports at a more practical level which were very exciting.  There is little doubt that problems of global warming cannot be solved by governments alone and it is therefore left to the private sector to come up with real solutions to the problems.

So, we aim to produce a series of articles which bring news of practical industry developments that are likely to emerge from the construction and engineering industry, over the next few years. 

Lighter materials in construction 

Swansea University has successfully developed lightweight printed materials for walls and the roof of buildings which can generate electricity to run the building.  Any excess energy can be placed on the grid.  The material is attractive and very flexible and therefore it improves the design of the building. 

It has been adapted for the Northern Hemisphere, with its shortage of emissions.  Significantly, it is much lighter than existing solar panels, which makes it cheaper to build.

This has exciting possibilities internationally because it means that, for example, a rural community can design a school and use the building to share its power for the surrounding housing.

Cheaper steel

From Sweden came the news of steel which can use much less carbon dioxide (overall savings of 8%) and can be made at lower temperatures than conventional steel. Therefore, this development has a double effect of using less energy and reducing carbon dioxide.

Renewable energy

In Scapa Flow, there was news that there is significant improvement in wave power machines. It is also being used as a test bed for other forms of renewable energy.

Wave power is an unlimited resource and there are many ways to use it to generate power.  It was once thought that the “up and down” motion of the waves would produce the energy.  However, now the power of waves to flex something at the surface is added to the repertoire of movements. Tidal energy is created by the horizontal motion of water at the high and low tides.  This can be amplified by narrowing the channels that are present. 

Wind power

Wind power is derived from the rotation of windmills, which are enhanced by being able to rotate towards the wind.

It is less consistent that the other forms of renewal energy, but has developed over the years and can make up a reasonable proportion of energy needs.

Food production

Meat consumption has a considerable impact on climate change because 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from “cow burps”.  Cows emit methane and this is harmful to the environment.  It is thought that the use of “belch chambers” and other devices such as cow masks can help capture it and can save half of the methane produced.

Eating insects can be more efficient for proving protein, because it has far less fat than meat.  Even if people find it difficult to come to terms with, farm animals can be fed sustainably on insects.  Insects also use less water and less land.

From the Netherlands comes news of controlled warehouses where for example 40 million cucumbers and 22 million peppers can be produced in green houses where there is almost no need for heat.

Insulation for buildings

Many of the buildings in the world cannot be insulated because of the difficulties of getting people into the spaces which need to be insulated.  Now the insulation can be controlled by a robot to spray insulation into very tight spaces.

The tech industry

The tech industry is responsible for a lot of energy use by customers of their products and by running huge servers to store all the cloud data that they produce.  However, it is also seen as a key industry because of all the energy it saves.  For example, using technology for meetings rather than several people travelling for the event.  

They are also very big users of power and most of this is used for cooling.  There is now significant progress on placing data centres underwater to reduce the energy spent on cooling.

Reducing plastic

Considerable money has been invested by people around the world to reduce the millions of pieces of plastic which contaminate the seas.  This is still a work in progress, but we have already seen bamboo use as one of the many alternatives to plastic in cutlery.

Summary

These examples of varying types and sizes shows the amount of progress that can be made in science if there is a will to do it.  

The ideas can come from anywhere and it is by making small improvements in everything, that the position on climate change can improve.

Stan Hornagold

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