Written by: Rutva Patel, a masters student working with
ASU LightWorks on the Digital Carbon Warehouse
Advised by: Todd Taylor, blockchain expert, Thunderbird School of Global Management
A blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain.
Okay too many jargons, lets simplify this.
Blockchain is essentially a database that is shared among a network of computers that is secured and hence eliminates the need of “trusted” third parties. Whenever there is an activity (addition/updating), a new block is added to this network which is immutable, or in other words the transaction details cannot be altered, only added to.
“Blockchain technology has long been associated with crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, but there is so much more that it has to offer, particularly in how public and private organisations secure, share and use data,” comments Steve Davies, global leader for blockchain and partner at PwC UK.
By: Dylan Shapiro and Rutva Patel, Masters students working with ASU LightWorks on the Digital Carbon Warehouse
This week’s blog post will address some of the nuances and misconceptions of the monster-under-the-bed that is scope 3 emissions. Diving right in, what really distinguishes scope 3 from scopes 1 and 2? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines scope 3 as, “the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain.” A value chain is the full network and processes that support a particular business. This scope 3 definition is a very high-level explanation that creates a lot of gray areas for businesses and institutions. This ambiguity, complemented by the fact that organizations are not mandated to report on scope 3, takes the pressure off industries to address a significant aspect of decarbonization, let alone in a meaningful way. Scope 3 emissions are the epitome of the last mile and no marathon is complete until one goes the full distance. Greenhouse Gas Protocol's accounting and reporting standard, "Technical Guidance for Calculating Scope 3 Emissions" provides a helpful animation to visualize what activities are associated with scope 3 emissions.
Gary Dirks, senior director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and executive director of ASU LightWorks, recently sat down for a conversation with Marc Serber from the International Policy Digest. In this exchange, Dirks shares ASU's history in energy research and why this pandemic has shined a brighter light on the need to transition fuel sourcing and production away from fossils and to renewables.
"Well, COVID-19 has had a very negative impact on the oil industry, and it’s probably the last nail in the coffin for coal also," Dirks said. "I think it’s drawn forward a lot of the thinking about the pace at which we aim to decarbonize, probably by as much as 10 years, and that has opened up a lot more thinking about how and when we actually deploy renewable energy."
We finally made it… although the trials and tribulations of 2020 are still waning, 2021 has the potential to be a great year. With most people and companies fully adapting to work-from-home and the vaccine being slowly spread throughout the globe, this year will give our world a chance to focus more on the paramount issues that have been put on the back-burner, like climate change.
With the US rejoining the Paris Accords, there is now more room for teamwork and collaboration among global powers (and emitters), which will undoubtedly lead to greater innovation in the realm of sustainability. As America returns to the fight in a big way, the conversation surrounding climate change has quickly shifted. All across news outlets, there is chatter of how President Biden is directing billions of dollars to combat global warming, and how the Pentagon is now declaring climate change a national security threat. This is a precedence that will create a more climate-conscious union and its effects are already trickling throughout the country. As a result, the impetus of society’s shift to net-zero is stronger than ever. Not only is the new administration taking this issue more seriously than it has in the past but also is calling for governments and global institutions to come together and create real solutions. This push is unprecedented, and, with the exponential advent of technology, there are ample opportunities for groundbreaking ideas to pave the path to a brighter future.
Enter the Digital Carbon Warehouse (DCW)... The DCW was initiated by Lightworks last year. To remind the audience, the DCW is a block chain EMEA LEED platform that will give individuals and businesses an easy way to track their carbon output and link that to decisions to offset their emissions accordingly. Radical transparency delivered through track and trace smart systems will present pathways to climate-consciousness, achieve corporate carbon agendas, and generate robust local economies. Realized co-benefits to provide additional incentives is an important step to make the platform successful. It is crucial for people to understand not only the value proposition for the greater good but also how this brings value to them individually. The current hypothesized co-benefits related to circular economy are still high-level and the question is, how do we incentivize all demographics to be active users? Increased regulatory and market pressures for businesses to make this shift will likely make them early adopters. This is already being seen with organizations like Microsoft, which announced their purchase of 1.3 million carbon offsets as part of the tech giant’s mission to become carbon negative by 2030. The goal is to get our entire society on board in what is predicted to be a multi-billion-dollar marketplace, serving also as an amazing solution to carbon intensity reduction.
As a thought experiment, what could an actual working model look like? A flexible distributed ledger platform (similar to blockchain) would be required for proper tracking and tracing functions. Since a blockchain is designed to be immutable and the sequestration process is impermanent, there will be a need for innovation in the space in tangent with thorough compliance and contract policies. Essentially, a strict set of standard rules that are maintained in the marketplace through smart contracts and AI will be necessary. AI and machine learning functions could be programmed to ensure that each carbon credit purchased will actually represent the removal of one metric ton of carbon or other equivalent GHG. Once this is achieved, tax incentives from buying offsets would make them more attractive in the market. Eventually, this will all be supported through individualized software that will allow people to estimate the emission they are responsible for from any activity (driving, flying, purchasing), and offset this contribution with the push of a button.
So, where does ASU Lightworks come in? It begins with catalyzing experts and industry leaders from disparate sectors with the shared objective to transition to renewable energy and contribute to economy-wide decarbonization. For the DCW, the Lightworks team has fostered these relationships, contributing to a community of domain experts, industry professionals and corporates from sectors such as data analytics, smart intuitive systems, machine learning, bio/mechanical/software engineering, legal-policy, water, agriculture and economics. On top of this, as we continue to develop the business case and crowdsource different players that can support the tracking and tracing components, we become ever closer to making this a reality.
Imagine a world where individuals and businesses are constantly incentivized to make climate-conscious decisions with real impacts. These decisions will enhance all aspects of our lives from the air we breathe to the food we eat. This is the world we are looking to build. Yet, as implied in this article and in our last blog posts, we still have a lot to achieve. We face a looming challenge that also fortunately presents positive implications and opportunities… Ultimately, as the famous author and optimist, Ryan Holiday, likes to say, the obstacle is the way.
As the year 2020 nears its inevitable end it’s nice to reflect back and take note of things that worked, things that didn’t work and stuff to just plain, avoid. While 2020 has produced a seemingly unmeasurable amount of “things to avoid” it also marks one year closer to deadlines for carbon neutrality.
Deadlines enforced by both human and natural forces. Human organizations = policy, regulation, laws. Nature = climate change, extreme weather, and future inability for the planet to support human life.
Whether it was the thought of impending doom, or the fear of an avoidable financial burden, a few observations ring true. One, a growing number of companies are publicly setting organizational carbon goals. Two, many of the organizations setting these goals have NO concrete plan of how to reach them. And three, efficacy of offset and the carbon market is beginning to shape up.
No doubt the first two come as little surprise. Almost daily the news reports of another massive corporation like IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, Nestle or Starbucks are capturing headline news with one huge carbon reduction goal after another. Many corporations have adjusted their perspective from viewing sustainability as a burden, to realizing it creates a competitive edge by differentiating them from their competitors. This phenomenon is being observed with municipalities as well. While it is amazing and wonderful that so much interest is being shown in sustainability, the fact remains that many of these organizations are struggling with how they will, in fact, be able to reduce their footprint to zero.
A recent collaboration between LightWorks and Luminosity Lab sought to understand what organizations had in place to meet their newly publicized goals. The project is an element of a larger portfolio of work developed by LightWorks, Digital Carbon Warehouse (DCW). The DCW: interviews ask – “what, if anything is in place to help ensure a successful transition to net zero carbon”. The team interviewed people in a variety of roles within large national and global companies from multiple industry sectors. the team learned no matter what company, industry sector or operating region an organization was based in, a resounding majority acknowledge that offsets will have a role in the future of their company’s carbon neutrality.
Now, to be fair, acknowledging that offsets will play a role and accepting them in their current state are two completely different acts that won’t be sharing the same stage.
More than half of the responses gathered from the DCW: interviews found the lack of standardization to be the #1 barrier to adoption. Standardization, or the industry wide level setting to establish a single cohesive language governing operation. Currently the market has no agreed upon set of protocols defining how carbon sequestration is measured, tracked and traced, not to mention there is still no universally accepted carbon price. Without the ability to ensure consistent, efficient reporting and provide trustworthy evidence of sequestration, or operate in a steady market, gaining corporate buy-in will be extremely difficult.
Not to fret, change is in the air. This year has ushered in unprecedented changes to conventional thinking in a myriad of realms. Carbon markets are no stranger to this trend. News of a merger between major market actors Sustainability Accounting and Standards Board (SASB) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) in late November are strong indicators of positive change. Further, the oil and gas giants BP, in a press release this December, announced their acquisition of more than 50% of the forest trust Finite Carbon. Finite will be attached to BP’s accelerator arm with a targeted expansion of $1B in revenue to small landowners by 2030.
Successes like the SASB & IIRC merger or BP acquisition send a trend-setting messages that resonate with industry peers. As more companies take on the challenges of meeting their carbon goals, collectively we inch closer to addressing the gaps throughout the carbon market ecosystem. Universities will play a significant role in identifying transition pathways and are proving to be an influential partner to organizations of all shapes and sizes. Applying innovation, collaboration, and trust to develop frameworks and collaborations necessary to facilitate the world’s transition to a carbon free economy.
While yes, 2020 was an “interesting year”, optimistic perspectives are bringing a carbon neutral future into view. Clearly, significant, challenging and potentially painful adjustments are undoubtedly in store – it can be argued having a focus on a viable path will help to quiet the chattering chaos that envelops periods of unrest, turmoil, and change.
In 1992 the United Nations came together for its first-ever, “Earth Summit,” and began to acknowledge the requisite issue of climate change at a global level.
Since then, sustainability has become a household term, and for good reason. Since the industrial revolution, it is evident humanity, and our associated behaviors are responsible for the exponential and unnatural increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. This is Largely a result of society’s ubiquitous consumption of fossil fuels, which disseminates carbon dioxide (CO2) as its primary byproduct. High emissions of carbon and other GHGs trap excess amounts of thermal heat in the atmosphere, contributing significantly to the rate of global warming.
The UN reports global warming from 1.5°C to 2°C and beyond will have drastic negative effects on the environment. Rapid decarbonization and achieving net-zero emission standards by 2050 will be imperative in reversing or lessening the full impact of climate change. Industries and society must collaborate to create strategic solutions now that not only capture and reduce GHGs but also those that can replace current processes and activities contributing to high emissions.
To date, various players in government, private industry, and public sectors are focusing on curtailing their dependency on fossil fuel to drive down their carbon footprint. These efforts range dramatically in size and impact, and it is generally left to the individual entities to figure out what new, best practices there are for implementation. Historically, this approach has relied on targeting projects considered to be “low-hanging fruit,” such as retrofitting LED light bulbs, optimizing building controls, or purchasing power agreements (PPA). The “easier” projects tend to be the go-to-choice for many institutions as they typically involve less initial capital and/or can be associated with increases in returns. This strategy makes perfect sense from a business logic perspective and is at least a step in the right direction.
So how are we doing? Will this strategy be sufficient to meet decarbonization goals by 2050?
We are living in a transformative time and Covid-19 may be the impetus that leads investors to change their perspective on ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing. Companies have been shifting away from only focusing on the bottom line and are now considering the larger picture. Investment in sustainable funds saw a record increase during the first quarter of 2020. According to Morningstar, global sustainable funds saw inflows of $45.7 billion, while the broader fund universe had an outflow of $384.7 billion. During the second quarter of 2020, 56% of sustainable funds ranked in the top half of their Morningstar category. Year-to-date, that number jumps to 72%.
Whether blockchain becomes the tool to track, trace and verify CO2 emissions and carbon offsets remain to be seen. But whatever the technologies implemented investors and foundations must be assured that some risk is removed from investing in companies that are developing new technologies to combat the overall climate issues. One of the best ways to counter risk is to understand the overall market factors that will impact investment. The broad risk categories are outlined below and within each category, the specific investment risks.
“Yes, the laws of thermodynamics cannot be circumvented. One must pay the energy cost to recover the waste CO2 we produced. In short, we skimped on some of the cost while consuming energy in the past, and now we will have to pay it back. Cleaning up will not be free, but it will not break the bank either.” Dr. K S Lackner March, 2019
Statement of the Problem:
The world’s energy infrastructure is largely built around combustion of fossil carbon. Carbon, liberated from underground, combusted and released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it is the dominant driver of climate change.
The facts are clear. Scientific measurement tells us the earth is heating up. There is some minor disagreement as to the speed of the change, but let’s get real, CO2 and related greenhouse gases are warming the world at an ever-accelerating pace. The CO2 concentration in the air is now 415+ ppm (parts per million) vs. the ~280 ppm it was during the warm periods of the least one million years; during the ice ages it would be expected to drop to 180 ppm. If we continue on the current path, we reach 500 ppm before 2050, which translates to a much hotter world. The change started gradually, which has allowed us to put off dealing with the cause. However, with today’s higher temperatures, stronger storms, lower crop yields and rising water the procrastination needs to end.
1. Can we tackle the problem?
This paper takes a look at how climate change might be “fixed”, including through the capture of CO2 which is our focus at the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University. The discussion is intentionally centered on the release of fossil carbon. This is not to ignore or diminish the host of other greenhouse gases impacting climate, but to keep the discussion on the dominant and most damaging player - CO2. The strategy and tactics required to bring greenhouse gas releases under control will be one of the consuming international challenges of the 21st century. Yet, two decades into this new century, we have yet to determine the structure and technologies that will lead to a structured reversal.
The Department of Defense is one of the largest single consumers of energy globally, and the Air Force is the largest user of fuel energy in the US Government. The way they generate, transmit, store, and use this enormous amount of energy today is both a paramount combat enabler and a potentially crippling vulnerability. The time has come for the DoD to reimagine its usage, generation, transportation, and storage of energy.
Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is critical to preventing the dangers of climate change, particularly in the industrial sector which accounts for 33% of the anthropogenic emissions. Climate experts suggest that blockchain technology could play a significant role in creating a system of standardization and accountability by accessing the carbon footprint of companies and tracking the offsets. The crux of the issue is settling on a structure for calculating those metrics.
Historically, being able to validate proof of impact has been a challenge. Part of the issue is that the criteria has changed over time.
Typically generating carbon footprints and eventually the offsets require manual meter readings to determine energy consumption, emissions and calculating carbon footprint. This is time consuming and there are many opportunities for data to be unreliable and inaccurate.
It is especially problematic in certain industries such as the hard-to-decarbonize sectors including aviation, shipping, trucking, cement manufacturing and steelmaking. Other issues add to the complexity. Sustainability certifications/schemes such as Guarantees of Origin (GO) system allow fuel to be sold as renewable to consumers, but GO certificates have a slight impact on renewable energy generation and don’t provide evidence of renewable energy capacity. This image illustrates some of the difficulty in removing CO2 emissions from the steel industry.
A key driver to achieve accountability across ecosystems is to push for digitization at a system level. This will increase efficiency by moving away from manual data collection and could enhance the management of energy systems and other industrial networks with complex transactions. Greater investment in digitization technologies, particularly for aviation and heavy transport, along with electrification of the industrial processes that align with policy, is essential.
But what if blockchain could be utilized to determine the carbon footprint and then ultimately be aligned with carbon offsets? This yields real numbers encouraging organizations to refrain from overpromising and underdelivering on emissions reductions since the results could be monitored without the cumbersome manual data requirements. It also permits greater confidence in the metrics encouraging increased financial investment in underlying low-carbon or zero-carbon technology solutions. Beyond this there are tangible benefits such as creating full transparency and traceability within the supply chain, decentralized and sustainable resource management, unlocking new capital, incentivizing a circular economy, transforming the carbon market through the use of cryptographic tokens and creating greater confidence for investors in sustainability reporting, monitoring and verification.
There are numerous organizations developing such ecosystems such as Climate Chain Coalition. It is a global initiative among members to collaborate on the advancement of blockchain and other digital technology to mobilize financing of climate solutions and enhance measurement, reporting and verification of climate actions at scale. Another is Blockchain for Climate, which tags information associated with each credit in order to validate the authenticity of carbon credits. The system tracks and traces along with verifying transactions. And the system can easily scale which is critical due to the volume of transactions.
Other companies are creating blockchain opportunities in the transportation sector. Last year in Singapore, CarbonAir Exchange launched the world’s first global blockchain-based carbon exchange. For companies in the transportation sector, it provides EEU’s (eligible emission units) to secure carbon dioxide (CO2) offsets. The carbon credits will be securitized by tokens and utilize blockchain technology. Manufacturers in the auto sector, such as Mercedes, are teaming up with Circulor to trace carbon emissions in the cobalt supply chain. This will eventually include climate-relevant gases and the amount of recycled materials along the complex supply chains of battery cell manufacturers. Mercedes intends to utilize the data to inform development of its carbon-neutral passenger fleet. Companies in the cement industry, another sector that accounts for approximately 8% of global CO2 emissions, are teaming up with universities to generate innovative solutions to develop and commercialize low carbon concrete.
An array of startup companies, both private and public, are also creating blockchain solutions to encourage additional investment in the energy sector from infrastructure to incentivizing renewable investment.
This is just the beginning. Whether it is tracing and tracking supply chain or the development of robust carbon trading architecture such as the one created at Arizona State University . There is a tremendous amount of momentum toward developing innovative technologies that embrace blockchain in the energy sector, but specifically in industries that produce significant CO2 emissions. Blockchain is becoming an increasingly more useful tool in the decarbonization tool chest. Providing an immutable, secure, trustworthy, and scalable solution to a decarbonized future.
A U.S. Department of Energy award is empowering a new center at Arizona State University to create a more resilient and sustainable electricity grid with the use of next-generation materials.
The four-year, $12.4 million award from the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences establishes an Energy Frontier Research Center headquartered at ASU called Ultra Materials for a Resilient, Smart Electricity Grid, or Ultra EFRC. While ASU will lead Ultra EFRC, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of California Riverside, Cornell University, Michigan State University, Sandia National Laboratories, Stanford University and the University of Bristol will work within its framework.
Headed by Regents Professor of physics Robert Nemanich and Professor of electrical engineering Stephen M. Goodnick, Ultra EFRC will investigate fundamental questions about wide band gap semiconductors. Goodnick is a senior sustainability scientist and deputy director of LightWorks.
The stale use of buzzwords can lead to the disregard of potentially significant technology. For example, the prominent use of virtual reality has been solely in the gaming industry. Only recently has this technology received attention in the healthcare and therapy space, due to its ability to increase empathy in patients. Categorized by Gartner as ‘On the Rise’ technology for data science in 2019, federated learning may follow the similar trend of initial disregard. In the next five minutes, we will learn about the history, purpose, and applications of Federated Learning and determine if this technology may be more than just another buzzword.
The Digital Carbon Warehouse An EarthX talk by Bill Brandt April 24, 2020
Common sense tells us that “in the long run, it will be more profitable to save the planet than to ruin it.” So how do we mobilize at scale, engaging as many of us as possible and involving all who may want to participate in sequestering carbon? We can all do our part with some “smart” assistance.
The fall of cryptocurrencies in 2018 had far reaching effects for the digital currency market. Bitcoin remains more than 200% below its all-time-high even in 2020. Although shaking the public’s trust, the capital assets invested into blockchain have more than tripled. With companies such as IBM investing 1,500 employees into over 500 blockchain projects, JP Morgan implementing its digital currency to over 200 clients, and angel investments of $23 billion in 2019, blockchain has seen imperturbable growth in the corporate sector. But why? To understand these investments, let’s begin by understanding what exactly a blockchain provides and how it differentiates from alternative modern applications.
As more locations across the country begin to transition to utilizing renewable energy sources, officials in such locations face a daunting task: How do they compensate the workers and communities that financially relied on those nonrenewable sources of energy?
While the question may be hypothetical, scenarios like that are not. One recently played out in Page, Arizona when the Navajo Generating Station closed down. The coal-fired power plant had operated for 40 years, serving as a financial support for the community of Hopi and Navajo tribes. Now that it’s closed, workers are at a loss as to how to meet their needs.
Founded by Paulo Shakarian, Cyber Reconnaissance, Inc. CYR3CON leverages a patented hybrid of artificial intelligence and darkweb mining to predict and prevent future cyberattacks before they occur. CYR3CON approaches cybersecurity from the hacker’s worldview, identifying real threats to client assets based on attacker behaviors. Rather than providing broad and non-specific risk management information, CYR3CON intelligently sources the necessary data that, when analyzed, predicts the likelihood of an actual attack.
Arizona State University's first solar project in Puerto Rico promotes energy independence for the community of Barrio La Salud. Using flexible solar panels, a novel racking design and battery backup, community leaders can safely remove and replace panels before and after a major storm or hurricane. Doctoral students Jessica Otten and Tara Neitzold are part of a team of Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) students who worked with community leaders to design the system.
The Sustainability Education and Energy Knowledge-sharing (SEEK) Project catalyzes the values-driven leadership of cohesive social networks, such as congregations and nonprofits, to accelerate societal energy transitions through education, technical assistance and social innovation. An action research project of the Spirituality and Sustainability Initiative, SEEK relies on a novel model for leveraging existing assets and in-kind resources from multi-sectoral partners (including universities, congregations, commercial energy professionals, federal programs and local leaders) to provide tailored mentoring and technical assistance in various online and face-to-face formats that facilitate progressive knowledge development, knowledge sharing and mutual problem-solving.
Arizona State University recently earned six prestigious Department of Energy awards, totaling nearly $5.7 million, ranking it first among university recipients of Solar Energy Technologies Office awards to advance photovoltaic research and development in 2018.
On Thursday night at the Barrett & O'Connor Center in Washington, D.C., Arizona State University hosted a panel that discussed how society can transition to a carbon economy — as in, pulling carbon from the air and making money from it in an effort to fight climate change.
A financier, a businessman, a policy expert and the inventor of a carbon-capture machine discussed the opportunities and obstacles involved in turning waste into capital at “Hacking for Carbon: Building an Innovation Pipeline for the New Carbon Economy.”
Panelist Klaus Lackner, a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Anne Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has been thinking about how to manage carbon since the 1990s.