Towards C-neutral economic growth

Economic growth—largely powered by CO2-emitting fossil fuel burning since the industrial revolution—and the lowering of CO2 emissions seem irreconcilable notions. The conflict however needs resolution since a sustainable, secure global future depends on both growth and a reduction in emissions.

Demographic forecasts indicate a stabilised world population of 9 billion by 2050. To meet increased demands for food, energy and materials without increasing CO2 emissions, an agricultural-industrial infrastructure is needed that integrates food production, electricity generation, raw material extraction and manufacturing so that CO2 from certain processes is stored or serves as raw material for other processes.

High-yielding crops that do not need a petroleum-derived chemical input are required, as well as more emphasis on renewables in electricity generation—wind, hydro-electric power (including waves and tidal), geothermal and solar. Though controversial, using nuclear fuel has advantages: (a) high energy density, i.e. a tiny amount generates a lot of electricity and (b) no CO2 emissions. Fossil-fuelled electricity generation is favourable if carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS) sequester the resultant CO2. The advantages of fossil fuels—high energy density and, in the case of coal, relatively vast reserves (200-300 years)—can then be exploited. Fossil fuels are used in manufacturing: e.g. coal for steel making and petroleum for chemicals and plastics. The CO2 evolved can be used innovatively—e.g. in plant and algal growth, producing biofuels and various chemicals.

Our region is at the forefront in developing these innovations and Durham and Newcastle universities hold meetings to enhance public understanding of the science involved and the societal impacts‑‑see websites below for information on innovations and events programmes.

References (Links to other websites)

Durham Energy Institute at Durham University: http://www.dur.ac.uk/dei/

Swan Centre for Energy Research at Newcastle University http://www.ncl.ac.uk/energy/research/themes/novelgeo/

Alan Myers 12 September 2011