Understanding UK Carbon Dioxide Emissions



Since the beginning of SCI Energy Group’s blog series, new
legislation has come into place regarding emission targets. Instead of the
previous 80% reduction target, the UK must now achieve net-zero emissions by
2050. This makes significant, rapid emission reduction even more critical. This
article introduces the main sources of UK CO2 emissions across individual

The Big Picture

In 2018, UK CO2 emissions totalled to roughly 364 million
tonnes. This was 2.4% lower than 2017 and 43.5% lower than 1990. The image
below shows how much each individual sector contributed to the total UK carbon
dioxide emissions in 2018. As can be seen, large emitting sectors include:
energy supply, transport and residential. For this reason, CO2 emission trends
from these sectors are discussed in this article.


1 Shows the percentage contribution toward Total UK
Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Sector (2018)

Figure: BEIS

Transport Sector

In 2018, the transport sector accounted for 1/3rd of total
UK CO2 emissions. Since 1990, there has been relatively little change in the
level of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. Historically, transport has
been the second most-emitting sector. However, due to emission reductions in
the energy supply sector, it is now the biggest emitting sector and has been
since 2016. Emission sources include road transport, railways, domestic aviation, shipping, fishing & aircraft support vehicles.


The main source of emissions are petrol and diesel in road transport. 

Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) can provide emission
reductions in this sector. Some examples of these include: hybrid electric,
battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In 2018, there were 200,000
ULEV’s on the road in the UK. In addition to this, there was a 53% increase in
ULEV vehicle registration compared to 2016. In 2018, UK government released
the ‘Road to Zero Strategy’, which seeks to see 50% of new cars to be ULEV’s by
2030 and 40% of new vans.


Energy Supply Sector

In the past, the energy supply sector was the biggest
emitting sector but, since 1990, this sector has reduced its greenhouse gas
emissions by 60% making it the second-biggest emitting sector. Between 2017 and
2018, this sector accounted for the largest decrease in CO2 emissions (7.2%). Emission sources included fuel combustion for electricity generation and other energy production sources, The main sources of emission are use of natural gas and coal in power plants.  


In 2015, the Carbon Price Floor tax changed from £9/tonne
CO2 emitted to £18/ tonne CO2 emitted. This resulted in a shift from coal to
natural gas use for power generation. There has also been a considerable
growth in low-carbon technologies for power generation. All of these have
contributed to emission reductions in this sector.


Figure 2 – Natural gas power plant

Residential Sector

Out of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the
residential sector, CO2 emissions account for 96%. Emissions from this sector
are heavily influenced by external temperatures. For example, colder
temperatures drive higher emissions as more heating is required.

In 2018, this sector accounted for 18% of total UK CO2
emissions. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 2.8% increase in residential
emissions. Overall, emissions from this sector have dropped by 16% since 1990. Emission sources include fuel combustion for heating and cooking, garden machinery and aerosols. The main source of emission are natural gas for heating and cooking. 


The UK has reduced CO2 emissions by 43.5% since 1990.
However, further emission reductions are required to meet net-zero targets. The
energy supply sector has reduced emissions by 60% since 1990 but remains the
second biggest emitter. In comparison to this, emission reductions in the
residential sector are minor. Yet, they are still greater than the transport
sector, which has remained relatively static. Each of these sectors require
significant emission reduction to aid in meeting new emission targets.

Reace Edwards is a member of SCI’s Energy group and a PhD Chemical Engineering student at the University of Chester. Read more about her involvement with SCI here or watch her recent TEDx Talk here.

Black (nano)gold to combat climate change

Black (nano)gold to combat climate change

Global warming is a serious threat to the planet and living beings. One of the main causes of global warming is the increase in the atmospheric CO2 level. The main source of this CO2 is from the burning of fossil fuels in our daily lives (electricity, vehicles, industry and many more).

Researchers at TIFR have developed the solution phase synthesis of dendritic plasmonic colloidosomes (DPCs) with varying interparticle distances between the gold nanoparticles (NPs) using a cycle-by-cycle growth approach by optimizing the nucleation-growth step. These DPCs absorbed the entire visible and near-infrared region of solar light, due to interparticle plasmonic coupling as well as the heterogeneity in the Au NP sizes, which transformed gold material to black gold.

Black (nano)gold was able to catalyze CO2 to methane (fuel) at atmospheric pressure and temperature, using solar energy. Researchers also observed the significant effect of the plasmonic hotspots on the performance of these DPCs for the purification of seawater to drinkable water via steam generation, temperature jump assisted protein unfolding, oxidation of cinnamyl alcohol using pure oxygen as the oxidant, and hydrosilylation of aldehydes.

Read more.

Soft drink by-products could reduce global w…

Soft drink by-products could reduce global warming

Professor of Chemistry Craig Teague and his students have discovered that the by-products of soft drinks could help reduce global warming.

A Cornell College team of researchers worked with other experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on the idea starting in 2016, and their final conclusions were published in the journal article “Microporous and hollow carbon spheres derived from soft drinks: Promising CO2separation materials” in April of 2019. Their new research shows that the by-products of some soft drinks actually remove carbon dioxide, a gas known to warm the planet, from gas streams.

“In this research, we are looking at turning one waste material into something of value,” Teague said. “We looked at waste soft drinks–asking could we possibly find a way to make that waste useful by doing a simple process in the lab and taking the carbon out? That carbon, by the way we synthesized it, has tiny pores, which are able to capture carbon dioxide.”

Read more.

Making biodegradable construction bricks out o…


By Shardell Joseph

The green charcoal’s biodegradable bricks and innovative construction are being created as an environmental alternative to concrete bricks.

Contributing approximately eight to 15% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, concrete manufacturing is making the building industry a threat to the environment.

Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI) Lead Researcher, Shreyas More, is conducting The Green Charcoal research to address the issue of rising pollution and temperature by developing healthy materials for building construction. The aim is to create a breathing state of architecture that ensures increased biodiversity in cities while providing healthy urban solutions for people.

The biodegradable bricks use these healthy materials, which includes charcoal, organic loofah fibres, soil and air creating a biodegradable, lightweight system. It also allows the growth of living plants and insects on its surface.

The bricks structural nature is due to the loofah’s fibrous network – this element ensures high porosity, flexibility and strength in the brick. The loofah pores also accommodates plants and act as thousands of tiny water tanks. This reduces the temperature of the brick, which cools the environment while being strucral enough for construction.

Using a practice-based research approach, More has been experimenting with different percentages of charcoal and concrete to test adsorption, porosity and strength of the mix. One process prototype was 4.81 times lighter and up to 20 times more porous than conventional pervious concrete.

The porous materiality of the green charcoal bricks enables passive cooling, which can control a building’s interior temperatures while purifying the incoming air. This sustainable cooling method also reduces the need for air conditioning and other more polluting methods in buildings.

The green charcoal research continues to explore biophilic material compositions, climatic performance, and natural colour palettes and patterns to make future cities a healthier place to live in.

Comet inspires chemistry for making breathab…

Comet inspires chemistry for making breathable oxygen on Mars

Reaction turns carbon dioxide into molecular oxygen

Science fiction stories are chock full of terraforming schemes and oxygen generators for a very good reason – we humans need molecular oxygen (O2) to breathe, and space is essentially devoid of it. Even on other planets with thick atmospheres, O2 is hard to come by.

So, when we explore space, we need to bring our own oxygen supply. That is not ideal because a lot of energy is needed to hoist things into space atop a rocket, and once the supply runs out, it is gone.

One place molecular oxygen does appear outside of Earth is in the wisps of gas streaming off comets. The source of that oxygen remained a mystery until two years ago when Konstantinos P. Giapis, a professor of chemical engineering at Caltech, and his postdoctoral fellow Yunxi Yao, proposed the existence of a new chemical process that could account for its production. Giapis, along with Tom Miller, professor of chemistry, have now demonstrated a new reaction for generating oxygen that Giapis says could help humans explore the universe and perhaps even fight climate change at home. More fundamentally though, he says the reaction represents a new kind of chemistry discovered by studying comets.

Read more.

Artificial photosynthesis transforms carbon di…

Artificial photosynthesis transforms carbon dioxide into liquefiable fuels

Chemists at the University of Illinois have successfully produced fuels using water, carbon dioxide and visible light through artificial photosynthesis. By converting carbon dioxide into more complex molecules like propane, green energy technology is now one step closer to using excess CO2 to store solar energy – in the form of chemical bonds – for use when the sun is not shining and in times of peak demand.


Plants use sunlight to drive chemical reactions between water and CO2 to create and store solar energy in the form of energy-dense glucose. In the new study, the researchers developed an artificial process that uses the same green light portion of the visible light spectrum used by plants during natural photosynthesis to convert CO2 and water into fuel, in conjunction with electron-rich gold nanoparticles that serve as a catalyst. The new findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read more.

Electrode’s ‘hot edges’ co…

Electrode’s ‘hot edges’ convert carbon dioxide gas into fuels and chemicals

A team of scientists has created a bowl-shaped electrode with ‘hot edges’ which can efficiently convert CO2 from gas into carbon based fuels and chemicals, helping combat the climate change threat posed by atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The research team, from the University of Bath, Fudan University, Shanghai, and the Shanghai Institute of Pollution Control and Ecological Security, hopes the catalyst design will eventually allow the use of renewable electricity to convert CO2 into fuels without creating additional atmospheric carbon – essentially acting like an electrochemical ‘leaf’ to convert carbon dioxide into sugars.

Using this reaction, known as the reduction of carbon dioxide, has exciting potential but two major obstacles are poor conversion efficiency of the reaction and a lack of detailed knowledge about the exact reaction pathway.

This new electrode addresses these challenges with higher conversion efficiency and sensitive detection of molecules created along the reaction’s progress – thanks to its innovative shape and construction. The bowl shaped electrode works six times faster than standard planar – or flat – designs.

Read more.

Crowd oil—fuels from air-conditioning system…

Crowd oil—fuels from air-conditioning systems

Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Toronto have proposed a method enabling air conditioning and ventilation systems to produce synthetic fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water from the ambient air. Compact plants are to separate CO2 from the ambient air directly in buildings and produce synthetic hydrocarbons which can then be used as renewable synthetic oil. The team now presents this “crowd oil” concept in Nature Communications.

To prevent the disastrous effects of global climate change, man-made greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero over the next three decades. This is clear from the current special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The necessary transformation poses a huge challenge to the global community: Entire sectors such as power generation, mobility and building management must be redesigned. In any future climate-friendly energy system, synthetic energy sources could represent an essential building block. “If we use renewable wind and solar power as well as carbon dioxide directly from the ambient air to produce fuels, large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided,” says Professor Roland Dittmeyer from the Institute for Micro Process Engineering (IMVT) at KIT.

Read more.

Decarbonisation: why must we act now?



This is the first in a series of blog articles by SCI’s
Energy group
. As a group, they recognise that the energy crisis is a topic of
large magnitude and therefore have set out to identify potential decarbonisation
solutions across multiple dimensions of the overall energy supply chain, which
include source, system, storage and service.

Throughout the series, you will be introduced to its members
through regular features that highlight their roles and major interests in
energy. We welcome you to read their series and hope to spark some interesting
conversation across all areas of SCI.

Global emissions

The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), by the end of 2018, their observatory at Muana Loa,
Hawaii, recorded the fourth-highest annual growth of global CO2
emissions the world has seen in the last 60 years.

Adding even more concern, the Met Office confirmed that this
trend is likely to continue and that the annual rise in 2019 could potentially
be larger than that seen in the previous two years.


Forecast global CO2 concentration against
previous years.

Source: Met

Large concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are
a major concern because it is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases absorb
infrared radiation from solar energy from the sun and less is emitted back into
space. Because the influx of radiation is greater than the outflux, the globe
is warmed as a consequence.

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