South Korea Plans to Build Three Hydrogen Powered Cities by 2020

15 Oct 2021

At the COP21 meeting in Paris in 2015, 195 countries agreed to keep global warming below 2°C above preindustrial levels. To reach this target, the world will need to cut energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 60% by 2050 even as the population grows by more than two billion people. This requires a dramatic increase in energy efficiency, and a transition to renewable-energy sources and low-carbon energy carriers. In 2019, the Hydrogen Council—a consortium of 18 companies in the automotive, oil and gas, industrial gas, and equipment industries—presented their vision on how hydrogen can contribute to achieving ambitious climate targets. The council considers hydrogen as an enabler for the transition to a renewable-energy system, and a clean-energy carrier for a wide range of applications. If serious efforts are made to limit global warming to 2°C, the council estimates that hydrogen could contribute around one-fifth of total abatement needs by 2050.

South Korea is vying to win the race to create the first hydrogen-powered society. It wants to build three hydrogen-powered cities by 2022 to position itself as a leader in green technology. In December 2019, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism in South Korea announced that they chose the cities of Ansan, Ulsan, Wanjua, and Jeonju as candidate cities for the hydrogen economy, and Samcheok to specialize in research and development of hydrogen technology. The government plan calls for an investment of US$ 25 million for each of the three candidate cities, half of which will be paid by regional governments.

Ansan (one hour South of Seoul) will become an eco-friendly city by linking tidal power generation to hydrogen production, and installing three hydrogen charging stations to operate two hydrogen buses and ten hydrogen forklifts. In addition, a manufacturing innovation entrepreneurship town will be established, and 232 homes will be supplied with hydrogen.

Ulsan (one of the centers of Korea’s (petro) chemical industry) will build a pipeline network to utilize byproduct hydrogen generated in petrochemical complexes for buildings and charging stations in the city center based on accumulated experience in hydrogen town, which has been operating since 2013. It decided to build a hydrogen city in connection with local specialized industries such as a demonstration project for hydrogen fueling for ships.

Wanju (about two hours South of Seoul) is expected to develop into a regional hydrogen production and supply base; and Jeonju (just 10km from Wanju) will serve as a hydrogen utilization and publicity city. In the transportation sector, hydrogen-electric buses will be introduced in the second half of 2020 to run the bus route between Wanju and Jeonju, as well as shuttles and city tours in Jeonju Hanok Village.

Multi-unit housing complexes and individual buildings in the pilot cities will use hydrogen as an energy source for cooling, heating and electricity. The strategy is part of a wider vision to power 10% of the country’s cities, counties and towns by hydrogen by 2030, growing to 30% by 2040.


Using Biotechnology to Reduce GHG Emissions from Animal Farming

15 Aug 2021 | Original

Agriculture accounts for almost 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,[1] and livestock alone uses 80% of total agricultural land. The bulk of GHG emissions from livestock (consisting of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide) arise from four main sheep and cattle rearing activities: enteric fermentation, manure management, feed production, and energy consumption. While governments place a high value on the introduction of clean energy, there is much to be desired in terms of finding innovative ways to control GHG emissions by the dairy and meat industry. For the world to achieve the Climate Action Plan targets for 2050, a focus on cleantech alone will not be enough.

Cutting down GHG emissions associated with livestock requires concerted research, and the development of technologies that can ensure cleaner methods of animal farming. In parallel, the world also needs to rethink its consumption patterns. While raising awareness is the first step towards altering the consumption of meat and dairy, the food industry will have to ensure the faster development and widespread distribution of alternatives to ensure a long term change in consumer behavior.

Genetic selection focused on ruminant animals’ enteric fermentation could significantly reduce overall emissions by 2050. Experts say that about 20% of animal methane emission is determined by genetic make-up alone.[2] Researchers have already developed genetic systems that can reduce methane emissions by 20%.[3] However, a lot is still to be desired in terms of breed specificity of genetic programs. Moreover, uptake remains an obstacle owing to a lack of financial incentives in the form of credit payments for methane limitation while animal rearing.

Another way to use biotechnology to reduce emissions from animal farming is through innovations that improve animal health and productivity. Healthier livestock have better productivity and longer lifespans, making it possible to meet the world’s growing meat and dairy demand with fewer animals and reduced GHG emissions. A McKinsey study suggests that in North America implementation of improved animal health measures can improve the productivity of farm animals by 8%. Researchers are working towards developing innovations in the Internet of Things (IOT) as low cost methods of supporting farmers in monitoring animal health. A great example of such an innovation is LIVEQuest, a low-cost tool developed through a partnership between the United Kingdom and China that allows farmers to place devices on livestock and continually monitor health and productivity. This helps farmers cater to livestock needs quickly and improve animal health and productivity in a cost-effective manner, thereby providing farmers with the right incentives for take up.[4]

Addressing the production of animal feed can also improve GHG emissions from livestock. In India, a software tool helps determine the best mix of feed for 2.4 million animals in more than 30,000 villages. The software considers each animals’ nutritional needs and GHG emissions when suggesting a feed mix.[5]

All the above innovations focus on the production side of the meat and dairy value chain. Working on clean innovations in production, without addressing excessive consumption patterns in meat and dairy is a one-legged approach to combating environmental degradation. It is estimated that by 2050, global meat consumption would more than double. In 2016, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Foreign Trade reported annual meat consumption at 85.14kg per capita, which was thrice the amount in major meat importing countries, and 18 times more than the world average.[6] Reducing the consumption of meat and substituting with less carbon-intensive food is critical in ensuring that the world is able to meet GHG reduction targets by 2050.

While changing consumer behavior would require sustained awareness campaigns, development of non-meat alternatives that look and taste like meat would be a good way to ease consumers into finding alternatives to fulfill their protein requirements. Biotechnology has advanced fairly in this endeavor, however, meat resembling products in the market are still far from being readily available.[7] Companies working on the production and distribution of these alternatives are a handful. Examples include Impossible Foods, a company producing plant based burgers that look and act like meat while using 75% less water, 95% less land and 87% fewer gas emissions than a regular beef burger; NotCo, a Chilean company that produces dairy alternatives; and Finless Foods, a company developing non-fish alternatives to seafood. These companies use cutting edge biotechnologies such as synthetic biology and artificial intelligence in creating their products. However, the field of synthetic biology is still uncharted territory as investors and governments tread carefully in devising ways that can truly change how societies eat.

The UAE is not the largest producer and/or consumer of dairy and meat in the world and hence its contributions to the GHG emissions owing to production are low compared to other countries. However, its forward-looking policies embedded in wellbeing and innovation, and its rich human capital can make it a pioneer in the research and development of biotechnologies that can disrupt the way the livestock industry impacts the world environment.

[1] McKinsey & Company. April 2020. Agriculture and Climate Change.

[2] Ibid, 2020

[3] Ibid, 2020

[4] Innovation China UK.

[5] Sreelata, M. 02 July, 2019. Software helps cut Indian cows’ methane emissions.

[6] Pandey, V. 27 July, 2019. UAE Fresh Mutton and Fruits Market, 2016. Glasgow Consulting Group.,more%20than%20the%20world%20average.

[7] Wilcox, M. 14 May, 2019. Synesthetic Biology is Changing What We Eat. Here’s What We Need to Know.

Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and Sustainable Fashion

15 Jun 2021 | Original

Fashion is a competitive and growing industry. Big brands have lowered production costs making clothing more affordable, and release up to 24 collections per year. Not only are people buying more clothes, but also, bought garments are being replaced at a faster pace.[1] This trend in fast fashion carries a hefty price tag on the environment. Up to 85% of clothing produced each year ends up in landfills.[2] Moreover, it is estimated that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually and uses up to 1.5 trillion liters of water.[3] Also, new research shows that micro-plastics from clothing make its way out to seas and oceans.[4]

Thanks to digital media, information on the harmful effects of fast fashion is readily available worldwide, and consequently, a growing population of environmentally conscious shoppers are turning to sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion is a jmovement that emphasizes quality over quantity, and promotes making conscious buying choices driven by information on how each piece of clothing is made. This movement gave rise to a number of MSMEs who cater to this fashion niche and promise to produce clothes that are made from sustainable materials and processes, and have a smaller carbon footprint.

MSME examples of sustainable fashion include Bug Clothing, a home business led by one woman in the UK that makes handmade clothing using deadstock fabric from big designer factories; Tsouls, a small business led by an American husband and wife that produces footwear made of cork; and Joseph & Alexander,a small UAE brand that produces swimwear from plastic sourced out of oceans. It is important to note that as MSMEs enter the sustainable fashion market, this creates the opportunity for complementary business to emerge, such as MESME vendors and suppliers. Interesting examples include Sourcing Playground, a B2B platform that connects brands to more sustainable manufacturers; and Queen of Raw, a platform for businesses to buy and sell deadstock fabric.

Another way startups are augmenting sustainability in fashion is through the development of dyes and fabric using biotechnology. Typically, dyes used in mass production are manufactured using harsh chemicals, release toxic byproducts, and consume a lot of water and energy. Tech startups have come to the rescue and are using synthetic biology to change the way dyes are produced. Two promising examples from Europe are Pilio bio and Colorfix.  Pilio bio is located in Paris and manufactures pigments and dyes using enzymes, and Colorfix is based out of Norwich in the UK and uses microbes to dye textiles using minimal water and energy.

Tech MSMEs are also using biotechnology to produce fabric that is more sustainable. Growing plant-based textiles (such as cotton), requires land and consumes large quantities of water. Similarly, synthetic fibers derived from fossil fuels not only contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but also leave microplastic residues in clothing. Two notable tech MSMEs working towards producing sustainable fabric are Spiber and Bolt Threads. Spiber is a Japanese startup that produces fabric using protein fibers. The company has created outdoor jackets made from microbe-derived silk, and works toward lowering the cost of spider silk production to levels similar to that of synthetic fibers. Bolt Threads produces spider silk using yeast and is selling to big brands like Stella McCartney.

It is clear that MSMEs around the world are working towards making fashion sustainable with full force. Their approaches are innovative, and focus on building environmental awareness in communities. They are key agents of change, and can play an integral role in shifting the way societies consume and impact the environment. Around the world, governments have erected support programs for MSMEs to encourage this change.[5] Some programs provide funding to small businesses, while others aim at connecting artisans to large scale producers, latest technologies, and international markets. Moreover, central banks offer a variety of schemes that aim at providing MSMEs easy access to finance. Currently, ethical design is geographically concentrated in Australia, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. Broadly speaking, these regions have progressive governments who incentivize sustainable and ethical practices, as well as business environments that are increasingly environmentally conscious and competitive. In order to promote sustainable consumerism, it is essential that governments take an even more proactive effort towards supporting, rewarding, and promoting MSMEs that make mindful consumption possible.

[1] McFall-Johnsen, M. (2019). The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. Business Insider Nederland.

[2] McFall-Johnsen, M. (2019). The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. Business Insider Nederland.

[3] Davis, N. (2020, April 7). Fast fashion speeding toward environmental disaster, report warns. The Guardian.

[4] Messinger, L. (2018). How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply. The Guardian.

[5] European Commision. (2016). Support for SMEs and entrepreneurs. Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs – European Commission.


The future of water: How innovations will advance water sustainability and resilience worldwide – World Bank

15 Aug 2020

As the global population hurtles towards 9.7 billion people by 2050, it has never been more important to produce more with less. As the water supply and sanitation (WSS) sector continues to face increasing pressures, especially due to the impacts of climate change, governments in the developing world will need to increase the sector’s resilience and sustainability. Innovation and technology have a vital role to play in scarcity and safety, water efficiency, utility operations, monitoring and treatment and data and analytics. The World Bank, along with water innovation accelerator Imagine H2O, recently hosted a virtual event showcasing fourteen water technology businesses with especially promising products and services.

The businesses highlighted in the webinar offer technologies that help utilities serve customers digitally, manage water resources remotely and in real time, empower farmers to make water smart decisions and utilize distributed technology to expand water and wastewater services to underserved communities.

Smarter Homes, is a company that produces the WaterOn device, which is a smart metering and automated leakage prevention system. Thus far, the device has been used on apartment buildings in India and has helped save 40,000 households an average of 35 percent of water consumption.

Ignitia is a company that uses machine learning and remote sensing to send text messages to small-scale farmers with hyper-local information on climates and weather forecasts. The service has thus far led to a 65 percent average yield increase across different staples, and a $476 increase in average farmer income.

Oneka is another company that helps consumers obtain safe drinking water without utilizing land or emitting greenhouse gases. Oneka’s wave-powered desalination buoys convert ocean water to drinking water. Each buoy can produce 10m3 of drinking water per day, saving an estimated 34,000kg of CO2 per year. 

The Next Climate Tech Breakthrough May Have Already Happened, We Just Didn’t Notice- Earth Institute| Columbia University

15 Dec 2019

The president of the UN General Assembly says we have only 11 years to “prevent irreversible damage to our planet” from climate change. That’s a short deadline in which to prevent an existential crisis. The global community is desperate for solutions that prevent further environmental damage and help us adapt to life in a new climate.

To stay within the targeted limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, scientists insist that we need to reduce the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere, in addition to dropping new emissions to net-zero. The goal is to implement carbon dioxide removal strategies that capture carbon from the air and safely store it.

Existing CO2 removal technologies usually mimic natural biogeochemical processes that sequester carbon, or amplify the carbon-capturing qualities of the ocean, forests and sedimentary rocks. One method would fertilize phytoplankton in the ocean to increase the photosynthetic uptake of carbon. Another relies on crushing up carbon-absorbing rocks to increase their surface area, storage potential, and the rate of carbon removal.

Now, more than ever, there is a need for creative solutions, and these examples show that the next breakthroughs in sustainable development won’t come from Silicon Valley or scientific labs, but from Mother Nature.

The examples are as fascinating as they are absurd. The bullet trains in Japan reach nearly 200 mph thanks to the Kingfisher bird’s aerodynamic beak. Wind turbines are 20 percent more energy efficient when shaped like humpback whale fins, and termite mounds show architects how to improve building air conditioning systems. Industry giants like Seventh Generation are looking to beetles that spray poison to remake aerosol packaging. Swimsuits constructed like shark skin reduce drag so effectively that they were banned at the Olympics. Medical spaces are even applying the antimicrobial properties of shark skin to create sterile surfaces without producing antibacterial resistance.

Read More on Columbia University’s Earth Institute:

Why the cities of the future are cellular– WEF

15 Nov 2019

We are facing a climate emergency. As the world wakes up to the catastrophic implications of climate change, it falls to national, state and especially municipal governments to take practical steps to prepare for the impacts.

But even the greenest cities are facing a grim reality. No matter what national governments and businesses do to reduce carbon emissions, massive climate disruption is unavoidable in the short to medium term. While firmly committed to decarbonizing, growing numbers of city leaders recognize some climate change is inevitable and they must be prepared to manage it. Some are actively exploring ways to design-in resilience, including redesigning, repurposing and retrofitting the built environment. While some cities are taking heroic steps to curb emissions and adapt their cities, it’s time they also start preparing for Plan B.

Preparing for Plan B is about adapting a mindset focused on smart, achievable and future-looking adjustments at the local level. We call this the cellular city. A cellular mindset involves hyper-localizing resilience and investing in self-sufficiency and adaptive regeneration. Cellular thinking requires every law, tax, zoning act, procurement policy, new building or purchasing decision to be embedded with local self-sufficiency, adaptability and resilience top of mind.

Building the cellular city means investing in, but moving beyond, mitigation and adaptation. It means acknowledging the “climate emergency” is a global reality, not a remote possibility. It requires seeing climate change as an opportunity for upgrading, retrofitting and re-purposing the urban landscape for a sustainable future. It will involve making investments in public and private buildings, so they are not only green and efficient, but also autonomous and self-sufficient.

The smartest cities are who invest in and subsidizing smarter public transport, electric vehicles, renewable energy plants and industrial symbiosis to promote a more circular economy, offering ideas on how to localize resilience and regenerative capacities at a granular scale.

While we must do everything we can to prevent climate change from spinning out of control, the cities that will weather the coming storm – will be cellular.

How big data can help us fight climate change faster– WEF

15 Jun 2019

From analyzing large data sets — or big data — we know that our planet lost the equivalent of 40 football fields per minute last year in tree cover. Big data can a help us tackle the problem, for example by locating harmful emissions or identifying pressure points along the supply chain.

When California Governor Jerry Brown announced in September that the US state would be launching “its own damn satellite” to monitor the effects of climate change, his promise was bold. California is taking local action to a global problem in the absence of federal leadership. The state will develop and eventually launch a satellite capable of detecting the “point source” of climate pollutants, monitoring leaks and other anomalies at specific locations.

The satellite, an initiative of the California Air Resources Board, will complement project partner Environmental Defense Fund’s MethaneSAT, scheduled for launch in 2021. The latter will provide broader, more frequent coverage, quantifying emissions from oil and gas fields producing at least 80% of global output roughly every four days.Combining data captured via satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to monitor forests and land use to provide the ‘where, why, when and who’.

Another example is the Trase platform, which connects independent data sources to reveal the trade flows for commodities such as beef, soy and palm oil which are responsible for an estimated two thirds of tropical deforestation. Using existing data such as customs records and trade contracts, tax registration data, production data and shipping data, Trase pieces together a bigger picture of how exports are linked to agricultural conditions in the places where they are produced.

Most recently, US climate change think tank Woods Hole Research Center is using a satellite-based tool to create a new global carbon monitoring map. The approach is “poised to transform how the world measures and tracks changes in forest carbon”.