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2020 closes out with a promising nod to future carbon markets

December 18, 2020

As the year 2020 nears its inevitable end it’s nice to reflect back and take note of things that worked, things that didn’t work and stuff to just plain, avoid. While 2020 has produced a seemingly unmeasurable amount of “things to avoid” it also marks one year closer to deadlines for carbon neutrality.

Deadlines enforced by both human and natural forces. Human organizations = policy, regulation, laws. Nature = climate change, extreme weather, and future inability for the planet to support human life.

Whether it was the thought of impending doom, or the fear of an avoidable financial burden, a few observations ring true. One, a growing number of companies are publicly setting organizational carbon goals. Two, many of the organizations setting these goals have NO concrete plan of how to reach them. And three, efficacy of offset and the carbon market is beginning to shape up.

Global Sustainable Investment Alliance March 2019

No doubt the first two come as little surprise. Almost daily the news reports of another massive corporation like IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, Nestle or Starbucks are capturing headline news with one huge carbon reduction goal after another. Many corporations have adjusted their perspective from viewing sustainability as a burden, to realizing it creates a competitive edge by differentiating them from their competitors. This phenomenon is being observed with municipalities as well. While it is amazing and wonderful that so much interest is being shown in sustainability, the fact remains that many of these organizations are struggling with how they will, in fact, be able to reduce their footprint to zero.

A recent collaboration between LightWorks and Luminosity Lab sought to understand what organizations had in place to meet their newly publicized goals. The project is an element of a larger portfolio of work developed by LightWorks, Digital Carbon Warehouse (DCW). The DCW: interviews ask – “what, if anything is in place to help ensure a successful transition to net zero carbon”. The team interviewed people in a variety of roles within large national and global companies from multiple industry sectors. the team learned no matter what company, industry sector or operating region an organization was based in, a resounding majority acknowledge that offsets will have a role in the future of their company’s carbon neutrality.

ASU LightWorks DCW: Interview findings

Now, to be fair, acknowledging that offsets will play a role and accepting them in their current state are two completely different acts that won’t be sharing the same stage.

More than half of the responses gathered from the DCW: interviews found the lack of standardization to be the #1 barrier to adoption. Standardization, or the industry wide level setting to establish a single cohesive language governing operation. Currently the market has no agreed upon set of protocols defining how carbon sequestration is measured, tracked and traced, not to mention there is still no universally accepted carbon price. Without the ability to ensure consistent, efficient reporting and provide trustworthy evidence of sequestration, or operate in a steady market, gaining corporate buy-in will be extremely difficult.

Not to fret, change is in the air. This year has ushered in unprecedented changes to conventional thinking in a myriad of realms. Carbon markets are no stranger to this trend. News of a merger between major market actors Sustainability Accounting and Standards Board (SASB) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) in late November are strong indicators of positive change. Further, the oil and gas giants BP, in a press release this December, announced their acquisition of more than 50% of the forest trust Finite Carbon. Finite will be attached to BP’s accelerator arm with a targeted expansion of $1B in revenue to small landowners by 2030.

Successes like the SASB & IIRC merger or BP acquisition send a trend-setting messages that resonate with industry peers. As more companies take on the challenges of meeting their carbon goals, collectively we inch closer to addressing the gaps throughout the carbon market ecosystem. Universities will play a significant role in identifying transition pathways and are proving to be an influential partner to organizations of all shapes and sizes. Applying innovation, collaboration, and trust to develop frameworks and collaborations necessary to facilitate the world’s transition to a carbon free economy.

While yes, 2020 was an “interesting year”, optimistic perspectives are bringing a carbon neutral future into view. Clearly, significant, challenging and potentially painful adjustments are undoubtedly in store – it can be argued having a focus on a viable path will help to quiet the chattering chaos that envelops periods of unrest, turmoil, and change.

Understanding Decarbonization, What’s in the toolbox? Offsets?

November 13, 2020

ES92In 1992 the United Nations came together for its first-ever, “Earth Summit,” and began to acknowledge the requisite issue of climate change at a global level.

Since then, sustainability has become a household term, and for good reason. Since the industrial revolution, it is evident humanity, and our associated behaviors are responsible for the exponential and unnatural increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. This is Largely a result of society’s ubiquitous consumption of fossil fuels, which disseminates carbon dioxide (CO2) as its primary byproduct. High emissions of carbon and other GHGs trap excess amounts of thermal heat in the atmosphere, contributing significantly to the rate of global warming.

The UN reports global warming from 1.5°C to 2°C and beyond will have drastic negative effects on the environment. Rapid decarbonization and achieving net-zero emission standards by 2050 will be imperative in reversing or lessening the full impact of climate change. Industries and society must collaborate to create strategic solutions now that not only capture and reduce GHGs but also those that can replace current processes and activities contributing to high emissions.

To date, various players in government, private industry, and public sectors are focusing on curtailing their dependency on fossil fuel to drive down their carbon footprint. These efforts range dramatically in size and impact, and it is generally left to the individual entities to figure out what new, best practices there are for implementation. Historically, this approach has relied on targeting projects considered to be “low-hanging fruit,” such as retrofitting LED light bulbs, optimizing building controls, or purchasing power agreements (PPA). The “easier” projects tend to be the go-to-choice for many institutions as they typically involve less initial capital and/or can be associated with increases in returns. This strategy makes perfect sense from a business logic perspective and is at least a step in the right direction.

So how are we doing? Will this strategy be sufficient to meet decarbonization goals by 2050?

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De-risking sustainable investment in energy sector: Are you ready to join the party?

October 16, 2020

We are living in a transformative time and Covid-19 may be the impetus that leads investors to change their perspective on ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing. Companies have been shifting away from only focusing on the bottom line and are now considering the larger picture. Investment in sustainable funds saw a record increase during the first quarter of 2020. According to Morningstar, global sustainable funds saw inflows of $45.7 billion, while the broader fund universe had an outflow of $384.7 billion. During the second quarter of 2020, 56% of sustainable funds ranked in the top half of their Morningstar category. Year-to-date, that number jumps to 72%.

Whether blockchain becomes the tool to track, trace and verify CO2 emissions and carbon offsets remain to be seen. But whatever the technologies implemented investors and foundations must be assured that some risk is removed from investing in companies that are developing new technologies to combat the overall climate issues. One of the best ways to counter risk is to understand the overall market factors that will impact investment. The broad risk categories are outlined below and within each category, the specific investment risks.

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The key role of negative emissions in balancing the World’s carbon budget

September 11, 2020

“Yes, the laws of thermodynamics cannot be circumvented. One must pay the energy cost to recover the waste CO2 we produced. In short, we skimped on some of the cost while consuming energy in the past, and now we will have to pay it back. Cleaning up will not be free, but it will not break the bank either.” Dr. K S Lackner March, 2019

Statement of the Problem:

The world’s energy infrastructure is largely built around combustion of fossil carbon. Carbon, liberated from underground, combusted and released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it is the dominant driver of climate change.

The facts are clear. Scientific measurement tells us the earth is heating up. There is some minor disagreement as to the speed of the change, but let’s get real, CO2 and related greenhouse gases are warming the world at an ever-accelerating pace. The CO2 concentration in the air is now 415+ ppm (parts per million) vs. the ~280 ppm it was during the warm periods of the least one million years; during the ice ages it would be expected to drop to 180 ppm. If we continue on the current path, we reach 500 ppm before 2050, which translates to a much hotter world. The change started gradually, which has allowed us to put off dealing with the cause. However, with today’s higher temperatures, stronger storms, lower crop yields and rising water the procrastination needs to end.

1. Can we tackle the problem?

This paper takes a look at how climate change might be “fixed”, including through the capture of CO2 which is our focus at the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University. The discussion is intentionally centered on the release of fossil carbon. This is not to ignore or diminish the host of other greenhouse gases impacting climate, but to keep the discussion on the dominant and most damaging player - CO2. The strategy and tactics required to bring greenhouse gas releases under control will be one of the consuming international challenges of the 21st century. Yet, two decades into this new century, we have yet to determine the structure and technologies that will lead to a structured reversal.

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Submissions due Oct. 1: Reimagining Energy for the DoD

September 5, 2020

The U.S. Air Force's innovation arm, AFWERX, has released a new challenge, Reimagining Energy for the DoD. There are six challenge categories, outlined on the AFWERX website, as well as expected and aspirational outcomes.

The Department of Defense is one of the largest single consumers of energy globally, and the Air Force is the largest user of fuel energy in the US Government. The way they generate, transmit, store, and use this enormous amount of energy today is both a paramount combat enabler and a potentially crippling vulnerability. The time has come for the DoD to reimagine its usage, generation, transportation, and storage of energy.

Submit your ideas: big, small, ambitious, conservative, terrestrial and space-based – all are welcomed and encouraged. Registration is required to submit.

Decoarbonization: blockchain - track/trace/verify - carbon offsets

September 1, 2020

Written by Karen Spiegel

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is critical to preventing the dangers of climate change, particularly in the industrial sector which accounts for 33% of the anthropogenic emissions. Climate experts suggest that blockchain technology could play a significant role in creating a system of standardization and accountability by accessing the carbon footprint of companies and tracking the offsets. The crux of the issue is settling on a structure for calculating those metrics.

Historically, being able to validate proof of impact has been a challenge. Part of the issue is that the criteria has changed over time.

Typically generating carbon footprints and eventually the offsets require manual meter readings to determine energy consumption, emissions and calculating carbon footprint. This is time consuming and there are many opportunities for data to be unreliable and inaccurate.

It is especially problematic in certain industries such as the hard-to-decarbonize sectors including aviation, shipping, trucking, cement manufacturing and steelmaking. Other issues add to the complexity. Sustainability certifications/schemes such as Guarantees of Origin (GO) system allow fuel to be sold as renewable to consumers, but GO certificates have a slight impact on renewable energy generation and don’t provide evidence of renewable energy capacity. This image illustrates some of the difficulty in removing CO2 emissions from the steel industry.

A key driver to achieve accountability across ecosystems is to push for digitization at a system level. This will increase efficiency by moving away from manual data collection and could enhance the management of energy systems and other industrial networks with complex transactions. Greater investment in digitization technologies, particularly for aviation and heavy transport, along with electrification of the industrial processes that align with policy, is essential.

But what if blockchain could be utilized to determine the carbon footprint and then ultimately be aligned with carbon offsets? This yields real numbers encouraging organizations to refrain from overpromising and underdelivering on emissions reductions since the results could be monitored without the cumbersome manual data requirements. It also permits greater confidence in the metrics encouraging increased financial investment in underlying low-carbon or zero-carbon technology solutions. Beyond this there are tangible benefits such as creating full transparency and traceability within the supply chain, decentralized and sustainable resource management, unlocking new capital, incentivizing a circular economy, transforming the carbon market through the use of cryptographic tokens and creating greater confidence for investors in sustainability reporting, monitoring and verification.

There are numerous organizations developing such ecosystems such as Climate Chain Coalition. It is a global initiative among members to collaborate on the advancement of blockchain and other digital technology to mobilize financing of climate solutions and enhance measurement, reporting and verification of climate actions at scale. Another is Blockchain for Climate, which tags information associated with each credit in order to validate the authenticity of carbon credits. The system tracks and traces along with verifying transactions. And the system can easily scale which is critical due to the volume of transactions.

Other companies are creating blockchain opportunities in the transportation sector. Last year in Singapore, CarbonAir Exchange launched the world’s first global blockchain-based carbon exchange. For companies in the transportation sector, it provides EEU’s (eligible emission units) to secure carbon dioxide (CO2) offsets. The carbon credits will be securitized by tokens and utilize blockchain technology. Manufacturers in the auto sector, such as Mercedes, are teaming up with Circulor to trace carbon emissions in the cobalt supply chain. This will eventually include climate-relevant gases and the amount of recycled materials along the complex supply chains of battery cell manufacturers. Mercedes intends to utilize the data to inform development of its carbon-neutral passenger fleet. Companies in the cement industry, another sector that accounts for approximately 8% of global CO2 emissions, are teaming up with universities to generate innovative solutions to develop and commercialize low carbon concrete.

An array of startup companies, both private and public, are also creating blockchain solutions to encourage additional investment in the energy sector from infrastructure to incentivizing renewable investment.

This is just the beginning. Whether it is tracing and tracking supply chain or the development of robust carbon trading architecture such as the one created at Arizona State University . There is a tremendous amount of momentum toward developing innovative technologies that embrace blockchain in the energy sector, but specifically in industries that produce significant CO2 emissions. Blockchain is becoming an increasingly more useful tool in the decarbonization tool chest. Providing an immutable, secure, trustworthy, and scalable solution to a decarbonized future.

DOE establishes new EFRC at ASU

ASU Now | August 4, 2020

powering-tomorrow-energy-reportA U.S. Department of Energy award is empowering a new center at Arizona State University to create a more resilient and sustainable electricity grid with the use of next-generation materials.

The four-year, $12.4 million award from the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences establishes an Energy Frontier Research Center headquartered at ASU called Ultra Materials for a Resilient, Smart Electricity Grid, or Ultra EFRC. While ASU will lead Ultra EFRC, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of California Riverside, Cornell University, Michigan State University, Sandia National Laboratories, Stanford University and the University of Bristol will work within its framework.

Headed by Regents Professor of physics Robert Nemanich and Professor of electrical engineering Stephen M. Goodnick, Ultra EFRC will investigate fundamental questions about wide band gap semiconductors. Goodnick is a senior sustainability scientist and deputy director of LightWorks.

The Blockchain Series, Part 3: The ABCs of Federated Learning

May 28, 2020

The ABC’s of Federated Learning

The stale use of buzzwords can lead to the disregard of potentially significant technology. For example, the prominent use of virtual reality has been solely in the gaming industry. Only recently has this technology received attention in the healthcare and therapy space, due to its ability to increase empathy in patients. Categorized by Gartner as ‘On the Rise’ technology for data science in 2019, federated learning may follow the similar trend of initial disregard. In the next five minutes, we will learn about the history, purpose, and applications of Federated Learning and determine if this technology may be more than just another buzzword.

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The Blockchain Series, Part 2: The Digital Carbon Warehouse

May 18, 2020

The Digital Carbon Warehouse
An EarthX talk by Bill Brandt
April 24, 2020

Common sense tells us that “in the long run, it will be more profitable to save the planet than to ruin it.” So how do we mobilize at scale, engaging as many of us as possible and involving all who may want to participate in sequestering carbon? We can all do our part with some “smart” assistance.

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The Blockchain Series: Part 1

April 14, 2020

The fall of cryptocurrencies in 2018 had far reaching effects for the digital currency market. Bitcoin remains more than 200% below its all-time-high even in 2020. Although shaking the public’s trust, the capital assets invested into blockchain have more than tripled. With companies such as IBM investing 1,500 employees into over 500 blockchain projects, JP Morgan implementing its digital currency to over 200 clients, and angel investments of $23 billion in 2019, blockchain has seen imperturbable growth in the corporate sector. But why? To understand these investments, let’s begin by understanding what exactly a blockchain provides and how it differentiates from alternative modern applications.

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New ASU lab will address the social challenges of climate change

ASU Now | October 24, 2019

Power plant on the Navajo NationAs more locations across the country begin to transition to utilizing renewable energy sources, officials in such locations face a daunting task: How do they compensate the workers and communities that financially relied on those nonrenewable sources of energy?

While the question may be hypothetical, scenarios like that are not. One recently played out in Page, Arizona when the Navajo Generating Station closed down. The coal-fired power plant had operated for 40 years, serving as a financial support for the community of Hopi and Navajo tribes. Now that it’s closed, workers are at a loss as to how to meet their needs.

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CYR3CON’s story: cybersecurity fueled by A.I.

September 12, 2019

person in a hoodie typing on a laptopFounded by Paulo Shakarian, Cyber Reconnaissance, Inc. CYR3CON leverages a patented hybrid of artificial intelligence and darkweb mining to predict and prevent future cyberattacks before they occur. CYR3CON approaches cybersecurity from the hacker’s worldview, identifying real threats to client assets based on attacker behaviors. Rather than providing broad and non-specific risk management information, CYR3CON intelligently sources the necessary data that, when analyzed, predicts the likelihood of an actual attack.

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ASU solar project in Puerto Rico promotes energy independence

August 28, 2019

People working on Soalr panel installation in Puerto RicoArizona State University's first solar project in Puerto Rico promotes energy independence for the community of Barrio La Salud. Using flexible solar panels, a novel racking design and battery backup, community leaders can safely remove and replace panels before and after a major storm or hurricane. Doctoral students Jessica Otten and Tara Neitzold are part of a team of Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) students who worked with community leaders to design the system.

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Sustainability Education and Energy Knowledge-sharing (SEEK) Project

May 22, 2019

Sun setting over Tempe Towns LakeThe Sustainability Education and Energy Knowledge-sharing (SEEK) Project catalyzes the values-driven leadership of cohesive social networks, such as congregations and nonprofits, to accelerate societal energy transitions through education, technical assistance and social innovation. An action research project of the Spirituality and Sustainability Initiative, SEEK relies on a novel model for leveraging existing assets and in-kind resources from multi-sectoral partners (including universities, congregations, commercial energy professionals, federal programs and local leaders) to provide tailored mentoring and technical assistance in various online and face-to-face formats that facilitate progressive knowledge development, knowledge sharing and mutual problem-solving.

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Sustainability scientists win solar cell research awards

March 1, 2019

Zachary Holman holding mirro to reflect himselfArizona State University recently earned six prestigious Department of Energy awards, totaling nearly $5.7 million, ranking it first among university recipients of Solar Energy Technologies Office awards to advance photovoltaic research and development in 2018.

Three of these winners were senior sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability: Mariana Bertoni, Clark Miller and Zachary Holman.

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Creating a carbon economy

View Source | January 11, 2019

carbon capturing machineOn Thursday night at the Barrett & O'Connor Center in Washington, D.C., Arizona State University hosted a panel that discussed how society can transition to a carbon economy — as in, pulling carbon from the air and making money from it in an effort to fight climate change.

A financier, a businessman, a policy expert and the inventor of a carbon-capture machine discussed the opportunities and obstacles involved in turning waste into capital at “Hacking for Carbon: Building an Innovation Pipeline for the New Carbon Economy.”

Panelist Klaus Lackner, a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Anne Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has been thinking about how to manage carbon since the 1990s.

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Big power from a small container

ASU Now | November 29, 2018

Nathan JohsnonWith a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research, an Arizona State University professor is working to improve on his solar-powered, electrical grid-in-a-box for use in far-flung corners of the world where power doesn’t reach.

Microgrids are small isolated power systems, such as on oil rigs, in rural villages or at military expeditionary camps. Nathan Johnson, an assistant professor in the Polytechnic School, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, created a solar-powered grid contained in a shipping container.

“Microgrids are often described as an on-grid system that can isolate,” said Johnson, who is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. In summer 2018, Johnson received a $2 million, two-year grant from the Office of Naval Research.

Read the full story on ASU Now.

DOE awards $4.5 million to ASU teams to discover new ways to harness carbon dioxide for reducing cost of biofuel

ASU Now | November 7, 2018

bursts of green lightThe U.S. Department of Energy has announced 36 projects that together have been awarded $80 million to support early-stage bioenergy research and development. Two ASU research teams are among the grantees, with the grants to ASU totaling about $4.5 million.

The two teams are headed by sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability: Willem Vermaas, foundation professor in the School of Life Sciences and a member of the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis, and Bruce Rittmann, director of Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and regents’ professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

The DOE is investing $80 million to reduce the cost of algae-based, drop-in fuels to $3 per gallon by 2022, providing consumers with affordable, reliable transportation energy choices.

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ASU forms partnership to develop remote medical clinics

September 25, 2018

man in collared shirt posing in front of solar panelsArizona State University has joined forces with Medavate and Baya Build, companies that innovate in healthcare and construction industries, respectively, for a unique partnership to deliver groundbreaking healthcare through remote medical and telehealth clinics. The trio partnered based on common missions to address inefficiencies in healthcare, building and energy.

The partnership's energy solutions are designed and integrated by an interdisciplinary team of collaborators led by Nathan Johnson, an expert in sustainable and resilient energy systems at Arizona State University. Johnson is an assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, director of the Laboratory for Energy and Power Solutions, and senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Johnson’s team of researchers and developers collaborate with developing countries seeking to address energy needs for emerging market economies and the rural poor. Their work incorporates both on-grid modernization and off-grid solutions for application to industrialized countries and emerging economies.

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Physicist joins ASU LightWorks to help solarize society

View Source | September 18, 2018

Ivan ErmanoskiThe Macedonian-born Ivan Ermanoski concentrates on making fuels and products using solar heat. He’s a recent arrival at Arizona State University LightWorks, where he’ll be working on solarizing our society — that is, reducing the use of fossil fuels by replacing them with solar-derived fuels.

To accomplish this, he and his colleagues are planning to use a thermochemical cycle that would keep carbon dioxide from being added to the atmosphere.

The thermochemical cycle begins when a metal oxide is heated until it gives up some of its oxygen. At lower temperatures, the material wants that oxygen restored, and if exposed to carbon dioxide or steam, the material will take an oxygen from those molecules to yield carbon monoxide or hydrogen.

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