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This Week In Climate: Out with the old solutions, in with the older

Today in our climate news section, This Week In Climate, we look at the future of fish, flying and freight using the oldest tech in the book.
Julian Moore
Oct 26, 2022 8 min read
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Return of the Turbine

The aviation industry has mostly thrown in its lot with hydrogen fuel to meet emissions targets laid out in an industry net-zero-by-2050 pledge, as well as in the European Green Deal.

But even the most sanguine expectations are that a hydrogen fuelled jet is more than a decade away, leaving the door open to alternative ideas for cutting into the aviation’s outsized carbon footprint.

So far, one of the leading ideas is to bring back propellers.

The open-fan design calls for a twin set of giant propeller blades practically sandwiched together at the front of a gas-powered turbine. That allows the blades to draw more air and generate lift, reducing the reliance on a biofuel or hydrogen-burning turbine for propulsion.

Manufacturers CFM say this design could save between 20% and 30% of a mid-range flight’s fuel consumption while accommodating the transition to lower-carbon fuels.

The carbon and cost savings are undeniable, but there are several hurdles ahead for the new design.

The first is financial risk. Developing new aircraft is typically a multi-billion-dollar endeavor that can derail a company for decades if their investment is a miss.

Fuel savings from the open-fan concept are also on par with what can be accomplished by improving conventional jet turbines with geared turbofans. Given the stakes, aerospace companies are more likely to lean into technologies they already know how to build, especially if the emissions reductions are the same.

Then there’s safety. Companies will likely have to go through a new and unknown regulatory process to prove, for example, that the exposed fan blades won’t slice through the cabin in the unlikely event they come loose.

Climate Solution in a Can

The transition to a sustainable food system may ultimately come down to eating the crickets.

But a report this week highlights the role tinned fish, namely sardines and anchovies, can play in reducing emissions from the world’s food supply chain.

Meat-heavy diets in wealthy countries have driven food and agriculture to represent more than a third of total human GHG emissions, setting off a race between plant-based and lab-grown meats to provide an alternative.

But small fish provide a comparable amount of protein per serving as other animal sources while accounting for just 2% of the fishing sector’s overall emissions.

Nearly 80% of all fish caught for consumption are either frozen on the spot or refrigerated before being eaten fresh in areas nearby the point of catch.

Both of those conservation methods are energy-intensive processes, especially when compared to a simple can of oil that can preserve boiled fish for months.

It goes without saying those reductions don’t mean much if you're eating one of the 10% of species already on the brink of collapse.

Small ocean fish reproduce quickly, making it easier for fishers to maintain a profit while employing sustainable fishing practices and catch limits.

That was a lesson Spanish anchovy fishermen learned the hard way in 2005, when overfishing collapsed anchovy populations and the government instituted a five-year ban on all activity.

Anchovy numbers bounced back in those years, and the Cantabrian variety ultimately got back its lost Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainability.

Wind in the Sails

Sailing made a comeback in global commercial shipping this week after more than a century on the sidelines.

The Shofu Maro is a Mitsui-made cargo ship that employs a 55-metre sail to reduce fuel consumption by roughly 5-8% on long-haul trips, such as its maiden voyage from Japan to England completed this week.

But since no climate progress can go unpunished, this wind-aided ship is currently only fit to carry one type of cargo: coal.

The Shofu Maro will save 25,000 litres per long-haul trip as it ferries 80,000 tons of coal from Indonesia, Australia and India to its buyers in Europe and the United States.

Fortunately, the Shofu Maro is just the first in a coming wave of commercial cargo ships that take advantage of the wind to reduce emissions.

Former Airbus engineers at Airseas are beginning trials on a giant retractable parachute that they say can harness favorable winds for 20% savings in annual emissions.

Shipping giant Cargill is also testing out 750-foot container ships equipped with 45-metre-long sails that promise to increase fuel efficiency by 30%.

Over the next two years, 74 wind-aided shipping vessels will be in production, with at least seven of those expected to be delivered this year.

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The Author

Julian Moore