Theme of Carbon Zero Challenge
Resource Depletion accelerated by the triple planetary crises climate change, pollution and Biodiversity loss are the biggest challenges facing the world. Embracing circularity requires a concerted effort from individuals, businesses, and governments to reevaluate and redesign our systems for a more sustainable future. Hence the theme for Carbon Zero Challenge is Circularity in Resources Conservation (CRC). The innovations can be submitted under five broad thematic areas namely Air, Energy, Materials, Soil and Water. We are interested in eco-innovations that provide sustainable and circular economy solutions.
Below are a few examples of challenges that teams can work on. Remember, this list is not the only option.
The energy sector accounts for approximately three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key player in mitigating the severe effects of climate change. Some challenges and probable solutions that can help achieve circularity in energy sector are mentioned below-
1. Building sector- Electricity generation is the largest source of emissions. About 77-84% of fossil fuel is used for electricity generation for commercial and residential buildings.
Suggested Solutions- Improved electricity generation using renewable sources such as Solar, wind, biogas, biomass, hydrogen, etc, digital solutions to reduce energy consumption, monitoring energy, smart equipment and appliances, thermal energy storage,zero carbon buildings-heating and cooling energy, intelligent indoor temperature settings, digital solution to design energy efficient buildings, etc.
2. Energy for Heavy industry sector- It accounts for nearly 40% global energy consumption and the demand for energy is expected to increase by 30-80%. The challenge is to get a constant supply of renewable energy to meet the industrial demands. Replacing polluting coal, gas and oil-fired power with energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, would dramatically reduce carbon emissions.
Suggested solutions- Constant renewable energy supply, renewable energy storage, fuel switching (including to bioenergy), and the electrification of low- and medium-temperature heat, digital solution to optimise renewable energy deployment, etc.
3. The transport sector is a significant contributor to the global energy demand and associated emissions. Transport continues to rely on oil products for nearly 91% of its final energy. There is significant potential for limiting and reducing the energy used and emissions produced by the transport sector by electrifying the passenger fleet.
Suggested solutions– Improved EV support infrastructure, innovative battery chemistries, efficient technologies for vehicles, hydrogen powered vehicles and aircraft, alternative sustainable fuel, public EV charging infrastructure, sustainable aviation fuels, last mile connectivity, digital solutions to calculate carbon footprint and ways to reduce it, etc.
The heavy industry sectors and long-distance transport modes are areas where huge energy is consumed and emissions are particularly “hard to abate”.
By 2050, to feed 10 billion people we will require a 50% increase in agricultural production consuming 70% of our water resources today and 15% increase in water withdrawals.Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population. In order to protect this limited resource, we need innovations in technologies for enhancing productivity, conserving and protecting resources, recycling stormwater and wastewater, and developing non-conventional water sources should be explored in addition to seeking opportunities for enhanced water storage, including aquifer recharge and recovery.
1. Water Scarcity-Around 1.9 billion people live in areas with inadequate water supply and additionally, more than 1.6 billion people experience economic water scarcity, where the infrastructure or technology for water supply is lacking. Main challenge is that it requires a multi-faceted approach, efficient and economically feasible solutions.
– Cheap and scalable desalination, innovations in rain water harvesting, water recovery technology, fossil groundwater, technology for groundwater replenishment, runoff management, digital solutions to calculate water footprint, forecast rate of water depletion, watershed management,improved infrastructure,water storage, etc.
2. Water conservation and water use-Rapid population growth puts pressure on water resources, increasing demand for both household and industrial water use. Changing precipitation patterns and rising temperatures can lead to droughts and reduced water availability, impacting both water supply and agriculture. Excessive withdrawal of groundwater, especially in areas without proper regulation, can lead to depletion of aquifers and land subsidence.
Suggested solutions– efficient and cheap rain water harvesting system, smart water meter, smart integrated water supply system, smart water distribution, greywater recycling, reuse options for treated wastewater, RO reject management, septage management, digital solutions to monitor water available, etc.
3. Water quality- According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, as of 2019, approximately 785 million people worldwide still lack access to basic drinking water services that meet the minimum water quality standards. The level of water treatment and the quality of infrastructure for water supply and sanitation greatly influence the final water quality that reaches consumers. Agricultural runoff, including pesticides and fertilisers, can contribute to water pollution, affecting both surface water and groundwater quality.Suggested solutions– Smart water quality sensor, technology to clean eutrophic and contaminated water bodies, recovery of nutrients and carbon from water and wastewater, technology to improve quality of water, removal of micropollutants, microplastics, chemicals, microbes and toxic material from water/ wastewater,water purification technologies, sustainable water filters, etc.
4. Ocean acidification- Ocean acidity is increasing due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere thereby affecting marine life.Suggested solutions- New technologies for carbon capture and storage, digital solutions to identify and monitor marine protected areas, system to continuously monitor ocean acidification levels, technology for mitigation, innovation for sustainable fishing, improved carbon sinks such as mangroves, coastal wetlands, seagrass beds, etc.
Natural resources are depleting at an alarming rate. Waste production is substantial, and the recycling rate is comparatively low. Most of the materials end up in the landfill. Materials need to be repurposed for beneficial uses such as composting, waste-to-energy, recycling, etc.
Other major challenges include the availability and processing of critical minerals, as well as dependency on a limited number of critical components available only in specific companies or locations.
Suggested solutions– innovations that reduce material intensity, improved design and manufacture equipments, technology performance improvements, improved material efficiency, improved designs of final products, reduced waste during manufacturing, extend product lifetimes, and product re-use, Efficient utilisation of indigenous minerals, alternatives for building materials, sustainable building material and methodology, improved recycling, automated processes, liquid and solid waste treatment, sustainable packaging materials,etc.
Some waste sectors that need immediate attention are mentioned below-
E-Waste: It is a major concern as only 17.4% is currently recycled and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor report, E-Waste will grow to almost 75 million metric tonnes by 2030. Technologies for proper dismantling of e-waste, effective material recovery and utilisation, digital solutions for e-waste collection centres, etc.
Food packaging materials: Food packaging is a major contributor to landfill waste and also adds to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to this, the production of unsustainable food packaging uses renewable resources like oil to make plastic. Use of sustainable packaging materials reduces our impact on the environment and our reliance on fossil fuels, which sets up for a better use.
Battery recycling: Battery recycling is essential for reducing environmental impact and conserving valuable resources. Most of the batteries used at the household level ends up in landfills rather than being recycled. This results in the loss of valuable materials and environmental harm. Many of the batteries consist of toxic elements like mercury, zinc and lead. Improper disposal can pose issues to human and environmental health. To bridge this gap, we require efficient and innovative battery recycling systems and technologies.
Sanitary waste:Globally, it is estimated that over 200 billion sanitary napkins are disposed of annually.Conventional disposable sanitary products and diapers which often contain plastics and synthetic materials, contribute to plastic waste and can take hundreds of years to decompose.
Construction and demolition waste:Construction and demolition activities generate about 2.01 billion metric tons of waste annually.C&D waste constitutes a significant portion of the total waste generated globally, accounting for approximately 40% of the total solid waste stream.The global recycling rate for C&D waste is estimated to be around 10-15%. Improper disposal of C&D waste can lead to environmental degradation, including soil and water pollution, habitat destruction, and greenhouse gas emissions.Recycled C&D materials, such as concrete and steel, have economic value and can contribute to reducing the demand for virgin resources.Innovative technologies for C&D waste recycling, including advanced sorting and processing techniques, are continually being developed.Increasingly, sustainable construction practices, including designing for deconstruction and using recycled materials, are being adopted to reduce C&D waste generation.
Achieving circularity in air quality management presents several challenges due to the complex nature of air pollution and its interactions with various industries and natural systems.
1. Air pollution-Air pollution often crosses regional and national boundaries, making it a complex issue that requires international cooperation and coordination.Determining the exact sources of air pollutants, especially in densely populated urban areas with multiple emission sources, can be difficult but is crucial for targeted interventions. Many of the technologies developed to abate air pollution are very expensive and require a high level of technical expertise.
Suggested solutions- Implementing advanced and economical monitoring and filtration technologies in industries, transportation and household, Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) , alternative fuel systems such as hydrogen technologies, direct electrification offer means to provide high-temperature heat while eliminating most emissions, air pollution forecast technology, improved analytical and modelling techniques, improved transportation systems, systems for carbon pricing , etc.
2. Air quality- Urbanisation and industrialization and natural calamities such as wildfire and volcanoes lead to concentrated sources of pollution in air, impacting human health and quality of life.Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular health problems, especially in vulnerable populations. Poor air quality can damage vegetation, affect ecosystems, and disrupt natural processes like nutrient cycling.
Suggested Solutions-Air quality monitoring systems, air quality modelling technology, control devices, air quality alert system, advanced sensors for monitoring quality, pollutant alert system, VOC, NOx and SOx capture system, system to implement and enforce air quality standards, etc.
3. Indoor air quality- Indoor air pollution from sources like cooking stoves, heating, and building materials can have significant health impacts. It is generally not given much importance as it affects over time.
Suggested Solutions- Innovations to improve ventilations in buildings, control systems for VOC’s from indoor chemicals, filter technology for biological contaminants, improved HVAC systems, improved building designs, etc.
4. Emerging persistent pollutants- Emerging persistent pollutants refer to substances that have recently been recognized for their potential to cause harm to the environment, human health, and other organisms. These pollutants may not have been previously considered or regulated due to limited knowledge about their presence and effects. They include various chemicals, nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, microplastics, and other contaminants that are now being monitored and studied for their impact on ecosystems and public health.
Suggested Solutions- Technology or digital solution to identify the presence of emerging pollutants, technology to monitor and model the effects, etc.
1. Soil quality and contamination-Soil pollution affects an estimated 33% of the world’s arable land, significantly impacting agricultural productivity.Intensive agricultural practices, which include the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, lead to soil contamination over time.The cost of cleaning up polluted soil is substantial.Land degradation affects around 25% of the Earth’s land area and is primarily caused by factors like deforestation, overgrazing, and improper agricultural practices.
Suggested solutions– Integrated pest management techniques, alternative for fertiliser and pesticide, digital solution for effective land use planning, agricultural needs, conservation efforts, and infrastructure development, developing climate resilient agriculture system,smart agricultural equipments, alternative fuel requirements for agricultural equipments, technology for bioremediation, improved soil testing, innovations for precision agriculture techniques to optimise fertiliser use , etc
2. Soil degradation and nutrient imbalance- Soil erosion, compaction, salinization, and soil carbon loss, poses a significant obstacle to achieving soil circularity. Inefficient land use practices, such as monoculture farming and excessive tillage, can lead to reduced soil health and resilience.
Suggested solutions– innovations for sustainable land management practices, such as agroforestry, soil conservation, and responsible mining methods to improve soil organic carbon, crop residue recycling, improving salt affected soils, digital solutions for crop rotation techniques, runoff management, soil nutrient management system,innovations for no-till farming, etc.
3. Soil biodiversity- Soil is the home for a vast and diverse array of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that are critical for nutrient cycling, disease suppression, and overall soil health. Anthropogenic activities can disrupt this delicate balance.
Suggested solutions- Sustainable organic farming techniques, technology to create and distribute compost and organic matter, digital solutions to guide climate-smart agriculture practices, technology for seed saving and genetic resource conservation, etc.
4. Irrigation challenges- The demand for water in agriculture is increasing due to population growth and changing dietary preferences. Sustainable water management practices are crucial to prevent over-extraction, particularly in regions facing water scarcity.
Suggested Solutions- Sustainable irrigation system, drip irrigation, precision irrigation and spray irrigation systems, circular irrigation system, digital solutions for water-efficient cropping systems, sensors for monitoring crop growth patterns and watering frequency, etc.
5. Plastic sheets in Soil- Plastic sheets are used in soil for various agricultural and horticultural purposes such as weed control, moisture conservation, temperature regulation, soil erosion prevention, disease management, reduced tillage, etc. But this poses several significant environmental challenges at the global scale such as microplastic pollution, soil degradation and compaction, habitat disruption and climate change impact. Balancing the advantages of plastic sheeting with sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives is the key for modern agriculture.
Suggested Solutions- Research and develop alternatives to plastic sheets that balance the benefits and is eco-friendly, technology to remove plastics from the soil without disturbing the crops, technology for natural weed management, smart cover cropping techniques, sustainable biodegradable mulches, digital solutions for monitoring and assessing the environmental impact of agricultural practices, innovations for recycling, technology to produce and test bio-based plastics or natural fibre based materials.