Blog posts

Net-Zero Emissions by 2050? Together We Can….

Author: Rumbi Nhunduru

Since 2014, the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London has been providing world leading thought leadership and interdisciplinary research on the role of natural gas, hydrogen and biogas/biomethane in future low carbon energy systems. This year, the speaker for the 2020 Annual Lecture on 10 December will be Professor Maroto-Valer who is leading the development of the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC). Professor Maroto-Valer will be speaking about industrial decarbonisation and discussing the role of gas for a green economic recovery. And now, more than ever, as we are starting to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, decarbonisation is critical for green economic recovery. But, can we really achieve net zero targets?

Since the turn of the First Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, continuously rising greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels, have been a cause for concern and the main fuelling factor for climate change and global warming. Consequences of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, (more specifically, carbon dioxide-CO2) that have already started to be experienced globally include rise in sea levels, melting of ice caps and glaciers and increased occurrence of severe weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves and flooding. In the UK for example, the occurrence of extreme weather events has increased in recent years with the highest ever temperature of 38.7°C having been recorded last year (2019) [1]. More recently, through June to August 2020, the country experienced heat waves with temperatures in excess of 30°C. The UK has also experienced an increase in heavy rainfall and flooding.

The notion that we need to make urgent, drastic and fair measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming has gained traction and momentum in recent years. Pressure has been mounting on governments worldwide to take immediate action. At the Climate Ambition event on the side-lines of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid (Spain), 73 UNFCCC parties, 14 regions, 398 cities, 768 businesses and 16 investors agreed to work together towards achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050[2]. Whilst other major economies such as Japan and France have set targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, in June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to take the lead and pass legislation to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 [3]. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2020 World Energy Outlook report, to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality, emissions must peak in 2020 and drop by over 40% by the year 2030 [4]. The U.S is one of the the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter thus its contribution will also be highly significant if we are to meet the net zero emissions target.  In June 2017, the then US president, Donald Trump, announced that the US would be withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. In his electoral campaign, the newly elected president of the United States, Joe Biden, stated that it will be in his agenda to re-join the Paris Agreement in the early years of his presidency. With the UK set to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November 2021, all eyes will be focused on the US.[5]

Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require large scale investment and transition to the use of clean, renewable energy as well as adopting and implementing new technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).  Meeting the ambitious target of the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign requires collective, collaborative action from stakeholders across industry, government and academia. In the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS) at Heriot-Watt University, we have also been playing our part in contributing to the masterplan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Our research takes a systems approach ensuring the integration of different technologies at systems level, particularly for sectors difficult to decarbonise. Our projects include all aspects of the CCUS chain from capture through to transport, utilisation and storage, as well as hydrogen and negative emissions technologies.

In March 2020, the UK government announced that a budget of £800m has been set aside for the deployment of CCS infrastructure. This CCS Infrastructure fund will put into action the large-scale plan to capture CO2 from major industries and transport it by pipeline to be stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs under the seabed in the North Sea [6]. On the 17th of  November 2020, the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, unveiled a ‘10-point plan’ backed by £12bn and aimed at supporting and accelerating the process of decarbonising the UK and initiating a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. The plan includes an extra £200m of funding to develop at least two carbon capture clusters by the mid-2020s in addition to the £800m budget set aside in March 2020 for CCUS and hydrogen technology deployment. Another two clusters are also set to be developed by 2030.  This move will make the UK a global leader in terms of  CCUS and hydrogen technology [7]. With the UK set to decarbonise, potential CCUS deployment sites include Aberdeen, Liverpool, Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Southampton, Nottingham, Grangemouth, Teesside and Humberside. The ‘Humber’ is the UK’s most carbon intensive industrial cluster with over 55,000 people employed in manufacturing and other energy intensive industrial sectors. Decarbonising the Humber would undoubtedly have a highly significant impact. This will be carried out in conjunction with key players in the energy sector and is set to result in the development of Europe’s largest joint hydrogen production and carbon capture project by 2026 [6].

As the UK edges closer towards CCUS deployment, it is important to harness all available talent in this transition and nurture the next generation of engineers and scientists to deliver the energy transition. In this regard, an Early Career Professionals Forum specifically for CCUS, complementary to the already established UK CCUS Council was recently established and launched by the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The aim of this forum is to provide a platform for professionals in the early stages of their career who are working in the CCUS sector to provide their views on key strategic issues to do with CCUS deployment as well as to drive forward efforts to meet the net zero target by 2050. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held in November 2021 under the theme #Together for Our Planet. On a personal level, as the Heriot-Watt RCCS representative in the CCUS Early Career Professionals Forum, I feel highly honoured to be able to play a small part in contributing to the masterplan through engagement with other members of the forum and other relevant stakeholders from government, industry and academia.

As the saying goes, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together- Vincent Van Gogh”. Net Zero by 2050? Indeed, together we can!

by Rumbidzai Nhunduru

Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS), Heriot-Watt University



  1. A.Walker. Jun 2019. Met Office Confirms New UK Record Temperature of 38.7°C. The Guardian.,%2C%20Kent%2C%20in%20August%202003
  2. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). External Press Release. Climate Ambition Alliance: Nations Renew their Push to Upscale Action by 2020 and Achieve Net Zero CO2 Emissions by 2050.
  3. GOV.UK.
  4. International Energy Agency (IEA). World Energy Outlook Report 2020.

  1. Q. Schiermeier. The US has left the Paris climate deal — what’s next? Nov 2020. Nature Research Journals.
  2. D. Laister. Mar 2020. £800m Carbon Capture Pot Brings Humber’s Biggest Budget Wish Closer to Home. Business Live.
  3. M. Burgess. Nov 2020. UK PM backs CCS and hydrogen in 10-point plan. Gasworld.

Seven easy-peasy ways to make Brazilian ethanol industry more sustainable

Author: Dr Pedro Gerber Machado, Researcher

Clickbait! The truth is, it is not easy. The ethanol industry and several academics have created a storyline for Brazilian ethanol: it combats climate change by producing renewable energy, promotes rural development creating jobs and represents one of the biggest prides for the country when it comes to national industry. Are they right? Well, in parts. Their focus on the positive side of ethanol production is purposeful, naturally. Still, many aspects of the industry need improvements ASAP. Here, I discuss 7 points that would help ethanol become MORE sustainable. It is essential to highlight the word MORE, simply because sustainability is not a point of arrival, but the road itself. Nothing is sustainable, only on the road to becoming more sustainable, but this is subject for another post.


The potential for biogas production in Brazil is well known due to the country’s economy based on agriculture. What is not so well known is that considering municipal solid waste, agriculture and ethanol industry, biogas could substitute all of the natural gas consumed in the country in one year, plus another 25% to spare (considering 90% methane). Today, Brazil only produces 1.5% of its potential. Still, the increase in biogas volume in the last couple of years has reached 36% p.a., showing that it is getting momentum within the energy and electricity sectors in the country. The most significant potential for biogas production is in ethanol mills, using vinasse as feedstock, a residue from ethanol distillation. Not only the potential is enormous, but the costs of biogas production can reach levels cheaper than imported LNG, diesel, and even Brazilian natural gas1.

Biogas production increases the share of renewable energy in the country’s electricity matrix. It could also free-up the lignocellulosic residues (today mostly sugarcane bagasse used for electricity generation) for other more advanced products, which brings us to our next 2 points.

Second-generation ethanol

Second-generation ethanol is ethanol produced from lignocellulosic biomass. In the ethanol industry, bagasse and even sugarcane straw brought from the field are sources of lignocellulosic material. Up to now, only 32 million litres of second-generation ethanol is produced in Brazil, which evaporates (pun intended) in comparison to the 28 billion litres from sugarcane juice fermentation (first-generation)2. With a target of 2.5 billion litres of second-generation ethanol produced in 2030, the road is long, but necessary nonetheless. The use of residues for ethanol increases the production per hectare of land and consequently decreases direct and indirect land-use change. In combination with biogas, each mill could increase ethanol production from residues while maintaining its electricity generation. Besides, processing bagasse generates other opportunities than second-generation ethanol, especially from its lignin fraction, considered the only biologic substitute of fossil-based aromatic chemicals, for example.

Biobased chemicals

Biobased chemicals are often praised for reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and increasing the added value of biomass. In reality, producing chemicals to reduce GHG emissions in Brazil is like having cancer and an ingrown toenail and visit the doctor for the toenail. However, hundreds of technologies and products derived from biomass, residues or not, in the last two decades have proven to be not only technically feasible but also economically attractive, which should be seen by mill owners and investors as an opportunity. Many times, authors (including myself) compare second-generation and biobased chemicals with electricity as if it was one or the other. But when you look at the national chemical market, the volume would mean very few average-sized mills, and it would not pose threats to second-generation ethanol. For example, approximately 30 sugarcane mills of 2 million tonnes of sugarcane annually could supply all propylene consumed in the country in a year3.

Small-scale mills

With average and large-sized mills producing second-generation and biochemicals, small-scale plants should gain space in fermentation mills. Either for self-consumption or the ethanol market, ethanol could represent a new source of income for farmers and cooperatives, increasing the social pros of ethanol. The implementation of small-scale mills will not be possible only based on the market, due to lower economic viability of small-scale mills and specific policies would need to be created to reduce ethanol production concentration in the hands of few investors4.

Social responsibility

The ethanol industry in Brazil has used corporate social responsibility communication as a way to highlight efforts to portray itself as a clean source of energy. Analysing past communications, one will find the preference to discuss agro-environmental themes. When it comes to social themes, the interest is timider. Significant education and labour conditions programs have been dropped by the ethanol industry, leaving a gap in social change. The National Commitment for the Improvement of Labour Conditions in Sugarcane Production, launched in 2009 and abandoned in 2013 due to severe violations of labour practices in companies that had gained their social seal of conformity, was a trilateral agreement between the government, private sector, and labour unions to promote the adoption of better labour practices in the sugar and ethanol industries. The retraining program “Renovação” by UNICA (Sugarcane Industry Union), which aimed at retraining laid-off sugarcane cutters following harvest mechanisation, ran from 2010 until 20135. It retrained a disappointing 5 thousand people (of course the program was praised as a success), compared to the 128 thousand jobs lost in sugarcane cultivation in the last ten years. UNICA also stopped publishing its sustainability report in 2010, which does not help with transparency when it comes to the social issues that surround the sugarcane industry6.

For the ethanol industry to become more sustainable, the lives of the people directly and indirectly affected by sugarcane production need to be improved, and the industry has an essential role in this development. Education, the health of local communities, labour conditions and decent income have to be prioritised in long-term programs and planning by the industry.

Integrate food/forest/energy systems

It is time to start rethinking agriculture based on monoculture and harmonising forestry and agriculture practices is fundamental to improve wildlife protection and increase contributions to climate mitigation. It can be accomplished in many ways, either with spatial approaches or temporal approaches, like crop rotation. The problem is that the productivity of integrated systems is still contested compared to monocultures. This requires research assessments across multiple systems, and policies to incentivise landowners and farmers to engage in diverse land use management systems7.

ZERO deforestation in Brazil

Since 2008 when Searchinger most famously brought to light the problem of indirect land-use change (ILUC) caused by biofuels8, Brazil has spent millions of dollars in research to refute the idea. The truth is it makes sense, regardless of the actual level of deforestation indirectly caused by biofuels. In the last ten years, Brazil lost 12 million hectares of natural forests to pastures and pastures lost 1.1 million hectares for sugarcane9. You need incredibly complex models to determine the exact piece of land that ultimately ended-up with sugarcane. Still, for every 100 hectares of natural forests lost for pastures, nine were converted to sugarcane. To cut ILUC problem at its root (again, pun intended) Brazil should seize deforestation. On top of that, the country gains a more sustainable agriculture as a whole, and, of course, maintain the utterly important ecosystem services provided by our natural forests.

There you go, my seven ways to make Brazilian ethanol more sustainable. All of these require research, investments, policies, regulation and law enforcement and, on top of that economic attractiveness. I didn’t say it was easy, did I?


  1. Nota Técnica: N° 002/2010 – Panorama do Biogás no Brasil em 2019; Foz do Iguaçu, 2020;
  2. Barros, S.; Rubio, N. Biofuels Annual – Brazil; USDA; São Paulo, 2020;
  3. Machado, P.G.; Walter, A.; Cunha, M. Bio-based propylene production in a sugarcane biorefinery: A techno-economic evaluation for Brazilian conditions. Biofuels, Bioprod. Biorefining 2016, 10, 623–633, doi:10.1002/bbb.1674.
  4. Mayer, F.D.; Feris, L.A.; Marcilio, N.R.; Hoffmann, R. Why small-scale fuel ethanol production in Brazil does not take off? Sustain. Energy Rev. 2015, 43, 687–701, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2014.11.076.
  5. Benites-Lazaro, L.L.; Giatti, L.; Giarolla, A. Sustainability and governance of sugarcane ethanol companies in Brazil: Topic modeling analysis of CSR reporting. Clean. Prod. 2018, 197, 583–591, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.06.212.
  6. Relação Anual de Informações Sociais (RAIS). Access only with login at
  7. Richard, T.L.; El-Lakany, H. Agriculture and forestry integration. In Bioenergy & Sustainability: Bridging the gaps; SCOPE 72, 2015; Vol. 72, pp. 1329–1341 ISBN 978-2-9545557-0-6.
  8. Searchinger, T.; Heimlich, R.; Houghton, R.A.; Dong, F.; Elobeid, A.; Fabiosa, J.; Tokgoz, S.; Hayes, D.; Yu, T.-H. Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change. Science (80-. ). 2008, 319, 1238–1240, doi:10.1126/science.1151861.
  9. Estatisticas uso da terra. Available online:


By Dr Pedro Gerber Machado, Researcher

Pedro’s biography

Blog: Productivity Pathways for Meeting Farming Demand Sustainably

Matheus Mansour is a final-year undergraduate student in Industrial Engineering at the University of Sao Paulo’s Polytechnic School. Matheus is from Brazil and is interested in statistics, operations research, machine learning and tech businesses in general. He is currently working on his capstone project where he applies neural networks to build a forecasting model for farming production in Brazil. In this blog, Matheus writes about this project and explains how its methodology can be used as a step to guide public policy towards a more sustainable future worldwide. 


Much has been said about sustainability over the past 30 years. Starting from the basic definition of satisfying the needs of the present without compromising the capacity of future generations of satisfying their own needs, there are many aspects that must be taken care of to ensure an overall positive outlook for the generations to come.

One such aspect concerns taking action to combat climate change and its impacts. It is known that the current climate change is mainly caused by human activity (i.e. by people burning fossil fuels and converting land from forests to agriculture, thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere). Regarding the latter, the incentives for such behaviour are plentiful: with an ever-growing population and limited land supply, natural coverage areas are being deforested in order to grow crops and meet the consequential rising farming demand. Specifically in Brazil, for instance, it is estimated (FAO) that 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost to deforestation over the past 50 years.


In addition, more than two thirds of the national gross CO2 emissions come from land use, land-use change and forestry (FILHO et al., 2010). As carbon dioxide is one of the main drivers of climate change, an appropriate national-level set of public policies to avoid deforestation is thus expected to bring high dividends. This has to be done, however, while still allowing the productive sector to meet agricultural and livestock demand of an expanding economy so as to not harm the country’s development.

If deforestation is to be avoided without compromising on a reduced output and exports, it is necessary to increase farming productivity. This, however, cannot be done as the need arises. Public policies are necessary and should be planned well ahead. It is necessary to identify the needed and sufficient improvements in productivity that allow for meeting future farming demand with the current levels of land supply available for agriculture and pasture. In case of assessing possible reforestation policies, it is also necessary to address the consequent needed increase in productivities that will lead to the demand being met.

Our project is then constructed in two main phases. First, we need an accurate mid to long-term projection for the baseline output of the main agricultural crops and livestock in Brazil, with occasional deforestation. This will serve as a means to assess the natural development of internal and external farming demand to unfold. Since we wish to assess how a restricted (by policy) land supply will affect total output in the future, it is necessary to build a model relating those variables, whose relationship is by no means linear, as total output depends on a range of different internal and external factors. While other models use static methods such as time series to make output forecasts, they do not allow this scenario simulation, which is the core of our project. We therefore use neural networks to capture those intrinsic relationships between inputs and farming output. This way, we are able to simulate what would happen to production if we tweak the input drivers by policy-making to achieve our sustainability goals.

Lastly, we are left with the task of assessing an optimal set of productivity gains necessary for future scenarios without deforestation and with reforestation. This will hopefully be an essential tool to guide public policy today towards a future both sustainable and prosperous.

Student Project – Agricultural productivity pathways to avoid deforestation in Brazil: application of neural networks

SGI undergraduate student Matheus Mansour has been working on a project relating to agricultural productivity pathways to avoid deforestation in Brazil.

Many models are created with the objective of estimating some kind of economic output, either by a country’s industry or agricultural sector. Time series, general and partial equilibrium models and many other methodologies have been used in the past. However, with the advent of new deep learning methods, powerful tools could be of great use in planning and economic forecasting. In Brazil, a considerable share of GDP is produced by the livestock and agriculture sectors, which have considerable environmental impacts on land use-related issues such as deforestation and biodiversity loss. To avoid these impacts, it is necessary to plan ahead and identify the necessary improvements in productivity for the long ran, if deforestation is to be avoided.

Using data from the last 35 years and 11 of the most important agricultural crops and livestock in Brazil, neural networks will be trained and used as basis for the analysis of scenarios of productivity gains necessary to avoid deforestation in the country and evaluate how reforestation could affect the supply of future agricultural demand. This project is being developed in partnership with Prof. Celma Ribeiro of University of São Paulo, Brazil.

Student Project – Inserting lignin in the sugarcane mills product portfolio: A study using robust optimization approach

SGI PhD student Raphael Dutenkefer has been working on a project looking at insertion of lignin in the sugarcane mills product portfolio.

The use of residues from the sugarcane in industry has been of considerable interest in the last decade. There is a great interest in producing high added value products from residues that today are used solely for the generation of electricity. Lignin, one of the components of lignocellulosic residues derived from sugarcane, is a class of complex organic polymers that can serve as feedstock for the production of many chemicals, materials and even energy carriers. However, its processing technologies are still in an immature technological phase and need further development to become an economically viable option for producers and consumers.

In partnership with Prof. Celma Ribeiro of University of São Paulo, Brazil, this project intends to deeper understand how lignin could improve the economic efficiency of sugarcane mills and what are the best processes being developed today, from an economic perspective. Using a methodology to define the best portfolio for a certain range of products, this project intends to evaluate the investments, maintenance costs, selling price and efficiencies necessary to make lignin a viable feedstock for materials, chemicals and energy carriers.


Energy transition…to what?

Dr. Pedro Gerber Machado works as a Researcher at Imperial Colleges’s Sustainable Gas Institute. Pedro is from Brazil and is interested in the sustainable development of energy production, thorough the development of new technologies and the application of policies. In this blog, Pedro talks about the inaction towards renewable energy in the last 30 years and how we need to change the history in order to have a true energy transition.

The definition of “transition” is not the most controversial definitions of all time, probably not even in the group of the 10 most controversial definitions found in the English language, if not in any language. Even so, the concept of “energy transition” seem to be of great controversy and a theme of great debate more and more as we reach the tipping point of climate change, that point in time which changes will be too late to be made. Taking the Cambridge dictionary definition, “transition” means “a change from one form or type to another, or the process by which this happens”.

Energy transition, nonetheless, has several definitions in academic papers, for example:

These definitions of energy transition all vary in scale. Scale because they are based on “technology”, which could be a simple technological switch from fans to air conditioning in the US, for example, or from single-fuel cars to flex fuel cars in Brazil. On a macro scale, where there are big changes in energy systems on a national or global level, academics use the time of introduction of coal and crude oil in the energy matrix as examples of “energy transitions”, as seen in figure 1.

Figure 1 – global share of energy supply from 1800-2017 (%).












The arrows show the moment where the so called “energy transition” happened in the world. In a simple way, the transition is said to have occurred from biomass to coal in in the late nineteenth century and from coal to oil in mid-twentieth century. It seems like a true “transition”, in which biomass reduces, coal increases and later on coal reduces and oil increases.

Let’s now take a look at the absolute primary energy supply in the line graph, with arrows showing the same moments in time when the “energy transition” took place.

When it comes to total primary energy supply, there was no “transition” (based on the dictionary definition), but instead what happened was a mere “addition”. In both moments there was no “change from one form or type to another”, simply because the other sources are still around. Traditional biomass was still around long after coal entered the energy matrix (and still exists today) and the same goes for the point when oil was introduced, there was no transition there, only an addition, since coal is still rising alongside oil, not falling.

Figure 2 – Total energy supply from 1800-2017 (TWh












Future transitions

More important than determining if what the world has gone through in the past was a “transition” or an “addition” is what is coming in the future and by the future we mean what is happening now. Transitioning away from our current global energy system is of paramount importance,  since its negative environmental and social impacts are of global proportions and we are fast reaching a point of no return.

But it is also important to identify both the similarities and the differences between past and prospective transitions. A crucial issue is that, during past energy additions, both consumers and producers benefited from the new energy source. This is mainly due to lower fuel prices and the new developments in mechanics taking place during that those times. Whereas these private economic and financial benefits are not as obvious for low carbon energy sources and technologies, due to higher prices, generally. Moreover, the introduction of clean, low carbon energy sources has to take place in a real “transition”, and not repeat the same additions the planet has seen in the past.

The bar chart (Figure 3) shows the relative increase of each energy source from 1990 until 2017. This is an important period due to the global increase in environmental concern over these past (almost) 30 years. There was Rio, there was Kyoto, there was Paris and still fossil fuels increased in production.

Figure 3 – Increase of each fuel supply from 1990 to 2017 (%).











The problem, however, is worse when we see that the increase of fossil fuel has been, in absolute terms, higher than renewables in Figure 4.

Figure 4 – Increase of fossil fuels in relation to renewables from 1990-2017













What we see is that, for every 1 unit increase of energy from renewables in the last (almost) 30 years, coal increased 1.93, natural gas 1.77 and oil 1.49. In a world that needs to fully transition to renewables, this is not a good picture.

Unfortunately, this is a repetition of the past. Renewables are just being “added” to the energy matrix, while there is no reduction from the fossil side. This is incompatible with the desired climate change mitigation actions. To have a genuine transition, renewables need to increase in a proportion such that fossil fuels decrease in supply. Only then will the energy transition be an authentic out-of-the-dictionary transition, and not a trifling addition.


BLOG: Are massive capital investments in low carbon technologies enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Our guest speaker, Dr Pratima Rangarajan

In this blog, PhD researcher at Imperial College’s Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI) – Diego Moya reflects on the recent SGI Annual Lecture: Practical Action for a lower carbon footprint by CEO of Oil and Gas Climate Initiative Climate Investments, Dr Pratima Rangarajan. 

On the 30 October 2019, the SGI hosted Dr. Pratima Rangarajan, the first Chief Executive Officer of the newly formed climate investments company: The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI). The 13 OGCI member companies represent 32% of the global oil and gas production and have invested US$ 6.5 billion altogether in low carbon technologies by 2019. OGCI Climate Investments aims to accelerate the development and deployment of innovative technologies that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a significant scale across the globe.

Drawing upon her rich experience on the energy arena, Dr. Rangarajan has been the General Manager of GE’s Onshore Wind Product Line and GE’s Energy Storage as well as the Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President at Vestas Wind Systems.

Medium-term investments for long-term impacts   

Source: OGCI presentation, IEA WEO 2018

As three quarters of the total greenhouse gases come from the power and industry sectors, the OGCI initiative has set a target to invest US$ 1 billion-plus in those sectors over the next decade, focusing on long-term impact. With this investment, OGCI members expect to seriously reduce their collective methane emissions by approximately 0.6 million tonnes. This is greater than a third of the methane produced annually by the end of 2025.

OGCI Climate Investments has identified three main aims of their capital investment practices: (1) Reducing methane emissions; (2) Reducing carbon dioxide, CO2, emissions; and (3) developing carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which they also called “Recycle & store carbon dioxide”. Let’s elaborate on these aims:

  1. 1. Reducing methane emissions  
Source: Slide from OGCI presentation

After carbon dioxide (CO2), methane emissions are the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG present in oil & natural gas systems, combustion, and certain industrial processes. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere and accounts for approximately 20% of global emissions. Thus, significant GHG reductions can be achieved by a rapid and effective drop of manmade methane in the atmosphere.

OGCI plans to reduce methane emissions by investing in five technologies in three specific stages (detection, measurement and mitigation) of methane mitigation. At the detection stage, a global satellite-based remote sensing technology, GHGSat, provides greenhouse gas monitoring services to accurately detect facility-level emissions. Then, Kairos Aerospace and a drone-based technology SeekOps measure methane emissions. In the mitigation stage, both ClarKe Valve and Kelvin technologies have collectively reduced methane intensity of OGCI members by 9% in 2018. These technologies in all stages finally contribute in improving productivity while reducing emissions.

Source: Screenshot of GHGSat website

2. Reducing CO2 emissions 

CO2 emissions account for about 70% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. In contrast with the short-lived of methane, CO2 can remain in the atmosphere from a few years to thousands of years. The second focus of OGCI Climate Investments is reducing CO2 emissions through increasing energy efficiency in the industry, transport and buildings sectors. Since almost two-thirds of primary energy is lost from production to end-use, OGCI’s actions are focused on improving energy efficiency and reducing wasted energy. In the industry sector, OGCI invests in the Boston Metal technology which cost-competitively produce emissions-free steel.

Three technologies (Achates, XL, Norsepower) have also received OGCI investment to provide high fuel-efficiency opposed-piston engines, plug-in hybrid heavy-duty commercial vehicles, and mechanical rotor sails for ships, respectively. In the buildings sector, the 75F technology enables energy savings from heating, cooling and lighting, providing a joint hardware and software product to manage energy consumption in commercial buildings. These energy efficiency technologies target the 40% of the abatement required by 2040 to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

3. Recycle & store carbon dioxide 

CCUS is being mainly applied in industry and power sectors, involving (1) the capture of CO2 from fuel combustion and industrial processes, (2) the transport of CO2, and (3) its use to create other products or services, or its storage in geological formations. To accelerate the CCUS industry, OGCI Climate Investments is developing 5 CCUS hubs via private and public partnerships worldwide.

This aims to create the necessary market conditions (policies) for substantial investments by OGCI member companies to decarbonise industry hubs around the globe. OGCI Climate Investments has made investments in five technologies for recycling and storing CO2, ranging from CCUS in enhanced oil recovery fields to CO2-based concrete cured and CO2-based polyurethane products.

Are massive capital investments in low carbon technologies enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? 

In my opinion, clearly, not. Unfortunately, capital practices, technology development and the natural conditions of the planet for sustainable production are clearly incompatible. If we want to limit the temperature increase to less than 2 degrees by 2100, we must dramatically reduce human-activity-based emissions, starting right now in industrialised countries. However, it is difficult for global companies to fully accept this proposal because it is incompatible with their businesses. Massive investments in low-carbon technologies would be certainly not enough. We also need to “invest” in a change toward an ecological civilization.

We have not yet decoupled economic growth (GDP) from carbon emissions. The challenge is for developing economies that may suffer from runaway emissions in a close future. We can see that the technological development is triggered/driven by capital forces of global companies which also leads to the full development of the negative aspects of technologies in the fact that capital can take advantage of even the ecological disaster that the same capital-intensive companies have greatly created. Inventing new business opportunities to benefit the capital from the current economic and environmental crisis would clearly exceeds the natural limits of the planet and is indeed a contradiction with the current level of human civilization. Decoupling GDP from carbon emissions will certainly require a set of environmental policies and a move to less carbon-intensive economy sectors.

A serious commitment to global warming simultaneously requires a conscious struggle against the way we use and consume energy and materials. Energy AND material flows should be jointly assessed which will require to explore the energy consumption and consumerism toward the production of unnecessary goods. Recent scientific progress has identified that a critical analysis of combined economic policy and natural sciences is needed for a radical change in the increased of energy demand and materials consumption across whole economy sectors.

We truly need to re-establish production systems that strike a balance between human beings’ progress making sure we use our natural resources sustainably. This radical change should not only consider massive capital investments in low-carbon technologies but also leaving fossil fuels in the ground, exponentially increase the deployment of renewables and most importantly changing the growth paradigm, where the planet’s resources and the natural environment must be handled with care.

More about Diego’s research can be found here.


How can Latin American countries move to a more low-carbon economy?

Diego Moya works as a PhD researcher at Imperial College’s Sustainable Gas Institute, and is also part of the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment. Diego from Ecuador is interested in the sustainable development of the Latin American region and is one of the founders of iiasur (Institute for Applied Sustainability Research). In this blog, Diego explores how the region could move towards a low-carbon economy.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) covers an area equivalent to the combined surface area of the USA and China. Despite its vast number of agricultural products and natural resources, and the fact that it has the largest reserves of petroleum (in Venezuela), natural gas, and freshwater, Latin America still has a number of challenges to overcome to achieve widespread welfare and development.

Hydropower plant. Curtesy of Dan Meyers. Source: Unspla

Climate change is also increasing extreme weather events in the LAC region. In 2017, Peruvian president declared a state of emergency after Lima’s worst floods killed 67 people and damaged 115,000 homes. This year in Mexico, wildfires tore through drought areas burning nearly 150,000 hectares. Intense rains, uncontrolled forest fires, agricultural productions losses and long droughts due to intense weather conditions are risking the lives of 660 million LAC citizens.

Having insufficient infrastructure, limited resources and a critical knowledge gap also make the region unable to adapt to such catastrophic climate change impacts. However, past and current emissions produced from industrialised economies are truly the cause of climate change worldwide. Those nations and people who have made the least contribution to climate change are bearing the burden while lacking the wealth to cope with its effects.

What are the low-carbon options to tackle climate change in the region?

Installed Capacity of non-renewable energy. Source: OLADE

Despite having an unfavourable climate change adaptation situation, LAC economies are well positioned to move towards the zero carbon-energy target. According to OLADE (the Latin American Energy Organization), large hydropower remains the biggest renewable power source in the region with a share of 45 % in the total power installed capacity mix. However, extreme weather patterns and the growth of other renewables is changing the mix. Although hydropower will remain strong, other renewables could increase considerably.

Fortunately, there are also opportunities for other cleaner technologies to meet the minimum level of demand on an electrical grids (baseload power demand); the technologies could be geothermal and natural-gas power plants (as a cleaner option to switch from other fossil fuels).  While geothermal-based technologies can meet long-term emission targets, geothermal resources are location specific and therefore distribution costs can be unattractive for investors.  Expanding natural-gas-fired power would help meet short-term emissions targets when switching from other fossil fuels but would also encourage the long-term reliance and use of it.

So what is the emission reduction potential in LAC’s economic sectors?

Agriculture – enhancing reforestation

Harvesting. Source: Photo by Urip Dunker,

Although the agriculture sector in the LAC region is not highly industrialised yet (energy consumption is minimum compared with the other sectors), the loss of forest for agricultural land is releasing carbon emissions at shocking rates. Greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture are linked to livestock, rice production, agricultural soils management and biomass burning.

Forest regulate ecosystems and play an essential part in the carbon cycle. LAC countries contain 22% of the world’s forest area. However, deforestation for agricultural land is a major issue currently facing the region. The rate of deforestation in the region is alarming; between August 2017 and July 2018, an area of Amazon rainforest, equivalent to five times the size of London, was destroyed in Brazil.

Loss of forest also contributes approximately 10% to annual global greenhouse emissions. Therefore, countries that share the Amazon rainforest (e.g. Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia) need to implement strong mechanisms to control land-use and enhance reforestation in the Amazon to achieve carbon mitigation targets.

In 2019, INPE (the Brazilian The National Institute for Space Research) has detected 72,843 fires across the Amazon basin.

The food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (FAO) promotes Sustainable forest management across the region. However, just a few countries have joined the initiative (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic). The program aims to put in practice relevant models of sustainable land use and conservation of forest resources. They work together with local partners to strengthen model forest development in the region.

Finally, policy makers also need to take into account the additional required to modernise the agricultural sector in LAC countries in their energy planning. The use of modern methods would give greater productive yields (e.g. mechanised equipment to plough a field). Although additional energy is needed to power pumps, for irrigation or switch from kerosene lamps to electricity light, this would not only improve agricultural productivity but also, most importantly, it would improve the life quality of people working in the rural sector and farms.

Transport – investing in low-carbon infrastructure

The LAC region lacks a low-carbon transport system. The largest share of energy demand is the transport sector (37%) and the growing rates of car ownership create a market opportunity to both electrifying the sector and expanding cleaner fuels (i.e. bio-fuels, natural gas). The average car ownership rate in LAC countries is 6% annually compared with about 1% in industrialised nations such as the UK, Germany or the USA. More investment is required in public transport systems across the region. Railways, light rail systems and subways to interconnect big cities and countries were not considered in the development of the region.

Transport via tram. Source: Pixabay

But there is still a huge opportunity for foreign investment, capacity building and tackling poverty in the region by developing a sustainable transport system. There are some good examples across the region. In Argentina, the 2008 railway reorganization act resulted in major projects such as the Circunvalar Ferroviario light rail system in Rosario along with electric underground lines in the metropolitan Buenos Aires area and upgrading sections of the Belgrano-Cargas railway. In Chile, use of electric-buses is growing fast; Santiago aims to have 80% of its public fleet driven by E-buses in 2022.

Industry – improving efficiency

The industry sector is responsible for 31% of the total energy consumed in the LAC region. The demand for heat and electricity in industrial processes such as beverages, tobacco, metallurgy, textiles, footwear, cement, steel, and textile has made the region an important focus for clean technologies deployment (i.e. Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico). Electricity penetration and fuel substitution are key for industrial expansion in the region. Process that require to produce heat or cooling are ideal to increase industrial electricity use and reduce fuel consumption.

LAC’s energy intensity – the ratio between energy consumption and GDP of a country – has remained almost constant in last decades. This is mostly due to weak energy efficiency policies and its implementation. The most high-intensity industries in the region are mining, chemicals, pulp and paper, iron and steel, and cement sector. These industrial sub-sectors should promote the use of (1) energy management systems and energy efficiency projects, (2) the best available high-efficiency industrial equipment and capacity training, and (3) energy efficiency products and services from small and medium enterprises (i.e. energy audits).

Residential – the most electrified end-use sector

The residential sector accounts for about 16% of the end-use energy consumption in the region. The region has moved from traditional solid biofuels to more efficient appliances, heating and cooling technologies. However, the consumption of electricity and natural gas is still inefficient due to lack of insulation in buildings, inefficient cooling technologies, inefficient lighting and poor water heating technologies. Although the LAC region is close to achieving universal energy access, still 15 million people live without electricity and over 56 million people rely on traditional uses of solid biofuels for cooking and heating.

Energy efficiency in buildings is also still an issue. Improving building fabric, upgrading insulation, switching to more efficient technology (i.e. electric stoves, district gas networks) and using SMART systems are key to improving life style while keeping low energy consumption in the region.

COP25 Chile 2019: a huge opportunity to discuss the low-carbon future of the LAC region

Now that it is Latin America’s turn to host the next COP25 in Chile later on in November 2019, we can see a huge opportunity to discuss the geopolitical implications of a more sustainable development of the LAC region. COP25 in Chile will highlight a number of current global issues.

The discussion around these topics at the COP25 in Chile is the opportunity to start the debate around the root of the unsustainable development of the LAC region. In my opinion, both the extraction of raw materials without the industrialization of end-use products and the lack of local capacity building, has produced a critical knowledge gap and a lack of technology innovation that has affected the development of our economies.

My final thoughts are that…

Multinational corporations along with governments must commit to developing local capacity to transform cheap raw materials (extracted in the region) into profitable manufactured goods. This would require a set of policy instruments to develop a long-term roadmap to fill the knowledge and technology innovation gaps that would eventually enhance the low-carbon development of our region.

Governments, foreign industry working locally and academia in the LAC region need to work together. We definitely need to explore competitive advantages through innovation by solving local problems at all scales of development in a sustainable way. The implementation of new science and innovation policies and strategies must reflect a sustainable development of the region otherwise we will progress at the expense of the environment.


I acknowledge the valuable comments and suggestions made by Dr. Pablo Carvajal.

About the author

Diego works as PhD researcher in the MUSE energy system model Group at Imperial College’s Sustainable Gas Institute and is part of the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP at the Grantham Institute. Diego is supported by SENESCYT Universities of Excellence Scholarship Scheme and Universidad Técnica de Ambato (UTA).  He is a scholar of the Faculty of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Ambato, UTA-Ecuador. Diego is also one of the founders of iiasur (Institute for Applied Sustainability Research) [LinkedIn, Twitter].

Read more about Diego. 

Image: Map of Latin America (Source: Shutterstock)


Energy Crossroads – Gas in the Danish Energy Transition

This article was written by a Ph.D. student Rasmus Bramstoft from the Technical University of Denmark who is currently on a placement at the Sustainable Gas Institute with the MUSE team. For his PhD , Rasmus is exploring the role of gas in future renewable-based energy systems in Denmark as part of the FutureGas project using a combination of global and regional energy systems models. 

Energy Crossroads

We are currently at an energy crossroad; climate change is happening now and will continue rapidly if we do not act. Globally, nations are joining forces to take action, and the Paris Agreement aims to limit the raise of the global temperature to well below 2⁰C or even 1.5⁰C compared to the pre-industrial temperature. The energy system is currently a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Countries have therefore set their own national energy and climate targets and visions. The Nordic countries, including Denmark, are a pioneer in implementing renewable energy sources (RES).

Role of gas in Denmark in 2018

In Denmark, gas accounts for 16% of the national energy consumption. Denmark has large, but limited reserves, of natural gas in the North Sea. However, national gas production is undergoing a transition from centralised fossil fuel based production to decentralised energy production based on renewable energy sources. This transition is happening now, and a record was set last summer, where in July 2018, 18.6% biomethane was injected in the gas grid compared to the natural gas consumption in Denmark.

Exploring the role of gas in future energy systems

To investigate the role of gas in future energy systems, you really have to understand the complete energy chain from production, via transportation and storage, to the end-consumer. This is what we are doing with the FutureGas Project, which is a project evaluating the role of gas by combining various disciplines from technical aspects to policy barriers and energy systems modelling.

Energy system models provide insight into future energy trends

Energy system modelling is a discipline, which can provide valuable insights into future energy trends. Models are developed using different approaches (e.g. bottom-up vs. top-down, or optimisation vs simulation), assumptions (e.g. different scenarios) and covering different sectors (e.g. power, district heat, gas, and transport) with diverse geographical and temporal resolution. The purpose behind these differences is that each model can answer a specific research question.

How to model gas in future energy systems

The energy system is incredibly complex, and therefore models need to take into account these complexities. For example, gas can be used in various sectors (power, heating, industry, residential, and transport). Moreover, large energy quantities can be stored in underground gas storages. It is, therefore, crucial to investigate the role of gas in future energy systems using a holistic energy system assessment tool, such as the Balmorel-OptiFlow model, in order to understand all energy sectors (power, heat, gas and transport fuels) and their relationship with each other.

Electricity is a key energy vector that also has to be considered, and is seen as the backbone system of the future. However, future generation from variable renewable energy sources (VRE), such as wind and solar, calls for system flexibility due to the intermittent nature of these sources, which can be provided by system integration with gas through, for example, through power to X (PtX) where power is converted (directly or in combination with other resources) into gas or fuels.


System integration also gives us another possibility, for example, technologies which produce by-products (e.g., excess heat) can be sold as heat to district heating networks and receive an additional flow of income. Examples include biorefineries, and combined heat and power plants.

Finally, the integration of cross-border infrastructures such as the power and gas transmissions systems allow energy to be balanced.

Best practice in energy systems modelling

When modelling future energy systems, it is important to consider the following features:

  1. A holistic energy system perspective covering the complete energy system;
  2. Take into account existing infrastructure and any decommissioning of existing plants;
  3. Allow investment and operation optimisation to investigate the most cost-efficient transition pathways;
  4. High geographical resolution; covering a large geographical area, and allowing for detailed resolution of energy resources;
  5. High temporal resolution; to simulate the variable and fluctuating production from variable renewable energy sources (VRE) technologies such as solar and wind.

Combining models: MUSE and Balmorel

Gas is used all over the world.

Modelling the role of gas and renewable gas at different geographical scale, for example global, regional (Northern Europe), and country (Denmark) level, is a remarkable contribution to the research field and can be used to support stakeholders and policymakers in strategic decision-making to identify promising pathways and conversion technologies.

At the moment, I’m working on developing a modelling framework where we combine the MUSE energy system model, developed by the Sustainable Gas Institute, with Balmorel-OptiFlow modelling.

MUSE provides global whole system results, while Balmorel-OptiFlow provides results for the integrated electricity, gas and district heating systems, with higher temporal and spatial resolution for North-western Europe.

In this way, the novel modelling framework combine assessments of global prices of energy carriers with detailed modelling of the chain from the transportation of primary resources to renewable gas production plants, through storage facilities and to end consumers, while taking into account the spatial and temporal energy system integration. The co-simulation leads to the socio-economic optimal system, where investments and operations optimisation is facilitated for the integrated energy system.


Further reading

A model for cleaner power production to defend the blue skies in China

This article was written by Siyuan Chen, a Ph.D. student from Tsinghua University in China who is currently on a placement at the Sustainable Gas Institute. Siyuan in this article describes an energy model that his team is working on that aims to address the huge air pollution problem in China.

The haze weather in Beijing. (Source:

Air pollution problem in China

Over the last few years, air pollution has become a severe problem in China, especially the haze problem. From  2013 to 2016, Beijing experienced haze weather for 183 days each year on average. The wide range of haze weather causes many problems including traffic jams, flight delays, and increasing respiratory disease. There are many reasons for the severe air pollution problem in China, which include vehicle exhausts, construction dust, factory fumes, and coal combustion. However, coal combustion is considered as the major contributor to air pollution, and in China, more than half of the coal consumption is for electricity generation.

Therefore, cleaner production in the power sector plays an important role in tackling the air pollution problem. So how can China ensure it reduces the environmental impact of power generation, and how can energy systems modelling help?

Coal power plant (Source: Pixabay)

Action plan for air pollution prevention and control

In order to solve this urgent air pollution problem, the Chinese government launched the “Action plan for air pollution prevention and control” in 2013. The action plan aims to reduce the inhalable particulate concentration by over 10% in 2017 compared with 2012 levels. At that time, ultra-low emission technologies of coal-fired power plants were developed and first deployed in 2014. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from coal-fired power plants equipped with these emission control devices are lower than 35 and 50 mg/m3 with 6% oxygen content respectively, which is as clean as gas-fired power plants. In order to address the air pollution problem, the Chinese government plan to retrofit all qualified coal power plants with ultra-low emission technologies by 2020.

However, the policies are still vague and the impacts of this change are unknown. So it is essential to find a cost-effective clean production pathway for China’s power sector to address the air pollution problem.

Power generation expansion planning considering environmental issues

Power generation expansion planning is used to determine the optimal type, location, and construction time of power generation technologies whilst ensuring that the increasing power demand is met. Recently, environmental issues have been taken into consideration due to the growing concern of global warming and air pollution.

To deal with China’s air pollution, it is important to conduct power generation expansion planning with environmental constraints. At Tsinghua University, we have developed a model, known as the Long-term Multi-regional, Load-dispatch and Grid-structure based power generation planning model (LoMLoG), to support the decision-making process to help planners understand the environmental issues.

The model takes into account the following four factors:

Wind resources are mainly located in western and northern China (Source: Sino-Danish RED Prog).

1. Uneven distribution

Natural resource and electricity demand in China have an uneven spatial distribution. China has abundant resources in western areas, such as fossil fuel and non-hydropower renewables in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia and hydropower in Yunnan and Sichuan. However, power demand in eastern coastal areas (e.g. Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong) is much greater than in these resource-rich regions. Based on these regional characteristics, China is divided into seventeen areas reflecting power demand and natural resources.

2. Power transmission

With the rapid development of long-distance Ultra-High-Voltage power transmission lines in recent years, eastern coastal areas of China are capable of importing electricity from western areas which have abundant natural resources, instead of constructing power generation facilities locally. Long-distance cross-region power transmission options could have a great influence on regional power generation structure and give new insights to policymakers for air quality control. Therefore, we have included power transmission among regions in this model.

3. A temporal module

Electricity demand has high volatility in a 24-hour period on a day-to-day basis, and also from season-to-season. It, therefore, needs an accurate and reliable electricity supply to match the needs. From the electricity supply side, renewable energy also has a high temporal variation and can be used only when resources are available, which increases the uncertainty of the power system. In order to handle this problem, a temporal module is introduced. We have therefore divided each year into four seasons and each day is divided into twenty-four hours to capture the high time resolution of the power system.

The capacity mix of power sector in all regions is shown.

4. Emissions targets

According to the 13th Five-year Plan for Eco-environmental Protection issued by the State Council, national sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions must be reduced by 15% in 2020 compared to 2015 levels. The emission reduction targets set by the government are therefore also incorporated into the model as must-achieve goals so that air pollution can be controlled.

Cleaning up the power sector

Our model presents a cleaner way for the power sector to reduce and control air pollution. The results show that ultra-low emission coal power plants would account for 60.5% of total coal power plants by 2020. The capacity of renewable energy (wind, solar PV, hydropower) would account for 36% of total power generation units. Due to the large-scale deployment of ultra-low emission technologies in coal power plants and rapid growth of renewable energy, SO2, and NOx emissions would decrease by 44% and 21% in 2020 compared to 2016 levels.

The regional capacity expansion pathway of power sector is also shown in the results. Thanks to the construction of long-distance Ultra-High-Voltage power transmission lines across China, eastern coastal areas with greater air pollution could import a great deal of electricity from western and Northern China, which helps them to decrease local coal power generation and air pollutants emissions accordingly.

Future work

Air pollution control is generally the short-term goal of China’s energy system. In the long term, climate change issues will need more attention. China has made a firm commitment in the Paris Agreement and has become an important participant, contributor, and torchbearer in the global endeavor for environmental civilisation. Therefore, it is vital to find a low-carbon transition pathway for China’s power sector, which would be the focus of future work.

Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI) has developed a global whole system model (MUSE) to simulate energy transitions towards a low carbon world. The model has rich types of technology and novel modelling methods, which can be a good reference for China’s low-carbon energy transition. During my research stay in SGI, I would like to learn these advanced methodologies and conduct cooperative research work on China’s low-carbon energy transition pathway.