Nature Sustainability

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EISSN : 2398-9629
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HaeUn Shin, Kentaro U. Hansen,
Published: 12 July 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-9; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00739-x

Abstract:
Low-temperature CO2 electrolysis represents a potential enabling process in the production of renewable chemicals and fuels, notably carbon monoxide, formic acid, ethylene and ethanol. Because this technology has progressed rapidly in recent years, a systematic techno-economic assessment has become necessary to evaluate its feasibility as a CO2 utilization approach. Here this work provides a comprehensive techno-economic assessment of four major products and prioritizes the technological development with systematic guidelines to facilitate the market deployment of low-temperature CO2 electrolysis. First, we survey state-of-the-art electrolyser performance and parameterize figures of merit. The analysis shows that production costs of carbon monoxide and formic acid (C1 products) are approaching US$0.44 and 0.59 kg–1, respectively, competitive with conventional processes. In comparison, the production of ethylene and ethanol (C2 products) is not immediately feasible due to their substantially higher costs of US$2.50 and 2.06 kg–1, respectively. We then provide a detailed roadmap to making C2 product production economically viable: an improvement in energetic efficiency to ~50% and a reduction in electricity price to US$0.01 kWh–1. We also propose industrially relevant benchmarks: 5-year stability of electrolyser components and the single-pass conversion of 30 and 15% for C1 and C2 products, respectively. Finally we discuss the economic aspects of two potential strategies to address electrolyte neutralization utilizing either an anion exchange membrane or bipolar membrane. Low-temperature CO2 electrolysis is a promising process for producing renewable chemicals and fuels. This work provides a systematic techno-economic assessment of four major products, prioritizing technological development, and proposes guidelines to facilitate market adoption.
Chade Lv, , , Zhiwei Fang, , Mengxin Chen, Yi Kong, Carmen Lee, Daobin Liu, Shuzhou Li, et al.
Published: 12 July 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-9; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00741-3

Abstract:
Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer such as urea has been key to increasing crop productivity and feeding a growing population. However, the conventional urea production relies on energy-intensive processes, consuming approximately 2% of annual global energy. Here, we report on a more-sustainable electrocatalytic approach that allows for direct and selective synthesis of urea from nitrate and carbon dioxide with an indium hydroxide catalyst at ambient conditions. Remarkably, Faradaic efficiency, nitrogen selectivity and carbon selectivity reach 53.4%, 82.9% and ~100%, respectively. The engineered surface semiconducting behaviour of the catalyst is found to suppress hydrogen evolution reaction. The key step of C–N coupling initiates through the reaction between *NO2 and *CO2 intermediates owing to the low energy barrier on {100} facets. This work suggests an appealing route of urea production and provides deep insight into the underlying chemistry of C–N coupling reaction that could guide sustainable synthesis of other indispensable chemicals. Urea is one the most-used synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that have been key to feeding a growing population. However, its production is energy intensive. Here, the authors show an electrocatalytic approach that allows for selective urea synthesis from nitrate and carbon dioxide at ambient conditions.
Published: 12 July 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-2; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00748-w

Abstract:
Electroreduction of carbon dioxide is an enabling technology that can produce valuable chemicals, notably C1 (for example, formic acid and carbon monoxide) and C2 chemicals (for example, ethylene and ethanol), with a minimal or even negative carbon footprint. Now, a techno-economic analysis shows that only the C1 products can achieve competitive prices, while substantial improvements in process economics are needed for C2.
Published: 8 July 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-3; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00747-x

Abstract:
Natural capital accounting will confirm what we know — without change, we are headed for environmental disaster resulting from economic growth. We propose a natural capital bank, a new institution to help maintain natural capital adequacy and chart a course to a sustainable future via accounting.
Liang Yuan, Leman Buzoglu Kurnaz,
Published: 8 July 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-2; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00750-2

Abstract:
Plastics have posed substantial environmental and human health risks, therefore their design, manufacturing and disposal should incorporate sustainability considerations. Now a study reports success in developing hydroplastics from renewable cellulosic biomass that can be shaped in water.
Jiaxiu Wang, Lukas Emmerich, Jianfeng Wu, ,
Published: 8 July 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-7; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00743-1

Abstract:
Despite the considerable benefits plastics have offered, the current approaches to their production, use and disposal are not sustainable and pose a serious threat to the environment and human health. Eco-friendly processing of plastics could form part of the solutions; however, the technological challenge remains thorny. Here, we report a sustainable hydrosetting method for the processing of a hydroplastic polymer—cellulose cinnamate. Synthesized via facile solvent casting, the transparent cellulose cinnamate membranes are mechanically robust, with tensile strength of 92.4 MPa and Young’s modulus of 2.6 GPa, which exceed those of most common plastics. These bio-based planar membranes can be processed into either two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) shapes by using their hydroplastic properties (using water to manipulate the plasticity). These desired shapes maintain stability for >16 months and can be repeatedly reprogrammed into other 2D/3D shapes, substantially extending their lifetime for practical applications. Eco-friendly processing of plastics could leverage the advantages of plastics while maximizing their environmental sustainability. Here the authors show a cellulose cinnamate polymer that could be repeatedly programmed into various 2D or 3D stable shapes through a sustainable hydrosetting process.
Published: 5 July 2021
by 10.1038
Nature Sustainability pp 1-8; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00740-4

The publisher has not yet granted permission to display this abstract.
K. Sudmeier-Rieux, T. Arce-Mojica, H. J. Boehmer, N. Doswald, L. Emerton, D. A. Friess, S. Galvin, , H. James, P. Laban, et al.
Published: 28 June 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-8; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00732-4

Abstract:
Ecosystems play a potentially important role in sustainably reducing the risk of disaster events worldwide. Yet, to date, there are few comprehensive studies that summarize the state of knowledge of ecosystem services and functions for disaster risk reduction. This paper builds scientific evidence through a review of 529 English-language articles published between 2000 and 2019. It catalogues the extent of knowledge on, and confidence in, ecosystems in reducing disaster risk. The data demonstrate robust links and cost-effectiveness between certain ecosystems in reducing specific hazards, something that was revealed to be particularly true for the role of vegetation in the stabilization of steep slopes. However, the published research was limited in geographic distribution and scope, with a concentration on urban areas of the Global North, with insufficient relevant research on coastal, dryland and watershed areas, especially in the Global South. Many types of ecosystem can provide sustainable and multifunctional approaches to disaster risk reduction. Yet, if they are to play a greater role, more attention is needed to fill research gaps and develop performance standards. Disaster risks are a critical area for research, but while the focus has been on man-made adaptation, this analysis of 529 studies compiles evidence for how ecosystems can mitigate hazard vulnerabilities.
Yu Feng, Alan D. Ziegler, , Yang Liu, Xinyue He, Dominick V. Spracklen, , Xin Jiang, ,
Published: 28 June 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-8; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00738-y

Abstract:
Southeast Asia contains about half of all tropical mountain forests, which are rich in biodiversity and carbon stocks, yet there is debate as to whether regional mountain forest cover has increased or decreased in recent decades. Here, our analysis of high-resolution satellite datasets reveals increasing mountain forest loss across Southeast Asia. Total mean annual forest loss was 3.22 Mha yr−1 during 2001–2019, with 31% occurring on the mountains. In the 2010s, the frontier of forest loss moved to higher elevations (15.1 ± 3.8 m yr−1 during 2011–2019, P < 0.01) and steeper slopes (0.22 ± 0.05° yr−1 during 2009–2019, P < 0.01) that have high forest carbon density relative to the lowlands. These shifts led to unprecedented annual forest carbon loss of 424 Tg C yr−1, accelerating at a rate of 18 ± 4 Tg C yr−2 (P < 0.01) from 2001 to 2019. Our results underscore the immediate threat of carbon stock losses associated with accelerating forest clearance in Southeast Asian mountains, which jeopardizes international climate agreements and biodiversity conservation. Southeast Asia contains half the world’s tropical mountain forests. This study finds increasing mountain forest loss there, with the clearing frontier moving higher in the 2010s and causing unprecedented carbon loss.
Published: 24 June 2021
Nature Sustainability pp 1-9; doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00737-z

Abstract:
Effective recycling of spent perovskite solar modules will further reduce the energy requirements and environmental consequences of their production and deployment, thus facilitating their sustainable development. Here, through ‘cradle-to-grave’ life cycle assessments of a variety of perovskite solar cell architectures, we report that substrates with conducting oxides and energy-intensive heating processes are the largest contributors to primary energy consumption, global warming potential and other types of impact. We therefore focus on these materials and processes when expanding to ‘cradle-to-cradle’ analyses with recycling as the end-of-life scenario. Our results reveal that recycling strategies can lead to a decrease of up to 72.6% in energy payback time and a reduction of 71.2% in greenhouse gas emission factor. The best recycled module architecture can exhibit an extremely small energy payback time of 0.09 years and a greenhouse gas emission factor as low as 13.4 g CO2 equivalent per kWh; it therefore outcompetes all other rivals, including the market-leading silicon at 1.3–2.4 years and 22.1–38.1 g CO2 equivalent per kWh. Finally, we use sensitivity analyses to highlight the importance of prolonging device lifetime and to quantify the effects of uncertainty induced by the still immature manufacturing processes, changing operating conditions and individual differences for each module. Effective recycling of worn-out perovskite photovoltaic modules could improve their energy and environmental sustainability. The authors perform holistic life cycle assessments of selected solar cell architectures and provide guidelines for their future design.
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